January 8, 2024

Trendsions 2024: Brand trends to explore—and the tensions to not overlook

Collage of images with editor's notes on them

It’s that time of the year again.

The time to spill some ink on what’s to come. When agencies, marketers, brand leaders and more opine on what’s in store for 2024. And we wouldn’t miss it for the world—as strategists, designers, innovators and change agents, it’s in our nature to keep our eyes on the horizon and report what we’re seeing.

But here’s the thing. As much as we love our roundups, trends don’t give us the full picture, because with every trend, there comes a tension. For example: AI-generated images will be a game-changer for designers, but they also pose a risk to the consistency and quality of brand communications. Another example: Brand partnerships abound. And while 100+ partnerships was the right move for one very buzzy blockbuster brand, that doesn’t mean all of us should risk quantity over quality.

So, we’re taking trends to the next level with 15 Lippincott takes on what’s to come in the world of brand strategy, innovation, design and beyond—and the ensuing tensions leaders should stay ahead of.

01 | Don’t fall for the AI FOMO

AI itself is not a trend—it’s here to stay—but the resulting visual aesthetics will certainly show some distinctive qualities which, in future years, will scream “2024.” We’re already seeing hyper-real, sometimes surreal visuals without any of the limits or cost that conventional image creation would entail. 

But… just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. The outcome will be an overuse of the sometimes-wacky images that AI allows. Brands will need to remember to stay true to their core purpose and utilize the technology in a way that seems natural to their personality. 

—Kevin Grady, Senior Partner, Design, San Francisco

02 | Tablestakes are sexy again

After a pendulum swing in recent years toward super-evocative, lofty storytelling, consumers want brands to get in their lanes. Themes like safety and security (or whatever the foundation of your industry’s core promise might be) will become powerful anchor points for brand-building—and consumers will reward brands who deliver on that core promise well.

But… brands will still have to differentiate with meaningful experiences and connect on an emotional level to make this “back to basics” angle work. It’s not an excuse to do the bare minimum; it’s just an acknowledgment of savvy consumers’ priorities. 

—Emma Cofer, Partner, Brand Strategy, San Francisco

03 | Meet the Ephemeral Economy

As society continues to prioritize social worth over material worth, brands will need to prepare for the emergence of a new economic model: the Ephemeral Economy. This model ties value not to physical goods, but to experiences, social interactions, open-source contributions and digital assets. 

But… for brands looking to create engagement, this means considering an approach to facilitate social interactions that elevate the value of your offerings. 

—Tom Ajello, Global Director, Experience, Innovation and Engineering (EIE), New York

04 | Everyone wants to be Barbie

Off the back of mega-blockbusters like Barbie and Super Mario Bros, brands will be looking to identify assets and IP with similar mass-appeal-potential across entertainment, merch, events and experiences. Brand is everything, after all.

But… brands will need to be mindful of a partnership fatigue on the part of consumers and should avoid partnerships for partnerships sake. Brands who try to be everything to everyone can end up meaning nothing at all. 

—Eric Tsytsylin, Partner, Brand Strategy, New York

05 | It’s time for a digital detox

Whether it’s the continued growth of vinyl records, the resurgence of film photography, or the skincare-as-self-care mindset, consumers are increasingly investing in tactile, considered, even ritualistic experiences as an antidote to endless screen time and ephemeral digital interactions. 

But… while brands should remember the value of staying power and how people make meaning, we still live in a digital-first world. When designing interactions and offerings, the key is to recognize where to prioritize ease and speed and where there is power in the process. 

—Shaye Roseman, Partner, Experience, Innovation and Engineering (EIE), New York

06 | Pink is the new black

Between cultural moments like Barbiecore and millennial pink and Pantone naming Viva Magenta the 2023 color of the year, there’s no question that the use of traditionally “girly” shades like pink and purple are poised to expand beyond conventional use. Brands are starting to venture out and embrace more diverse design language as gender norms are being ignored and consumers and marketers alike buck the patriarchy.

But… the most successful brands will be those that match their aesthetic with their story. With every design trend there’s more for it to be abused, and that includes on-trend color schemes. Brands need to make sure their visual identity is connected to their overall story. Don’t just join in to join in. 

—Bethany Lesko, Partner, Design, New York

07 | The AI-washing will continue

Companies large and small, old and new, will continue to add “AI” to their marketing collateral everywhere they can. Things that you never associated with AI are now suddenly AI—from your phone’s autocorrect mistakes, to your car’s estimate of miles driven before refueling, to the scheduling system at your doctor’s office and the flavor of yogurt you’re eating.

But… with any hype cycle, attention must be paid to customer fatigue. When the normal everyday data-driven things in your life – some that have been there for years and years – are now suddenly “AI,” what does “AI” actually signify to customers? What does it mean? Ensuring customer comprehension, and properly communicating both value and differentiation, become hypercritical as hype cycles ebb and flow. 

—Justin D’Onofrio, Senior Director, Experience, Innovation and Engineering (EIE), London

08 | B2B brands will go big

In an uncertain macroeconomic environment, an emphasis on brand marketing and relationship building will give B2B brands an edge with customers, prospects, employees and future talent. While typically faced with the pressure to shift to performance marketing and demonstrate immediate ROI, go-to brands will instead remain committed to emotional storytelling that underscores their values, differentiation and audience benefit—and they’ll tell these stories in fresh and compelling ways that are unexpected of the B2B space.

But… brands will need to make sure that these big stories deliver an authentic tie back to the customer and employee experience. From a media perspective, this means B2B campaigns will increasingly surround and connect with their audiences through events, sponsorships, digital experiences, services and more.

—Sarah Tran, Partner, Brand Strategy, New York

09 | Fortune favors the big

Due to a higher cost of capital, startups will be less able to pressure larger corporations, who will continue to regain their scale advantage. As a result, big brands will be able to take safer bets in a more turbulent macroeconomic environment.

But… large brands that combine their scale with the innovation abilities of startups via partnership or acquisition will enjoy an even greater second mover advantage than previously possible. 

—John Coates, Associate, Innovation and Engineering (EIE), New York

10 | The end of bland

Consumers have endured minimalism for way too long – when brands across sectors started looking like each other (lowercase geometric sans logos and Corporate Memphis-style illustrations anyone?). The best way of standing out in a context of unprecedented consumer choice is to be unmistakable, expressive and recognizable beyond the logo. Think: an ownable visual and verbal expression and the agility that comes with moving like a tech brand.

But… this goes beyond just design. Expression must never be divorced from brand strategy. If it feels gratuitous it will be dismissed as a gimmick. 

—Dan Vasconcelos, Partner, Creative Director, APAC, Sydney

11 | Frictionless is an artificial concept, not a human reality

Marketers will likely leverage new technologies to move towards creating a frictionless buyer experience. 

But… we must acknowledge that customers are not ones and zeros that AI can move across the blockchain. Friction is part of the human experience and can be used as a force for good: to engage customers at the right time, to make them feel seen and heard, and to open doors to new ways we can help them. 

—Chris Ciompi, Senior Partner, Marketing and Customer Strategy, New York

12 | Get real, stay credible

Climate crisis. Geopolitical tensions. Elections. 2024 will have no shortage of events that leave teams questioning what, when and how to respond, and what role their brand should play in the bigger narrative.

But… brands don’t need to be – and aren’t expected to be – geopolitical experts. Brands should address this challenge the same as they address other challenges – by focusing on the wellbeing and needs of their customers, employees, and communities they are a part of. No matter the topic, putting humanity and empathy first will help brands stay credible and authentic as they navigate challenging circumstances. 

—Josh Benchimol, Senior Associate, Brand Strategy, New York

13 | More emotion in motion

More and more, brands will see motion as a medium for expressing emotion, not just style. Work that has a point of view and conceptual idea behind it. A rejection of style and a re-embracing of substance.

But… for brands to attain ‘meaningful motion,’ they must first define the characteristics that bring their brand story to life and do so in a way that guides the movement of every object from the most expressive to the quietest. 

—Rodney Abbot, Senior Partner, Design, New York

14 | Standing out goes beyond differentiation

Our recent Brand Aperture® data painted a startling but clear picture. Despite billions spent on marketing each year, only 5 percent of brands are considered unique to customers. So, what now? Marketers who want to break through need to resist the temptation to define their differentiation relative to competitors, and instead, design experiences that solve their customers’ Jobs to be Done.

But… innovation is only half of the puzzle. For a brand to truly be loved, it must build an emotional connection with people through good old-fashioned storytelling.  

—David Mayer, Senior Partner, Director of Marketing and Customer Strategy, New York

15 | Brands will turn the climate tables

It’s no secret that rising carbon consciousness has forced brands to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to climate change. And until now, brands have used their own progress towards net-zero to influence purchase decisions.

But… brands are starting to look to customers to be complicit in their accountability. Think: the bike commute that replaces a combustion engine car ride, the used product that gets returned for sale in secondhand marketplaces, the packaging that gets recycled all have greenhouse gas emissions reducing effects for brands who make the associated products. Brands will develop offerings that incentivize green consumer behaviors beyond the purchase of a good or service. And that’s how the best brands will fund their journey to net-zero. 

—Clemens Schrenk, Partner, Brand Strategy, Singapore