Barring those elderly few who were alive during the Second World War, Covid is the single most disruptive event in our collective living memory. As we move into a 3rd year living through a pandemic, we are beginning to see the longer-term impact of this disruption emerge. It has changed the way we live, the way we work, the people we interact with and how those interactions are mediated. And, when put under the spotlight, a lot of it didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Perhaps it’s no surprise that divorce enquiries surged in 2021.
As you will see below, we believe just about every relationship has been questioned, re-evaluated and renegotiated. But it’s not all doom and gloom. For all the knee-jerk prophecies about the death of cities and the end of the office, we humans are social creatures and our world is still fundamentally built on relationships, including those with the brands and companies we buy from.
Here are 5 relationships that we believe will be redefined in 2022.
RELATIONSHIPS IN 2022…
… with each other
Despite a steady ‘unlocking’ throughout the year and an all-too-brief return to the office for some, we are ending 2021 with a retightening of many of the restrictions that have dominated the past two years. Whilst technology has allowed us to maintain relationships with family, friends, and colleagues, it is clearly apparent that screens are poor substitutes for human touch. Yet technology continues to replace human interaction in countless settings, from chatbots to checkoutless stores. As businesses race towards seamless customer experiences in which purchases made with barely the touch of a button become the expected norm, brands would do well to remember that a lack of friction in the user experience doesn’t actually make us happy in itself. By all means reduce the frustrations, but don’t forget to build in moments of delight for your customers. It’s these peak moments - far more than ironing out any friction - that make for truly memorable brand experiences. In 2022, brands creating peak moments with a human touch will create the most standout.
… with the physical world
Speaking of technology, we can’t produce a 2022 trends perspective without some mention of the metaverse. Facebook’s name change in October catapulted the metaverse into the public conscience but, whilst momentum will continue to gather, our view is that the metaverse will remain nascent in 2022. Meanwhile, we’ve noticed offline spaces dialling up interactivity and tactility in a bid to lure people back into the real world. With ⅓ of US consumers suffering from FOGO (fear of going out), we predict that this trend for hyperphysicality will explode in 2022 as high streets become places for socialising as much as shopping. Retail brands, take note.
… with work
Our relationship with work, and in particular the office, has been one of the most disrupted during the pandemic. Month after month of WFH prompted a huge amount of self-reflection not just about ways of working, but the very work we do. Much has been written about The Great Resignation and diminishing work ethic as younger generations decide that there may be more to life than hours in front of a computer, but we are also seeing deurbanisation losing its appeal as those who moved to the country now face long commutes. If only for a few days a week, city centres are coming back to life but hybrid working is creating new dynamics to the working week. The Monday morning commute is no longer the crushing start of the daily grind, which in turn, changes the dynamics of Sundays and so forth. In London, it had long been an old joke that ‘Thursday was the new Friday’; hybrid working now gives Wednesday a life of its own beyond ‘hump day’. Besides the obvious implications for the hospitality industry, multiple categories will need to rethink how and when they communicate. Society is reshaping its social and cultural rhythms and brands need to reflect and adapt to this changing world.
… with the planet
Once a niche interest of tree-hugging hippies and Prince Charles, 2022 is without a doubt the year that Green goes mainstream. One in four households intend to buy an electric car in the next five years, interest in ESG investing is soaring, and Germany’s recent three-way coalition sees a Green Party in power for the first time. Any company worth its salt has a net zero target these days; the only difference is how far they’ve kicked the can down the road (net zero by 2050 is a pretty meaningless target if you ask us, Tesco). Next year, we believe there will be a groundswell towards brands making sustainability meaningful, whether that’s through B-Corp certification or other dramatic moves to reform their production and supply chain or reduce waste. As consumers become increasingly astute about the issue, brands will have to work twice as hard to prove their sustainability credentials to even earn a place in the consideration set, or risk being overlooked in favour of a new entrant or a faster-moving competitor. Greenwashing won’t cut it for much longer.
… with brands
The financial fallout of the pandemic combined with Brexit and shifting trade relations around the world paints an uncertain economic picture for 2022: rising prices and a shrinking economy point towards a return to more austere times. Even if inflation is fleeting and belt-tightening proves to be moderate, we predict that a heightened economic awareness will see consumers inevitably scrutinising their spending, reconsidering the brands they buy and judging them against all of the shifting dynamics outlined above.
As we look toward 2022, it would be remiss as The Brand and Cultural Transformation Company to not offer a perspective on the relationship between organisational and brand purpose. Amidst the continued rise of populism, and an age of cancel culture, advertising can sometimes feel increasingly out of touch with the populace, antagonising where once it amplified popular culture. We’ve seen growing cynicism towards the advertising industry, a backlash against ‘woke’ brands, and a debunking of anything-with-purpose-will-do thinking. Going forward, brands will need to be clearer but also more nuanced in their purpose, positioning, products and communications. A lot has been published on whether or not organisational and brand purpose makes brands more financially successful. In some respects, that’s missing the point. A clear organisational purpose should be made based upon conscious choices, both morally and, indeed, perhaps conscientiously. But brands must also better understand the relationship that they have with their consumers, or, in some cases, don’t.
In 2022, we expect to see greater clarity and understanding from marketers on the difference between the purpose and values inherent in the organisation and those cause-worthy marketing activities and tangential alliances that are sometimes cynically designed to sell product and build brand affinity. Authentic purpose should be a defining north star for how an organisation acts and behaves - including a possible gravitational shift towards ESG-friendly aspects - not lipstick applied to a pig. Be clear about who you are, just be careful that who you are is and will remain relevant to the customers you want to build relationships with going forwards.
Our predictions for 2022
- Brands that create memorable experiences with a human touch will be the standout winners of the year
- The metaverse won’t take over just yet, but retail and hospitality spaces will become increasingly multi-sensory in a Hail Mary pass to lure people back to the physical world
- The new rhythms of the working week will crystallize into culture and brands will need to respond in kind
- Only the brands that make sustainability meaningful will be taken seriously as green goes mainstream
- Tough economic times will place brands under greater scrutiny than ever - only the fittest will survive