We’ve lived a decade in a year, and laying bets on trends—particularly in communications—is either audacious or foolhardy. Yet here we are, seeing the patterns emerge. Here are seven shifts in culture and communications that might be helpful in your own planning and reflection.
1. COVID-19 impact
First, the COVID-19 asteroid and the turmoil in its wake. Three quarters of us have reported sustained disruption, and Groundhog Day has become a little too real. Virtual life has exploded, but masks, distancing, and just not being able to do what we typically do has thrown us all off. Careers, jobs, life milestones, memory making, education, have all been disrupted. This has been felt the hardest in vulnerable populations, and the effects will continue long after the apex of the pandemic.
Key implications: Mental health and balance need to be central for organizations, as does ongoing issues and crisis management. Change is a core competency.
Second is the irony of COVID-19; things accelerated as much as they stopped. E-commerce, online grocery, workforce flexibility, logistics, vaccine research, virtual healthcare: all jumped ahead years in 12 months. COVID-19 has been devastating and undeserved, but the accelerated transformations it has caused will have some enduring silver linings.
Key implications: The digital funnel for customers and audiences is wider, longer, more direct, with higher expectations from users and consumers.
3. New world of work
Third, the new world of work. It’s not just work-from-home life, it’s the emphasis on brand and organizational purpose and a new energy behind diversity, equity and inclusion. New office dynamics will emerge with distancing, wearing masks, to meet or not to meet, hybrid meetings, and vaccinations. Organizations need to continue to manage with empathy and normalize new habits and new expectations.
Key implications: Companies need a deliberate internal communications plan steeped in empathy, but they must also normalize new habits and expectations from the past 12 months. HR, communications, and senior leadership must work together. Great virtual collaboration is achievable and expected.
4. Data reckoning
We continue our reckoning with data and the attention economy that feeds it. Internet companies (to the extent that’s a category) represent the largest industry to avoid regulation, and this will continue to change in some form. We’ve hit a critical mass of understanding the negative effects of our great invention, thrust forward by political polarization and outrage in the last four years. The Internet and how we think about it and use it will continue to change.
Key implications: Company self-regulation, brand investment over targeting investment, breach readiness and acceptance.
5. Imperative of inclusivity; imperative of change
Fifth: there is a new imperative of inclusivity, change, and action. Black Lives Matter is watershed, as significant and enduring as 9/11. Organizations are beginning to realize that change is required, and it must go deeper than communications. The expectations have evolved, and consumers are not afraid to take action, from changing their purchase habits to boycotting brands.
Key implications: Change is required, and it must go deeper than communications.
Sustainability has become a more robust conversation every year, and it too has leapt ahead, spurred by the fragility that COVID-19 has exposed. The B-Corp movement, the theology of perpetual growth, United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (including addressing systemic inequalities), have become a real factor for most large organizations. The early 20s will see issues like climate change, inclusive growth and consumption move closer to real action versus brand positioning.
Key implications: Sustainability and language of sustainability will become more of a central expectation for brands—for shareholders, governments, and consumers.
7. Marketing and creativity
Finally, marketing and creativity. As I said last year, there’s a return to brand and story, usurping marketing technology as the priority focus for communications teams. We are instead more focused on being purpose-driven, reflecting the culture changes around us, thoughtful consumption, standing up and acting for values.
Key implications: Purpose, vision, values, minimalism, humour, authenticity, vulnerability are appreciated brand characteristics.
And we can’t forget nostalgia; that isn’t going away.