There are five key transformational trends that businesses will need to embrace without delay if they want to be brand-leaders, according to research from strategic brand and planning consultancy Onesixtyfourth. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

Findings from the CultureQ research project, which looks into the attitudes of adults in the UK and US, showed that consumers generally think that brands - rather than traditional institutions - are better placed to improve their quality of life, to drive progress in society, and to sustain the planet long-term.

Although many respondents believed that "the government should support its citizens", they also said they have very little trust in politicians' ability to do so. Instead, people are looking toward brands to help improve society and deliver good corporate citizenship.

The study identified five key trends that illustrate how businesses can step up and use their influence to enrich individual lives and make society better. In fact, Onesixtyfourth suggests that the only brands to really succeed in the future will be those that embrace the principle of 'brand citizenship' by aligning sustainable and ethical business practices with branding and reputation management initiatives as a means to foster loyalty and increase brand advocacy.

The five key trends identified are:

  1. The great lifestyle merger
    As people continue to deal with the effects of the recession, many are forced to let go of fixed lifestyle behaviours. As a result, brands will work to inspire people to think about their lives differently and give consumers the confidence to discover new possibilities.
  2. Rise of the Personal Responsibility Officer
    Traditional institutions, such as hospitals, schools and banks have lost the confidence of consumers and this has led to a general feeling of distrust and scepticism. As a result, brands will help to fill this void by working to gain consumers' respect and loyalty by improving communications and offering greater benefits.
  3. Know 'me' over 'brand me'
    In the aftermath of the technology revolution, 'meaningful experiences' and tailored offerings from brands are now very much expected by consumers in the modern world. As a result brands will cultivate precise relationships based upon individual quirks, preferences, passions and motivations.
  4. Me before 'we'
    As economic stagnation and a social culture of charity endeavours increase, there is an increased expectation across generations for brands to operate fairly and ethically with an overall aim to simplify a consumer's daily life. As a result, brands will work collaboratively to develop solutions that will improve the quality of people's daily lives. More will also use education to help consumers see the personal benefits of social responsibility efforts.
  5. The science of social purpose
    Across the generations, people want to take a more proactive role in improving society - political and societal changes have let the younger generations down and there is an increased desire for children to have a strong foundation for the future. As a result, brands will facilitate work groups focused on developing sustainable projects that fulfil a social purpose, helping to improve brand advocacy and leave a meaningful legacy.

"Having an understanding of how peoples' relationships with brands are shifting, and having the foresight into their changing expectations is essential for brands as we move forward," said Anne Bahr Thompson, founding partner for Onesixtyfourth. "People are expecting brands to use their influence to enrich individuals' lives and society. As a result, this presents a clear opportunity that doesn't necessarily involve big, flashy event sponsorships or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives."

The top attribute that consumers said they value is a brand's ability to do "good business". This can be broken down into three key areas: a business that respects the environment, treats its employees well, and is honest in what it says and does. These factors often come under the umbrella term 'CSR', but brand citizenship is also about the whole organisation living up to its ethical promises and placing the consumer at the centre of the brand.