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Predictions: After the year of the bot, 2024 will be the year of the human.

Each new year brings hope and anticipation – a clearing of the slate from last year’s hardships, unfinished projects, and unfulfilled goals. We learn from the past year and craft our expectations and goals anew. Heading into 2024, we’ve looked back at our work and what we learned in 2023 that can illuminate what this new year will bring – things that brands can consider as they launch into the new year with energy and inspiration. We’ve identified four predictions for 2024:

Consumers will need stability in a time of political upheaval. 

From the upcoming US elections to the reach and scope of global wars, 2024 is primed to be a time of intensifying political upheaval and strain. We’ve seen deepening anxiety, fear, and feelings of alienation in our studies related to global and domestic politics as people worry about its effects on their daily lives and on strangers around the globe. What we’re seeing in people’s daily lives is the need for comfort and stability. They want to experience and be inspired by new things, they want to learn and be challenged, and they want to connect with and better understand others. But they also want familiarity and safety. 

In the world of brand perception and positioning, consumers are excited about new branding and product offerings, but they also want steadfast brand identities that feel familiar and like brands they can rely on. We know that in times of collective and individual trauma, as we saw with the pandemic, people revert to what’s familiar. They seek solace in what they know. They need a North Star. Brands tapping into this need for stability, even as they innovate and push boundaries, can be this North Star and win deep loyalty. 

In the frenzy around AI innovation, human connection and involvement will be more important than ever. 

With the release of ChatGPT and other AI innovations, 2023 brought a flurry of excitement and a frantic scramble by brands to stay at the cutting edge of emerging AI technologies. As the capabilities of AI evolve and are integrated into many aspects of consumers’ lives, the role of the human becomes more important than ever before – identifying where the depth of human connection and communication is felt most fully and intensely. 

In a study we conducted on the integration of AI into the consumer journey, we found that customer service, for instance – a place where AI integration is proliferating – is a stage in the journey where humans cannot be replaced by technology. Consumers want to feel cared for in the moments when they need help, and this sense of care is delivered most meaningfully by real human interaction. As brands consider how to thoughtfully leverage AI to keep up with trends and deliver more appealing products and services, remembering and centering the human will make brands stand out. 

Social responsibility will be a deal breaker. 

Across our 2023 research, we found that consumers are deeply committed to brands that reflect their values in social justice, environmental sustainability, and animal welfare. Where in past years, these were topics that came up with some frequency, we’re seeing a groundswell around consumers’ expectations about how brands care for humans, the environment, and other species. 2024 will be the year where brands that embody these values will flourish and those that don’t will be left behind. Consumers are fed up with brands that don’t address pressing social issues and values in a meaningful way. And they have a low tolerance for and suspicion of brands that engage in superficial claims, such as greenwashing, to curry favor with consumers while not making meaningful change. It’s not enough to talk the talk; it’s time to walk the walk. 

Brands that communicate strong values in these areas, and can show tangible proof that they are not only committed to but also actively engaged in making change will be the top brands that consumers gravitate toward in 2024.

Consumers will look for help in uncovering their truer selves. 

Following the pandemic, people we talked to felt lost and were looking for deeper meaning in life – yearning for a more meaningful connection with - and understanding of - their truer selves. 2023 was a year of reflection on what people want and need in their lives at a more profoundly emotional level. As they try, consciously and unconsciously, to understand who they are, they also need to be heard and understood by others in their lives and by brands. Across categories, they talked about the need for brands to bust stereotypes and generalizations about the identity groups they’re a part of and attend to who they are at a more uniquely individual level.

In our research, brands are increasingly coming to us with questions about the meaningful aspects of people’s lives – notions of belonging, connectedness, and love. Brands that aim to connect with consumers around these more fundamental truths and how things like a sense of belonging manifest in individually specific ways will stand out against those that don’t. In 2024, success in brand positioning and marketing will be about empathetically engaging with consumers in this quest for meaning and understanding. 

Approaching consumers in this way ties together our predictions for the year – the need for stability in a time of upheaval, the yearning for human connection in an increasingly tech-dominated world, and the search for meaningful social change emerging in the consumer landscape. Consumers are ready for more meaningful connections and the field is open for brands to step into this role of nurturing their growth, the expression of their values, and their truer selves.