Predictions about the future are always something of a shot in the dark; it's possible to make educated guesses based on what's happening today, but there's no perfect methodology. That being said, U.K. creative consultancy FutureBrand recently came up with a smart way to predict what brands will look like in the very near future, over the next few years: a virtual market where "traders" were encouraged to buy and sell shares in global brands based on potential for growth. The result, claims FutureBrand, is a real-time forecast of brand strength.
During the year-long FutureBrand Index experiment, more than 1,100 traders built up virtual currency in their portfolio by trading shares in over 1,000 brands. "We wanted to look at clues of what people think might happen," explains Tom Adams, the firm's global head of strategy.
Based on FutureBrand's year-long trading experiments, here are the brand trends we can expect to see coming up:
Traders in the FutureBrand Index operated on the assumption that the culture of bling, ever-present in fashion, is declining. "As conspicuous consumption increases in emerging economies, there is a self-consciousness around consumption—an awareness that there are implications to consumption choices. It's almost a return to a sort of authenticity," says Adams. Out of the top 50 traded brands, just five (La Mer, Lexus, Chanel, Hermes, Tiffany) were in the luxury category.
Even as the world frets about the obesity crisis and cities think about implementing soda taxes, FutureBrand traders predict that comfort and convenience will still reign. They probably aren't wrong: as the firm points out, Subway is the fastest-growing U.S. restaurant chain across the planet, and chocolate and ice cream sales are soaring worldwide.
This has been predicted for years now, and it's finally starting to happen. These days, nobody blinks even when big brands like Unilever, Walmart, and Target announce big sustainability initiatives. Smaller companies like Method and Tesla have also reached mainstream status, with sales growing rapidly. For consumers, "It's about being generally sustainable. It's less about what I aspire to, more about who I am," says Adams.
FutureBrand points to Kickstarter, TED (with all of its TEDx events), Uber, and Wikipedia as brands that are making a name for themselves based on crowd participation. The company writes in its Future 50 report: "From retail to reference and venture capital, brands that harness consumer willingness to participate and improve their service, or even create their entire proposition around it, will become increasingly central to our lives."
Even though China is ascending to superpower status, most recognizable global brands are western. We are waiting, says Adams, for "eastern Asia to catch up culturally with our understanding of its economic power." It's slowly starting to happen—Chinese brand Tsingtao makes the best-selling beer in the world, and Internet search service Baidu is second to Google in search requests. FutureBrand also points out that Chinese messenger company QQ.com is integrating with Facebook. In the end, there will be Chinese brands that mirror recognizable western brands like McDonald's and Hilton. "People in Asia expect brands to be where they go," says Adams.
Wondering what brands you should be paying attention to specifically? These were the 50 brands with the highest share prices on the FutureBrand index: