Leo Burnett's chief strategy officer Saurabh Varma argued at Spikes Asia 2013 today that a purpose cannot exist without 'cultural fuel'—seismic shifts in society that change human motivation and that brands will have to respond to. “A purpose is why brands exist, not why they sell,” he said.
McDonald's for example, has an interest purpose, that of simple easy enjoyment. Everything about the chain is geared toward this, from its quick-service strategy to its menus and even the restaurant décor. “But what fuels this desire for easy enjoyment is the chaos and rush of daily life,” Varma observed.
Other cultural fuels Varma identified include the need to both connect and disconnect in today's hyper-connected world. Brands tapping into this fuel include DTAC Thailand with its campaign urging consumers to 'Disconnect to connect'. T-Mobile too uses this sentiment with its 'Life's for sharing' tagline. “While we use our mobile phones to create personal space there is also a deep yearning to connect with total strangers,” he said.
Some of the trends generating cultural fuel today include:
Formality and informality
When times were more formal, spontaneity was valued as stemming from sincerity, but in this age of oversharing, when every thought that passes the mind is posted online, restraint and a bit of quiet is valued. Twinings tea taps into this with its promise to bring 'formality' back into lives, said Varma.
Ten thousand Facebook friends and not a shoulder to cry on... The purpose of a brand these days is to bring depth, not breadth to relationships. Carlsberg's 'Put a friend to the test' campaign (below) espouses this purpose and taps into this customer fuel beautifully, observed Varma.
But how can brands identify these 'fuels' or 'trends'? Leo Burnett partnered with trend-spotting fragrance and flavour firm Fermenich and its global prospective and trends director, Steven Van Der Kruit. To succeed, Van Der Kruit's firm has to not only spot trends but also predict what they will be in five to six years. “Why that much? That's how much time we need as perfumers and flavourers.”
The problem with the field of marketing though, continued Van Der Kruit, is that its information systems are outdated. “Marketers are disconnected from the real world, spending 95 per cent of their time in the office, cut off from primary info and reading secondary information that's six months old,” he said.
Rather than waiting for a trend to happen then acting on it, by which time it would be too late, Fermenich decided to identify what makes trends. “A trend is the end result of fundamental changes that influence our global business or our lives,” said Van Der Kruit.
These undercurrents of change can't be spotted in malls or in the polished parts of a city, he said. Rather they lie in the seedy underbelly. Fermenich's method is to walk in 12 towns in areas where trends originate, where graffiti runs rampant and street culture is independent in order to connect with the 'change mafia'. “Those towns used to be mainly from Europe and North America," he said. "Today that's shifted, and six of the towns we choose are now in Asia-Pacific, including Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney and Bangkok.”
Van Der Kruit takes pictures drawn from these areas and at trend-leading events such as Burning Man and the Salone del Mobile in Milan. The images are tagged not with with dates and places but with concepts, ideas, patterns and colours. Using predictive tools that have pattern-recognition capabilities, the team is able to spot tag clusters that are growing and that span continents.
One result of their work is the Pantone Colour of the Year. “In 2010 Pantone came to us with seven colour choices, unable to make up their minds which would be the year's most used colour. We ran our computer and we saw all these pictures and the colour, was turquoise.”
As proof that they were on the money, a search today shows 16,000 products from that year that were turquoise in colour. This year's colour, by the way, is emerald.
So what trends has Fermenich picked up today that will likely hit in the next five years?
The ability to sequence our DNA swifter and more cheaply than ever before will greatly impact humanity. In 2003 it took 13 years to map the human genome and cost $1 billion. By 2015 it is expected to only take a day and cost $100, said Van Der Kruit.
“If I know I'll live past 90, when is my midlife crisis?" he quipped. "When do I retire? Certainly not at 55, I'll feel too well for that. This will be an enormous change.”
People will want to be in greater in touch with things that really matter in life, beyond the endless cycle of consumption and greed.
Living on Mars is an actual goal, and while the target is 3000 years away, the interest will peak in the next few years.
“Keep them in mind,” concluded Van Der Kruit.