Trend watch 2017: Digital, physical, and everything in between

A trend isn’t just a fad. It’s a longer-term shift with substance—a fundamental change that affects people’s behavior and purchase decisions. Trend watch 2017 offers you a peek at the trends most likely to impact your business—and your brand—in the coming year. Get ready for kidulting, phygital reality, and much more.

Let’s talk digital

With all the new technology being developed and implemented every day, how can you decide what your company needs to stay relevant? Here are the digital trends we expect will have the biggest impact on brands in 2017.

1. VR, meet B2B

Virtual reality (VR) may still be in its nascence, but it’s getting better, cheaper, and more accessible all the time. Look for VR and augmented reality (AR) to expand beyond immersive headsets and direct-to-consumer games in 2017.

Microsoft Hololens trends 2017

B2B companies will begin adopting VR and AR to give them unparalleled vision into processes and deliverables. Manufacturers will be able to use VR to walk through factories remotely, conduct digital supply-stream audits, troubleshoot potential pain points, and streamline new procedures even before they’re implemented. As a result, product rollouts and technology upgrades may not require costly shutdowns.

Apprentices in construction trades will be able to hone their skills in a virtual environment, reducing safety risks and cost of materials. Doctors will customize treatment by seeing the intricacies of a patient’s sickness in a responsive setting. Already, renowned law firm BakerHostetler has launched Ross, an artificially intelligent lawyer capable of reading millions of pages of research in mere seconds.

2. Say “hey” to chatbots

You’re well acquainted with Siri, the Apple chatbot, and you may have met IBM’s Watson and Amazon’s Alexa. But did you know that Sephora, MasterCard, and Taco Bell are using chatbots, too? In 2017, almost every industry will begin streamlining man-machine communications via chatbots. And not just with customers, but internally with employees. Companies will use chatbots to offer information on everything from health benefits and retirement planning to job training and travel.

Successful brands will design chatbots that are both differentiated and humanized. Elements like a bot’s name, gender, appearance, and voice all influence consumers’ perceptions of a brand, so managers will need to consider which qualities to project. And because the bot represents the brand, consistency is imperative.

Burberry chatbot trends

Macallan whisky recently launched a chatbot to help customers find their perfect scotch—and even recommend food pairings. For London Fashion Week, Burberry created a chatbot complete with a gamified maze that revealed pieces from its latest collection.

A photo posted by The Macallan (@usmacallan) on

In 2017, expect to see full-scale integration of chatbots across online shopping, customer service, and more.

3. Let’s get phygital, phygital 

We’re officially experiencing a Matrix moment: The physical and digital worlds are colliding. Consider the wildfire phenomenon Pokémon Go, which reportedly earned $1.6 million per day in the United States at its zenith. While participants are playing a virtual game on their phones, they’re also interacting with the real world and other gamers in their vicinity.

Pokemon Go trends 2017
Image courtesy of Flickr user Paintimpact

With the boundaries between our physical and digital lives blurring, businesses have unprecedented opportunities to create brand experiences that work online, offline, and somewhere in between.

Lowe’s, a major home improvement retailer in the United States, is crossing that line with a new app that allows shoppers to virtually mock up furnishings, fixtures, and even flooring customized for their homes. The freedom to experiment digitally allows consumers to make more informed decisions, while also strengthening their relationship with the brand.

Lowe’s Vision Powered by Tango

As we look for connections beyond our screens, expect digital channels like chat rooms to start merging into the physical world, with participants gathering in person as well as interacting online. Smart brands will find ways to tap into this trend.

It’s a material world

Consumer behavior in the physical world is shifting too. Today’s shoppers crave unique, tangible experiences. Millennials especially want to feel connected, try something new, and push their own boundaries. These real-life trends may offer the key to helping brands capitalize on changing desires.

4. Nature is nurture

Tweeting, snapping, sharing, texting. Sometimes it feels like our whole lives are under a digital microscope. British regulator Ofcom recently reported that 34 percent of internet users want to take a break from the web, while eMarketer noted that over half of U.S. millennials say they want to unplug. Where can people turn for space, silence, and simplicity?

Increasingly, to the great outdoors.

Outdoors escape trends 2017

Apps like AllTrails, MapMyRun, GoSkyWatch Planetarium, and My Altitude are making hidden corners of the world more accessible. Not only do they tap into a spirit of adventure, they also help people find the balance and stillness they yearn for. Look for other brands to bring the outdoor experience into the city by hosting urban events at parks, lakes, or open spaces.

In 2017, more companies will tie their strategic initiatives to benefiting the environment. Not just outdoorsy brands like REI and Patagonia, but smaller players such as Tentree or Tinlid Hat Company, which plant trees for every product sold.

Life of a Tree

5. Getting customers in the mood

The digital revolution has enabled us to customize everything from the interface we shop on to the products we buy and even the ads we see. But when it comes to physical stores, this level of personalization has yet to materialize.

With 85–95 percent of consumer decisions occurring on a subconscious level, retailers know the importance of setting the right tone for shoppers. Abercrombie & Fitch recently overhauled its entire retail experience—lowering music and raising lighting while decreasing scent—just to keep customers lingering in its stores.

Mood lighting retail trends 207
Image courtesy of Flickr user Caribb

Brick-and-mortar retailers have a massive opportunity to follow the lead of their online counterparts in customizing experiences. Heat sensors, motion detectors, and facial readers can monitor walking speed, body temperature, expressions, and time spent at given displays. With this wealth of information, retailers can modify playlists, change digital signage, or rotate displays in response to shoppers’ moods. This creates a major competitive advantage, making shoppers feel more comfortable—and more inclined to buy.

You can always get what you want

In our on-demand culture, brand expectations have skyrocketed. Understanding shifts in customers’ thinking and preferences will be critical for brands that want to resonate strongly with their target audiences. Look for these 2017 brand trends to define consumers’ outlooks in the coming year.

6. #Kidulting

Famed for putting their distinctive stamp on whatever they touch, millennials are currently engaged in a candid, culture-wide dialogue about the challenges of growing up. From Facebook to YouTube they chatter about handling responsibilities, figuring out unknowns, and getting things done—in other words, “adulting.”

At the same time, discussions are springing up around not being an adult—cutting loose and having fun, maturity be damned. Enter a new trend for 2017: “kidulting.”

Camp Grounded - Summer Camp for Adults

In the next year, kidulting will become a key means for brands to reach millennials. We’re already seeing this with experiences like Camp Grounded, which brings the joys of summer camp to grown-ups. Other kidult-focused activities rising in popularity: wine and paint nights (childhood art class with a twist); urban waterslides (harkening back to lazy summer days at the pool); and outdoor movies (remember drive-ins?).

Paint night kidulting 2017
Image courtesy of Flickr user Mcgrailsean

But kidulting is more than mere nostalgia. It’s a millennial-style fusion of two worlds. Look for more brands to tune into that playful vibe through messaging, tone, and experiences. After all, you’re only young…forever.

7. Let them eat cake!

After decades of swinging from indulgence to austerity, the food pendulum is coming to rest at center. The new focus in 2017: nutritious eating that also allows for treats and splurges.

Food brands across the board are already offering smaller sizes, from Coca-Cola’s 7.5-ounce mini cans to McDonald’s Mac Jr. And Mars Food now labels some of its pasta sauces and rich foods as appropriate for “occasional” consumption.

Burger health 2017 trends

Even as comfort food continues to star on Instagram, where burgers, pizza, and donuts are some of the most liked content, we’re seeing the emergence of brands such as Paris-based caterer 20/80 that offer equilibrium in diet. Its dishes consist of 80 percent vegetables and fruits plus 20 percent proteins and rich toppings, effortlessly supplying ideal balance to customers.

20/80 food identity

Consumers don’t want to be scolded or denied. We all just want to feel good, both physically and mentally. Health-oriented brands that allow for flexibility will have the edge, recognizing that occasional luxuries like a burger, beer, or day off from the gym are just as important as working out and eating well.

The proof is in the packaging

What should I eat? What should I wear? Which of 16 similar products should I buy? This year, brands will succeed by making things easier on consumers. Here’s what we expect to see in package design.

8. Minimal to the max

Simplified packaging is on the rise for 2017. Following years of neon colors, bling-y accents, metallic foils, and multicolored prints, subtlety will be the new standard of excellence. Labels will also carry less information to ease product recognition and aid purchase decisions.

Appartement 103 LaLomba
Image courtesy of Appartement 103.

This trend is already beginning to emerge. Renowned Spanish winemaker Ramon Bilbao launched his new rosé, LaLomba, with elegant labeling and sophisticated illustrations. Kashi followed suit with a streamlined cereal package in just three colors—green, brown, and white.

A photo posted by Kashi Foods (@kashi) on

Expect this minimalist approach to influence other areas of design: simplified logos, concise user interfaces, select color palettes. Consumers stand to benefit when their shopping experience is clean, calm, and uncluttered.

The age of community

9. Let go to gain control

Brand identity, once the exclusive province of brand managers and corporate higher-ups, increasingly belongs to everyone. In 2017, companies will loosen the reins and encourage input from consumers and employees.

Adobe remix trends 2017

Through Adobe Logo Remix, artists were invited to reinvent Adobe’s signature A, sparking conversation and experimentation. M&M’s asked consumers to weigh in on its new flavors in a “Vote for Your Favorite Peanut” contest. Ziploc now has an Inspiration section on its website devoted to consumer-suggested alternate and unexpected uses of its plastic bags.

Brands will also foster internal community. Employees who are permitted to make informed decisions for the brand feel more personally connected to it, and are likely to take greater pride in their work. Collaboration, openness, and willingness to accept input from any level of an organization will define successful brands in the coming year.

Trend watch 2017: In sum

Next year will be all about balance—between recreation and responsibility, health and hedonism, web and wilderness. Expect just one constant: Agile brands—those with flexibility and strength—will be best prepared to keep their footing as the ground shifts.

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