VMLY&R
Jan 24, 2020

5 trends for marketers to watch in the Year of the Rat

From customer experience to data and purpose, VMLY&R leaders pick out the important trends marketers should watch in the new year.

5 trends for marketers to watch in the Year of the Rat

As we enter the Chinese Year of the Rat, we are reminded that ushering in the Lunar New Year presents marketers with new opportunities for growth, adjusting strategies to engage consumers, meet goals and make an impact with renewed vigour. With this in mind, we asked VMLY&R leaders to share what they expect to see in the year ahead. From customer experience to data and purpose, here’s what they said about the trends to watch.

1.Sustainability to get a seat at the top table
Keith Timimi, chief innovation officer

At $7 trillion and counting, Black Rock is the world’s largest asset manager. So when CEO Barry Fink said that it would be divesting stocks with over 25% of profit from coal, building new portfolios based on sustainable funds, and that climate change ‘has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects’, it signalled that in 2020, environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns are coming out of the greenwashing closet, and getting a seat at the top table.

Bloomberg NEF predicts that by the end of 2020, the number of companies that have set science-based decarbonisation targets will have jumped by well over 100% from the 754 at the end of 2019. This approach maps the changes needed to limit climate change to 2ºC (and now also 1.5VºC onto companies’ operations, rather than ‘feel good’ targets.

And raising the bar further, Microsoft has just announced it will go carbon negative by 2030, and that by 2050 it will remove all the carbon it has ever emitted into the atmosphere up to that point.

In 2020, we can expect an upsurge in corporate sustainability pledges—backed by real initiatives—as ESG concerns start to be seen as mission-critical.

2. Time for a ‘gig economy’ rethink
Hari Ramanathan, chief strategy officer and chief transformation officer

‘Freelance’ is not a new concept, but like all things from the last decade, it’s been given a tech makeover. Thanks to the likes of Uber, Lyft and Amazon the ‘gig economy’ materialised and scaled fast, however like most things from Silicon Valley, it was propagated with little regard for long term impact or consequence to human life and livelihoods. So, when the endless money rubber band snapped for the likes of Uber, they, along with other transportation disruptors simply yanked all incentives from the workers, bringing back the non-tech paradigm of personal incomes being based on how much business you actually do in a day. This is compared to the work-tech era where drivers could often earn more than the daily rental of the car in the first two rides of the day! Then came the notorious right-sizing of WeWork, and we all know how that went.

Looking to 2020, it would be foolish to predict the end of the gig economy itself or even of gig workers, but what will definitely have to change is the idea that it is an entire economy on its own. Gig workers are also realising that not having a permanent boss is great, but it comes with the pesky concept of not having an office, or even your own desk, no colleagues, no career progression and no real sense of belonging (WhatsApp groups not withstanding). This realisation that a gig isn't a career is going to come home to roost among the GenZ and that is going to have profound changes on work culture, education and even associated areas like housing and automotive.

3. 2020 is the year of brand activism 
Tripti Lochan, co-CEO

Purchasing a product is rarely just a transaction. In a choice-filled world, consumers want to buy what really appeals to their hearts, not only to their minds. They want to open their wallets to brands they believe have a purpose that mirrors what they hold dear. To brands which have values that mirror their own values.

WARC’s Marketer’s Toolkit survey revealed how more than 75% of marketers agree that brands need to take a stand on social issues. For brands, it's an opportunity to demonstrate their cultural relevance. To actually live at an emotional level in their customer’s lives.

2019 brought us Greta Thunberg delivering serious environmental issues, literally from the ‘mouths of babes.’ Consumers are more sceptical than ever when it comes to brands tapping into societal issues for their own betterment. For brands looking to make an impact in 2020, authenticity and genuine conviction will be key, and it will be those brands who seek to forge more meaningful connections with consumers by combining product, customer experience and genuine purpose, who will reap the biggest rewards in 2020.

4. Consulting firms to create own tech platforms and adopt new talent practices
Oliver Eriksson, managing director, advisory

In 2020, I believe we will see more examples of consulting firms acquiring or building technology platforms for research, analysis and management to alleviate their reliance on their ability to sell talent. This is already happening at EY, with more than 200 blockchain developers building their own suite of blockchain platforms that allow companies to interact with business partners, customers and suppliers, over public or private blockchains.

During 2020, we can also expect to see the impact of the Gig Economy on more industries, including the consulting industry. However, any “uberification” of consultants in 2020 is wildly premature, especially in Asia. Instead, we will likely see more consultants moving to work on a freelance basis; grouping together into larger crowdsourced talent pools for specific expertise on-demand. But this is likely to be on a small scale to begin with. Nobody cares if your Grab driver is Bob or Jane, but organisations certainly care about having consistent access to consultants that deeply understand their business through multiple engagements. So instead, I expect this to be a slow burn trend over the decade. Having said that, I think we will see more initiatives or experiments in 2020 with novel approaches to talent management such as PWC’s Talent Exchange which enables consultants in the US to work as independent professionals.

5. Emerging technologies will take customer experience to the next level
Gary Teo, managing director, experiences & technology

2019 saw the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, with companies like AirAsia, exploring the potential of implementing AI solutions to enhance business operations and customer experience. While the idea of working alongside AI will become more commonplace in 2020, designing and deploying one’s own AI-based systems will remain an expensive proposition for most businesses. As such, most AI applications will be procured by providers of as-a-service platforms, allowing businesses to feed in their own data and pay for algorithms or other resources, as and when they are being used.

Facial recognition technology, has also seen significant traction in 2019, from the now commonplace use of facial recognition for security on modern smartphones, to the Singapore Government’s announcement of the use of such technologies in its Parliament. I expect this trend to continue, signalling more investment into Computer Vision for brands keen on raising the bar in customer experience.

In 2019, more brands used virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) in one way or another in efforts to create more engaging campaigns. A great example was Samsung’s 4D lunar gravity experience, which in collaboration with NASA, allowed users to experience a real moonwalk via its Gear VR Headset. 2020 will likely see brands building on these successes via the use of “extended reality” (XR), which combines VR, AR and MR to create more immersive digital experiences than has previously been possible.

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