By Alex Clough, Creative Strategy Director

1. The End Of Shortcut Causes

Since the discovery that millennials respond better to brand missions than sales messages, not a week goes by where we don’t wince at some cynical attempt to do some good to sell more bad.

Just imagine if it were that simple.

There is a huge amount of global issues that need addressing, and truly sustainable and cause-based brands like REIBen & Jerry’s and Patagonia are growing fast. But when “real people” are shown post-altruism enjoying a refreshing can of dead rainforest, or a charity partner spokesperson repeats overcooked brand messages over and over, it just stinks.

The much-coveted millennial, whatever that means these days, can smell the bullshit. If there is a five-year-old tweet that proves the emptiness of the message, they’ll find it and batter you with it; whether you’re a brand or an influencer.

In the coming year, brands and influencers alike need to think more of the people they are talking to and engage them in the right way.

2. Long Live Authenticity In Talkability  

Facebook will move all non-paid page posts to a new home with no inhabitants, Instagram organic reach will continue to nosedive, and Snapchat will flatline despite its admirable new effort to “separate the social from the media”.

What does this mean for those with limited budget, or those that like to earn credibility as well as buy it? Influencers, publishers and earned editorial will wield the real power of brand talkability.

Influencer marketing revenue has skyrocketed in 2017, but with big money comes big expectations and inevitable failures. Naturally many expectations are simply not being met and more accountability is needed.

2018 will belong to those who can find and brief influencers like real, multi-dimensional people instead of reach-driving media channels. Brands that knit proper stories to create culturally relevant editorial will hold the keys to starting conversations, not just interrupting social browsing.

3. Sotto Voce

In Spike Jonze’s Her, Theodore finds real love in artificially intelligent Samantha. He is bewitched by her attention and understanding, forgetting that she is designed solely to do just that.

Last year Amazon created a prize for anyone able to prove 20 minute conversations with Alexa are possible. With loneliness on the rise, will people begin to feel something for it? For Her?

This year voice technology and voice search will enter the mainstream and flow into all the parts of our lives that we let it. Beyond the increasingly affordable devices themselves, the systems will be integrated into our cars, businesses and very soon will become seamless in the everyday.

Like Neo calmly proclaiming, “I know Kung Fu”, with a push of a button these intelligent voice technologies will know how to organise, prioritise, synthesise, they will fill our homes with music, food and furniture, help us arrive, leave but maybe never get lost. With the ability to design commands and skills directly, the opportunity is staggering. It feels like Facebook in 2007 – brands just need to start playing.

Soon millions more will walk through their homes absentmindedly asking “Alexa, play Discover Weekly on Spotify”, “Google, add olive oil to my basket”, “Alexa, help me relax”, “Google, where am I?”, “Alexa, why am I sad?”.

4. The Misunderstood Experience Economy 

“Millennials want experiences over things” is a poorly used and clumsy statement. It isn’t either/or, it’s about the value they determine of one thing over another. For them, good is good and bad is bad, and things can be experiences and experiences can be things. They shouldn’t be separated so crudely in a world where absolutes rarely exist.

But what is ‘experience’ now anyway? At its most simple, it is just a moment that leaves an impression – but how, where, and with what these impressions are made has changed.

Logic serves that the more good moments you make, the richer the story you tell, the better value you create, and the bigger mark you’ll leave. The need to prioritise quality over quantity shouldn’t be at the expense of depth and narrative.

To this end, this year will see brands join the resurgence of storytelling. Long reads, podcasts and digital series will continue to explode, so ‘experiences’ must too start to work both as part of a story and as individual episodes. It must work if you watch for 5 seconds or 5 minutes, but always offer value. People simply wont care otherwise.

Experience needs to be rooted in something tangible and relatable, and audiences need to be able to feel this consistently both at surface level and at the most deep. This is where real engagement and memorability will live.

5. Target Me Softly

We want personalised, we want relevant, we want easy, we want simple, we want value, we want reward, we want cake and we want to eat it.

But in our post-Brexit, post-Trump world we are more aware and terrified of media than ever. We know the digital spaces where we spend hours of our day have become the means for nefarious psychological manipulation at a shocking scale, but can’t tear ourselves away. We are addicted to the digital opioid.

In response, targeting and data access will be under a heavy spotlight this year, from two-way opt-in laws to the blocking of any private social data. How marketers understand and reach people through digital will not be the same again.

So, with the curtain pulled back on our echo-chamber newsfeeds and the changes in data law, the social mindset will change. People know they are being targeted. Brands that brazenly wear their strategy on their sleeve without understanding who they’re targeting will produce a passive, scrolling cynicism rather than an emotional connection or genuine product consideration.

Data isn’t the difference. Alone, it isn’t enough to uncover the true insights required to connect with people and stand out against the hundreds of messages they see every day.

Mix it with creative intuition and a deep understanding of cultural context and brands will avoid looking like the down-with-the-kids-parent, the suddenly-eco-teenager, or the heavy-handed-car-salesman. Strategic and creative nuance is more vital than ever.