2020 Retail Part 4: The search for soul

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In part four of our four part '2020 Retail: What's the future' series, we look at how people don’t buy what brands make; they buy what brands make happen for them and, increasingly for Millennials, what brands make happen around them.

As a result, the rules of the marketing ‘beauty pageant’ have changed. Today, brands can no longer rely on good looks alone; they need depth and soul too. Above all, they’re influenced by a higher-order ‘purpose’ that engages their hearts, as well as their heads.

Too many brands mistake novelty and distraction for differentiation. It’s an approach that’s very difficult to sustain.  Sure, it may bring in the first sale, but novelty quickly wears off, and the brand must resort to increasingly impressive spectacle to keep people interested. There’s an easy way around this though: by focusing on how your brand makes people’s lives better, or how it makes the world a better place, you stand a much greater chance of keeping people coming back for more.

According to Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman:

“Our ‘Sustainable Living’ brands are becoming increasingly important to our business, with these brands growing more than 50% faster than the rest of the business and accounting for 60% of growth in 2016.”

Brands will increasingly need to enable.  The success of brands like Toms, Method, Deliciously Ella, Thinx, Rubies and Bakeys and of retailers such as Warby Parker and Original Unipackt shows that the opportunity to weave local, social or environmental purpose into the fabric of a brand – sometimes quite literally – holds huge appeal.  As does the ability to bring people together through common goals. Companies will increasingly become enabling platforms for groups of people dedicated to good causes. Because doing good feels good.


So, to conclude our ‘Future of Retail’ series (at last, I hear you say), I believe that for those brands wishing to flourish in the future, they’ll need to:

  • Rethink the customer journey
  • Set the machines in motion
  • Innovate along the value chain
  • Collaborate
  • Explore a new definition of currency
  • Everything
  • Make better things – and make things better
  • Get phygital (seamlessly connect their digital and physical worlds


Read more from our 2020 Retail: What's the future series: 


Content includes:

Retail WTF?
Smarter, faster, stronger, deeper. Key developments that will impact the world of retail.


Time to Cut Out the Plastic?
My single wrapper can’t have made a difference? Or could it?


If You Remember Just 3 Things…
Three mega-trends that will change your future brand decisions.


What's the Future?