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2022 Trends Report: Consumer PR and brand communications

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we perceive brands and what we expect from them. One of the key lessons we have learned from this period of social isolation and societal change, is that we value community more than ever. In 2022, this will influence our behaviour as consumers, and the way we choose our information sources.

While these major social transformations are taking place, the industry's techniques are becoming increasingly refined, and sometimes even make it possible to break through the boundaries of reality.

Here are the trends our consumer PR and brand communications experts see for 2022:

Quality earned media has never been more valuable

We are always seeking truth and valid sources of information. However, the COVID-19 pandemic also caused a raging “infodemic” which fostered feelings of skepticism towards the media. As we advocate for our clients, it is our role to help restore credibility in the media by connecting journalists with the experts who can provide reliable facts. PR consultants possess trusted relationships with reporters and editors. Although every pitch may not result in coverage, the media can feel confident each pitch is rooted in the truth.

The pandemic is also shrinking our media world—and not just the size of newsrooms. It showed how the reality of Canadians can be drastically different from one region to the other. Audiences are now increasingly focused on local news and how it affects their communities. In response, media coverage is pivoting away from the “mass” and prioritizing stories that demonstrate how national topics impact specific communities. Through regional partners, third-party local spokespeople, localized pitch angles and human-centric stories, brands can leverage the local media trend to connect with audiences and demonstrate their relevancy and purpose.

Anna Woodmass, consultant – NATIONAL Toronto and Eric Aach, consultant – NATIONAL Montreal

Education and accessibility emerge as brand differentiators

Offering great products and services is no longer enough; brands and organizations must help consumers navigate the choices, small to large, their buying power impacts. Businesses in many spaces that previously seemed inaccessible to many—technology, electrification, financial and even the arts—have learned there is a need not only to motivate and inspire audiences, but to educate and include. Humanizing concepts like investing and AI by making them simple, accessible, and easy to understand, offers an opportunity for brands to expand their customer base. Learning has become the ultimate influencer.

Companies working in fields such as connectivity, mobility, finance and e-commerce who have already incorporated this into their business models have benefitted from this approach. Moving into 2022, brands should be exploring ways they can expand beyond the traditional experience and provide more value to consumers through education. As communicators, we will continue to advise brands to recognize this need and desire for education and accessibility, then work with them to integrate it in a way that uniquely resonates with their audience.

Stefanie Cimini, consultant – NATIONAL Toronto

We’ll expect even more from the brands we love

It’s an understatement to say consumers and brands have been through a lot together during the pandemic. Early into COVID-19, thrust as a global community into uncertainty, consumers leaned into those long-standing brands and businesses that offered a sense of stability and support. Reputation was built and bolstered as big brands realized pivoting to put “social purpose and people before products” was not only the right thing to do—but could bank goodwill capital. As boosters roll-out and restrictions ebb in 2022, we’re at a societal inflection point. Consumers are increasingly turning to large corporations and asking, what’s next? What will you do now to make our new world a better place? As a part of this process, we’re recalibrating what we expect from the brands we let into our lives and homes. While quality and value will always be on the shopping list, more of us will be filling our carts (and hearts) with the brands that lead with the purposeful values that matter most in our new normal.

Josh Norton, vice-president and practice lead, Consumer – NATIONAL Toronto

The metaverse will transform experiential marketing

The metaverse is here and it’s time for marketers to plug in.

The last few years have pushed people to find new ways to interact, bringing us to the precipice of the new frontier: the metaverse. The merging of the digital and physical world to create a universe where we connect, express ourselves and live online.

With Facebook rebranding as Meta, companies are investing rapidly into building metaverse experiences, services and virtual reality and augmented reality hardware to connect with consumers as they plugin. As resources flow, and the metaverse evolves, this will be the largest shift since the dawn of influencer marketing—only much more complex.

The metaverse means more than just throwing logos into a platform and increasing the digital advertising spend. It means marketers must rethink their consumer experiential strategy using ever-changing technology, enhanced community management and user-generated content.

Entering the metaverse may feel like a challenging task, but with a truly collaborative marketing mix, consumer-first approach and innovative mindset, we’re all on track to re-write the marketing playbook.

Jon Koidis, director, Consumer – NATIONAL Toronto

Influencer marketing will become more measurable, efficient, and effective

Investments in influencer marketing are projected to grow by $13.8 billion in 2022, and the demand for more clear and measurable outcomes from creator partnerships is expected to grow accordingly. Long considered a brand awareness tactic, there’s now a growing drive to diversify influencer program KPIs to include more quantifiable outcomes such as conversions and sales. Social platforms like Instagram and TikTok are introducing new tools to enhance measurability and monetization for creators, and as a result, brands are finally starting to draw a clear delineation between partners and profit.

Creators themselves will evolve by creating and optimizing content to deliver on their partners’ KPIs while building their own businesses. As a result, the entire creator ecosystem is changing to become more measurable, efficient, and effective. But not all that glitters is gold, and not all short-term measurements translate into long-term success. These new tools may create more believers in the boardroom, but it all falls short if you don’t choose the right creators.

Kristie Forbes, director, Marketing – NATIONAL Atlantic

More from our 2022 Trends Report

——— Developed by: Leads: Sébastien Boudreau (NATIONAL Montreal), Josh Norton (NATIONAL Toronto) Collaborators: Kevin McCann, Kristie Forbes (NATIONAL Atlantic), Carlos-David Donoso, Chantal Benoit, Eric Aach (NATIONAL Montreal), Anna Woodmass, Jon Koidis, Sage Chislett, Stefanie Cimini (NATIONAL Toronto)