The new year approaches and, as everyone knows, the number thirteen has lots of symbolism. For the religious there were 13 guests at the Last Supper. Scientists say the universe is governed by the 13 fundamental constants of physics. For shoppers, there's the added value of 13 items that comprise a Baker's Dozen. But for marketers, there are 13 trends to watch this coming year according to Robert Passikoff, president for Brand Keys Inc. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

Toward the end of every year Brand Keys compiles a list of trends and forecasts that will characterize the new year, giving marketers and brand managers a vital look ahead, based on validated predictive loyalty and engagement metrics.

This year the trends are overwhelmingly positive:

  1. The Expectation Economy
    Over the past decade, customer expectations have increased on average by 28%. Brands in all categories overall have kept up by only 8%, which anyone at the checkout counter can tell you is an awfully big gap between what you have and what the customer really desires. Accurate measures of real, often hidden, expectations provide significant advantages to brands that understand their value and point to how to delight and gratify customers.
  2. Me-tail
    The consumers' heightened awareness of their actual control, added to the commoditization of brands and products, equals a significant segment of consumers of consumers now craving customized and personalised products and services (see success of Pinterest). It will become an even more important brand differentiator, with returns-on-investments of loyalty and profitability made-to-order for your brand.
  3. (E)tail Everywhere
    Along with consumer expectations, online retailing increases every day. But increases in brand equity and usage among online retailers will come with consumers' desires to be constantly connected to these brands, in more than one way. Brands will have to watch for online retail pop-up stores like Amazon and physical kiosks for brands like Groupon, and start thinking in terms of broader access.
  4. Siri-ously Soon
    Voice assistance - or more accurately - voice assistants will become more the rule than the exception. Such applications will be designed and incorporated into more and more devices to meet consumers' increased expectations for immediate and customized support in all forms of outreach.
  5. The Known and the Branded
    Real brands will become rarer. The examples of those brands that delight consumers have become a yardstick they use to evaluate all products and services. We may still call them brands, but consumers think of them as category placeholders: stuff people know that don't stand for anything. Understanding what will truly turn consumers to fans will provide a foundation for meaningful differentiation.
  6. Story Telling Tales
    Brand that seek real differentiation and wish to establish emotional connections that result in real band engagement with consumers will need to get much better at storytelling. Understanding where real gaps exist between emotional aspects of the brand's category Ideal and where the brand is seen by consumers, can provide the opportunity to identify unique and stories histories and tales that will differentiate, entertain, and engage.
  7. It's Not Going to Get Any Easier Being Green
    Producing, selling, and shopping based on environmentally "green" production and design, fair-trade and socially conscious consumption is on the rise. But given ease of consumer outreach and ability to pull back the brand curtain, watch for significant increases in total sustainability and corporate responsibility in the consumers' decision process.
  8. Social Susceptibility
    Watch for greater and greater influences of engagement and purchase habits via friends and social networks. But brands will have to factor in the reality that peer-to-peer communications come in three varieties: good, bad, and bland. This makes companies more susceptible to consumer indifference, and their conversations and social interactions. Already brands are watching the "de-friending," or worse - negative news or outright bad evaluations about the brand. The brands that make it here will know the "how" of this consumer-controlled space.
  9. Mobile Screen Tests
    This is the year mobile devices will move into the mainstream and retailers will be tested on those screens. Brands need to be prepared to accommodate this trend, as consumers will rely more and more upon screens to engage with brands and guide purchase decisions. Brands will need to create truly targeted and customized campaigns for this platform and provide screen-friendly promotional materials and retail sites.
  10. App Savants
    Consumers will take greater advantage of applications. But this year those typically small, specialised programmes downloaded into mobile devices will move beyond games, GPS, and media, to more personalised applications that monitor, remind, suggest, learn, and know their users' profiles and preferences. Brands will need to make greater use of such emotional and intimate connections.
  11. Facebook Is a Given
    With brand ubiquity on the largest social network to ever exist, recognition will be the least of a brand's concerns. The question is not, "should I be on Facebook," but has now become "what should I do when I get there?" Brands will have to graduate from posting pictures, collecting friends, and/or offering coupons. But doing that will depend on the category in which the brand competes and where social networks make themselves strategically felt in the category. Tools like the Digital Platforms GPS will be of great help for brands looking to truly strategically navigate in digital space.
  12. Saturation Levelling
    It's no secret that there are more products and services, and they are using more platforms and outreach streams. So much so that the marketplace will become saturated with messaging and marketing. But just because it's different, doesn't mean it's differentiating. Brands will have to plan and research engaging pre-launch activities if they wish to level the category playing field and earn a high engagement-to-effort return on their investments.
  13. Engagement Empowers
    Non-engaged customers are a brand's most vulnerable assets. Period. Marketers need to engage all along the way, from the engaging platforms, programmes, messages, or experiences - outdated awareness models will continue to be ineffective. Brands will need to keep their eye on the prize when using any of these engagement methods, however. It's all about meeting the ultimate goal, increasing brand engagement.

"Of course, the number 13 is also thought by some to be unlucky," warned Passikoff. "And we agree, but only for brands that ignore these trends that will directly impact branding, engagement, and marketing in the new year."