How quiet voices are being heard amongst the noise

Options, options, options! In a world of endless choice it seems one of the few ways for messages to cut through is simplicity. Many brands are choosing to go minimal with their images and offerings, paring back their branding and letting their products do the talking.

One manifestation of this is Carlsberg, whose bottle, can labels and product packaging have been cleaned up and streamlined. Excess detail and copy have been lost, a new, fresh green shade dominates and a significantly reduced colour palette is evident. The resulting look is just that little bit easier to take on board – something that message-deluged consumers instinctively welcome.

Carlsberg’s subtle makeover is about more than just speed of recognition. It chimes with the growing appeal of back-to-basics authenticity, often with an emphasis on artisan/hand-made/local products. Carlsberg may not claim to be truly any of these things but its new design signals a shift from ‘football fans and plastic cups’ to quality and sustainability. The simple design also hints at simple ingredients, which is again a resonant virtue for the growing numbers of health-conscious consumers.

Cult beauty brand The Ordinary is another good example of how less is increasingly more. Not only is its branding muted, monochrome and genderless, the products tend to focus on single active ingredients that offer particular benefits. The understated design suggests that efforts have been focussed on scientific substance not flashy style, and echoes the straightforward, trustworthy functionality of prescription medicines. The approach has generated a lot of chatter online, helping to cement its success.

Source: The Ordinary

In summary, people want brands to let their products speak for themselves in a quiet, direct, almost unbranded way – a carefully constructed naturalness and authenticity that builds trust and lessens the sense of shouty hard sell.

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Zerobnb’s new language of persuasion

The only way is ethics

It’s been building. Iceland’s now famously banned advert spoke movingly about endangered orangutans, but hardly mentioned frozen food. Last week a pop-up in Carnaby Street saw people queuing to buy gifts for refugees. Suddenly, caring is the new black. More and more it seems consumers want to identify with brands’ values and missions not just buy from them. In an era when they are inundated by so many competing messages, establishing an emotional link like this is becoming crucial.​

Zerobnb, an eco-friendly alternative to Airbnb, represents a new way of doing this. It offers an accommodation directory that lists only sustainable properties. It’s the brainchild of renewable fuel company Neste, who created a zero-impact Nolla cabin property and listed it on Airbnb. Then they noticed there was no option to filter by sustainability. Zerobnb’s response was daring and headline grabbing:

“Tourism causes almost a tenth of global emissions…. We’re not asking for much. We just want Airbnb to add a new category for sustainable home options. After that, we can get rid of Zerobnb.”​

Subvert to convert

It’s not big and it’s not clever to simply criticise competitors. Nor does it particularly endear customers to your brand. Rather, it can result in others picking holes in your own proposition. Here Zerobnb’s jab at Airbnb feels playful not aggressive. The suggestion that it will shut down when Airbnb adds the filter is a nice touch of modesty and conciliation. It’s an original, subversive technique that comes across as natural and human. Above all it’s memorable.​

Of course, not everyone could pull this off. The irreverent tone probably wouldn’t be right for a bank. However, brands who hit this sort of personable note are likely to strike a chord. Social media is encouraging a world where consumers are less likely to seek top-down guidance from ‘experts’ and instead look for support from peers – or brands that come across as peers.

See how brands can reach the hyper-stimulated consumer

Why brands must become their fans

A growing trend apparent amongst Millennials has been their urge for connectedness. Paradoxically, this may be a symptom of two seemingly opposing effects of the digital age – the atomisation of society due to lives being lived online and the power technology has to unite likeminded people and let them feel part of something bigger. Examples can be seen in the proliferation of music festivals and the explosion in fundraising events such as ‘Movember’.

Now this trend is extending to Millennials’ shopping behaviour. More and more they want to share the experience with others. Naturally, social media is often the first place where this dialogue occurs, and retailers which become a trusted part of this conversation benefit hugely. This is not easy as consumers are increasingly suspicious of brand involvement that sounds scripted and bogus. If, however, you can get it right it is warmly welcomed by shoppers who face a blizzard of choice and value those who can edit and curate in an authentic way.

Young fashion label ASOS, which sells a huge variety of styles through a mix of own label and branded apparel, is a good example of how to succeed here. It can be hard to see at a glance what ASOS stands for – is it vintage and feminine, polished and glam, street or hype beast? The brand’s network of Instagram micro-influencers, known as Insiders, helps ASOS shoppers narrow the huge volume of product down. Insiders like @asos_lotte or @asos_lex also give the brand a human face and embody the real experience of shopping as a curvy woman or tall man. The fact that they’re openly involved with the brand makes them all the more credible and defuses fears around comped posts and undisclosed partnerships.

Source: Asos Instagram Lex & Lotte

Offline, brands are playing to this thirst for connectedness by offering experiences like personal shopping and cocktail masterclasses. Selfridges has just opened a free indoor skate bowl in its Oxford Street flagship, following the lead of street footwear brand Vans, which offers skaters a “California-style concrete pool”. Those who prefer mindful breathing to sick skate tricks can get their fix at Lululemon Athletica’s complimentary “Sweat with Us” yoga classes. Fans of underground music can enjoy Converse’s hip and highly Instagrammable “One Star Hotel” in Shoreditch.

Brands can also build this sense of belonging through their advertising. Spotify’s “2018 goals” outdoor campaign used big data to dig into its user base’s listening habits and then turned this into funny, often locally tailored billboards. More recently, Gen-Z’s favourite online retail platform Depop launched an ad campaign whose taglines are the real, tongue-in-cheek, in-app bios of its sellers.

Source: Spotify, Depop

Looking ahead it seems that more retailers will be compelled to enter this battleground and attempt to give consumers a place and a reason to congregate around their brand. The victors will almost certainly be those who avoid gimmicks and a corporate tone, and create enjoyable shared moments that focus on the authentic voices of real shoppers.

Take a look at why home is where the heart-rate monitor is

Home is where the heart-rate monitor is

Why brands must keep up with the changing shape of healthiness.

A glance at today’s news headlines on health reveals a degree of schizophrenia. On one hand there are reports of record levels of UK obesity, on the other there’s the rise and rise of the health and fitness culture. There is a documented link between low income and being overweight while, at the more affluent end of the spectrum, gym membership and diet regimes are booming. This health movement is shifting towards a more holistic approach where people seek to unite physical, mental and nutritional wellbeing. At the same time these efforts are spreading across more aspects of home and leisure time. Businesses have stepped up their efforts on work/life balance, new exercise crazes arrive all the time and Fitbit technology allows us to monitor how we’re doing. For brands, this trend has opened up many ways in which they can tap into a very healthy market.

Teetotal fitness.

A shift in attitudes towards drinking has seen more young people reduce their alcohol consumption or become teetotal. Brands that can offer the same social, experiential and immersive occasions available to drinkers are prospering. For example, Club SÖDA NYC (Sober Or Debating Abstinence) and Club Soda in the UK are networks that use alcohol-free socials and workshops to encourage mindful drinking. M&S and drinks brand ‘The Duchess’ have launched products that mimic alcoholic favourites. The growing seltzer category, with brand leaders such as LA Croix, is meeting the increased demand for healthier non-alcoholic products with complex and interesting flavours.

Source: M&S, LA Croix

Fit for lifestyle.

Within the exercise market, consumers are looking to break free of the rigidity of gym-class timetables and enjoy more varied and personalised activities. The Class Pass app offers a convenient means of doing this. Membership allows access to 10,000 fitness studios globally plus options as diverse as yoga, boxing, martial arts and HIIT. Recognising the need for further flexibility, they recently launched Class Pass Go – an audio fitness app that takes the exercise process from fitness studio to the home. The app provides guided classes on activities like running, cycling and yoga, with scope to filter by duration, intensity and calorie-burning goals. Class Pass Live offers an immersive experience where consumers can stream live classes and on-demand videos.

Source: Class Pass Live, Class Pass Go

Meanwhile, Peloton is tapping into the popularity of spin and cycling classes by bringing a private and personalised fitness studio in-home via its exercise bike. Complete with built-in screen, this equipment streams live classes and also gives access to an archive of videos that can be filtered by musical taste and fitness level. Wearable tech brands Oura Ring and Bellabeat Leaf tap into this demand for ‘fitness your way’ with their smart jewellery, which measures key health indicators such as sleep quality, heart rate and stress levels.

Source: Peloton

The race ahead.

It might be tempting for brands not typically associated with health and fitness to believe they will be untouched by these developments. However, as the trend seeps into more areas, and the boundaries between exercise/health regimes and ordinary life blur, many retailers will need to monitor the implications. Equally, the smart players will be quick off the blocks with products and experiences that make being healthy less like hard work.

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How can brands reach the hyper-stimulated consumer?

We’ve all seen examples of the phenomenon; be it the phone jockey galloping down the pavement with eyes only on their latest text or the lunch archivist sharing photos of their latest plate. We live in a culture of constant distraction and connection. Under 25s spend an average of two and quarter hours on social media per day, 23% of them dual screen. Older people used to chunter about the young’s addiction, but they too are succumbing to the drug of online.

Kokoro’s new ‘Trendspotting’ team have been looking at the implications for brands as they struggle to cut through to an audience who have the world at their fingertips. How can a company make itself heard amongst this babble? Ironically, it seems that one way is to offer relief from this hyper-stimulation. More than ever, people feel overwhelmed by the torrent of information they receive – a feeling that might be dubbed ‘content discontent’. Brands that play to the desire to escape and unwind are able to stand out.

Giving consumers the opportunity to regain control over their media consumption allows them to feel empowered not submerged; giving them the ability to choose how and where to consume is increasingly attractive. Apps like Netflix, easily accessible across all screens, permit viewers to both binge and stop and resume with no extra effort.

Also tapping into this yearning, health and wellbeing apps are covering everything from diet and exercise to personal growth and productivity hacks. Meditation apps such as Headspace have surged in popularity. It seems that tech which cuts the invasiveness of tech is set to flourish!

Source: Netflix, QualityTime, Nike x Headspace

Another weapon brands can use to rise above the hubbub is to home in on very particular sets of customers. In order to connect they’re finding it’s vital to be ‘great’ for a target audience; that being ‘good’ for the many simply won’t cut it. The struggling department store segment is testament to the weakness of the ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ business model. Personalisation appeals strongly to deluged consumers hungry for products and experiences that have genuine ‘for me’ status. In the fashion sector, ASOS and Topshop have played well here by providing services such as custom size and style guides. Spotify offers playlists that aim to fit the listener’s particular tastes.

Source: Topshop, Asos, Spotify 

Hyper-stimulation looks set to get even more intense. As more and more brands try to fight back with the tactics outlined here, these weapons are bound to also become blunted. Continually coming up with new and ingenious ways to grab attention will be crucial to success.

See why homewares are where the Millennial’s heart is