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Articles - Marketing Strategy - December 24, 2019

What Matters in 2020

Huge strategists, technologists, UX designers, and creatives weigh on what will be relevant in the year ahead.

The president isn’t the only one accused of abusing his power. Techcompanies have come under fire for abusing user data. And everyone is responsible for doing irreparable damage to the planet. It’s time to change our ways, doing our part to design solutions based on real insights and science, while being mindful of their potential consequences.

At Huge, that means doubling down on our original core mission of putting users — and not just one type of user — first. When their best interests are factored into every decision, the outcome will be well-designed, sustainable, and can even contribute to a company’s bottom line.

Brands Mature as Platforms for Social Change

Mike May, VP, Strategy

A year ago, the ANA anointed “brand purpose” as the marketing word of the year, and much of the industry has been panning the term ever since. I, too, have seen the cringeworthy Pepsi ad and read a hundred hot takes on Twitter on how brands should stay in their lane and sell their products, not vow to change the world. But here’s a counterpoint: Even if you think customers would prefer one more blade in their razors instead of a sermon from moral high ground, the reality is that customers also expect a brand to have a point of view on issues important to them. Want evidence? A twitter search of “boycott” will reveal today’s offenders — brands that find themselves on defense because of something an executive, an employee, a partner, or even a customer did.

Brands, of course, are not sentient beings capable of holding values. They can’t care deeply about human rights or gun control any more than the wind can have hopes and dreams. But they can still stand for something. Only now, instead of just standing for things like luxury or reliability or performance that their customers seek, they (also) are beginning to stand for things like inclusion, generosity, and environmental stewardship. Despite what the skeptical marketing pundits say, most of these initiatives begin internally, driven by employees’ desire for meaningful work and tying it to what is important to them. Marketers* are themselves people with values, and many are starting to realize that their brands are platforms — platforms that potentially can be used to drive social change, even if that’s not expressly why they were built in the first place. And with historically low unemployment, creating meaningful work to retain employees is a business imperative.

Because it’s good business to advance values in a brand that make both customers and employees more loyal, values-driven campaigns can come off as opportunistic and inauthentic — particularly when they’re executed awkwardly. But CEOs, CMOs, and other brand stewards are evolving their view of how a brand supports the business in a social and political climate that leaves many people asking for help. And many advocates for the environment or gun control or equality are happy to have an influential billion-dollar ally.

*some, not all

Companies Will Design for Quality Time

Emily Wengert, Group VP, User Experience

When it comes to services, we’ve been optimizing for speed and efficiency. And while that’s still what people want, the most innovative companies will begin to realize that quality time with the customer is the ultimate KPI.

Forget fleeting impressions. Brands need to make memories and deepen relationships. Time is the most precious commodity because it’s limited. This means brands are competing not just within their industry, but with the phone, podcasts, games, and Netflix/HBO/Amazon/Hulu/Apple.

Marketers have been trained not to think about time with customer. We’re always trying to drive down wait time and speed up customer-service calls (thinking of it merely as a cost center). This fear of time extends to digital, where “time on site” is often a proxy for how confused a visitor is or how long they’ve left the tab open.

But experiential marketing and customer experience transformations are changing all that. We’re realizing that brands that design for quality time — from Nike to Airbnb to Redbull — are the ones that garner the most attention. First published 20 years ago, The Experience Economy has finally come to fruition. Whether your challenge sits with B2B, B2C, or employee recruitment and retention, we are all potential contributors to the experience economy. But we’re still stuck applying old measures of success. 2020 will change that.

You’ve Heard of User Journeys. Get ready for Mind Journeys

Jason Schlossberg, Managing Director, Strategic Communications

Our brains don’t objectively take in experiences. They actually filter everything that we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch through a lens of biases, needs, goals, feelings, and prior experiences, all of which forms an uncrossable chasm between the event itself and our conscious experience of it. In other words, reality as experienced is ultimately designed uniquely by each of us.

Yet most experience design has largely been blind to this fact, remaining focused on traditional user and product journeys, decision journeys, and emotional maps, ultimately ignoring the underlying biases and motivated reasoning that drive each and every one of us.

Cognitive science and behavioral economics attempt to understand and articulate the various heuristics that our brains use to filter and perceive information. This is not new information to marketers and designers, who have embraced both to better understand user and customer behavior for a number of years. The next frontier, however, will be to go beyond merely understanding the brain’s inner workings and start designing experiences specifically for individual brains: which I call mind journeys, or cognitive UX. The result will be better, longer lasting, more powerful, and more meaningful experiences that transform.

For example, humans have a natural tendency to build logical systems around the decisions that they make, even when those decisions are irrational. Think about your favorite sports team, your political affiliation, your college major, your entire career, your sense of style, even your choice of spouse or partner. All of it starts with a first decision, and most of us are loath to admit that it was irrational. In a mind journey, therefore, the first decision a user makes is possibly the most critical. The success of the entire experience could depend on it.

From a design perspective, focusing on a mind journey, rather than simply a typical user journey, opens up exciting new avenues for designers to consider and explore. Expanding the sensory dimensions of an experience, as just one example, becomes an imperative. Studies show that products are more memorable, more rewarding, and can reach a greater diversity of people when the brain is able to experience them through multiple senses. Additionally, when sensory inputs are presented to users in new and unexpected ways, they help them to create new patterns, structures, and associations, which is essential to any kind of transformation initiative.

Of course, this all raises the issue of design ethics. Where is the line between positive “nudging” to create more meaningful experiences and “hacking” the brain with dark patterns to manipulate? Like all design decisions, intentions matter, and designers cannot abdicate their ethical responsibility to protect users, regardless of the tools in their arsenal.

Designers Will Be Accountable

Elushika Weerakoon, Senior Interaction Designer

Designers who create without thinking do indeed become death. Does this sentence grab your attention? Oh, good. That quote comes from Mike Monteiro, author of Ruined by Design,during a talk on design ethics.

Designers essentially create solutions for complicated problems. We gain an understanding of the problem by talking to users, perceiving their pain points, and slowly earning their trust. If that’s the case, why do we create products that violate that trust? And why aren’t we taking any responsibility for our actions?

Who should we blame when data is used to promote something bad? Who should we blame when there is a dark UX pattern in a product we designed? Who should we blame when unnecessary user data is collected? Designers. We design these products that allow companies to collect data, promote falsehoods, and implement dark patterns. The worst part is we make it easier for companies to do this.

Users are starting to realize that enough is enough. They are protesting, deleting accounts, boycotting services, walking out of companies that exhibit unethical behavior, and they are looking for the people responsible for these practices. They are looking for the designer. As this continues, the designer’s reputation will worsen unless we change, and we cannot hide forever behind a big tech company’s privacy or other illegible policies.

If you are a designer, you need to ask yourself, Will this harm my users? Will this feature provide a positive impact? What am I asking my users to do? If you are a designer, the user always comes first, and you need to design products with their best interests in mind — not the amount of money being brought in, or whether or not a business goal is met. Don’t violate the user’s trust. If you ever get that icky feeling in your stomach, it means you need to change the product you are creating. I will leave you with a saying from Warren Buffett: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and only five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently.”

Systems Thinking on a Grander Scale

Mick Champayne, Visual Design Lead

From products and services to user experiences and algorithms, the role of design is a powerful tool that spans every part of our lives. And up until now, the role of a designer has focused on isolating problems and designing solutions.

But our world has become increasingly interconnected, technology is evolving exponentially, and we’re designing faster than we can think. I recently met J. Paul Neeley, a speculative designer and researcher, who pretty much broke my brain when he posited, “Anytime we consider anything less than everything, we are missing something.” As designers, when we design anything, we must consider everything — from table stakes like accessibility and edge cases, to more nebulous concepts like potential social, cultural, and ethical implications, to ultimately, the climate crisis.

Looking forward to 2020 and this next decade, we can’t afford to be so head-in-the-sand about the impact and consequences of our work. The discipline of design is becoming more intentional, thoughtful, and responsible, and the role of a designer is shifting to that of a gatekeeper upholding those values. Really brings a whole new meaning to “systems design.”

Experiential Design Grows Up

Inessah Selditz, Group Experiential Director

As brands run out of channels that consumers pay attention to, investment in experiential will gain traction. A once fuzzy, head-scratching term will become a critical line item, as up to one in three CMOs is expected to earmark 21% to 50% of their budgets for brand experiences. As the field matures, the next generation of experiential will evolve in a few key ways beyond Museum of Ice Cream pop-ups, which, while sweet, lack substance.

Innovative big brands will invest in key blockbuster experiences, becoming the new modern media companies. The secret to breaking through to consumers, especially younger generations, is constantly experimenting with experiential storytelling and pushing the boundaries of media in highly creative ways. Louis Vuitton released a video game, and Gucci, which is riding explosive growth, is doing VR and AR campaigns. Brands lacking a rich heritage (DTC brands, for example) will struggle to innovate their storytelling techniques, since they don’t have a rich IP to mine for narratives.

As experiential becomes a permanent line item, execution will need to be more strategic and focused on ROI. Planning calendars, tiered models, and metrics like spatial data collection will be increasingly important as brands realize they’ll need to launch on a more thoughtful cadence.

The new rigor will breed a whole new generation of “brand imagineers” able to deftly weave narrative, technology, aesthetics, the physical world, and media in a compelling fashion, while delivering ROI in mature and measured ways.

Sustainability, Reframed

Michael Horn, Chief Data Officer

Until this year, the sustainability discussion was dominated by dense graphs, abstract time lines, and self-congratulatory press releases from woke companies targeted entirely to Whole Foods shoppers and shareholders. In 2020, thanks to a new generation of activists and business leaders, a tipping point for change will finally be reached, and what it means to be “green” will be redefined.

This will play out in three ways. First, consumer demand will finally become broad enough to support commercially viable, more profitable sustainable products. As a result, brands will move sustainability out of the CSR box and into their broader product and marketing portfolios. And finally, sub-national governments will broaden their pursuit of green jobs and businesses. Collectively, these trends will transform sustainability from a virtuous ideal to a commercial reality.

AI Will Amplify Human Intelligence

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