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The Mega Megatrends Post: Your Guide to the Ten Consumer Megatrends Reshaping Product Design

How will you decide today what to design for tomorrow? Megatrends are trends that will play out over the next five to ten years. Design strategists use megatrends to predict consumer behavior and to help futureproof product strategy and develop disruptive product innovation.

Bresslergroup’s Design and Innovation Strategy team developed a megatrends framework to help organizations figure out the right questions to ask themselves about how they can best respond to an exciting and demanding future.

In this post, I’ll explore the ten megatrends in that framework. Go directly to each of the ten megatrends by clicking on its name, below:

  1. Pursuit of Exclusivity: Searching for new symbols of exclusivity
  2. Experience More: Multi-dimensional experiences delivered in an instantaneous, bite-sized portions
  3. Quest for Convenience: Scarcity of time driving the need for easier and faster solutions
  4. Everyday Wellness: Striving to live healthier in every aspect of life
  5. Ethical Living: Social responsibility becoming a personal belief
  6. Radical Personalization: The constant need to be treated as a unique individual is enabled by advancing technology
  7. Search for Authenticity: Searching for truth in the world of exaggerated communication
  8. Connection/Disconnection: The desire for meaningful social interaction
  9. Empowered Individual: Consumers taking the lead in the consumer-brand relationship
  10. Consumer Remapped: Defining consumer segments beyond demographics

(For reference at a glance, download a PDF of our Consumer Megatrends poster.)

Bresslergroup's consumer megatrends framework

As you read about the megatrends, their drivers, and the opportunities they present, consider these questions: What happens when your organization comes up against one or more of these megatrends in five years or in ten years? Will you be forced to react, or will you have already have a roadmap?

Megatrend 1: Pursuit of Exclusivity

1: Pursuit of Exclusivity

Brands have always offered mass-market and premium offerings, but never has the line dividing them been so blurred. Today’s luxury customers are often comfortable with lower-cost products if they’re perceived as unique or timeless (recall Sharon Stone’s then jaw-dropping decision to wear Gap to the 1998 Oscars), while mainstream consumers accessorize their lives with occasional high-end purchases, whether it’s a smartphone, a pair of shoes, or a yoga retreat.

But where hi-brow/low-brow blending was once a DIY effort, now companies themselves are embracing the trend. Increasingly, their product ranges offer broad, overlapping levels of luxury within a single, all-embracing brand.

“Affordable luxury” is a common refrain, as is high-end inconspicuous consumption, where organic produce and designer bags can demand significant markups despite being almost indistinguishable from their mainstream peers. This observation is backed up by data, too, with premium and entry-to-luxury now the fastest growing segments in many categories.

What happens when … consumers expect exclusivity at every price-point and are more concerned with uniqueness and self-fulfillment than with “keeping up with the Joneses”?

  • Fashion influencers curate a pop-up shop in partnership with a secondhand clothing store [Goodwill]
  • A luxury perfume brand launches a scent made from trash [Etat Libre d’Orange]
  • Brands create unique experiences at scale [AirBnB Experience]

What’s driving this trend?

  • Sustained economic growth means more consumers with the financial means to seek out premium offerings.
  • At the same time, traditional displays of ostentatious wealth are becoming less socially acceptable.
  • More product offerings in every price range means that finding something “exclusive” is no longer just an option for the very rich.
  • Social media provides more windows into the range of what’s available, making connoisseurs of us all.

What can you do?

  • Differentiation and uniqueness are now a huge part of “premium.” Seek opportunities to create unique experiences at scale — as Airbnb did with its “Airbnb Plus” initiative, leveraging the creativity of its hosts to offer well-vetted alternatives to luxury hotels, with far more variety.
  • When expanding a product line, consider adding a higher-end offering or variant on a familiar product, especially if it can offer some sense of a luxury experience at relatively low cost.
  • Present higher-end options in terms of personal benefit: it’s less “impress the neighbors” and more “do something kind for yourself.”

Megatrend 2: Experience More

2: Experience More

Services are now seen as indispensable, in a way few physical goods are. In the last economic downturn, people often did without a new car or a bigger house, but hung on to their mobile service, broadband, gym membership, and Netflix subscriptions. In part, this is because services are more durable: they can’t be lost, they automatically update, and they can be modified and expanded to fit changing life circumstances.

But it’s also because services offer multi-dimensional experiences that can be ultimately more fulfilling than owning something physical. Given the choice, many consumers (especially Millennials) will opt to spend on a trip, a class, or a professional consultation over splurging on a car or piece of furniture.

In daily life, they’ll often seek out a service first, only settling on a physical product if there’s no other option. And if a product comes with a service component bundled in, so much the better.

What happens when … consumers expect all products and experiences to be dynamic, interactive, immersive, and shareable — and to be delivered in instantaneous, bite-sized portions?

  • Museums look to VR to enable anyone, anywhere to view their masterpieces [Louvre]
  • Brands open pop-up stores with Instagram-worthy photo ops and limited-edition merch [Dietz & Watson]
  • Fragmented, accessible experiences cater to shorter attention spans [Snapchat]

What’s driving this trend?

  • The constant connectivity afforded by mobile devices, social media, and ubiquitous wireless often makes services more accessible and convenient than goods.
  • The Access (or Sharing) Economy has introduced innumerable services that replace products with an interface that makes existing resources more accessible: Uber, Car2Go, Airbnb, Amazon, etc.
  • People are more likely to share experiences (travel, dining, physical activity, etc.) on social media than physical goods, leading to greater awareness of what’s out there, and a certain amount of FOMO.
  • Consumers are recognizing that experiences often deliver more happiness and satisfaction than physical products.

What can you do?

  • Look for the root causes of consumer desires. Do people really want better lamps, or just better light?
  • Seek opportunities to add a service component to an existing product: an app that enhances it, a subscription service that keeps it in optimal condition, etc. Design physical and service elements hand-in-hand, so they combine to offer a seamless, more satisfying experience.
  • Add a service offering to build on the brand equity of physical products.

Megatrend 3: Quest for Convenience

3: Quest for Convenience

Time: it’s the only thing you can’t earn more of. In the past decade, more and more consumers are answering “yes” to the question of whether it’s worth spending money to free up time. In part, it’s not just because we seem to be more time-strapped than ever, but it’s also because of technology, which has created a rich ecosystem of services and devices ready to take on time-consuming tasks for a reasonable cost.

Alexa, Nest, and Apple (among many others) have made great strides in recent years at building a coherent network of devices that share data and draw on deep wells of processing power and predictive capability. They’ve gotten so good at it, in fact, that many consumers barely notice them, working them seamlessly into their daily routines. Just a few years ago, connecting a device to the internet or giving it rudimentary sensory and predictive capabilities was a novelty — something to delight users and stand out in a crowded field. Today this kind of intelligence is seen as utilitarian.

At every income level, people no longer feel obligated to do boring or unpleasant tasks, and the idea of paying for help is no longer limited to those wealthy enough to hire servants.

Companies like Framebridge and Warby Parker have built huge followings by taking inconvenient, expensive tasks and making them faster, cheaper, and more enjoyable. Apps, subscription services, home delivery — even home ‘bots — are enabling us to reduce time spent on the mundane, and focus more on the meaningful and delightful.

What happens when … consumers decide that the bulk of product interactions — such as daily tasks, setting up playlists, adjusting preferences — are inconvenient and meaningless?

  • Expectations around levels and types of convenience ramp up [Instacart]
  • Brands use predictive technology to allow for effortless consumption [Netflix]
  • Retailers make it possible to try out physical products using augmented reality apps [Warby Parker]

What’s driving this trend?

  • We increasingly understand that reducing stress and freeing up time are crucial to quality of life.
  • High quality apps and services are reducing people’s tolerance for complicated processes with numerous steps.
  • AI and predictive algorithms are improving, offering more ways to “skip to the end” of an interaction and making instant personalization more effective.
  • Technology is making it easier to add intelligence to almost any product or interaction: smart buttons, smart cameras, smart thermostats, wearables, hearables, etc. As connected intelligence stops being remarkable, the real impact is ready to be felt.

What can you do?

  • Look for opportunities to automate. Can you identify a common, mundane task that could be simplified or taken over completely by a smarter product or service?
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. A pared-down aesthetic implies lower effort, less fuss, less wasted time.
  • If you add intelligence to a product, do it in a way that demands less effort on the part of the user, not more. Take advantage of the improved standardization in IoT and connectivity to create intelligent devices that plug into customers’ existing ecosystems and work with their expectations.

Megatrend 4: Everyday Wellness

4: Everyday Wellness

“Wellness” is the new watchword. Where our relationship to our bodies used to be primarily reactive and corrective, today a growing fraction of people see health as something that happens every day, through the decisions we make and the things we eat, think, and do. Affluent consumers in particular are more likely than ever to put self-care at the top of their list of priorities — a marked shift from a decade or two ago.

For companies, this creates opportunities that cut across sectors. Products and services that were once the sole domain of health professionals have crossed over into the consumer realm — 23andMe offers genetic analysis for anyone; FitBit tracks your physical activity; numerous apps help monitor and improve your sleep, nutrition, and even behavior and mood. At the same time, consumer offerings are being enhanced with wellness-enhancing features, from copper-infused sheets to fight bacteria; to hotel rooms and bathrooms with fine-tuned lighting, sound, and furnishings — all oriented toward enabling and improving well-being.

What happens when … consumers expect everyday products — from sneakers to snacks to bedding — to enhance their health and wellness?

  • Bedsheets are infused with copper to eliminate bacteria [Savmos]
  • A healthcare company launches an app using AI and cognitive behavioral methodology to provide therapy [Doc Emotions]
  • Activewear brands launch athleisure-inspired workwear, or “worklesiure.” [Athleta]

What’s driving this trend?  

  • A steady stream of research points to the importance of lifestyle choices in maintaining good health — from physical activity and diet to stress management.
  • Online research and personal health tracking provide consumers with far more information about their own health than ever before.
  • A backlash to the traditional, paternalistic view of medicine has convinced many consumers to take health into their own hands.
  • The rise of “inconspicuous consumption” makes wellness-oriented purchases and experiences a key marker of exclusivity and sophistication.

What can you do?

  • Many companies already have an existing product or service that enhances wellness in some way: stress reduction, self-tracking, time savings, etc. Look at your product’s user experience through this wellness lens and find ways to build on it.
  • Partner with a wellness-focused company. Partnerships between consumer product manufacturers and wellness-focused companies can yield benefits for both.
  • For medical device companies in particular, there’s abundant opportunity in simplifying existing products in order to expand the audience into either consumer or parallel professional markets.

Megatrend 5: Ethical Living

5: Ethical Living

It’s no longer enough for a company to talk about doing good; today you have to actually be good. Even more than governments and nonprofits, today’s consumers see companies as the ones responsible for protecting the environment and human rights, and it’s never been easier to reveal when their actions don’t match their rhetoric.

This is all part of a larger trend, of trying to live more in harmony with the world, and it takes many forms. Companies like Tom’s, Everlane, and LuckyNelly have seen rapid growth by being overtly ethical and transparent about their business practices, and major brands like Whirlpool and Salesforce are rolling out new products and buildings specifically designed to make sustainable living easier.

On a personal level, many consumers are embracing a “less is more” philosophy, opting to live with fewer possessions, but perhaps spending more on an individual purchase if it holds the promise of greater longevity or utility.

What happens when … ethics — social responsibility, equality, sustainability — become the driving force behind consumer behavior? 

  • A device quantifies your environmental beliefs and translates it into savings [Nest]
  • A brand pledges to use only recycled plastics by 2024 [Adidas]
  • A major fast fashion brand unveils supply-chain transparency [H&M]

What’s driving this trend?

  • Constant global media coverage is making us more aware than ever of issues of inequality and environmental damage — and consumerism’s role in them.
  • A wide range of ethically driven companies and products exist in almost any category imaginable, from sustainable shoes and dishsoap to energy-neutral hotels and culturally sensitive vacations.
  • Many of these options are relatively affordable, giving everyday consumers the ability to feel like philanthropists.

What can you do?

  • Design for longevity, repairability and multi-functionality. Consumers are increasingly looking for the last [you name it] they’ll ever need, and are willing to pay a premium for it.
  • Lean toward aesthetic cues that imply simplicity and honesty.
  • Look for ways to be better as a company, in terms of energy use, environmental impact, ethical sourcing, worker treatment, and overall transparency. Giving consumers a clear glimpse into your actions is more convincing than a PR campaign.

Megatrend 6: Radical Personalization

6: Radical Personalization

Never before has it been so easy or cheap to personalize products and experiences. Where bespoke and highly targeted offerings were once reserved for the wealthy and sophisticated, such customization is now commonplace, for everything from laptops and athletic shoes to vacations and medical advice.

Part of the appeal is function: a personalized product satisfies your specific needs more completely and efficiently than a one-size-fits-all alternative. But the emotional aspect is perhaps even more important. If you want to build a true connection between consumer and brand, there’s nothing more direct or more certain than giving them something unique, that shows you know them and understand their individuality like no one else does.

What happens when … consumers expect all mass-market solutions to be personalized — whether through preferences, biometrics, or context-awareness?

  • A subscription service offers personalized monthly supplements [BINTO]
  • Stores use facial recognition to alert sales associates of VIPs’ preferences when they walk through the doors [Lolli & Pops]
  • Customer-supplied genetic data is used to make diet and supplement recommendations [Nestle Wellness Ambassador]

What’s driving this trend?

  • Digital services are naturally easier to customize (digital stickers in social media, recommendations based on browsing history, etc.), pushing consumers to expect higher levels of personalization offline as well.
  • Technologies like 3D printing and rapid prototyping make customized products feasible to produce at scale, at far lower cost than in the days when personalized meant made-by-hand.
  • An explosion of available data means the information needed to create a personalized product or service has already been gathered. All the customer needs to do is give permission for it to be accessed.

What can you do?

  • Customization still often comes at a premium, so target niche users who stand to get the most out of it. IKEA’s user-specific 3D-printed chairs, for example, are aimed specifically at the hardcore gamer crowd.
  • Seek personalized offerings that reinforce your brand direction. Nestle’s Wellness Ambassador service does this by using customer-supplied genetic data to make diet and supplement recommendations, in keeping with its pivot in recent years away from sweets and snacks, and toward health-conscious living.
  • Recognize the difference between pragmatic and emotional personalization: it doesn’t always have to provide technical benefits. Candy store Lolli & Pops, for example, uses facial recognition to alert sales associates when VIP customers walk through the doors, generating a list of preferences and allergies so associates can make personalized recommendations.

Megatrend 7: Search for Authenticity

7: Search for Authenticity

More abundant and more probing media, and the rise of fake-everything, means consumers rarely take things at face value anymore. And in an era when anyone can publish content, there’s no reason to rely on the traditional sources for information. All of this makes it much harder for brands to convince consumers that they’re for real.

“Symmetry of information” is one of the most promising responses to this skepticism: the idea that customers should know as much about the brand as the brand knows about them. While marketing campaigns are often met with skepticism, a clear window into the workings of the company is hard to dismiss, especially if it comes with a shift in policy, away from misleading images, statements or practices.

What happens when … consumers expect every company and product to be transparent, and when the information to determine what’s real and what’s fake is at everyone’s fingertips?

  • A brand enlists real-life “superfan” spokespeople [Lush]
  • Imperfection is celebrated in lieu of unsustainable beauty standards [Dove]
  • A brand exposes every detail of its business, from manufacturing costs to factory tours [Everlane]

What’s driving this trend?

  • A social media and political climate in which traditional sources of reliable truth are increasingly seen as untrustworthy.
  • Cynical corporate practices around environmental responsibility and labor practices are harder to hide, leading to declining faith in once-trusted brands.
  • The rise of small, socially conscious startup brands and citizen media are giving real alternatives to traditional commercial and media channels, and providing opportunities for consumers to find new brands that more closely resonate with their own values.

What can you do?

  • Get real — consumers don’t necessarily need every video, photo, and testimonial to be flawless. Suave’s “Hair You Can Believe” campaign and Dove’s “No Digital Distortion” mark, for example, both attract followings full of customers who’re tired of unattainable standards of beauty and perfection.
  • Look inside your organization for qualities to celebrate externally. Fashion brand, Everyone, has built a huge loyalist base (and grown 100% annually for five years now) by exposing every detail of its business, from manufacturing costs to tours of factories where its clothes are made.
  • Invite real customers to participate in marketing messages. Lush Cosmetics sources spokespeople from among its “superfan” customers, who make up in enthusiasm and authenticity what they might lack in adherence to traditional norms of photogeneity.

Megatrend 8: Connection/Disconnection

8: Connection/Disconnection

For decades, technology and telecommunications have worked relentlessly to give us more access, more information, more communication — and now it seems we’re victims of their success. Bandwidth is now so cheap, and communication channels so abundant, that choosing when and how to be connected has become a treasured capability.

Increasingly, this means services that make connection easier with the right people or information, while providing more fine-grained control over who we interact with when, and in what context. In some cases it can also mean disconnecting, as evidenced by the proliferation of “digital detox” vacations and device-free events.

What happens when … consumers expect social interactions to enable authentic and meaningful connections beyond megaplatforms?

  • An app lets users leave virtual, anonymous notes asking their neighbors to move their cars [MoveCar]
  • Brands serve solo customers by connecting them with each other to share experiences [WeWork]
  • Alternative versions of existing products and services arise to address different styles [Bumble]

What’s driving this trend?

  • Smartphones, connected devices, ubiquitous WiFi, dozens of messaging and sharing apps, all conspiring to keep us communicating non-stop, whether we like it or not.
  • Increased competition in digital services means one size no longer fits all. Consumers can choose the platforms that make the most sense for their situation and desired communication modes.
  • Greater awareness of the downsides of constant connection. The latest research identifies developmental effects of too much screen time on kids, as well as the emotional burden of being “always on.”
  • Increasing social isolation, as younger generations delay marriage and move more frequently than their parents. This has created a critical mass of digitally savvy solo consumers, eager for connection but wary of unmoderated interactions.

What can you do?

  • Consider offering alternative versions of existing products and services, to address different styles of browsing and communication. Dating apps are a good example, with a landscape that includes image-first (Tinder), conversation-first (Taffy), women-first (Bumble) and algorithm-driven (Match, OKCupid) approaches — each of which has a loyal audience.
  • Look for new ways to serve solo customers, by connecting them with each other to share costs and experiences in a curated way. Co-working spaces like WeWork and ridesharing apps like UberPool make this effortless and relatively secure.
  • Create services that build a layer of moderation between strangers who still need to communicate. Airbnb and eBay have been doing this for years; more recently, apps like MoveCar allow residents of Chinese cities to leave virtual notes for their neighbors, asking them to move vehicles without fear of awkward or dangerous interactions.

Megatrend 9: Empowered Individual

9: Empowered Individual

The line between consumer and producer has been blurring for years, with newly democratized tools for producing and publishing content, and communications platforms that allow entire new movements to spring up practically overnight. For companies this can be a two-edged sword: Empowered individuals can be tremendous marketing allies, merciless critics, or even upstart competitors.

Many brands are seizing on this fluidity as a source of ideas and a way to activate their customer communities. It’s still early days though, and a poorly executed customer engagement effort can easily come across as a cynical attempt to exploit authentic social connection for commercial gain.

What happens when … every consumer not only has the power to decide what to buy, but the tools to influence what millions of others will buy? 

  • Established brands use crowdfunding platforms to test new concepts before launching [LEGO]
  • A fashion label uses Instagram stories to get feedback on new designs and let followers vote on favorites [Nyden]
  • A ridesharing app cuts out the middleman by using blockchain payments [TADA]

What’s driving this trend?

  • Social movements are exploding, from #MeToo and grassroots political campaigns to environmental protests and pro-housing YIMBY activism. More than just making noise, they’re affecting real change in the lives of millions — including consumers.
  • User reviews are so credible and so easy to leave that they’ve largely supplanted marketing and professional reviews, for everything from restaurants to taxi rides to people’s homes.
  • Powerful, easy-to-learn tools have transformed a wide range of creative endeavors, making tasks that once took a roomful of seasoned professionals achievable with a laptop or smartphone.
  • Investment and commerce have been democratized too, with crowdfunding and sales platforms designed for broad access, and blockchain promising to remove the need for central controlling authorities in many transactions.

What can you do?

  • Take a page from independent makers and use crowdfunding platforms to try out experimental product ideas. LEGO did this recently, proposing the FORMA line of mechanical kits on IndieGoGo, and using the launch to solicit feedback and build buzz while testing the concept’s appeal with a new audience: adults.
  • Look for opportunities in the peer-to-peer (“sharing”) economy created by new technologies. South Korean ridesharing app TADA, for example, is taking on Uber by using blockchain payment utilities to cut out the middleman, letting drivers earn more per ride.
  • Crowdsource new products and features — carefully. Fashion label Nyden uses Instagram stories to get feedback on new designs, inviting followers to vote on their favorites. This is different, though, from simply asking users to design something for you from scratch, which can appear exploitative, and rarely produces good results.

Megatrend 10: Consumer Remapped

10: Consumer Remapped

More granular information about customers and more powerful ways of processing it are giving companies unprecedented insight into who’s using their products and services, and what their interests and needs are. This has the potential to revolutionize market segmentation, making it far more granular, and accurate, while also letting customer service associates know more about who they’re talking to when offering assistance or solving problems.

The results of all this insight can upset accepted wisdom: it turns out that consumers are more likely to fall into a spectrum than a series of buckets. Some skateboarders are girls, some makeup users are men or transgender, and some NBA fans are disabled. In the past these were dismissed as niches too small to address, but with today’s informational and personalization tools, they’re sources for growth — and intense loyalty for the brands that get there first.

What happens when … consumers identify themselves based purely on their values, beliefs, and attitudes — making demographic and social status truly irrelevant? 

  • Brick-and-mortar stores become sensory-inclusive [NBA Store in NYC]
  • Brands signal to underserved consumer groups that they are valued [Sephora]
  • AR is leveraged to let customers view clothes on all body types [ASOS]

What’s driving this trend?

  • Big Data, in all its glory. As consumers travel through their connected lives, they create a massive trove of information about their interests, habits, and social connections.
  • Machine learning and improved processing algorithms are making it easier to draw meaning out of the petabytes of data now available.
  • Multi-culturalism is becoming the norm, with ever more mobile societies, and significant numbers of North American and European kids identifying as multi-racial.
  • Consumers’ expectations for personalized experiences mean more than just being able to ask for something specific. They want to be known, and to see brands proactively shaping products and services for them, without having to make an effort or fuss.

What can you do?

  • Avoid over-reliance on traditional demographic segmentation like age, income level, gender, and education is becoming a liability. More granular consumer insights can translate directly into new offerings, such as a recent special issue from Vogue, focused on readers over 60.
  • “Inclusive design” is no longer just to satisfy policy or demonstrate virtue. Properly done, it can also signal to underserved consumer groups that they are valued and welcome, as with Sephora’s makeup classes for transgender customers, or the NBA Store’s efforts to make its NYC location more comfortable for autistic shoppers and those suffering from PTSD or dementia.
  • Use the customization potential in new technologies to show customers what’s uniquely relevant to them. UK fashion retailer ASOS, for example, is using Augmented Reality to let customers view clothes on a variety body types, going far beyond the typical 5’10”, size 2 model.

megatrends in use to develop innovation strategy

How Megatrends Fit Into Innovation

Megatrends are a versatile design and innovation strategy tool that serves the innovation process in different ways at different points. At Bresslergroup, we use megatrends to:

Develop innovation strategy: Megatrends help companies develop a vison of the future, which is necessary to support the development of truly disruptive innovation. Combined with industry analysis, megatrends help identify areas of opportunity. We also integrate megatrends into SWOT analysis to help clients determine the best approach to emerging trends.

Inform user research: Trend research and user research work together to reveal what consumers want now, and what they want ten years from now. Before conducting user research, we use megatrends to create hypotheses about consumers’ behavior and expectations. Once the research has concluded, we look to megatrends to help categorize, analyze, and expand user insights.

Facilitate product development: Megatrends are an effective tool to provide inspiration for concept ideation. They also facilitate concept selection and validate a product roadmap.

vision of the future workshop

Learn more about this topic from our other articles on megatrends and see how megatrends can be leveraged to generate visions of the future when you download our white paper [email required], How To Design Health Products of the Future.

To start a conversation about how megatrends can help you innovate, don’t hesitate to contact us!