To mark the release of our latest Think Forward trends report, last week we hosted an early morning event on the key trends to look out for in 2019. Our Associate Editorial Director, Rhiain Temple was there to absorb and report on the morning’s highlights.

Our Head of R&I, Paul Greenwood and Strategy Director Caroline Lucas-Garner welcomed Lululemon's Manager, Brand & Digital, Europe, Bronwen Foster-Butler, Cameron-James Wilson, the creator of the world's first digital supermodel, Shudu and Platform 13 Founder, Leila Faatar to discuss their views on the trends to look out for in 2019.

First things first, the headlines from the report:

Social media has made the world an increasingly borderless place. The ultimate representation of globalisation and its gradual blending of cultures, it has allowed people to come together to share similar experiences across cultural divides.

But, what has that led to in 2018? Caroline and Paul put it down to the following three key behavioural changes:

  1. People have found their identities are under threat
  2. Some have rallied against social
  3. Many have taken control back of their data

 
Some brands have taken these change of behaviours as an opportunity to use social as a platform for change. Take Levi’s firm stance on gun control, Nike’s support of Kaepernick’s stand against bigotry, Diesel’s Hate Couture, Bonobos’ #EvolveTheDefinition of masculinity and Mercedes Tough Conversations campaign.

But, while some brands have entered the bear pit and succeeded, there are many who are afraid to jump in due to fear. Fears to commit, to have an opinion, to stand up for something and fear of audience alienation and reprisal.

Caroline, however, notes that audiences have reasonable expectations from brands. People expect honesty and proper representation and this is why our 2019 Think Forward report delves into the complex web of consumer identity.

It’s time to get trendy as Paul talks through the six social drivers that were the backbone of the report; certainty, connection, belonging, status, progression and conscience. Now, on to the report itself.

Think Forward 2019: The Nine Trends
Caroline and Paul took us through the nine key trends from the report:

  1. Social Standing
    Leading brands have taken a hard line on hate and publicly stuck by their values
  2. Fake Authenticity
    Synthetic influencers like Shudu and Lil Miquela prove that deliberate fakeness can be positive
  3. Local Legitimacy
    Consumers are doubling down on their local identities in the face of globalisation
  4. Collective AI
    Brands are utilising big data and machine learning to tap into trends
  5. New Masculinity
    The masculine debate is raging. Some brands have become passive mediators
  6. Memes Go Niche
    This branch of memes offers insights into hard-to-reach audience behaviours
  7. Minority Impact
    Marginalised groups are driving social’s biggest conversations and defining culture
  8. Democratising Data
    Many consumers feel duped and want to retake control of their own data
  9. Right Now Crowd
    Live video has left pre-recorded behind and created IRL watercooler moments

 
With these trends brands need to ask themselves, what are the benefits of tapping into them, what are the potential pitfalls and, finally, how brave and ready are you to get stuck in?

Thankfully, our panel may have some of the answers as Caroline and Paul open up the discussion with them.

Firstly, how has social impacted identity in 2018?
“The question of who are you has never been more prevalent than in 2018. Identity has really blown up”, says Cameron. Social has given us the opportunity to step into someone else’s shoes and it’s important that we do that. Another question that social has asked when it comes to identity, is the difference between roots and community. “What is it to belong and where you come from versus who you choose to be and where you choose to live is a live discussion right now and it’s an interesting one,” says Leila.

For Bronwen, it’s awareness of the echo chamber among your community that has led to a lot of questions around identity. “We have to ask why things caught us off-guard,” she notes.

Could a brand have different identities?
The general consensus among the panel was yes, as long as the brand had one unified message. Leila says: “It’s about an exploration of truth. You need to deliver the same messages to different audiences, but there always needs to be a truth”.

For Cameron, different identities are key to his work. He says he has one message that he delivers in different ways but it’s always a unified message.

What are the tensions between creativity and authenticity for brands?
Authenticity remains king in the world of influencers. “It’s not about the millions of followers, it’s more about the difference people are making in the world. For brands, Leila says "work with people who are shaping the world, not taking pictures of it". Cameron adds; "what people want isn’t an authentic end product, it’s authentic intent.”

Finally, what are the big trends around social standing and how do brands enter these conversations?
Across the board, our panel agreed that a brand has to back itself when it comes to discussions around social issues. “It’s got to back up what you stand for as a brand. You have to walk the walk and don’t be afraid to be bold.” To finish the discussion, Leila had a bold comment on her take on things; “brands can change the world.”

Download a copy of our Think Forward 2019 report here.