Megatrends: A Cultural Movement.
By Adam Vasquez, Founder & CEO at Merit.
Here’s a situation familiar to anyone in marketing: you’re approached by a new client with a failing brand. They don’t understand why their message — so compelling in their minds — is met with apathy from potential customers. Desperate, they turn to consultancies for help engaging the consumers who just don’t care.
Megatrends: Cultural Movements
At Merit, one way we face this challenge is by looking at megatrends. Megatrends are cultural movements. They point to values under negotiation in a society — to narratives around what is desirable and what is not. Whereas trends are by definition fleeting, megatrends span across industries and often signal long-term change. Adopting megatrends doesn’t mean following the latest flash in the pan. Instead, megatrends provide brands with an easy “in” to the consumer’s mental landscape. They allow a brand to align with a general concept — for example “organic” or “blockchain” — that consumers already care about. They create a brand identity that is simultaneously unique and relatable.
Take Cotopaxi, for example. They make jackets and backpacks, just like hundreds of other companies. But they’ve used cross-industry megatrends — like radical sustainability, retro design, and story-centric marketing — to create a brand that consumers fall in love with. Cotopaxi didn’t invent these megatrends: they simply adopted them in a way others hadn’t thought to do.
Another example is what we call “consuming experiences.” This megatrend describes how many people in modern cultures “collect” new experiences as a form of romanticized consumerism. Romantic consumerism, as Yuval Noah Harari describes in his book Sapiens, exists at the intersection between two prevailing cultural myths. Harari asserts that the first myth, Romanticism, tells us that “in order to make the most of our human potential we must have as many different experiences as we can. We must open ourselves to a wide spectrum of emotions; we must sample various kinds of relationships… cuisines… music.”
Consumerism tells us that the more things we buy, the happier we’ll be. Romantic consumerism, then, imagines experiences as collectible possessions. Consuming experiences can be traced across many categories as brands embrace — or reject — its principles.
In the tourism industry, it’s a way to sell travel. Rather than selling airplane tickets or rooms, the best brands sell experiences. Consider Airbnb’s 2017 campaign: Outside In, Pantone. Airbnb partnered with color company Pantone to create a destination in honor of Pantone’s color of the year, “Greenery.” Airbnb literally brought the outside in, filling the space with trees, unfinished wood, grass, garden tools, and potted plants. Guests were invited to participate in activities like gin making, tea picking, and wallpaper painting — above all, to “regenerate, refresh, revitalize, renew.”
Remember that megatrends are movements under negotiation. There will always be consumers who do not embrace these movements. There will be people who do not view food as an experience or travel as something transcendent. Pushing back against a megatrend can make a resounding statement about who a product is for and how it should be used.
Megatrends: World Class Examples
Consider, for example, Chick-fil-A’s cell phone coop. In 2016, the sandwich chain launched a campaign giving free ice cream to families who left their phones in the “coop” for the whole meal. In a similar spirit, the Dutch museum Rijksmuseum strongly discouraged the use of phones, inviting guests to sketch the art they saw instead. Other organizations joined in “banning” or discouraging cell phone use in favor of human connection and reflection. Many consumers rejected this movement, but for others, it resonated. It was countercultural, a bit against the grain. And often, that’s how new megatrends begin. A strategic understanding of megatrends doesn’t mean blindly chasing what others are doing. Maybe your brand can take a megatrend into an industry where it’s desperately needed. Or maybe, what’s truly needed is the exact opposite of what everyone else is doing.
Either way, looking at the industry landscape through the lens of megatrends can help you peel back one more layer of market dynamics. Instead of selling an entirely new concept, thinking in terms of megatrends means bringing your own creative twist to the ideas people already care about.