Sterling Brands Foresees Less Stuff, More Privacy, And Smarter Commerce

The end of the year is a great time for marketers, and maybe science fiction writers, to get ideas for campaigns and stories. That's because year-end is when futurists at marketing firms, agencies and corporations turn on their time tunnels for a look into the future. 

Indeed, one sci-fi writer, Harry Harrison, might have written a different and a tad less dystopian version of "Make Room! Make Room!" (on which "Soylent Green" was based) if he'd read reports like Sterling Brands' first annual "On the Future." New York would probably have been just as crowded, but at least there would have been cooler technology. But in the '60s, who knew?

The firm's new report cross-hatches society-driven trends garnered from consumer data, and global product trends in fashion, technology, urban planning and food production. The study identifies 15 trends, including a growing demand for digital and physical privacy, served by such products as data and location-blocking devices for smartphones, and a kind of expandable personal privacy awning; a market for connected things including something of an Internet of pots and pans; and a growing sharing economy defined by things like a rewards card that measures your credibility and trust. 



The bottom line is that if the marketing gold mine is pretty much depleted, then these trends represent new veins ready to be explored, as they are rife with opportunities. Some examples:

  • The report says that more and more, people will seek "conspicuous isolation" in response to commoditization of personal data, and as they become prey to ubiquitous video and photo capture. Brands have an opportunity to provide various off-the-grid products and experiences: stealth pouches like OFFPocket shield smart devices from tracking; walled-garden social media; and wearable privacy are examples. 
  • As more and more people live alone (currently, single Americans are over half the adult population) and are delaying families, brands are starting to shift packaging from bulk to smaller serving sizes: spreadable strips (versus jars of condiments), single-serve grocery, and meal prep and flash-frozen gourmet food are examples.
  • "Life Framing" is a chicken/egg story where, as owning experiences trumps owning things, peoples' visual record of those experiences trump the actual experience. In other words, the view through the lens trumps the view. Why? Because super high-quality photography is democratized, and consumers have an obsession with posting everything and anything they do to social media. Thus, tech brands have an opportunity to develop life-framing goods and services: ChefCam, for the home cook; or NYC yogurt shop 16 Handles' Snapchat account, which encourages people to photograph their yogurt mixes.
  • Millennials — the "frugeois" — are thrifty, and want to live a more aerodynamic life with regard to having stuff. And they care a lot less about spending conspicuously than older generations. Thus, recycling and re-using is a key tenet for them, per Sterling Brands’ report. SodaStream, and new experiments by companies with reusable packaging are examples of promising product divergence.
  • The overpopulation of urban environments and proliferation of mega-cities will drive the creation of health and wellness products that help consumers navigate and fight environmental challenges, notes the firm. Going way beyond devices that count your steps, future wearables will serve up real-time reports on blood composition toward dietary and exercise regimens, for example.
  • The study also spotlights something of a trend toward personalized, intelligent vending machines because of advances in smart interfaces, cashless payment, product preservation, and inventory storage. "Positioned to grow by two million units by 2016, the next generation of vending machines level the retail playing field, and offer branded experiences on par with retail and pop-up environments," says the report. The Essie Color Boutique, Farmer's Fridge in L.A., and Canada's MedCentre machines are examples.
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