CSO Fight: Annual Trends Reports - Are They Simply Bollocks?

What are the pros and cons of Annual Brand Planning? BBH joint CSOs battle it out to find a balance of accepting change/new with constant/consistent

By Will Lion and Simon Gregory

It's still January, and BBH joint CSOs Will and Gregor are debating the importance of trends in the New Year. What are the pros and cons of Annual Brand Planning? They discuss finding a balance of accepting change/new with constant/consistent and try and agree on how best to use trends in the process. They also explore goal-setting - when and how to do it? And Greg has a big moan.

Will: Hey Greg, Happy New Year! Want to hear all my new goals and trends for 2024?

Gregor: The fuck I do.

W: Sigh Why are you the way you are?

G: The bigger question is ‘why does January - which is only slightly different to Dec - get this special status where suddenly everything is new again, where we indiscriminately package the last 52 weeks up into a folder called "Learning" (no "s", please), change all of our strategy goals and hitch our wagon to a bunch of new trends?’

W: Pleased you had a good Christmas.

G: I just don’t see the need for all the running around to find a baby to throw out with the bath water just because it’s another new year.

W: Ok, so this fight is going to be about Jan Magpie Syndrome?

G: Yeah, I hate Annual Brand Planning and all the silly trends. Not because I don’t value the process, but because we spend the rest of the year extolling long-term thinking, customer understanding, and the consistent basics of brand strength and brand building. Then along pops a random day in the year and we throw it all up in the air for a laugh.

W: But isn’t reflection a vital pillar of long-term brand management? A chance to check in on how things are going and adjust the plan if needed?

G: Like going out for dinner on Valentine’s Day to be romantic?

W: Wait, you can do it on other days? So you're upset about the fickleness in strategy?

G: I have two beefs: firstly, I hate the fact that a strategy - specific, precise, long-term by its nature - gets a random review and some different goals just because Big Ben said so.

W: Think we got that. But isn’t it good to have a time in the year to force the issue? After the Christmas break everyone is refreshed, more relaxed, and there’s positivity and perspective in the air. It’s hard to constantly be in this mode for the rest of the year.

G: I will accept something like a ‘Brand Strategy Review’ because it’s less a start again, more of a check the rudder is pointing in the right direction.

W: Ok, progress.

G: I understand that sometimes the urgent displaces the important, but often the shiny disrupts the shire horse too. Just let your strategies run, don’t retire them just because it’s a new year and a new budget. All of the best IPA papers talk about brand building over time, not a great annual switch.

W: What was the other thing that upsets you about this happy time of year Greg?

G: I hate the random new influence on annual planning: trend reports. I think they’re bollocks. They miss what’s really going on with the potential customers for the latest dust in the air. At their worst, they’re a 200 page curve ball of magpied trinkets that distract from the actual strategy.

W: Woah, woah, woah.

G: You still trying to offload those Pokemon NFTs? I’m selling bread and milk mate, not blockchain gubbins.

W: I’ll give you a good price, they’ll be worth more when you sell them to the next guy. Trust me.

G: Drinks big swig of milk

W: Anyway, trends can be useful stimulus that helps fine tune what we’re trying to do with the brand. A chance to check the context in which our work and efforts will land, to stay ahead of competitors and feel contemporary. Plus, wasn’t your favourite book last year Helen Edwards’ From Marginal to Mainstream completely about trends?

G: That’s completely different. It had witches in it.

W. Rrright…

G: OK. For me, Edwards’ point was about finding and assessing the potential of emerging behaviours. New growth areas that brands could take a punt on to find growth. In the way that Nike realised that jogging was a thing when early city plodders were getting arrested because they looked like they were running away from things.

W: Maybe it’s about the scale of change in terms of audience and timespan? I like the Bezos thing of asking what will be true in five years or 10 years. Low cost, fast delivery, yes. Salted Caramel? Maybe not.

G: Exactly. Remember that thing we did on charts that don’t change?

W: Yeah. Attitudes on the future, brand loyalty, debt, family, gardens, etc are all constant.

G: But not jelly consumption.

W: By the way, “Be Jelly” is one of Pinterest’s 2024 big themes, from interior design to beauty, it’s all going squishy.

G: I don't think I’m ready for this jelly. But this highlights my point, there are small, flashy trends that get all the attention. They are fine for context but don’t amount to much. Then there are the big ones, the deeper behaviour change, the secular trends that convert into the big cash. These miss the media frenzy but are more important.

W: Fine, but isn’t thinking in terms of five to 10 years, five to 10 years out of date for some brands? Things move faster today. Culture is more visual and topical. Knowing these trends is survival, not superficial. Part of Lego’s growth story is that they have 750 products, 48 per cent of which were new in 2023 and increasingly digital and cultural.

G: Ok, so maybe some more medium term trends can be useful. But we both agree that knee-jerk reactions to flashy marketing fodder is bad.

G: Yes.

W: Deeper understanding of longer-term customer habits is good?

G: Yes.

W: But fast-moving businesses should stay on top of certain trends with a bit of a squint to make sure they aren’t too flash-in the pan.

G: All hail the long and medium term trends. Short term ones can do one.

W: So in summary…

G: Keep everything, including annual Brand Planning, in the long-term context. Sure, review and adjust a bit in these weeks. But be careful of all the silly trends and don’t get Jan Magpie Syndrome.

W: Why didn’t you just say this at the start?

G: Happy New Year. If we are still saying it!


Greg and Will, once they’re out of Brand Planning workshops, will return next time for a fight about sameness.


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