Corporate trend forecast: 2008

The year 2007 brought with it the continued rise of what some are calling the attention economy and a continued emphasis on intangible measures of success.

The year 2007 brought with it the continued rise of what some are calling the attention economy and a continued emphasis on intangible measures of success. Ideas became king, with products and services becoming successful only based on the new concepts and insights that drove them forward.

As a result, one of the greatest intangibles defining success in the business and consumer landscape is corporate brands. The New York Times went as far as to call them "the" new intangible driving Wall Street.

We are now seeing companies redefine what it means to be innovative. Smart organizations, with smart corporate brands built on non replicable ideas and processes, emerging again and again as the new market leaders.

Perhaps, most notably, we are seeing this trend unfold around the brand that is America. As Tom Friedman said in a recent Op-Ed, the Bush Administration did much to divide us from much of the world through the war in Iraq, But, perhaps worst of all, was the damage done to our reputation as a nation, and the impact it's had on our competitiveness. A looming recession, a weakened dollar, a stained business landscape, and a sharply diminished technology foothold are all testaments to this fact.

Recently, President Bush even went so far as to highlight the weakened state of our country by making the much debated stimulus package the centerpiece of his State of the Union address. But, in the new era of intangibles, many question if America really is less competitive and in need of such economic relief, or if we are just perceived that way for the very same reasons certain once great companies stalled last year: because of a failure to build leadership around brand values based on ideas and the core tenets driving the marketplace.

Is a recession really looming or are we just belt tightening out of fear? Are we really behind technologically, or are we really miles ahead as we've always been, and it's just that others have caught up a bit?

In 2008, key trends will likely largely be driven by the quest to figure out the answers to these questions, as well as the key sentiments precipitated by the current state of America as a brand and the state of "insularity" it has brought with it.

In the year ahead, we will see consumers and businesses respond to the new environment by working to become smarter, cleaner, greener, nicer, and safer. There will be a strong emphasis on ethics, responsibility and continued efforts around sustainability.

Additionally, the trajectory of the new innovation paradigm will continue to be driven forward by new ideas and new metrics of success. A recent New York Times "Slipstream" column encapsulated how this movement will likely evolve. The piece highlighted one often overlooked misstep of the Bush administration, which has led to our diminished agility and competitiveness on the global stage. The key point highlighted was the thwarting of collaboration between private sector, government and academia to build the ideas of tomorrow.

Interestingly, the recently concluded annual Davos summit echoed these sentiments as well, with the entire conference theme being built around "Collaborative Innovation.” While this topic extended to everything from sustainability to global competition, at the heart of these discussions rested the notion of how to bring government, academia, and big business together with an eye on advancing the needle on innovation globally.

As the innovation paradigm continues to evolve, success will most certainly be increasingly judged by the ability to bring all three of the above viewpoints into the innovation development process. I believe that as a result, a new "pyramid" approach to innovation, which comprises an integrated POD from all three schools of thought, will be a key trend to watch out for in the year ahead.

All of this will play out in a new media marketplace - one where "media will just become media." As the gap continues to close between Wall Street and Main Street and, as the lines continue to blur between old media and new media, companies will increasingly recognize the need to speak to the global press in a customized manner - one driven by a finely honed approach based on audience and message, not one driven by a traditional "mass" approach based on "category."

Additionally, the levels of customization that continue to drive the business and consumer landscape will also likely continue to further splinter and fragment the global media marketplace as "niche" media properties continue to develop to meet the specific wants and needs of micro constituencies. All of this will come together to give further rise to the emergence of media uber advocates themselves, as well as the media umber brands they work for.

All in all, it's likely quite an interesting year ahead. To recap, below are the core trends to look out for in 2008:

-Continued rise of corporate brands. New push toward leveraging "executive brands" at all levels.

-A renewed emphasis on safety and security.

-An innovation paradigm driven by the collaboration of the private sector, government and academia.

-A continued emphasis on sustainability, which will likely broaden to a heightened sense of responsibility overall: White becomes the new Green.

-A return to the values and comforts of the past.

-A continued emphasis on thoughts and ideas as the “attention economy” continues to take hold and as the technology revolution continues its forward charge.

-A push for simplicity at home, in the things we want and purchase, and inside organizations, from structure to leadership.

-A new media marketplace where the lines between new and old and consumer and business continue to blur. A likely push toward "niche" media properties designed to mirror the levels of customization driving the consumer landscape.

Billee Howard is EVP/managing director, Global Strategic Media Group, at Weber Shandwick

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