I love lists and I love trend predictions.  So a trend prediction list would be an obvious choice for my post today, on the last day of the year.  Throughout the past week I have been reading lots of smart projections on what to expect for the year ahead.  With all the discussion of microtrends, the evolution of how we consume media and highly useful recap lists of smart thinking from 2007, I thought I would take a different approach.  This post is an attempt to go "macro" and look at one major trend that I believe will shape many other aspects of marketing in the coming year (and likely beyond).  This is not about online marketing, but about the way that businesses everywhere will embrace a new style of marketing in the coming year.

The trend can be summed up in two words: personality matters.  On first glance, this may not seem like much of a prediction, or even a trend – but stay with me.  The idea of putting more personality into marketing is obviously a big one for me.  By personality, I mean having a real identity that customers, partners and employees can associate with.  I’m writing an entire book on the topic, after all.  But the reason why this is the one trend I chose to focus on is not only because of my book, but because the reason I even chose to focus on it in the first place is that I believe it represents an entire shift in marketing that we have already started to see happening and one that will continue to pick up speed throughout 2008.  Though I know I promised the shortest trend prediction ever, this post feels incomplete without a bit more detail on why I think personality is so important.  Here are just a few reasons why personality matters and how it is likely to impact what we see happen to marketing in the coming year:

  • Everyone wants to have a more authentic voice. The authenticity factor plays heavily in favor of brands that have personality, because they are more "real."  As social media continues to provide a layer of transparency between brands and customers, authenticity will continue to be a major buzzword for businesses in all industries.  Personality helps brands become more real. 
  • Accidental spokespeople are becoming more common.  A concept I have blogged about before (and one that I explore in detail in the book) is the idea that often the key voices for brands are accidental ones from either employees or customers.  In 2008, as more blogs pop up and social networks continue to draw large audiences … this will only continue to rise.  That means individual personalities will even more frequently shape perception about a brand.
  • Creativity will be key.  This is a point that many have repeated, but was most prominently made by Bob Liodice in his AdAge trends for 2008 article.  In this point, he talks about how brands will need to find unconventional methods to target their audiences and stand out.  Being unconventional also means having a personality.
  • Word of Mouth is real and intentional. Most smart marketers could probably have told you well before this past year that word of mouth is a key ingredient in marketing.  Over the past few years, though, it has become much more quantifiable (ie – real) and brands feel far more than they ever have that WOM is something you can actually impact on purpose.  Personality can give brands something talkable that encourages WOM. 
  • Social networks make conversation a necessity.  Just about every marketing trend prediction talks about the rise in importance of social networks as a way that people build brand preferences.  Brands with personality are also those that are willing to participate in conversations.  The opposite are closed brands who have to approve every type of communication and rarely share an individual point of view. 

The lesson here for most marketers is fairly simple.  Social media is becoming more trusted, and people trust one another more than they trust standard marketing messages.  Social media offers a tool for more authenticity, but at the end of the day what you are aiming to demonstrate is the personality of your brand.  It is this personality that is talkable and fosters word of mouth.  The three hottest macro topics in marketing right now are WOM, authenticity and social media.  Brands that focus on having a personality in 2008 will be the ones best positioned take advantage of all three.

Update (12/31/08): There is a piece in USAToday that interestingly calls 2008 the "Year of Getting Real."