5 Key Anti-Trends For 2013

As the New Year turns, pundits with crystal balls seem to come out of hiding. Trend prognostications are everywhere: Top-ten this, top-ten that—whether it’s marketing, health or technology, every subject gets its due. It’s a phenomenon that’s closely related to another annual, self-reflection ritual: New Year’s resolutions. Reading top trends makes us feel smart and virtuous—kind of like the mental equivalent of a new gym membership.

Unfortunately, most of us add trend articles to a growing list of bookmarks, make vague commitments to act, and then promptly move on. When was the last time you read a trend list and actually did something with it to drive your brand or business? 

So this year, instead of adding to the chorus of what’s hot and what’s new, here’s a look at what’s hot and what’s old—a handful of key issues that were of critical importance last year, will still be really important next year, and that many marketers and business leaders continue to blow off and not address in a meaningful way. 

Cause and Corporate Social Responsibility practitioners should pay particular attention as these issues are helping shape consumer expectations of how companies should act, creating big opportunities for companies to build (or destroy) brand reputation, and have the potential to deliver a big, and long-lived impact on business strategies.  

So without further ado, here are 5 Key Anti-Trends for 2013. Ignore them—again—at your peril:

1. It’s the Economy, Stupid: As the world works its way through an epic economic crisis, jobs and the economy continue to be very much on consumers’ minds. Our 2010 research found economic development to be the one issue consumers most want companies to address. With a full recovery still far off, this issue remains critical—and will likely stay that way for years. Companies should figure out what they can do to pitch in, and get moving. A standout example of a company getting it right: Starbucks’ highly visible Create Jobs for U.S.A. Program, which is focusing on driving job creation through small business loans and community and housing financing.

2. The Power of Local: Hotels and restaurants with herbs growing out back and bees on the roof, stores with shelf tags tallying how many miles away products were made, a near 350% rise since 1994 in the number of U.S. farmers markets, consumers pressing companies to invest in the communities in which they live and operate—are all signs of an ongoing, accelerating shift to local. A great example of a global brand embracing this return to Main Street: American Express’s Small Business Saturday program, which started in 2010 and this year drove $5.5B in sales to independent businesses. How should companies approach this?  It’s simple. Tackle things that support people where they live. It’s the difference between ending hunger—and ending hunger in my community. 

3. America the Multi-Ethnic: America has been considered a melting pot for a long time, but in recent years, we’ve definitely reached a tipping point. Over the past decade, minorities came to represent +90% of U.S. population growth, and a majority of children less than one year of age. This points to a future America that will be a lot less monochromatic and a lot more multi-racial. Most mainstream brands and companies still aren’t getting this, treating multi-cultural marketing as a niche or add-on. Companies need to realize that Hispanics and African-Americans not only have a high propensity to support causes, they also have high expectations of companies, expecting them to take on issues that particularly impact their groups.

4. What a Disaster:  Katrina, Irene, Sandy, Texas and California wildfires, tornadoes in Joplin, floods in Memphis … seeing a pattern here? Extreme weather events have been coming fast and furious in recent years. Most companies have philanthropic disaster response plans in place, and they should: Nearly 75% of Americans believe disaster relief is a critical issue companies should address. Truckloads of products and financial contributions are helpful and deliver essential support, but leadership companies are taking things to the next level, asking: “What can we uniquely do?  What can we provide that no one else can?”  Some best-in-class examples of differentiated, brand-building disaster platforms: Tide Loads of Hope brings comfort and normalcy to disaster-stricken communities through the simple act of washing clothes.  Duracell’s Power Relief sends mobile power units into communities to speed recovery, providing much-needed batteries and enabling people to recharge critical devices like laptops, cameras and phones.

5. Relationship Reset: We’re another year into the seismic shift that the confluence of technology, the Internet and social media is having on the relationship between brands and their stakeholders. Consumers are increasingly connected, participatory and demanding—making managing brand and corporate reputation a high-stakes, high-wire act. Many companies are struggling to embrace this rapidly evolving reality. Some simple rules of the road: Transparency (Being clear about your intentions, actions and impacts), authenticity (First having, then holding true to core values and principles) and engagement (Providing a spectrum of ways for stakeholders to contribute and participate). Companies and nonprofits alike can learn from the upstart nonprofit "charity: water." They transparently share successes as well as failures, operate within a clearly defined values system and brilliantly leverage social media. In just 6 years, they’ve succeeded in creating a compelling brand, a track record of results and a tribe of committed, engaged supporters that make it the envy of companies and nonprofits alike.

So there you have it: 5 Key Anti-Trends for 2013. There may be hotter, shinier, newer things out there, but few have the potential to be as foundationally transformative.  

So, what should you do with all this?  Take a page from Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos, who pushes hard to keep his almost two-decade-old company in a state of perpetual beginning. His innovation mantra is that the digital era is still in its infancy and we’re still in what Bezos calls “Day One”—with opportunities abounding and far greater disruption yet to come.  So, if you haven’t made your New Year’s resolution(s) yet, here’s a “Day One challenge for you. Ask yourself: “What is the opportunity here for my brand? How can I leverage these five key issues to drive reinvention? What can I do differently to create competitive advantage?”  

Have a great, change-filled 2013.

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