Trend Alert! 5 Powerful Consumer Trends For 2019

If you plan to make waves in 2019, then consider running with one (or more!) of these big five emerging consumer trends. The brands and organizations living these trends are already setting consumer expectations. You can too. As you read this report, keep asking yourself: how will these trends shape the expectations of our customers? What opportunities will the new behaviors they reflect present to our organization?

Colin Kaepernick for Nike


Progressive consumers will welcome the ‘law of the brand’.

A painful dichotomy is opening up. On one hand, every startup or product that delivers a positive impact drives customers’ aspirations for sustainable and ethical consumerism ever higher. At the same time, traditional governmental and bureaucratic institutions are increasingly either unwilling or unable to meet many of people’s basic expectations. This has left people clamoring for strong institutions to resolve this tension and deliver positive outcomes.

In 2019, frustrated consumers will welcome LEGISLATIVE BRANDS: corporate interests using their significant power to call for, promote, and even impose laws that drive constructive change and make the world a better place.  This is an undeniably huge shift. A generation ago, brand lobbying was synonymous with bad outcomes (think big tobacco and big oil). Now, thanks to countless positive examples of brand activism, 86% of consumers want brands to take a stand on social issues (Shelton Group, June 2018).

But LEGISLATIVE BRANDS is more than ‘just’ brand activism. Yes if you get brand activism right, it’s still a powerful marketing strategy. Nike’s provocative Colin Kaepernick campaign earned the brand more media attention than almost any other campaign during 2018.

But, as the examples below show, the most progressive brands are looking to do more than just raise awareness. They are looking to influence – and even change – the rules of the game for the better. And where they lead, customer expectations will follow.

This is a trend that will likely make you, or many in your organization, uncomfortable. It should! Actively designing, lobbying for, or imposing laws and regulations is very different to creating a marketing campaign. It means authentic commitment to the common good. It incurs costs. It opens you up to criticism. It requires ongoing monitoring to ensure regulations are being adhered to. That’s the whole point.

If however you are committed enough to embrace the LEGISLATIVE BRANDS trend, then here are a few thoughts to kickstart your discussion:

First, if you want to apply this trend then know that it’s 99% about listening. Listen to a diversity of voices – inside and outside your organization – and hear what they’re saying about what needs to change. Then act. If you try to decide What’s Best for Everyone in a unilateral way, you’ll rightly face criticism.

Are there any laws that are simply antithetical to your brand values and positioning? Are you bold enough to ‘break’ them? Or at least find a loophole as Ceramiracle did with its innovative China distribution strategy.

In an era of GLASS BOX BRANDS, your internal culture is your most powerful external marketing asset. Could you empower your staff to lobby for new –and better!– laws, as BeautyCounter did? Or, could you impose new ‘laws’ on your staff? WeWork recently banned its employees from expensing meat. You could think even bigger: Microsoft’s initiative reaches beyond its own employees, to its suppliers.


Why an extreme test and fix mindset is the future of wellness.

Silicon Valley took a beating in 2018. But there’s one area where its influence continues to grow, and indeed will be positively welcomed. Among wellness-seekers (and yes, that’s almost all of us), a new mindset, is taking hold when it comes to one’s health, wellness and lifestyle.

In 2019, LAB RATS will see human wellness and lifestyle as an engineering problem to be solved. This outlook, with its origins in the Valley, will see rising numbers enthusiastically apply a test and fix approach to optimizing their health and lifestyle outcomes.

This trend has been building for a while. A host of apps and devices – think Fitbit, Strava, MyFitnessPal, Apple Health and more – have made millions increasingly aware of their health metrics and stoked the desire to be in control. But here are two reasons why 2019 will be the tipping point for LAB RATS.

First, the explosion in direct-to-consumer startups that leverage ‘evidence-meets-marketing’ social content means that in 2019 curious consumers can find – and easily purchase! – even the most niche and experimental solutions for any micro-health need.

Second, continual and dramatic falls in the cost of ‘hard’ science (DNA sequencing today; Crispr tomorrow) means that science fiction-level technologies are now within reach of boundary-pushing consumers. Yes, most consumers won’t personally have regular DNA-based wellness experiences in 2019. But as with the Quantified Self movement a decade ago, awareness of – and demand for – convenient and affordable hyper-personalized wellness is growing, fast.

Here’s an example of how brands across multiple sectors are catering to LAB RATS.

Featured innovations: Nestlé — Launched in Japan in May 2018, the Nestlé Wellness Ambassador is a service providing customers with personalized nutritional advice based on their dietary habits, DNA, and blood test results. Users upload pictures of the food they eat via the Line messaging app. Meanwhile at-home DNA and blood tests assess their vulnerability to common diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes. The service then provides personalized dietary advice, as well as specially formulated vitamin supplements. The program costs around USD 600 a year.

If you work in the wellness, beauty or food and beverage sectors then your head is probably already buzzing with opportunities.

Of course, there are many ways to approach this. Kolibri ripped up the rule book on packaged beverages and developed a bottle format that gives customers greater control. Pax’s ‘session control’ feature brings data-driven precision to a traditionally ad hoc habit. Nestlé’s Wellness Ambassador program brings DNA science to everyday diet and lifestyle.

But you can still tap into this trend even if you’re not in those sectors, or if you don’t sell consumable products. Think expansively about the personalized wellness-related lifestyle services you could offer? We can easily imagine travelers welcoming an airline or hotel chain offering them Timeshifter’s jetlag-beating app.


A bold new frontier for sustainability.

You’re undoubtedly working to tick the positive impact box. Perhaps you have a related KPI or two. But are you really making a difference? A lasting, meaningful difference that will be felt by future generations? Cynical consumers don’t think so either.

That’s why in 2019, the boldest and most inspiring organizations will embrace OPEN SOURCE SOLUTIONS: sharing and even giving away their innovative solutions to our toughest shared problems.

What’s bringing this trend to the top of the sustainable and ethical business agenda?

First, it’s now simply assumed your organization is working to reduce its impact. For example, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation announced in October 2018 that over 250 organizations, including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever and H&M, had signed its pledge to eliminate single-use non-recycled plastics by 2025. This is good news, of course. But these important and ambitious efforts have become background noise to many consumers. Fair? No, but it’s the truth. Organizations that wish to differentiate themselves – to set expectations – must do even more.

Combine this with the fact that while mega-brands keep getting bigger, they are often still tiny players in the epic arena that is modern consumerism. One telling example: McDonald’s and Starbucks with their global footprints still only distribute 4% of the estimated 600 billion cups the world uses each year. The takeaway here? Even global mega-brands can’t solve our toughest shared problems alone. But one way they can make a transformative difference? Leverage their resources to create powerful new solutions – and then share those solutions with the world.

Featured innovation: HP, Ikea & Nextwave — In October 2018 it was announced that HP and IKEA had joined NextWave Plastics, a coalition to reduce ocean-bound plastics. Both HP and IKEA already have numerous initiatives focused on reducing their plastic consumption. By joining NextWave Plastics the brands pledge to share their learnings and technologies in ‘a collaborative, open-sourced and transparent fashion to create the first global network of ocean-bound plastics supply chains’. NextWave plastics was founded by Dell Technologies and Lonely Whale in 2017 and now includes 10 companies including General Motors and Herman Miller.

Feeling inspired by OPEN SOURCE SOLUTIONS? Here are a couple of thoughts to get you started:

Don’t wait until you’ve got a solution before you start collaborating and sharing. After all, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to solve huge industry-wide issues on your own. NextWave is a collaboration of ten companies from different sectors, all focused on the issue of ocean-bound plastics. Fierce ride-hailing competitors Uber and Lyft are working together (!) with Ford and SharedStreets, a data platform to solve urban congestion. AllBirds tapped petrochemical company Braskem for its SweetFoam soles. Who’s your perfect partner?

Yes, sustainability is an obvious target. But don’t limit yourself to eco-issues. Starbucks’ open sourcing of its racial bias training shows there are other socio-cultural issues where you can help contribute to a better future (even if this wasn’t exactly a planned move).

But the first questions to ask are radically simple ones: where are we making a positive impact? Could we have an exponentially bigger impact if we shared what we’re doing? What’s stopping us?

On that final question: don’t hide behind outdated notions of ‘competitive advantage’. The long-term benefits you’ll get from being seen as a leader will far outweigh any short-term benefits from a specific material or process. Leave a legacy!


It’s time for our emerging AI overlords to play fair.

The previously mentioned techlash of 2018 has many parts. Some have been outraged at where their data ends up. Others resent the negative social impacts that the tech giants have fueled. Others still are frustrated at the mismatch between what tech promises and what it delivers.

In 2019, rising numbers of consumers will demand SUPERHUMAN RESOURCES: ethical AI and algorithms that deliver fair and unbiased decisions.

Why is this the key technology challenge for 2019? Recent years have seen rising awareness of both how much of our lives are shaped by decisions made by AI and algorithms, but also just how fallible and biased decisions made by those algorithms can be. The news keeps coming, and it isn’t pretty: take evidence of facial recognition systems being significantly more reliable on white male faces (what a surprise ), or worse disproportionately flagging black politicians as criminals. Or Amazon discontinuing its algorithmically-fueled hiring tool, which turned out to be biased against women.

The result? A deep shift in attitudes to technology. In a survey of 27,000 consumers in eight markets, 97% of consumers now expect brands to use technology ethically. Hardly surprising. More interestingly, 94% now say if not then governments should step in. That’s a profound change from the era when tech companies could do no wrong.

Step one when it comes to applying this trend? Ensure your existing AIs and algorithms are ethical and unbiased. When consumers see tech giants such as Facebook and IBM making changes to do just that, what changes will they start to expect from you?

But if you’re not a tech giant, don’t think this trend is out of reach. Perhaps you could partner with an AI startup to use data to shine a powerful light on an important issue, as Forbes Brasil did? Or even better, perhaps you have a unique dataset that can help othersdeliver better outcomes. Nonprofit Crisis Text Line tapped its own unique dataset to create a new chatbot that helps managers learn to have difficult conversations.

But wherever you start to apply SUPERHUMAN RESOURCES, there’s one challenging truth at the heart of this trend. You know that customers expect the people inside your organization – your human resources – to be fair and ethical. But when a human staff member makes a bad decision, most customers will be willing to view this as an isolated mistake. They won’t be so forgiving if they discover that your algorithms and AIs are structurally biased or unethical.

In 2019 you have a choice: make your digital outputs truly superhuman (i.e. flawless); or make them a little more transparent, a little slower, indeed a little more human.


Imagined and real worlds collide in the name of play.

Humans have always sought out escapism. From telling stories around the campfire, to cheering on a sports team, to booking last minute getaways. Increasingly societal polarization, inequality and political turbulence are prompting many to seek out a break from the ‘real world’ with greater urgency. See the near-tripling of Google searches related to ‘anxiety’ in the last ten years.

Alongside a growing desire to get away from it all, consumers have more channels with which to escape than ever before. Media consumption continues to grow to almost insane levels: American adults spend more than 11 hours per day (!) interacting with media. At the same time, media itself is becoming ever-richer and more immersive: 80 million Americans use augmented reality every day.

Yes, 24/7 connectivity and digital experiences that blur the boundaries of the real and virtual are not ‘new’ trends, but in 2019 their convergence will reach deeper than ever before into culture. Your customer is now a veritable escape artist, able to plug into a universe of their choosing – from the battle royales of Fortnite, to their fantasy sports league – at any moment. At home, stuck in traffic, bored in a meeting…the scope to imagine, escape, explore, create and connect is unlimited.

In 2019, fanciful worlds will permeate the real world as never before. As consumers seek out FANTASY IRL and play on the blurring boundaries between real and imagined, smart brands will join in the fun!

You’d be hard-pressed to name any business more proven in building transmedia fictional universes that capture the imagination of tens of millions of consumers, than Blizzard. And in breaking the record for the single largest donation made by a corporation to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, they proved the life-changing impact these universes (and their participants) can have in the real world.

Don’t fret. You needn’t be a game studio with millions at your disposal to play within this trend. Could there be a more ‘now’ example of FANTASY IRL than jeweler Tiffany & Co. leveraging a much-loved cultural artifact and bringing it into the real world for the experience-hungry Insta-generation? Going the other way, see how the Louvre made itself relevant to a new generation by harnessing the good old-fashioned audio guide to layer Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s creative output onto the gallery. Not only does this give fans a new chance to connect with their favorite superstars, but it provides a little educational benefit, too!

One final thought. Yes, some instances of this trend might feel a little gimmicky. Do diners need to see a virtual chef prepare their food? Does this mean the search for natural and authentic experiences is over? No, of course not! Not all trends apply to everyone, all of the time! But in these turbulent times, perhaps your audience might welcome a little light escapism?

Whichever angle you take on FANTASY IRL, in 2019 consumers will weave in and out of the real world in an ever-growing number of fantastical ways! The question is, will you keep up?

Source: Trend Watching

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