Editorial Roundtable: How Brands Will Define Meaning In A Mercurial Marketplace

Editorial Roundtable: How Brands Will Define Meaning In A Mercurial Marketplace

adidas, GE, Pinterest, Allbirds, Helix Sleep, hmbldt and Ready Set Rocket explain why straightforwardness will prove consequential in a consumer-driven landscape

Bogar Alonso
  • 6 february 2017

PSFK’s Editorial Roundtable series takes its inspiration from the traditional roundtable: bringing together industry insiders to share their insights on emerging and compelling trends in an idea-friendly manner. PSFK guides the discussion and our roundtable helps guide the future.

As a sort of epilogue to a Year 2016 marked by displacement, we predict 2020 will be the year when consumers seize away control. (Yes, from you, brands, corporations and governments). What that means is that the consumer will stop being simply a consumer. They’ll become the consumer cycle itself, wielding control over more than just consumption. As our Forecast 2020 predicts, the supply chains, media channels, and product offerings that were once determined for the consumer will be determined by the consumer.

As the closing act to the twenty-tens (and the opening act to the twenty-twenties), 2020 will serve as a preview to not just the fully empowered consumer but the prospect of ‘people as business platforms.’

But three years separate us from then and now, and we must first learn how to crawl before we can fly civilian missions to Mars. As folks forever-fixated on what lies ahead, PSFK wants to know: what will come to define 2017, 2018, and 2019 in order to facilitate 2020’s retelling? How can brands and other propped-up institutions respond to the shift? If consumers come to replace the organizations that once supplied them with products, services and messages, what will become of consumerism as we now know it?

To answer some of these looming questions, we’ve turned to a handful of experts, who include:

Adam Tishman | Co-Founder of Helix Sleep – a direct-to-consumer company using an algorithm to personalize mattresses to consumers’ sleep styles and body types.

Eric Liedtke | Executive Board Member at adidas – more than simply a household name, the sportswear manufacturer has become a lifestyle for many a mobile consumer.

Linda Boff | CMO at GE – serving industries in the medical, automotive and financial spaces, the multinational corporation can be called ‘innovation incarnate’ for all of the novelty it’s brought into the world.

Brian Monahan | Head of Vertical Strategy at Pinterest – the inspiration-collecting site that has elevated the act of ‘pin-ing’ into an enterprise valued in the billions.

Derek McCarty | VP of Marketing at hmbldt  a health and wellness brand delivering bliss and calm through cannabis-based solutions.

Aaron Harvey | Co-Founder and Executive Creative Director at Ready Set Rocket – a digital agency that specializes in connecting consumers and brands by means of innovative and award-winning multi-channel experiences.

Tim Brown | Co-Founder of Allbirds – makers of the ‘world’s most comfortable shoe.’

(Below is the third part of a four-part editorial series).

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Once brands, retailers and organizations have become platforms for guidance and encouragement, what will become the rules of operation for them then? What does a business model or a mission statement look like for brands, retailers and organizations in a future where retail (and seemingly every power structure) has been retold?

Linda Boff | CMO at GE

“Empowered consumers will choose to engage with brands that resonate with them, treat them with respect and involve them in a straightforward, direct relationship. What you post, what you wear, what you buy, all say something about you. I love Ricky Van Veen’s expression: ‘Content is as a bumper sticker.’

One rule of operation in this new consumer-driven landscape lies in being straightforward—as we’ve seen in the recent election, consumers crave directness. They want incredible transparency and a no-spin point of view. They want truth in a post-truth world. Taking such a stake can seem risky for brands, but sharing your point of view and providing context is critical.”

Aaron Harvey | Co-Founder and Executive Creative Director at Ready Set Rocket

“As a brand, the non-negotiable part of your strategy is your purpose. Today’s consumer mandates that you have an authentic purpose that you can genuinely own. Without this, it’s impossible to create meaningful content let alone an inspired product roadmap. As a result, many brands selling commodity products are left scrambling to define a meaningful position in the marketplace—and one that consumers are willing to stand behind.

This trend applies to digital-first brands, too. At Interbrand’s Best Global Brands, eBay spoke about the importance of defining a purpose-driven tagline: Find Your Perfect. The tagline inspires this data-driven brand to look at digital metrics in new and purposeful ways. Going beyond landing page optimization, and shifting toward launching meaningful brand extensions that serve its mission to help its consumers find their perfect.”

Eric Liedtke | Executive Board Member at adidas

“In today’s world of constant change, there are no rules on paper but brands have to stand for a bigger purpose that outlives short-term hype and resonates with the values of our consumer. Most importantly, you must offer the opportunity to opt in. Consumers today want to opt in—not out. They strive to actively become part of a paradigm shift and look at brands as accelerators and platforms to explore, innovate and co-create.

At adidas we call this concept Open Source—and it doesn’t stop at a product level. To celebrate World Oceans Day 2016, adidas challenged people around the world to enter an Instagram contest to earn one of the only 50 available pairs of the iconic running shoe that had been showcased at the Parley Talks ‘Oceans. Climate. Life.’ hosted by the United Nations in New York. This was the first adidas shoe ever made using Parley Ocean Plastic, each pair truly one-of- a-kind. The only way to secure a pair was to create a video pledging support for Parley’s Ocean Plastic Program. We received great entries and the participants have been invited to join our community of eco innovation champions which we’ll tap into for future activations.”

Tim Brown | Co-Founder of Allbirds

“It won’t be that mission statements change so much, but rather, that companies will have to hold themselves to unprecedented standards to adhere to every promise they’re making within them.

Governments would have to put public needs over bureaucratic agendas. Companies would have to make products and services that go above and beyond to satisfy the needs of the consumer.

For Allbirds, that means continuing to explore every avenue and opportunity to make an even better shoe in an even better way, a shoe that looks good, feels good and does good all in one.”


Derek McCarty | VP of Marketing at hmbldt

“The reality is this isn’t a new trend. It’s how we as brands should be behaving from the outset. Our role is to elevate, empower and improve the lives of our consumer—not to trick them or demand they ‘buy into our brand.’ That’s a fear-based relationship. A brand or product needs to find its central purpose in consumers’ lives and orient around that NOT the product you’re selling and they need to do that in an authentic and transparent way. The reality is if you look at most positioning statements companies have they probably won’t shift. They are likely already consumer-focused, however that often falls down in execution. By the time you get to a packaging decision or a partnership with a retailer you’re governed by more immediate / tactical realities that can often compete with a company’s larger purpose.”

Adam Tishman | Co-Founder at Helix Sleep

“The lines between online and retail are largely constructs that don’t make a ton of sense anymore as it relates to brands selling products to consumers. They’re just different distribution channels trying to achieve the same goal of delivering excellent value with a great experience. The future mission statement for brands should always revolve around the customer wherever he or she decides to interact with your brand.”

Brian Monahan | Head of Vertical Strategy at Pinterest

“Brands and retailers need to find a new organizing principle for how they work together to drive sales. The old days of aligning around a Joint Business Plan with a purchase commitment and a corresponding co-op marketing allowance are too restrictive to drive real demand with today’s empowered customers. Step #1 requires retailers and brands to share their data in new and creative ways.”

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The PSFK 2020 Forecast strategizes how brands and organizations can remain relevant as the power of choice grows in the hands of the individual. By analyzing important shifts over the past year, PSFK’s research team has studied how consumers are increasingly tailoring information and products to their own needs. The full report is designed as a roadmap for brands, retailers and organizations to reestablish themselves as platforms for guidance and encouragement. Download the full report here, and learn more about PSFK’s Intelligence Platform.

Note: If you would like to participate in a coming PSFK Editorial Roundtable, please contact us here.

PSFK’s Editorial Roundtable series takes its inspiration from the traditional roundtable: bringing together industry insiders to share their insights on emerging and compelling trends in an idea-friendly manner. PSFK guides the discussion and our roundtable helps guide the future.

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