This is the time of year when many people turn – with or without a crystal ball – to trying to predict the trends that will shape the coming year. Ann Mack doesn't have a crystal ball, but she does have the title of director of trendspotting at the prominent New York marketing and communications agency JWT. It issues a host of trend reports for customers throughout the year and recently released its list of the top 10 trends for 2013.
The reality, of course, is that trends don't change much from year to year. "Any trend with real momentum will be with us for more than a year," acknowledges Ms. Mack. But what does happen is that over time the trend evolves or sharpens, and can be pinpointed in a different way.
A few years ago, for example, JWT highlighted the importance of mobile devices. This year it focuses on the mobile fingerprint, as our smartphones evolve to become wallets and keys and presumably eventually health records – de facto fingerprints.
The trends are numbered, but simply to follow a list format, not because any one is considered more important than the other. The main driver remains technology, which determines or is at the centre of many of the trends.
And while there's a buzz component to trends at this time of year, the reason JWT has a director of trendspotting is because it's a serious business. These trends help its customers to reshape their products and communications, to take advantage of the ideas. You can do the same:
1. Play as a competitive advantage
It's increasingly accepted that kids should have plenty of unstructured play to balance out today's plethora of organized and tech-based activity. Adults, too, need time to play if they are going to grow and be creative. "This is counter to the notion we have to be productive every minute of the day," notes Ms. Mack, who doesn't like to pick between the trends, but chooses this as one of her highlights. "I enjoy this trend because it's counter to the go-go-go mentality but it also involves competitive advantage."
2. The super-stress era
The stressors in our lives are mounting and multiplying, to the point where we are in what can be called the super-stress era. "As stress gets more widely recognized as both a serious medical concern and rising cost issue, governments, employers and brands alike will need to ramp up efforts to help prevent and reduce it," the report notes.
3. Intelligent objects
Everyday objects are evolving into tech-infused smart devices, from clothes to refrigerators. The key for companies will be to make the technology invisible, and design around the consumer rather than the technology itself, integrating seamlessly into the individual's life.
4. Predictive personalization
With data analysis more cost effective and consumers generating more data than ever, it will be possible to better predict consumer behaviour and tailor offers and communications precisely. British retailer Tesco started to include coupons for beer in its direct mailings to first-time buyers of diapers, after data showed that new dads, denied their usual pub time, needed to pick ale up at stores.
5. Mobile fingerprint
Nearly half of the adults JWT surveyed in the U.S. and U.K. were open to using their smartphone as a digital wallet, 64 per cent were willing to use it to track aspects of health, and 48 per cent to using it as a key. Companies can help consumers outsource decisions, tasks and services to their mobiles.
6. Sensory explosion
As we increasingly live online in a virtual world, we'll place a premium on sensory experiences. Companies should look for more ways to engage the senses – sounds, lights or smells – in products and experiences.
7. Everything is retail
We can shop until we drop – anywhere, not only at physical stores. "Since almost anything can be a retail channel, thanks largely to mobile technology, brands must get increasingly creative in where and how they sell their goods," the report says.
8. Peer power
With people sharing so many things with their friends and colleagues, thanks to social networks and new companies alert to the trend, peer-to-peer sharing will eventually upend major industries, such as hospitality, education, tourism and transportation. Ms. Mack notes that JWT's customers are primarily multinationals, so "their natural instinct might be to fight this. But you can partner with peer-to-peer companies or create a peer line."
9. Going private in public
In an era when living publicly is the default, people are increasingly trying to carve out private spaces. Ms. Mack points to parties that now offer dark rooms, so activities can't be recorded on cameras and tagged on some social network. Companies need to amplify their privacy behaviours and help consumers counteract privacy lapses, such as the Verisure Yourself app that tracks your online exposure and alerts friends that they have shared too much.
10. Health and happiness
We're recognizing that a happier person is a healthier person, and vice-versa. The two go hand-in-hand. Brands increasingly must show they can be a catalyst to a happier, healthier lifestyle.