01/22/2020

Joe Smith’s Brands to Watch 2020

The confetti has settled, and we’ve rung in the new year. It’s time to peer into our crystal ball and see which brands will be worth watching in 2020. We asked the Joe Smith team which brands they are keeping an eye on for meaningful experiences for customers or employees. Here are our top picks for the year ahead:

1. Uber: As the beleaguered Uber tries to shake off a few turbulent years in the press, the business is expanding beyond a rideshare service with the goal of becoming an “operating system for everyday life.” This includes UberEats, bike and scooter rentals, Uber for Business, and freight services. The company also is looking at its employee experience: one of its latest offerings is Uber Money, which will allow drivers to track real-time earnings and sign up for debit or credit cards. We’ll be watching Uber’s pivot carefully, as one of the brands that created the gig economy looks to diversify and mature.

2. Impossible Foods: Meatless meat hit the mainstream in 2019 when Impossible Foods teamed up with Burger King for national distribution of the Impossible Whopper. But with added attention comes added scrutiny and growing criticism of plant-based meat alternatives being less healthy than meat. With steep competition from Beyond Meat (now sold at Carl’s Jr. and TGIFridays), Impossible Foods will look to seize its own positive publicity to push the category from flash-in-the-pan fad to a bonafide meat alternative movement.

3. Netflix: Now that most major media conglomerates (most recently, Disney) have jumped on the streaming bandwagon, the standard-bearer for video streaming finds itself in uncharted territory. Historically, Netflix has lead by leveraging consumer data to create targeted digital ads and content recommendations, partnering with like-minded brands along the way (think Stranger Things playlists on Spotify). But between battles for high-profile creators and the splintering of content, Netflix will need to actively defend the position it created for itself – not only as a streaming service but also as an employer of choice.

4. The NBA: Amid ongoing protests in Hong Kong against Chinese encroachment and police brutality, the NBA now finds itself standing in a precarious intersection of business, geopolitics, and sports. When a general manager for the Houston Rockets tweeted his support for the protesters in October, the ensuing backlash from the Chinese Basketball Association and Chinese sponsors forced the league to defend the rights of its staff and players, many of whom voiced support or opposition to the offending tweet. Knowing how important the Chinese market is to the growth of the NBA, the league’s approach to addressing the conduct of its employees and players – many of whom are brands in their own right – could set a precedent for professional sports leagues in the future.

5. The Democratic Party: We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the major political event that will dominate headlines in 2020. A growing political divide is forcing both political parties to do some collective soul-searching, but one has the benefit of incumbency. Presidential elections may be the ultimate test of brand appeal, and the eventual Democratic nominee will be up against one of the strongest (albeit polarizing) political brands in recent history. Can the Democratic party unite behind a vision of what they are for versus what they are against? Will the challenger’s brand carry a compelling enough message and grab our attention long enough to unseat the current leader of the free world?

Perry Lowder is a senior brand strategist and Bryn Snyder is a brand strategist at Joe Smith, the brand consultancy of Padilla.