The 2023 Retail Technology Buyers Guides

Passikoff: Brand Trends You Can Bank On In 2021

As marketing lore has proven, an ounce of insight ultimately turns out to be a real treasure.

This year our reconnaissance led us to 11 trends, which will transmute brand realities in 2021, and could, for marketers who have the foresight to take advantage of them, turn into genuine gold.

As our last column of the year, we’re going to lead you to a pot of gold. No, not kidding. It’s not at the end of a rainbow guarded by leprechauns, it’s at the end of a sizable number of research surveys guarded by consumers.

I say, “guarded by consumers,” because these days, consumers don’t think how they actually feel and almost never say what they really think. And, at day’s end, they don’t do what they say. So, you really can’t just come out and just ask consumers about stuff, which is what a lot of research does. Direct Q&A  and 10-point scales may provide you and your brand with a crock of something, but today it’s more likely to be insights fashioned from fool’s gold.

On the other hand, if you want 24 karat insights, you have to pan for those differently. We’ve found psychological inquiry with a soupçon of really, really smart higher-order statistical analyses does the trick. It’s an approach that provides insights that correlate with consumer behavior in the marketplace at the 0.80 level, so a wealth of insights. It ain’t bragging if you can do it, which we do. A lot.

For the past 35 years, Brand Keys, has conducted a year-end examination of those independently-validated, correlated-to-behavior, loyalty and engagement metrics. There’s a lot to go through. This year around 110,000 consumers participated in our predictive surveys. Our surveys audit B2B, B2C, and D2C categories and nearly 1,000 brands. This very granular view provides Brand Keys with a look at changes in category dynamics, detours in customer journeys, expanded consumer expectations, and arrivals and departures of category and consumer values, like sentiment, trust and allegiance.

Examined from a 21st century loyalty perspective, and, particularly this year, tempered by current economic and health and supply-chain challenges, our assessments provided us with a predictive view of consumer’s emotional (and rational) inclinations. If you follow the trajectory of those behavioral and attitudinal trends, it leads to a pot of gold. Not literally, of course, but figuratively, because it always identifies trends marketers will have to deal with in the next 18 to 24 months.

This year our reconnaissance led us to 11 trends, which will transmute brand realities in 2021, and could, for marketers who have the foresight to take advantage of them, turn into genuine gold:

  1. Social media will only get bigger as consumers renounce more traditional platforms.
  2. The ability for a brand to be more agile is critical and will only materialize if brands start leveraging real predictive insights.
  3. Voice assistants will become more of an imperative as part of your digital “staff.”
  4. As things become more (and more) interactive, brands will need to find a better balance between entertainment and engagement if they want consumers to participate.
  5. Emotional connections and sentiment will become integral to fortifying brand loyalty and engagement.
  6. High levels of loyalty and engagement will mitigate ongoing weaknesses in the supply chain.
  7. Given the COVID-19 pandemic – now and for the foreseeable future – local listings will be more critical than ever.
  8. Brands will need to shift from demographic segmentation to customer value segmentation.
  9. Storytelling is fine, but the stories brands tell must transparently reflect real brand values category realities, and customer belief-systems (See Trend #8).
  10. The consumer will use 7+ online sources to facilitate purchase decisions, and brands need to know which provide the greatest leverage in their categories.
  11. As ethnic groups continue to grow in size and influence, brands and retailers will need to integrate culture and culture-specific brand experiences into all outreach.

When it comes to the future, it’s said there are three kinds of marketers: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.

These trends provide those who want to make it happen an opportunity to turn insights into gold, to understand how to embrace new methods of brand and consumer engagement, perfect new business models, adopt new technologies, and create new and profitable opportunities. As marketing lore has proven, an ounce of insight ultimately turns out to be a real treasure.

We wish you all a healthy and successful 2021.


Robert Passikoff is founder and CEO of Brand Keys. He has received several awards for market research innovation including the prestigious Gold Ogilvy Award and is the author of 3 marketing and branding books including the best-seller, Predicting Market Success.  Robert is also a frequent contributor to TheCustomer.


Photo by Sam Healey on Unsplash.

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