Looks are certainly more scrutinized than ever. We’re all in danger of having our beach outfits shared with millions. Meanwhile, young chefs vie to create the most Instagram-able “stunt dishes” that delight the eye more than the palette. But it’s not all shiny surfaces in Millennial land. Think of Jeff Koons’ iconic “inflatable” bunny on show at the Whitney—it looks light as air, but is made of stainless steel. Behind the Millenial eye is a generation demanding both visionary design and responsibility from retailers. In a recent GQ taxonomy of the different varieties of nerd, all but one wore a pair of spectacles from Warby Parker, a brand defined by its high-profile balance of hipness and heart. Even the harshest of critics admires Twee Millennials for their belief in the underdog. Style and substance have always tangoed. Now which brands will strike the right balance to own this tension anew?
Movie director Spike Jonze believes just the right amount of tension on set makes creativity blossom. Look at John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The Atlantic reveals their epic partnership was electrified by rivalry. Not only did they stimulate one another and collaborate; they were often at each other’s throats. This creative tension drove the genius of the Beatles—and delivered one of the most powerful brands ever. While “co-opetition” is currently a buzzword in business, spectacular results often come from straight, old-fashioned competition. What is Samsung without Apple, Pepsi without Coke, Adidas without Nike? Or, as Satya Nadella asks, what is Microsoft without Android? How is competition encouraging your brand to scale audacious new heights of creativity?
Scientists now understand what creates behaviors such as aggression, response to stress, attachment to others, resilience and persistence. This points to a world where we can toggle the pathways of our minds to be less encumbered, more unharnessed, more open to innovation. Think of GE’s new ad that offers a breath-taking future where trees bend into trains and planes sprout wings. Buick and music producer Kurt Hugo Schneider collaborated on a Youtube video that echoes the way the mind connects with cars, forming a rhythm section out of millennials dribbling basketballs, slamming car doors and revving the turbo engine of a Regal GS.
If scientists can flip the switches to free our minds, the question is, which brands will take us on the most profound new journeys?
Instead of being known for catchy names or attractions (think Big Apple), urban planners from Rome to Beijing are developing plans and brands that look from the inside out. These efforts concentrate on a city’s greatest strengths and growth possibilities. For example, Barcelona swept away old industrial districts to rebuild a new glossy city. Madrid remade its huge meatpacking district into a municipal arts center, creating a new cultural life force. The Rockefeller Foundation supports resilience in cities across the world to promote these types of initiatives. At a time when more than half the world’s people live in cities, and nearly half of the next decade’s economic growth will take place in just 400 cities, resilience equals Cities 2.0. Which cities are savvy enough to look within to unleash their brand’s power?
In other words, Big Data is turning into deep knowledge. A revolution is occurring in neuroscience, where scientists are working on understanding the human brain’s way of computing and processing information. This knowledge could be applied to technology, making the artificial intelligence in the movie Her a true possibility. Roughly 68 percent of the dark matter in the universe that scientists can’t see, is now capable of being analyzed, according to NASA—a literal expansion of our horizons. On a more personal level, technology brands are now tackling health challenges with data. A new app called Glow provides eager couples with fertility forecasts—and 23andme allows consumers to peek into the mysteries held by their DNA. In genealogy, websites are powerful enough to support the creation of a world family tree. This inspired the writer A.J. Jacobs to try and host the largest-ever family reunion next year. While observers like Edward Snowden (at SXSW recently) fear a loss of privacy with this plethora of data, we’re excited to see what new worlds will be opened up next by growing connections and search-ability.
In a personalized space like mobile, apps that tap our deepest behavioral drivers will have an edge at winning our hearts—and dollars. Banking apps like GoBank and Simple are snatching up college grad accounts with slick interfaces and tools like “Fortune Teller” to make budgeting fun. Meanwhile established players like Citi are catching up to allow balance and transaction checks without needing to log in. In retail, Home Depot’s apps are creating greater engagement by helping customers learn about products, while Banana Republic is partnering with a body-scanning app to transform your phone into a personal shopper. And what about apps for the most personal experience of all, dating? Tinder is revolutionizing the singles scene—including among Olympians—by eliminating the risk of rejection and speeding up potential matches by gamifying date-selection. Its success has even spawned an app for use in recruitment, which can radically speed up referrals and potentially alter how people get hired. Much more than mere brand extensions, apps are already re-shaping our lives.
2014 is the year of robotics. Google bought humanoid robot-maker Boston Dynamics (and Nest) and Amazon promises drone deliveries. They compete with myriad startup inventors. iRobot, the creator of Roomba—which saw its shares rise a whopping 85 percent last year—added a robotic mop to its line. A new window-cleaning Winbot robot also debuted, and a drinks robot named Monsieur is now available to help busy hosts greet guests with libations. Not only can Robots make our home lives easier, they may save lives. A DARPA-run contest challenged inventors to make robots to save mankind from disasters. Lest anyone be nervous about the new Iron-man prototypes of robots we often see, a crop of cuter robots is emerging, even including some of the drones that were an “it” gift for Christmas 2013. Retailers and robots are together for the long-term. We’re looking forward to the day a robot can be a man’s best friend to walk our original best friend, the dog.
The computer keyboard is, by all counts, awkward, inefficient and confusing. Designed in the late 1800’s to avoid typewriter jams, the QWERTY layout—named for the top left keys—slows texting to a rate of 14 to 31 words per minute, while the average speaking rate is about 120 wpm. Countless other dinosaurs are ripe for reinvention, and brands are taking notice. Nest is a company that reimagines “unloved” home products. The brand’s smoke detector uses beautiful design and innovative functionality to build users’ affinity and connection with the device—to increase use, and ultimately, safety. The banking sector, known for embracing technology to constantly reduce costs, is finally rethinking the ATM. Bank of America just launched an interactive super-ATM featuring video-chat, integrating the services of both an ATM and an in-person bank teller. Coin is bringing credit cards into the 21st century, with a single device that replaces all other cards—and syncs with iPhones. The future awaits—which outmoded products will be reinvented next?
Solar is not expensive, although many believe it to be. Similarly, China’s labor population is actually shrinking, not growing, and U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are on the decline, not the rise. These facts—and seven other stealth economic trends—highlight a lesson for brands: perceptions can exhibit a slow resistance to change, even when they are no longer correct. The NFL is trying to reach women. Yet, they kicked off an ad campaign last year featuring Condoleeza Rice in a Cleveland Browns jersey. The NFL based its campaign on the outdated perception of women as shoppers—instead of true fans who value game-time experiences. In a different way, Coca-Cola is working to move away from outdated perceptions of its brand. As its global brand value lags behind tech giants Apple and Google, the soft-drink maker is investing in clean drinking water. It is also rolling out water and internet kiosks, globally, that are dubbed “downtown in a box” in developing countries. With change being one of the true constants in life, which brands will always know what’s really going on?
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