Back to basics: the age-old human needs behind 2020’s biggest tech trends

Imagining the future has always seemed impossible, but that didn’t and won’t stop us from trying. In the 1950s, Popular Mechanics magazine predicted that 2020 would bring personal helicopters and a network of pneumatic tubes to replace roads. And while we may not have exactly ended up there, we are heading into 2020 on a wave of increasingly personalized technologies that are impacting not just how consumers move through the physical world, but how they discover, experience, and interact with brands and with one another. 

You’ve probably already read a lot about how innovation in areas like AI, voice, and video will shape the coming decade of marketing. If you’re struggling to decide what or how to invest in new strategies as an organization, it helps to consider the fundamental human needs that are actually helping drive and justify each of these buzzworthy trends. We see these age-old desires reflected across both the client-specific research we conduct at Grafik as well as in macro trends highlighted at the industry summits we attended this year like INBOUND, Brandweek, and DC Adweek.

The Trend Watching 2020 event, in particular, placed a heavy focus on the following five human elements that are driving macro trends:

The human need for connection 

The desire to build relationships, in tandem with the takeoff of virtual reality and assistants, has primed consumers to accept, and even expect, relationships with virtual representations of brands. 

What do we mean by virtual representations? Consider what Trend Watching analysts call “brand avatars.” As digital channels continue to multiply, consumers will want to see characters who embody the brand with which they are interacting, allowing them to absorb a brand and/or service in a more immersive and memorable way.

One of the first successful examples of this we saw in 2019 was Wendy’s appearance in the video game Fortnite. The burger chain’s red-hooded mascot seized the opportunity to drive home the “evils of frozen beef,” and quickly went viral as she located and destroyed as many freezers in the game’s city as she could find.

Wendy's brand avatar [Source: PCGamesN
Trend Watching encouraged attendees to consider the following when debating brand avatars: “If you were to code your brand into life, what would they look like and what value would they deliver?” 

The human need for relevance

With the sheer amount of data that brands now have access to, people increasingly expect personalization as a standard of service. Trend Watching experts assert that this cultural shift in expectations will now prompt a period of what they’ve dubbed “metamorphic design,” in which products change, grow, and adapt to each individual user.

The more personalized a product is, the more “relevant” its value. These days, you can find personalized services for just about everything, even nutritional recommendations based off of your blood tests from services like Habit or Baze

It’s a great conversation for a marketing and product team to have together: how might your offerings and services continuously adapt or evolve based on an individual customer’s needs and wants?  

The human need for recognition

It’s nice to feel seen and appreciated. And in an increasingly cashless society, the human desire to be recognized creates the perfect conditions for what Trend Watching experts have termed “brand coins.” Brand coins act as currency for customer loyalty. 

One company effectively using brand coins is Miles, a transportation rewards app that incentivizes the use of public transportation, walking, or biking. The greener the transportation method, the more points users get, which can be redeemed at Zipcar, Oakley, and other stores. This incentive not only allows consumers to limit their carbon footprint, but rewards them for doing so, encouraging them to continue and potentially even tell their friends about it.

How can your brand engage your audience in a way that gamifies or provides recognition of their loyalty? 

The human need for self-improvement 

Research (both psychological studies on willpower, as well as my own first-person reflection on the mounting fees I’ve incurred from missed workout classes) shows that despite the best of intentions, failures of self-control result in negative consequences across almost all areas of life, from financial to physical wellbeing. 

On the heels of a widespread cultural focus on wellness, Trend Watching experts predict that in 2020, consumers will begin to welcome “interventionist” brands that act in their best interest rather than exploit their temptation to indulge in an unhealthy behavior. Take Apple iOS 12’s introduction of Screen Time tools, which allow users to track and limit the time they spend looking at mobile devices. Or British bank Monzo, which allows users to block certain purchases like gambling and fast food. 

The human need for privacy 

According to Salesforce, 92% of people are more likely to trust brands that give them control over the personal data collected about them. If 2019 was the turning point in data privacy awareness and regulation, 2020 will be the year consumers truly attempt to take back the reins on their personal information.

Consider, which launched a platform that informs passengers of the airlines using facial recognition to identify people during the boarding process. This tool prompts visitors to send pre-populated tweets to the airlines that use facial recognition without consent, or book through alternate airlines who do not use this technology. 

What controls are you putting in place to ensure your audience has ownership over what data they sharing with you? Are you proactively communicating to them about how and why their data is being stored? Compliance with CCPA regulations, which go into effect next month, are a good place to start. 

New technology is exciting and inspiring, but any organization’s short-term success and long-term brand power are hinged on its ability to meet its audience’s most basic human needs, no matter the tool or channel. 

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