You can now text a pizza emoji (🍕) to Domino’s Pizza and they will send the real thing to your front door. That about sums up the way a customer wants to interact with your brand in 2016.

Some other consumer behaviours to look out for this year? They’ll demand instant gratification, easy-to-understand visual communication, and a brand that acts morally while catering to individual needs at the same time. Stacy Glasgow, a consumer trends consultant at Mintel, shared four consumer trends the market intelligence agency is seeing take shape in 2016 at ICA’s FFWD Advertising and Marketing week in Toronto. Technology was a common thread weaving them together.

“In a lot of the trends we’re tracking, technology is starting to play a big role,” Glasgow says. “All of the advances in technology are starting to change consumer expectations.”

Here’s an overview of the themes Glasgow presented:

Balance or bust

“Consumers see themselves as unique individuals,” Glasgow said. “There’s all these different facets to their identity and they want to nourish those facets.”

This can help explain behaviour in consumers that might seem like cognitive dissonance at times. People want to have it all while also having the opposite of it all at the same time. For example, someone might go to an all-you-can-eat bacon fest one day and then start a three-day juice cleanse the next.

Or someone might binge watch Netflix for 12 hours, and then enjoy a family dinner with an agreement to turn off everyone’s devices and focus on personal interaction. In fact, these are behaviours that brands are catching on to. United Airlines invites its passengers to “binge watch” Netflix at 35,000 feet in one ad, while a Dixie campaign encourages the #DarkForDinner idea be made into a Sunday ritual.

Mintel’s research shows that North Americans are striving for balance, even if it seems like we’re playing to the extremes. One survey found 81 per cent of Canadians want better work/life balance. Another that 48 per cent of Americans that are connected to social media intentionally set some time aside to disconnect.

Big brand theory

With the financial crisis still a very recent memory and current economic conditions hardly much better, consumers are starting to feel that bigger brands are not necessarily better brands. There’s a compulsion to go to the farmer’s market and shake someone’s hand when buying asparagus, rather than plucking it off the megastore’s shelf.

“People want to know the story behind the brand,” Glasgow says. “Consumers want to know where their products and services come from.”

Technology services that bind together smaller brands or independent artisans are evidence of this, she adds. Just look to (with the motto of “buy good things from real people”) or, which collects locally made food and drink items and sells them online.

Brands should use more story-telling to build trust, Glasgow says. Presently, about 36 per cent of U.S. consumers trust companies to do the right thing most of the time.

Also, big brands should consider taking an “umbrella” approach by operating smaller sub-brands to give a more authentic feel. Canadian banks might want to take note, as 31 per cent of Canadian adults say they trust local banks and credit unions more than large banks.

‘Eye’ get it

Consumers are relying more on visual communication and prefer it in many cases over text.

“We live in a fast-paced culture. We want everything to get done as quickly and easily as possible,” Glasgow says.

As a result, brands are turning to emojis to help connect with consumers. Inmoji is a service that allows brands to make their emojis functional – you can text your friend the Starbucks logo and tapping it will show them which Starbucks you want to meet at. Also, Tim Hortons made a point of releasing a set of custom emojis.

Tim Hortons calls its custom keyboard the "Eh moji" keyboard.
Tim Hortons calls its custom keyboard the “Eh moji” keyboard.

Mintel says that 34 per cent of Americans prefer seeing symbols on beverage packaging instead of words, an example of the trend. Meanwhile, 55 per cent of Canadians demonstrate a strong interest in wanting to redeem coupons and loyalty points on mobile phones.

Pride and persona

Shifts in the 21st century have consumers thinking differently about gender, race, and other standard demographics. That needs to be reflected in brands that want to be relevant – look no further than Mattel’s new line of Barbie dolls that include different body types and skin tones as an example.

“Brands are a lot more apt to take a step and speak to the equality-minded consumer,” Glasgow says. “It’s all about taking that persona and humanizing the brand again.”

Using social media and engaging with people in a way you’d expect an individual to is one example of that, she says. Taco Bell does this well with its Twitter account, often injecting humour into its stream.

Mintel’s research also shows Canadians care about brands acting ethically. Fifty-four per cent avoid beauty products that are harmful to the environment, for example.

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