When it comes to predictions, it’s always tempting to hype new ideas just to sound fresh. But in reality, the four major trends we see as the most important aren’t anything drastically new. But we’ve seen them grow and shift in magnitude.  And while we don’t want to minimize the value of topics like digital disruption, data and content, it’s worth pointing out that all four lead us squarely back to the core idea of the power of brand.

1. Purpose Becomes More Powerful

That brings us to the broader topic of brand purpose. Last year, we predicted it would become mainstream, and we were right. Now, it’s exerting even more pull. ‘Meaningful Brands’ by the Havas Group, reported that over the last ten years the most meaningful brands outperformed the stock market by 206%. Of the 300,000 people interviewed, 75% expected brands to make more of a contribution to their wellbeing and quality of life. Brand purpose doesn’t have to be linked to broader social missions. But it must be something people believe in, understand and find relevant.

2. The “Fake Woke” Rebellion Continues

As more companies have tried to integrate social activism into commercial goals, consumers–especially younger ones–have become experts at sniffing out the phonies. (View the Super Bowl ads with this lens and see how many brands take this angle.) Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer shows that trust, in American companies, fell again last year to just 50 percent, down from 55 percent in the prior year and 61 percent in 2014.

Millennial attacks against “fake wokeness” and the brands that use it are swift and effective, whether it’s Pepsi appropriating Black Lives Matter, Audi’s faux concern about pay equity or Dodge co-opting Martin Luther King Jr. Brands can—and should—dig deep into social activism. But if you’re going to brag about helping girls code or being an eco-warrior, you better be ready to prove it.

3. People Crave More Connection

A Prophet client has asked us to predict what its customers will look like in 2025, and the key finding in our research is that in an increasingly digital world, people are getting lonelier. Other companies reinforce this. A 20,000- person survey from Cigna found that half of Americans say they are lonely, especially those in their late 20s. And 54 percent of young people say no one knows them well.

Brands are trying to change that. A fast-growing number of formerly online companies are building stores, with Amazon, Warby Parker and Allbirds leading this clicks-to-bricks movement. Nontypical brands are also trailblazing new ideas about community. Fortnite, the video game sensation, has become the biggest e-sport in the world, precisely because Epic understands the way young people want human connection. By pairing Fortnite champs with music legends, like Drake, it’s setting new concurrent viewing records.

4. AI Gets Ethical

That kind of connecting means technology has to become more human. And while artificial intelligence is still a key (and growing) tool, it’s moving from its “Move Fast and Break Things” roots to responsible behavior. As the world constantly grapples with the sinister doings of Facebook and Google, privacy issues are more important. Companies like Microsoft and IBM are building AI ethics into data science, engineering values and their corporate brands. Accenture reports that 63 percent of global companies now have AI ethical review committees in place.

Final Thoughts

These four major trends are something that we have seen briefly in the past, however it has never been to this degree. With brands wanting to grow their purpose to mean something more, we find brand experiences shifting as well.

Find out more about this brand repositioning and its impact on customer experiences.