Claire Beale: Welcome to 2014 - it's time to get stuck in and find out what's in store

Welcome to 2014 and the return of most of last year's challenges and the arrival of plenty of new ones. If they didn't think you were up for it, you'd have been let go before Christmas, so it's time to get stuck in and find out what's in store.

Thankfully, finally, the economy seems to be stacked in your favour, expected to expand at its fastest rate in seven years, up 2.7%, thanks to strengthening household consump­tion, according to the British Chambers of Commerce.

The bad news is that some brands will begin to count the true cost of the discount culture that presided during the down­turn, and those that have sacrificed brand equity in a bid to drive volume sales will find it harder to ride recovery. Meanwhile, hardened bargain-hunting consumers will struggle to abandon austerity habits and brand loyalty in some markets will be slow to return.

On the other hand, more than ever this year consumers will view product purchase as simply the start of their relationship with a brand and will expect a post-buy dialogue. This shift to service-based brand relationships – from discount offers to entertainment and practical advice – will start to redefine the traditional sales cycle.

I wish we could tick the big data box and move on in 2014, but it’s set to be a continuing theme again this year. As more marketing technology companies pitch themselves, to your CFO at least, as an efficient way to reduce headcount by replacing the brand manager role with an algorithm, consumers are also embracing the possibilities of data. The Quantified Self movement will gain ground this year as consumers collect and share personal data at a phenomenal rate, monitoring and recording the minutiae of their daily life and opening up new marketing channels as they do so.

But brands shouldn’t miss the opportunity to help consumers switch off and disengage this year, as we look for refuge from our increasingly connected lives. After the rush to social-media dialogue, marketers will find new value can be created through offering us peace and quiet.

And finally, but underpinning all, in 2014 consumers will be looking for brands to have a purpose – a social interest and a sustainable strategy that sits at the heart of their business. We’ve seen this one coming for years, but it’s increasingly non-negotiable.

The good news, surely, is that you’ve already got some brilliant strategies in place to meet all the expected hazards and a whole sackful of New Year resolve to help you deal with the challenges ahead. Don’t you? Good, let’s dive in together.


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