Generation Nice, The Middleburbs and Great Expectations are not classic-sounding novel titles. They are actually a few of the titles Mindshare uses to label cultural trends that are part of their new Culture Vulture Trends Report. The report unveils ten consumer shifts they project to be significant in the year ahead. Alexis Fragale, Director, Consumer Insights, Mindshare North America, joined me to share additional perspective on some of the report’s key takeaways, how Mindshare arrived at these particular trends and why it matters to today’s branding strategies.
Philip McKenzie: Looking at the 2018 Trend Report, it seems like there is a prevailing feeling of anxiety running through many of the insights. How did that feeling of anxiety impact the findings in the report?
Alexis Fragale: When pulling these reports together you have to let the data and manifestations speak for themselves. We avoid starting the research process with an agenda and instead react to what develops organically. We have released a trend report for the past seven years so by now we have a definitive method.
The past year was angst-ridden in many areas of culture including media, politics and branding. However, contradictions exist as many people cite being happier in their personal lives even as they’re anxious about the future. Our Safe Havens trend is a great example, particularly in light of the horror film industry’s successful year. Horror films give viewers a manageable environment to emotionally experience and resolve stress.
McKenzie: Middleburbs is an interesting concept. Can you talk more about that?
Fragale: The concept behind Middleburbs is a reversal of the urbanization of American cities that had been so prevalent in recent years. People had been migrating to cities as they got safer and more desirable as destinations, and now we see a mini-exodus out of cities. As Millennials have aged and entered the family period of their lives, they are more attracted to elements of suburbia. But consumers are also seeking the urban expectations of convenience and access; for example, being able to order Seamless and get food any time of day, or ordering an Uber to go anywhere, in a “middle ground” type of environment.
McKenzie: Another trend is Extreme Exchanges. The report discusses two poles: Efficiency and Immersion. Can you explain their role in that trend?
Fragale: Consumers expect their brand interactions to be as streamlined as possible, but at the same time they still enjoy elaborate, immersive experiences. It’s a very interesting dual tension that we’re seeing a lot right now in retail and service industries, and we expect it will expand even further.
Amazon is a good example, as they have continued to make their retail process more efficient — going from the three click rule to Prime to voice via Alexa. Or, if you look at the Amazon Go concept store, it’s designed with no-line shopping in mind. It’s about finding ways to reduce the friction as much as possible to help consumers get on with their lives.
That said, consumers don’t only want a frictionless experience; they also want to be stimulated and enjoy a sense of discovery. That is where brands with immersive qualities can win. Look at the rise of made-for-Instagram museums and exhibits, and the design elements going into certain stores and restaurants. As much as people want streamlined experiences, they also really enjoy the social aspect that you get from more immersive activations — to share it out on their social networks and talk about it with their friends. Those types of experiences can stay with consumers for a long time, which is great for brands.
Ultimately, brands and marketers should look at how they can capitalize on both ends of the spectrum, knowing when is the right time and the right situation to tap each pole. But if you find yourself in the middle and doing neither, you might be in trouble.
McKenzie: Obviously consumers expect a lot, hence the trend Great Expectations. Given the angst we mentioned earlier, and reports that trust in institutions, government, media, etc. are at low levels, are we expecting too much from brands? And is it fair?
Fragale: Great Expectations talks about the expectations that consumers are bringing to your brand even if their comparison is not in your specific competitive set. You might not compete with Tesla or Amazon, but if they are known in the marketplace as innovators, the bar is raised throughout the cultural landscape. Brands are held to a higher standard because of social media and our rising expectations overall. When you factor in issues of trust, it becomes even more critical for brands to be transparent and always have the best intentions.
McKenzie: The trend report spends time discussing the concepts of safety and complexity. They practically go hand in hand and connect to the trend of Safe Havens. How did that insight develop?
Fragale: At Mindshare we had actually previously noted the rise of franchises and how essential they have become. Consumers have a high degree of familiarity with those characters, and they want to interact with them repeatedly. So that was one source of inspiration for the trend — the type of stories told by Disney via Star Wars and the Marvel connected universe. They represent storylines that are both developed over time and have a high investment in characters that keep viewers committed. Familiarity leads to a higher likelihood of discovery. For example, Spotify takes advantage of that phenomenon by making sure they include artists and music that you are familiar with in their Discover feature. There is safety in coming back to the same universe and characters.
Establishing a safe haven also allows for consumers to process increasingly complex information cycles. There’s a huge amount of content available to you, and a lot of people can get paralyzed by the number of choices. So, we fall back on safe and comfortable choices.
McKenzie: The Rise of the Asian Economy is a really interesting identity specific trend. What does the focus on this particular sector mean for brands and content creators?
Fragale: There’s been a huge focus on the Hispanic demo over the past 10 to 15 years, and as we conducted our overall research we also frequently uncovered observations and insights regarding the Asian American community, so it made sense to look deeper at the multicultural landscape. This community is having a significant impact on culture, whether that’s Netflix commissioning a Chinese-language series, or the recent increase in Asian American Congressional delegates. Representation has become a really important point going forward — for example, if you look at the conversations around whitewashing, or the series on truTV, The Problem with Apu.
McKenzie: What do you hope that brands, marketers and agency partners can take away from the latest Culture Vulture Trend Report?
Fragale: Brands need to understand the tension points we highlight in our report and relate those to their core business. Consumers are both optimistic and yet filled with doubts about the future. Expectations for brands have never been higher, and that has to be understood when examining the competitive landscape. We work with brands to help them appreciate the complex forces that exist in the marketplace and to navigate them.
The full report, which features marketing implications and recommendations, can be found here.
Read it also on MediaVillage.