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7 trends brands can no longer ignore

by Kalev Peekna, Ryan Schulz February 9, 2021

For better or worse, 2020 was a catalyst for change. Organizations vaulted into digital. Brands put their values front and center and took a stand on social issues. These weren’t new trends; but the pandemic, as well as social and political upheaval, forced marketers’ hands. In 2021, the momentum continues.

Here are 7 trends organizations must deal with, if they haven’t already.

  1. Brand is a priority
    For nearly a year, businesses have been in survival mode, often putting branding and marketing on the back burner. Now, as we begin to emerge from crisis-mode, many are re-entering a market that has fundamentally changed–from new competition to drastic changes to virtually every customer journey. Marketers can’t ignore their brand challenges any longer. According to Gartner’s Annual CMO Spend Survey, 33 percent of CMOs say that brand strategy is their most vital strategic capability. While everything has changed, it’s actually an exciting and ideal time to refresh your story and refocus your market position. There’s a lot of opportunity for brands to experiment and to show up in fresh ways.
  2. Digital strategy = customer experience
    As the adoption of digital accelerates, core brand experiences will need to shift. According to McKinsey, digital adoption vaulted 5 years in the space of just 8 weeks at the start of the pandemic. In some cases, older digital tactics like emails, which used to be at the bottom of the list, are now at the top. This shift in digital behavior isn’t going away, and it isn’t exclusive to B2C; similar changes are altering the landscape for B2B companies. For example, since companies aren’t going to be putting employees on planes for regular meetings at scale anytime soon, web conferencing platforms, office software and other cloud-based tools are now part of the brand experience. Marketers will need a bold digital strategy to make sure these customer and client interactions are tightly aligned with their brand.
  3. Ecosystem era
    Let’s face it. Surviving the pandemic would’ve been a lot more challenging without ecosystems like Grubhub, DoorDash and Amazon. For many businesses, partnering with ecosystems was a necessary evil. Don’t expect them to go away. According to Accenture, 77 percent of companies will generate half or more of their revenue from ecosystems in the next five years. But how do they impact customer experience? Some interactions are unbelievably easy and positive. However, when there’s a service issue, customers may not even know who to contact. Brands will need to find ways to control the customer experience within these ecosystems.
  4. Specialization
    We’ve all noticed the rise of the “insta-company”—ephemeral brands that pop up on your social feed, selling one thing, like a must-have pair of quarantine slippers. On a larger scale, Amazon has also been segmenting its offerings: Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Business and Amazon Luxury. Both of these examples address people’s desire for specialization. Consumers don’t want a jack-of-all-trades. We’re even seeing it in the professional spaces. Organizations are starting to consolidate their offerings and focus on a few specialized services. Even the Legal landscape is changing. Rainmakers are leaving BigLaw and scaled firms and setting up boutiques to focus on narrow service areas in specific markets.
  5. Social justice
    Brands are no longer allowed to remain silent or operate divorced from society and politics. Businesses are being held accountable for what they believe, who they align themselves with and what their actions are. Forrester predicts in a recent report that 1 in 4 companies will lose revenue based on poor response to social concerns. It doesn’t mean every brand has to be a social justice warrior. However, brands need to be transparent about their values—and put them into action.
  6. Inclusive Design
    Organizations are realizing that being inclusive in digital is a lot more than just following ADA guidelines. It’s creating an experience that is mindful of users’ abilities, geography, language, race, class and even access to resources. At One North, every project begins with an important discovery phase where we put all assumptions and biases aside and deeply understand our users. These insights help ensure our designs and solutions are inclusive.
  7. Security & Privacy
    As customer interactions are increasingly digital, brands must put more emphasis on security and privacy and speak to how they will keep users’ data safe. It’s actually a big opportunity. Brands that do it well will not only garner more trust and loyalty—they’ll differentiate themselves from competitors.
Where to start?

It may sound overwhelming, but all these trends are connected to one thing—your brand. And the best way to start is by talking to the people who interact with it most. Tap into your users and buyers. Start a conversation. We’ve found that talking to customers often unlocks where to focus. Research and design firms of all sizes can help you get smart quick, but you can also spin up surveys using any number of tools that are readily available. User discoveries are difficult to uncover in a boardroom or with an in-house team where users don’t tend to hang out. It comes from deep  listening with real, live people. And there’s no time like the present.

Need help? We have several methods for gaining customer insights that can guide your strategic path forward.


Photo Credit: Madeleine Ragsdale | Unsplash

Kalev Peekna
Managing Director, Chief Strategist

Kalev Peekna is the Chief Strategist at One North. He brings a cross-platform, user-focused approach to innovations in brand development, design, data analysis and technology, and helps clients apply those innovations to their strategic aims.

If I were a vegetable: I would be broccoli. Because I have always wanted someone to call me “cruciferous.”

Most unusual job: Cocktail bartender at a Cabaret

Ryan Schulz
Managing Director, Chief Executive

Managing Director, Chief Executive at One North, Ryan is responsible for helping to shape and grow design solutions for clients. He works across practices to develop programs and capabilities that help clients fall in love with the future.