Branding trends in 2018 and beyond
“Successful design begins with an overall strategy that communicates messaging and usability to customers and the brand’s community. This integration of all aspects of a company’s DNA makes better design an investment that will deliver sustainable results”
The evolution of business and technology creates new needs for customers, which also generates new needs for innovative designs to promote products and services. For this reason, branding is constantly evolving to appeal to new audiences and lifestyle trends as “consumers, especially those in the 18-34 age bracket, are now demanding higher standards of design, especially when it comes to issues related to the environment and sustainability. They are forcing the market to adapt to a better way of doing business.” (1) So, what’s in it for us in 2018? Let’s dive into our current (and beyond) branding trends.
The constant exposure to brands and new lines of products led to a logical counter-trend: being brandless. This branding strategy is not fundamentally different from other marketing strategies, but it resonates with people as it responds to their overexposure to brands and their over-the-top marketing assets. It also resonates with customers’ needs to understand what they are paying for and valuing more product information than packaging. In a society where overconsumption and overexposure to publicity prevail: as a brand, being bold can also mean being less “branded”. One good example of this trend is the brand Brandless (2)
Product Design Branding
At its core, product design is the process of “identifying a market opportunity, clearly defining the problem, developing a proper solution for that problem and validating the solution with real users.” (3) Such process encompasses design thinking, which is a “human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success.” (4) Branding is widely impacted by product design since the brand identity has to be aligned with the product the brand embodies – and consequently its design, whether it is a physical product or a digital one.
The result? Brands that align product design with the branding communication while providing a strong sense of usability for customers will get the attention. Indeed, this approach is not only relevant in marketing but also in business as “successful design begins with an overall strategy that communicates messaging and usability to customers and the brand’s community. This integration of all aspects of a company’s DNA makes better design an investment that will deliver sustainable results”. (5)
Between the growing popularity of creative collages in graphic design (6) and the second renaissance trend (7), the overall visual influence is composed of a mélange of visual patterns on one hand and the unusual mix of ethnics representations with historic imageries on the other. Indeed, art history images such as the Mona Lisa or the Last Supper dominate the visual landscape of 2018. The impact of such influences can be seen on social media accounts (see here) or in the entertainment industry (8). In 2017 already, the renaissance theme was also part of the art direction of the renowned Adidas Originals campaign “Original is Never Finished”(9). Now, we witness a continuation of such a mélange of imageries and symbols on a mainstream level, where brands push boundaries even further.
The new do of mainstream branding gravitates towards motion design (10) for various formats: videos, pictograms (11), digital advertising, posts on social media (see Starbucks). Since graphics with motion add another dimension to static images, the combination of videos with still pictures became very popular within the Tech industry. A new shift of this trend is also slowly appearing in other industries.
What’s next? Cross-industry branding.
In 2019, opposing trends will appear as a result of a general branding confusion between traditional imageries and new technology-inspired. In an attempt to resolve this branding dissonance, one solution will be to mix those visions, through “imperfect and do-it-yourself imagery that’s begun to feel the most honest – and the most authentic” (12) and digital motion-inspired creations. The result? A combination of high-level aesthetic and “down to heart” visuals.
Such a vision could be the next trend in branding as industries are currently exploring new artistic directions to remain attractive. As a result, the brand identity that once belonged to one industry will shift to other sectors. Klarna, the Swedish bank that provides online financial solutions, is one good example of this: the brand belongs to the FinTech industry but the branding is strongly inspired by the lifestyle sector. (13) A second example is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York political figure: instead of campaigning with traditional political campaign visuals, she embraced a more bold and pop-inspired branding campaign. Such cross-industry branding is the result of major influences from visual industries (art, fashion, architecture) to non-creative industries. Additionally, with the arrival of technology and its impact on creative fields (see art with AI), one can predict a combination of organic and non-organic visuals and designs.
Branding will add a new element to the mix: the fifth senses. Now, touch & feel will go one step further than the traditional look & feel in branding. Indeed, “audiences are craving new and different experiences when it comes to marketing, but not only that” (14) as customers will want to feel branding instead of just “seeing” it or be aroused by it with experiential branding – “GoPro style” with customer-generated contents (15) or through emotional branding strategies (16). This shift will be translated into new types of branding videos. Instead of simply showcasing educational and descriptive tone-of-voices and images, they will showcase the use of a product or service by appealing to other sensorial information such as the sense of touch or hearing.
After surviving the era of reality TV, Donald Trump, and yellow journalism, people will need to feel trust without being forced to engage in emotional consumption. The tactic has been used and overused. As a result, its impact is slowly diminishing as people are starting to see through the cracks. Successful strategies will have to be innovative while looking to answer to people’s needs and concerns in response to society’s current evolution. Big challenges are ahead for branding, and we should all be excited about this.