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Forecast: cultural and digital trends in 2016

With the new year come the inevitable trend forecasts – so who are we to mess with tradition? So here’s our strategy director Alistair Fitch throwing his two cents into the ring, taking a look at how 2016’s cultural trends will bleed into digital trends and vice versa.

Marketing gets personal

You’ll have read a lot over the last couple of years about personalising consumers’ brand experiences online, and that is only set to continue in 2016. What’s on the cards this year? Well, we’ll be seeing brands appearing on our phones with direct marketing on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, as well as more immediately and personalised customer care via private messaging.

Further into the future, but as early as next year, we’ll be seeing more written about brand omnipresence and a seamless consumer experience. For instance, how will brands weave themselves into the wearable tech and connected homes? Will our smart fridge warn us that we’re out of orange juice and signal an alert to our smartwatch as we wander past Tesco to remind us to get some more? This could prove to be an extremely useful and constructive way for brands and tech to make consumers’ lives more streamlined and efficient – as long as it can be tailored so that it doesn’t become intrusive.

On a similarly personal note, we now have more control than ever before over the products that we see on our physical and digital shelves. In 2016, crowdfunding will continue to dictate whether new ideas live or die – you need only look at Kickstarter-funded Oculus Rift for proof of the potential impact of crowdsourced product releases – not to mention the benefits it can bring early backers.

And finally on the personalisation note, brands will remain focused on bringing the internal workings of their company to the fore across digital channels. Showcasing and celebrating employees to consumers allows us to get a much more authentic, human insight into the company and how it’s run. Innocent’s mockumentary video around the Rugby World Cup last year showed how its staff lives and breathes the brand’s now-famous tone of voice. It brought their values and sense of humour to life in a way its signature pithy tweets never could.

Social gets serious

Instagram isn’t just about beautiful photos anymore – neither for brands nor consumers. These days, we’re all about creating something far more complex. One group of Instagram users has taken to adapting famous paintings, photographs or iconic pop culture images and overlaying them with iPhone text messages – but these aren’t just comedy historical iMessage exchanges. Texts From Your Existentialist takes quotes – some silly, some Sartre, some a unnerving mix of both – and makes them relatable, although ridiculous.

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Other accounts are busy developing a full narrative in the description with the image as a visual summary. We’ve seen everyone from ‘fitstagrammers’ to The Fat Jewish adopt this storytelling take to what was originally a purely image-based platform.

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And just as 2015 saw Instagram significantly expanding its advertising efforts and welcoming more brands and agencies into that offering, 2016 will be Snapchat’s year. Having trialled the sponsored Discover channel in October last year, which allows brands to function in the same way as publishers, as well as generally expanding the Discover tool to include more publishers, content and ads, the platform is constantly evolving and experimenting. As this article argues, though, it needs to address the wider ‘discoverability’ of content before it feels really user friendly.

Brands celebrate superfans

The more we’re glued to our phones and relying on social platforms for everything from breaking news to diary management, the more we’re exposed to and interact with brands. And, for brands, this is a seriously powerful thing. Herald the year of the superfan.

Whereas once it might not have been super cool to be celebrated by a brand, now we’re actively seeking it from brands we really love. And we’re being rewarded for it, too, if we’re special enough. You may have heard about the Domino’s Pizza ‘easy order’ button, which was made available to superfans only in December, or Netflix’s ‘Netflix and Chill’ button. The latter is available to anyone with a fairly specific set of tech available to them, but its invention is significant: a cultural phenomenon so accepted that the brand felt it had to react to, accept and incorporate it into its offering.

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Superfans don’t always have to be affiliated to huge brands, either. In fact, early adopters are being rewarded for beta testing new apps, social platforms, websites and other digital tools with various perks. The dating app Bumble, for example, rewards men’s good behaviour – so proactive behaviour and good engagement over time – by making them VIBees. As well as making the experience generally more useful for the women using the app, it also gamifies the experience for the men.

Blurring the genders

Although 2015 was a significant year for the transgender community – Caitlyn Jenner’s revelation that she identifies as a woman, despite having hitherto been best known as a former male athlete, put trans issues firmly in the spotlight – there is still tremendous legal, civil and cultural work to be done. And perhaps 2016 will prove a crucial year in this fight, with The Danish Girl, which tells the story of one of the first ever sex alteration operations, nominated for a host of Golden Globes, BAFTAs and, no doubt, Oscars.

Similarly, last year’s feature-length comedy-drama Tangerine focuses on a transgender sex worker who discovers her boyfriend and pimp has been cheating on her. Shot on three iPhone5s due to budget constraints, the film premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews, praised for ‘shattering casting conventions’ and being a ‘ breath of fresh air in an indie landscape that often tends to focus on #WhitePeopleProblems’.

So how are brands interpreting it? Well, we’ve already seen Louis Vuitton playing with our expectations of gender roles in the fashion world by casting Jaden Smith as the face of their womenswear line. The only criticism we’ve seen? That this is more about being gender neutral than transgender – something that may prohibit trans people from expressing their true identity through the clothes they wear. But, given that this area is only just starting to be fully explored, we’d say anything that opens up the dialogue has got to be a positive.

Louis Vuitton Jayden

FOLO is born

We probably shouldn’t even be talking about this, digital natives as we are, but there’s a bit of a dichotomy at play that will continue to evolve this year. On the one hand, we’ve got a generation weaned on digital whose FOLO (fear of living offline) is all-pervading and, if we’re honest, occasionally detrimental of their enjoyment of the physical world. You’ve only got to spend time with some 15 year-olds to witness their utter addiction to Snapchat – to the extent that it beats human interaction with the person sitting opposite them.

On the other hand, you’ve got the backlash against the stress that this way of life can cause – and a move towards slow living, yoga, meditation and mindfulness. And probably most popular of all is the hybrid of these two things – thus the proliferation of healthy-living and wellbeing influencers with enormous followings and, no doubt, upcoming clean eating cookbooks.

Suffice to say, it’s going to be a fascinating year – expect cultural and digital ground to be broken as content and tech become even more integral to our daily lives.

To chat to us about content and tech, email hello@digitalnativescontent.com or call 02030959402.