Many of you will have dived into one of the hundreds of trend reports published in recent months. Even if you haven’t you’ll have a sense of what’s in these forecasts – maybe, just maybe there will be some talk about how AI-driven personalisation is the future of marketing? There will be talk of the erosion of brand trust and influencer fatigue, and privacy and what’s next for adtech. Brand purpose will be declared ‘dead’. 

So instead of a laundry list of marketing and technology trends, I’m going to do what I do on the MAD/Fest stage and use innovations from other industries to bring you five big questions that you’ll need to ask yourself over the coming 12 months. From robotics to healthcare, from open sourced sustainability to AI (of course!), this is your chance to widen your perspective and unlock some non-obvious insights for your brand or clients. 

Let’s go…

1. Which of the new post-smartphone devices are going to be right for your brand? 

I’m writing this as CES is in full swing, where this year’s breakout hit is the Rabbit R1, a not-a-phone AI handheld, with a 2.9 inch screen and walkie talkie-style push-to-talk button. Between the Rabbit, Meta x Ray Ban’s smart glasses, Humane’s AI pin, and Rewind’s wearable pendant (not to mention Apple’s push into ‘spatial computing’ with its Vision Pro), 2024 will be the first time for a generation that the smartphone’s position as the ‘everything device’ will be seriously challenged. 

Just remember, while experimentation is great – you really don’t have to engage with consumers on every new platform (whatever your agency might tell you).  

2. Will robots and automation be front-and-centre to your brand experiences, or better behind-the-scenes?  

If 2023 was all about conversing with chatbots, then 2024 is going to be the year that AI makes a dent in the physical world as robots start to become increasingly smart, capable and visible. In the last month alone, Tesla launched the impressively dextrous second generation of its Optimus humanoid robot and researchers at Stanford created an open source low cost robot Aloha; meanwhile Amazon now has 750,000 robots in its logistics centers (up from just 1,000 ten years ago!), and is now trialling its Digit humanoid robots. 

For marketers the important question when it comes to robots is less of a technological one but a brand and customer experience one. The world will fragment into brands that lean into low/no-touch automation, and those that deliver high-touch, human-led experiences. Which one are you? 

3. What will the ripple effects be if we could ‘cure’ obesity? 

GLP-1 was a close second to GPT-4 for 2023’s acronym of the year; for those scratching their heads – Ozempic and Wegovy are the leading GLP-1 brands. These diabetes drugs exploded in popularity once it became clear they could also treat obesity by reducing patients’ appetite. With over half the world forecasted to be overweight by 2035, GLP-1 drugs are forecast to be the most profitable pharmaceuticals in history – indeed Novo Nordisk, Wegovy’s manufacturer, briefly became Europe’s most valuable company during 2023. 

Yet GLP-1s will have an impact far beyond healthcare. Already share prices of snack food and travel companies have been affected, as people consider the huge knock on effects of a huge swathe of the population changing previously deep-rooted habits. So even if you don’t feel immediately affected, every marketer should think about the second order implications of GLP-1 in 2024. 

4. What if … we could dramatically slow, or even reverse, ageing? 

Last year, 45-year-old tech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson spent $2 million of his $100 million fortune on his aggressive ‘anti-ageing’ routine, and he claims his doctors assess that he now has the skin of a 28-year-old, the heart of a 37-year-old, and the lung capacity of an 18-year-old. 

“Rich guy has midlife crisis” might be a familiar story, but imagine if Johnson’s behaviour shifts from narcissistic to normal, and these innovations start to trickle down – it would fundamentally transform rich-but-greying markets like the US and Europe. It will be ironic if youth becomes elongated just as the marketing industry has started to wake up to older demographics. 

5. What if… your brand shared its biggest secrets? 

In June, Allbirds released its M0.0NSHOT sneaker, which it claimed was the world’s first Net Zero shoe thanks to its regenerative materials. In November, Google DeepMind announced its GNoME AI tool, which has discovered 380,000 new stable materials, expanding the known volume of these materials by a factor of ten. The most interesting thing about these two initiatives is that both companies open sourced their data, so that others can replicate and build on their progress. 

Not every marketer should aspire to making bigger, brighter, louder campaigns. The best brands stand out by doing things differently, and there are few more powerful statements than giving away your solutions to hard-but-meaningful problems. Intriguingly both of these are more about marketing to present and future employees, rather than customers. This might not be an area where most marketers feel comfortable today, but employee-focused marketing will take on new importance as AI enables ever smaller teams of superstar employees to move faster and reach further.  

Now, over to you! 

There you have it. Five questions that will inspire new thinking about how, where and who you should be marketing to in 2024. If you want more thinking like this, then do check out Henry’s recent year-end piece which contained 52 (shorter!) questions worth asking in 2024, or buy his latest book, The Future Normal: How We Will Live, Work and Thrive in the Next Decade.