At some point, everyone will use a self-driving vehicle. We’re already using the components – mobile devices, robots (thanks to mine for a sparkling kitchen floor!) and wearable technology – on a daily basis. Our devices help us do more and it’s becoming clear: The everyday technology we depend on is revolutionizing the way we perceive human performance. Social technology equips us be in several places at once, communicating across platforms, in an endless torrent of activity. But how are humans bearing up? Judging from the abundance of news stories and online conversations, it seems the embrace of technology is draining human batteries. And it’s made us serious about improving how we eat, sleep, live and learn, which will impact brands in new ways.
How will brands succeed in 2016? By answering these five consumer questions across all social platforms:
1) Why should I believe you?
Social media has created wary consumers. Brands can no longer rely on their online “influencers” to persuade consumers. A recent poll for FleishmanHillard TRUE found that consumers who were more likely this year than last to pay attention to social influencers (25 percent) were about equal to those who were less likely to pay attention to social media influencers (21 percent). Any new growth was lost to attrition. That’s because with a little digging, it’s easy to discover that most “trust agents” are untrustworthy. In fact, the social media personalities with the most caché steer clear of sponsors. For these elites, commercial sponsorship isn’t cashing in, it’s kryptonite. Take for example, the popular health and nutrition blogger Krista Scott Dixon, who has a strongly worded “no-shilling” policy on her blog. Dixon commands a robust and loyal following primarily because her expertise is hard-won and she’s agnostic. Brands that look to grow will want to find influencers like Dixon, not because they want her to promote their brand – she won’t – but because they hope to boost her mission of keeping fitness for women real.
2) Will your food product help me perform under pressure?
Like never before, food is fuel. After decades of a food frenzy led by the likes of Martha Stewart and sustained by the Food Network – not to mention countless food blogs and cookbooks – people are shedding the idea that food is about comfort. Instead, they are embracing food for its nutritional properties. For the majority of consumers (61 percent), the very definition of health and wellness is “Having the energy to live an active life.” Whether young or old, having too little energy is a key trigger for a change in health and wellness views.
3) Will you help me focus on my goals?
Consumers show little confidence in the job market. In October, those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead declined from 14.9 percent to 14.5 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase dropped from 18.7 percent to 18.0 percent. Within five years, the world’s best training and education will be available online to raise skill levels and help workers keep up in a rapidly evolving job market. But to take advantage, consumers must be focused and disciplined. Products that motivate, prod and remind them to meet personal goals will be valued.
4) Who am I, anyway?
We are teetering on the verge of a collective identity crisis. Our ideas about the self – who we are – have not kept up with the times. A cursory study of the canon on identity formation reveals most of it is a throwback to the more predictable 1950s. In an age of rapid disruption, many of the institutions that helped us become “us” are fading away. Organized religion, political affiliation, membership groups and clubs are losing relevance. Careers are no longer a stabilizing force – today’s worker changes jobs seven to nine times. Families are fluid. The crush of holiday travel is a snapshot of the hyper-mobile, post-nuclear family. The rise of social technologies has people cultivating a constellation of virtual identities. I was taken aback recently by a focus group of Millennials. They were eager to try out a new budgeting app, but not for the more usual reasons, such as clearing up college debt. In fact, the debt had given them an identity. Instead, the motivation was to become someone else—a debt-free person. Said one, “For so long, I’ve lived with college debt. My friends carry it around, too. We complain about it. But I’m ready to be someone different.” Brands will do well to heed the apparent link between consumers’ motivation to try—new behaviors, new roles and even new products—with a deep urge for inner coherence.
5) Why should I care about your innovation?
Over the last decade, innovation has become a global obsession. We find it has zealots in business, education and social enterprise. Recently, I studied teams in workplaces where innovation was a stated expectation of employee performance. Many of the folks I interviewed described themselves as innovators of one sort or another. But as I probed deeper, their anxieties about change rose to the surface. That’s because innovation creates uncertainty. And uncertainty triggers self-doubt. An entire generation grew up with the “innovate or die” mantra. How is that working for them? Well, they’re over it. What’s a brand to do? In the words of the writer E.B. White, “Show, don’t tell.” Throwing around the word “innovation” will not inspire people to think your brand is cool. Better to show how your brand performs in the world to improve the human endeavor.
It comes down to this: To succeed in the coming year and beyond, brands must help people thrive in a high-speed life and become better versions of themselves.