From big fashion brands focussing on being more sustainable to the rise of immunity wellness as a fast-growing and significant market to touchless travel and the rise of cosmetics labels using foraged ingredients, a host of new trends could redefine the marketing world in 2021, according to the Wunderman Thompson Future 100 report.
"Cautious optimism sets the pace for 2021 as the world reflects on the challenges of 2020 and enters a hopeful year of economic rebound and societal healing," observes Emma Chiu, global director of Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, in her introduction to the report. "The need for brands to plan ahead, understand consumer behaviors that will stick, and employ creative innovation is more important than ever.“
As marketers wrestle with this new normal, many old ways of doing business may disappear, replaced by novel strategies and products to tap consumers operating in a vastly changed environment. As they pay more attention to their health and wellness, consumers are also paying more attention to brand purpose, as they back brands that align with specific values, so expect brands to design business plans and marketing strategies centred on public health, even as some appoint chief-health officers to the C-suite to help guide this transformation.
While the annual report makes a bold 100 predictions for 2021, we have picked out 10 that, while not necessarily new or surprising, are likely gamechangers.
1. Gaming is becoming serious business: Gaming is set to become the next dominant tech platform and will emerge as the next dominant platform, just as search engines, mobile phones and social networks redefined industries in previous decades. The consumer gaming industry is expected to grow to $198 billion by 2024, not including sales from hardware and devices, augmented reality, virtual reality and advertising, according to research from consulting firm Activate. This growth isn't just being driven by gamers playing more and spending more on their games. Instead, digital games are increasingly serving as the backdrop for a variety of activities, from going to a concert to celebrating a graduation to staging a protest, the report notes.
2. Power of fandom online: When The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon held BTS Week in late 2020, the group’s fans made it the show’s most social week ever, generating 10.5 million interactions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, a jump of 1300%. "Led by the raging popularity of K-pop and their Korean content, the way fans interact has been overhauled. Devoted, digital and global, fandoms are moving from being boosters of their idols to becoming a force in their own right. Brands that align with fans, consumers and people who support specific causes will gain their own loyal fandom," the report notes. In Asia, we have seen strong brands, ranging from Prudential to Pepsi jump aboard.
3. Travel reimagined: What 9/11 did for aviation security and safety, Covid-19 will do to contact in the travel industry. As personal hygiene becomes priority No. 1, a range of companies are devising solutions to make travel a completely touchless experience. Airlines ranging from Alaska to Lufthansa are in various stages of implementing these protocols in their business. As the travel industry and allied brands await a revival of this sector, they're rapidly pivoting their businesses to adopt this trend. Elsewhere, cocooning, self-contained pods, venues that make the most of outside spaces, and expansive yet welcoming shared public areas are among the features that could characterise hotel and hospitality design in the COVID-19 era.
4. The fashion industry goes circular: After years of chasing after customers to buy the latest threads, some of the biggest brands in the business, from luxury labels such as Gucci and Stella McCartney to readywear offerings such as Uniqlo, have all embraced the second-hand clothing and recycled wear opportunity and the sustainability it entails. In terms of business, a strong recycled unit is also a way for brands to weed out fakes and keep resale values buoyant, which in turn shores up first-sale prices.
5. The continued rise of brand purpose: Amid the crisis, the Black Lives Matter movement and a fraught political atmosphere, a sense of collective social responsibility has been pushed to the top of the agenda. "Consumers are taking strong stances in terms of their values, and are demanding that brands do the same. Brands themselves and independent platforms are now making a company’s ethics ever-more transparent," the report states.
6. A new era for sports: A new era of fan engagement that prioritises experience and immersion across multiple digital touchpoints offers brands a new playbook for consumer engagement—and could hold the key to long-term loyalty. The absence of fans at live sports events has given rights holders a renewed appreciation for the value of engaging fans digitally. "Moving forward, digital fan engagement will become indispensable, and could offer a roadmap for up-leveling brand loyalty," the report states. Across the world from Mumbai Indians, a team in Indian Premier League cricket tournament to the Barcelona Football Club, teams are quickly pursuing this new digital opportunity.
7. The booming ghost kitchen opportunity: Euromonitor estimates that ghost kitchens (takeout-only establishments with no dining facilities attached) could be a $1 trillion business by 2030—and a wave of big players in the food and drink space is kickstarting the market. In November 2020, Chipotle introduced its take on the ghost kitchen with the launch of Chipotle Digital Kitchen. The digital-only prototype café operates solely for pick-up and delivery, with no dine-in options. Midwestern grocery chain Kroger announced a partnership with ClusterTruck, a delivery-only restaurant startup, in October 2020. Marketers associated with the hospitality industry and food and beverage brands will need to rethink their strategies for this industry, as this trend gathers steam.
8. Foraged beauty products, anyone? The appetite for foraged and wild-harvested ingredients is expanding beyond the culinary industry. "Beauty brands are bottling these hardy and powerful plants to deliver potent results for skincare enthusiasts—while reminding consumers that nature knows best," the report states. Big labels are already embracing this trend (Alpyn Beauty, which launched at Sephora in February 2020, features ingredients such as mountain-grown huckleberry and chokecherry in its masks and moisturisers), and it won't be long before other cosmetics giants too follow consumers' demands for these ingredients.
9. Disrupting the dealership: As with many industries, the car buying category has seen the shift towards interactive and engaging digital experiences accelerate as a result of the pandemic. "With consumers expecting more seamless purchasing processes and flexible renting models, car dealerships are overhauling the traditional buying experience," the report states. Already some auto brands are rapidly making this transition. In October 2020, Volkswagen Australia introduced its Volkswagen Smallest Dealership to help more customers purchase and customise vehicles online. Ford is bringing the dealership to buyers’ driveways. In the United States and Kia is offering virtual personalised viewings across many markets.
10. The rise of immunity wellness: The wellness industry is expanding to incorporate immune-strengthening components, which have traditionally been part of the medical realm. Expect to see more wellness products and services incorporating immune system boosters and therapies. In December 2020, nutrigenomics brand Caligenix launched Immunotype, a supplement based on DNA data research that addresses the human immune system at the level of the genome, wellness shots company So Good So You secured $14.5 million in funding in November, which it plans to use to develop immunity-focused varieties to meet increased consumer demand and in October, functional wellness label Remedy Organics launched Berry Immunity, an immuneboosting plant-based protein beverage.