Setting out in the right direction: Brand Trends for 2014

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As companies look ahead to the coming year, and begin to plan their marketing initiatives, some brand trends that have been gaining traction in the end of 2013 and are expected to become even more important in 2014 should be considered. Brand values are the defining characteristic of each of these trends. These brand values go beyond functional or emotional product benefits and get at the core beliefs that define the company’s actions from development of new products to corporate social responsibility. The three brand trends that will come to define 2014 in a big way are consumer health empowerment, packaging that does more, and the return of luxury.

 Consumer health empowerment

As the Affordable Care Act takes full-effect and people become confronted with the increased financial responsibility and involvement in their healthcare choices, they will inevitably look to their other habits and purchases through this new lens. This gives players in the CPG market a significant opportunity to grab market share if they take advantage of consumer friendly nutritional labeling and practices that support healthier habits. More than ever, consumers will want to know where it came from, what is in it, and how it helps them be healthier (whether through omission, fortification, processing, or special or unique ingredients).

Packaging featuring not-so-retouched beautiful photography, natural hues, unbleached or more matte substrates with vibrant colors will become even more prevalent than they have over the past year. Brand packaging that communicates purity, simplicity and natural origins will dominate large sections in store across the spectrum of products with some brands exaggerating with their visual identity some of their less credible claims in order to capitalize on this trend. This will make it even more important to go down this road only if your values will bear scrutiny.

Similar to the green washing of the late 90’s, consumers will become skeptical of all brands making natural or health benefit claims so think hard, be honest, and above all do it in an unexpected way to ensure strong differentiation. This is not new by any stretch. Brands have been slowly moving in this direction for years but when the big, traditionally slow moving brands with more data than flexibility start making big changes to get ahead of something, everyone else should take note.

 Packaging that does more

Innovation is always a good idea—for your corporate practices, to your brand strategy to your actual goods or service. But, it is becoming no longer possible to overlook innovation in the actual structure or packaging of your product. Brands that offer low environmental impact products have been as good for the bottom line as for the Earth for years, but now consumers—especially millenials—are embracing products and packs with a second life or purpose. These products not only have loyalty implications for the consumer who values environmental responsibility (by consolidating multiple solutions into one product) but it also does wonders for the bottom line by reducing waste, manufacturing and transportation costs (if that pack innovation extends the brand into an opportunity market or combines existing offerings). Probably the best example of this is the new Veuve Clicquot packaging made from potato starch. The recognizable orange box was traded for this 100% biodegradable holder that while protecting the bottle serves as a cooler, insulating the bottle in a way that will keep the product chilled for about 2 hours.

The return of luxury

Luxury has always meant different things to different people, but across the spectrum (both genders at any income and age range) people traded down during the economic downturn, treating themselves less, or doing so less extravagantly. This is no longer the case. As consumer confidence has rebounded and people have gotten used to a new paradigm, Luxe brands have been coming back in full-force. By far, the consumer group with both the highest potential to shop this category, and the one that is leading the resurgence, are boomer women. Brands large and small have been turning their attention to these consumers and expanding their lines to reach into this space. BUT, it is very important to note that by 2016, Millenials of both genders are projected to out-spend all other groups in this category. While brands without heritage or long timelines do well with these consumers, Millenials still value authenticity very highly and the interactions that they have today will shape the purchase decisions they make in a few years.

The result of this is that over the next year as brands cross that threshold of having 2– 3 years or less from this reality, the timeframe of executing a strategy and target shift on that magnitude will require that they start communicating to both groups now.

Brands like Mercedes Benz are good guides for this sort of sophisticated communication strategy. Their products are more luxurious than ever and are seamlessly integrated with the technology younger consumers are looking for as they interact with the brand on channels ranging from broadcast to more soft-sell and no-sell opportunities. These kinds of strategies can be expected to become more important and more common in the coming year.

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