As leaders - this is the time of year for reflection on 2014 successes and challenges. In turn, it's high time to gear up for 2015 by finessing growth plans, embracing change, and recognizing trends. We've watched with keen interest as innovation, business and entrepreneurship, and marketing forecasts rolled out over recent weeks, pitching new insight and opportunity for professionals alike. Each nuanced specific interests, however projections focused largely on the power of data and connectedness (that is, bringing consumers, brands, and products even closer together). If you're seeking the high level overview of what's to come versus industry-specific trend lists, here's a composite read to help build your advantage for navigating 2015:
#1 - IOT: If you aren't familiar with "IOT", time to jump on the bandwagon. The "Internet of Things" gained widespread recognition throughout 2014, and will continue dominating 2015 as an increasing number of consumable goods fall into its realm. From wearable devices to garage door openers, to thermostats and toasters, this giant network of "things" (including people) will continue expanding to the tune of 26 billion devices by 2020 - using data to make daily lifestyle more seamless than ever.
#2 - Big Data (and the Talent Crunch): It's no surprise big data continues to lead trend lists for 2015, and with good reason. Valuation of the big data economy is expected to surpass $125B next year and will become the basis of competition and growth for businesses (McKinsey estimates potential operating margin increases of up to 60% for retailers able to embrace and manage the power of big data). As a result, attracting and retaining big data talent has become priority, and in turn a challenge, as organizations scramble for resources to outperform competitors. Expect the big data talent shortage to magnify in 2015.
#3 - Sharing Economy: The Sharing Economy - or "Collaborative Consumption" - has shifted the way we approach supply and demand, moving power to the hands of consumers versus corporations. At an approximate value of $26B, the sharing economy gave rise to Uber, Airbnb, VRBO, Lyft, and Simplist, to name a few. While millennials account as the significant user base of the sharing economy, all other segments are growing as consumers realize benefits of peer-to-peer sharing. Just recently, Uber was valued over $18B and airbnb at $10B - and their growth isn't for the faint of heart. Uber continues proving innovation and regulation don't mix, but despite opposition from political and interest groups, forges ahead with the sharing economy truly becoming a people's revolution. Brands set to win 2015 are those willing to "play nice" with the sharing economy, instead of resisting it.
#4 - Personal Branding: The term was coined in 1997 and has since become mainstream. Professionals and celebrities alike have recognized the power of marketing themselves and their careers; plugging vision into personal brand strategy to achieve goals. No longer limited to marketing products and services, brand strategies market "you" to build a valuable entity, limitless of employer title, transition, media, or geographic region. Further, it helps differentiate experts from commodity skillsets, and the coming months will see a rise of seamless personal brands. They key is charting a purposeful strategy, executing consistently, and delivering engaging curated content through all brand touch-points. Sharpen your narrative and establish yourself an industry leader in 2015.
#5 - UGC: User generated content is vital to marketing success in 2015. It not only builds greater consumer trust and empowerment (through ratings, reviews, and photos) more so than traditional media, but directly generates better SEO results and augments e-commerce sales; all while developing brand ambassadors along the way. Crowdsourcing ideas for and during campaigns continue to prove successful, having been leveraged by brand leaders such as GoPro, SoulCycle, andStarbucks. Authentic conversation, online engagement, and social media sharing feed overall site success; and brands embracing UGC are poised more competitively than peers moving into 2015.
#6 - The VC Wave: Venture Capitalism will flood domestic markets, this time faster than ever as economic conditions continue improving in many markets. With private investors seeking to catalyze intuitive product development and go-to-market strategies, VC-backed startups have the agility to develop virtually anything, anywhere, smarter-better-faster. Resources paired with talent in a market teaming with opportunity provide a "perfect storm" for venture capitalism to continue fostering literal million-dollar valuations overnight. Investor confidence continues to strengthen and, according to EY, this positive exit environment is ripe for a robust pipeline of solid companies to turn several healthy IPOs in 2015. Could we see an IPO larger than Alibaba's $25B record-setting day? It seems so.
#7 - Mass Personalization: McDonald's, Lululemon, and Target shared several degrees of painful brand erosion this year (thanks largely to poor customer experience and waning product quality), while clear wins and game changers were clinched by WestJet (Christmas Miracle), Red Bull (Stratos), and newly launched Canadian retailer Kit and Ace - illustrating the wherewithal to craft and deliver unique personal connection. Brands nimble and innovative enough to engage authentically with customers (across all touch-points) are quickly establishing themselves as 2015 frontrunners. As Interbrand observed, creativity wins - whether memorable, breathtaking, or intelligent. When you make a statement and connect with consumers, you elevate brands to a whole new level.
#8 - Brand Storytelling: Budweiser's Superbowl hit "Puppy Love" and Proctor & Gamble's Sochi debut of "Pick Them Back Up" are prime examples brand storytelling impact. In viewing the spots, what do you notice (or not, in this case)? No product, no pitch, no promotion. But did your heart feel warm and fuzzy, and do you want to tell your friends about it? Millions (and millions) of others agree. Brand storytelling is the key to emotional branding and, in turn, the path to creating brand relationships and loyalty. It takes courage to reallocate marketing funds to brand storytelling, but the proof is in the pudding as viewership stats, social audiences, and brand engagement continue to skyrocket. Investment in brand storytelling has a clear ROI, and as a key tool in content marketing, is here to stay.
#9 - Privacy: 2014 - the "Year We Got Hacked". The year celebrity iCloud leaks, server compromises, and data breaches (apropos to Target, Home Depot, and Neiman Marcus) made oft-international media headlines. While we want to believe it won't happen again, history shows it will. Even the biggest brands with resources to prevent hacks have fallen victim to breaches of personal information; proving corporate entities can never be too careful when it comes to protecting privacy, transactional and payment data, and intellectual property. If there's one rule of thumb for 2015: examine, re-examine, challenge, and strengthen your privacy protection strategy. You'll be glad you did your due diligence.
#10 - The Perennial Millennial (and Leapfrog CEOs): The eldest of millennials have been in the workforce for 10-15 years, and now account for an influx of young leaders shifting from mid-level jobs to leadership and executive-level positions. Though younger than their boomer cohorts, millennials are ready to take the reins: they're aggressive with product development and innovation, embrace change and digital technology and media, and employ disruptive business models; illustrating a comprehension of today's unpredictable environment and positioning them competitively for C-level jobs despite lesser experience. In turn, HBR coined the "Leapfrog CEO", observed largely in retail, media, and telecommunications sectors, where CEOs must possess more than intelligence, integrity, and stamina. In a market where big data competitiveness continues to reign, pay heed to high potential young leaders to champion growth. Millennials are ready and able to take charge, and swallow work-life balance as a subjective term while they do it. For 2015, give credit where it's due: if you have a promising millennial leader in waiting, give them a chance to shine.