Four brand strategy trends to be aware of in 2021

There are four key trends which we believe will play a big part in strengthening brand strategies and ensuring relevance within an ever challenging marketplace over the coming year. These are:

  1. Experiential retail
  2. Science vs nature
  3. Accountability for sustainability
  4. Supporting mental health

While relevant across many consumer demographics, these trends will be most pertinent with Gen Z consumers. Online from an increasingly younger age, they are empowered by their free access to information and are growing into a driving force of change. With these maturing consumers we see shifts in the discussions we are hosting: no longer just a business, brands are a part of consumer’s lives. While this increases a brand’s responsibilities it also offers the opportunity to be part of the family.

1. Experiential retail

The experience economy is being driven by consumers looking for memorable moments which can be shared with friends and family. There is less relevance on physical ownership and while physical retail has been struggling with empty high street units, experiences have been growing – whether that’s sociable coffee shops or crazy golf parks taking over empty BHS units.

Today, 65% of adults say they would spend money on experiences rather than possessions, rising to 72% when focusing on millennials. This has led to a rise in micro trends such as “no gift Christmas” with consumers moving away from physical items which can clutter shrinking homes, opting instead for experiences and memories – we’re also seeing subscription ownerships grow.

In response, retailers are starting to fulfil these social and experiential needs by evolving their physical offering, from simple transactions to an emotional shopping journey. Retailers such as Nike and John Lewis are highlighting how experiential demonstrations of products can elevate the shopping journey while simultaneously giving consumers an incentive to step through their doors to explore new offerings. With consumers in store, we can take this opportunity to highlight brand stories such as material buying, manufacturing processes or green credentials.

Experiences should be emotive, authentic and consistent across all touch points. Defining the red thread of your brand will add value to the purchase journey and beyond by helping you create meaningful connections with your audiences. What’s your brand’s red thread?

2. Science vs nature

Perhaps your products contain ingredients from the depths of the rainforest, or use cutting-edge science to work at microscopic levels? With no right or wrong this is a competition of facts, demonstrating how either science or nature can be less destructive to the planet, or more effective at meeting consumer needs. Either way, consumers are looking for clarity in these diverging worlds.

Brands such as The Ordinary and Lush demonstrate how both sides of this fight can be equally successful, while those with mixed messaging such as The Body Shop under L’Oreal struggled, only now seeing sales return since refocusing on its natural roots, launching new products containing ingredients such as wonky carrots.

Within the food industry we are starting to see the introduction of vertical farms and lab-grown meat, with consumers choosing between science or nature to meet increasingly specific dietary needs. With the rise in plant-based diets, Meatless Farm’s “M… F… burger” campaign has taken this opportunity to challenge how natural can look and taste.

As we move further into this minefield of science vs nature, consumers will be looking for clarity and consistency in messaging on everything from billboards to packaging. Facts enable you to position yourself ahead of the competition and brands who are clear on where they stand will leave behind those sitting on the fence. Does your brand offer clarity through facts?

3. Accountability for sustainability

Does your brand operate as the locust (predator) or the bee (creator)? Does your brand leave behind a trail of depleted resources, or have you created a safe space for others to enjoy?

As millennials and Gen Z consumers continue to expect more from brands’ ethical credentials, they’re holding brands increasingly accountable to set and meet sustainable goals, with 70% of the UK population believing brand sustainability does make a positive impact on the environment.

BrewDog, who last year announced they were going carbon negative, have shown that changes need to be made throughout an organisation and not just areas visible to customers. As more businesses start to make kinds of these claims, they need to demonstrate investment in greening operations or paying fair tax in order to differentiate themselves from more questionable strategies such as offsetting vouchers.

While larger cash-rich organisations are able to make big bold claims, smaller organisations are able to tackle sustainability through a different lens. Highlighting how they support staff to stop burnout, pay fair wages, source ingredients locally, or by promoting how £1 spent in a small independent is much more beneficial for local communities.

Brands need to focus on the sustainability issues most relevant to them and effectively let the community know about their efforts to green the desert. Your brand’s sustainability can help attract new customers by demonstrating how you’re doing your bit to safeguard the future. What role does your brand play?

4. Supporting mental health

The ability to support consumers through trying times is more important than ever. This could be through the products or services you offer – consumers are seeking solitude in everyday activities such as bathing, running, eating, or even lighting a candle. These small habits are evolving from meeting simple need states to offering more meaningful moments of pause and self care.

Not all brands though will have an obvious product to help support consumers, so this support can also come from your comms – having sincere conversations around mental health by demonstrating the ways in which you support your own employees and by using your platforms for conversation. For example, Sweaty Betty, River Island and Boohoo have all partnered with international youth, anti-bullying and mental health charity, Ditch the Label, in recent times.

Sometimes with difficult conversations, tweaks to a brand’s tone of voice can help increase engagement – ditching the jargon and joining consumers at their level creates a space for brands to build trust and meaningful relationships. But it’s crucial that any activity surrounding mental health is genuine, informed and not just seen as trying to create sales. How can your brand sincerely support consumers in this space?

Let us know which trends you think will shape up to be the most influential in 2021, over at @homeagencyuk.

Written by:

Josh Iveson Insight Analyst


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