A decade after we announced the age of the customer, consumers continue to move faster than businesses. Ten years ago, extraordinary new technologies from the iPhone to social media expanded access to information, increasing consumer choice and ramping up their experience expectations. CMOs have since worked themselves to the bone to capture empowered consumer mindshare by inventing content and experiences that are novel, hyperpersonalized, and memorable if not viral — delivered in the perfect moment to the consumer’s ever-shrinking screen. Despite CMOs’ best efforts, today’s consumers are still unfulfilled.

This is why we are unveiling our first set of predictions for the customer in 2020. Forrester’s wealth of global consumer data and cutting-edge creative research techniques infused with 20 years of analyst interpretation give us clarity into how consumer needs evolve and how this will influence consumer demands of brands and technology. The year 2020 marks a turning point where consumers, marketers, and technology providers will become aware of the need to address the human urge to cooperate with others for a greater, more hopeful purpose:

  • Consumers’ urge to restore meaning will create group-level digital personalization. The recent rapid escalation of self-centered benefits has left behind human beings’ need for affiliation and meaning. Consumers’ intensifying desire to connect with others aligned with their identity will drive them into private social media groups anchored around specific values. Welcome to digitally enabled group personalization, where digital tools no longer make people feel like an undifferentiated mass but rather catalyze meaningful group identity. We expect the percent of public social media time spend to go down, replaced by a rise in closed social media experiences like private Facebook groups or Marco Polo asynchronous video chats.
  • Consumers will evolve from recipients of a brand experience to participants in it. The self-centered world where everything is easy and friction-free paradoxically runs the risk of making people feel like they are at the center of a hollow universe. Forward-looking CMOs will recognize that customers don’t merely want to be served but want to be part of the service; consumers will view brands as vehicles to participate in a larger cause. Apple’s masterful strategy of inviting Apple Watch Series 5 customers to volunteer their health data that supports research already saving lives makes the customer a partner in generating value.
  • Consumers’ urge to hope makes them receptive to emotionally uplifting brands — and susceptible to manipulated reality. The slow evaporation of social avenues that previously enabled consumers to find joy and meaning, from girl scouts to the local lacrosse club, has left people with less proof that the world is a collectively hopeful place. Next year, consumers will try to attach that urge to hope to the brands they prefer. Under Armour is actively providing tools to achieve hope-rich fitness performance; others will follow, yet appealing to the human desire for hope is not automatically ethical. As technology becomes more humanlike by performing sophisticated tasks and mimicking modulating emotion, consumers will project their emotional needs onto these entities and become less driven to distinguish between human-generated experiences and tech-generated ones.

The last decade of digital disruption has given consumers easy and effective solutions that were recently unimaginable, yet waning happiness levels prove that their core emotional needs remain unmet. Because human beings are social animals who evolved to make decisions not just with themselves in mind but with an eye to the social impact of their choices, prepare for consumers and brands to engineer new relationships that emphasize identity, purpose, and connection.

For more on the customer in 2020, listen to our discussion on Forrester’s What It Means podcast. To understand the major dynamics that will impact consumers and firms next year, download Forrester’s Predictions 2020 guide.