Was 2021 better than 2020? Probably, considering that 2020 was the worst year ever. But with that said, 2021 was still filled with trends that continue to shape and shift our society, our culture, and, in turn, marketing itself. Between Covid continuing to dominate our everyday lives and changing the way we work, to continued political polarization, life, our relationships, and our work are all changing before our eyes.
And with that backdrop, we look at four trends that will be essential focal points for 2022:
Trend #1: The Importance of Employer Branding
If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of open jobs right now. Due to a wide variety of factors, people are leaving their place of work in droves, and are fundamentally reassessing what they want from the workplace. What’s more, as the world becomes increasingly digitized, the competition for talent in the tech and IT space is fierce.
Never before have we seen so many television and radio ads not asking for people to buy a product or service – but instead, asking for people to come and work for the advertiser in question. Companies are being forced to think hard not only about their pitch to talent, but also how they create a great place to work.
Enter the employer brand: a topic that has been growing in importance over the last couple of years, but now will turn into a front-and-center core staple for brand marketers to think about in the year ahead. Defining your pitch to prospective talent and the way you engage and retain your existing employees will be critical if companies want to stay leaders in their category – after all, you can’t be a great company if you don’t have great people.
Trend #2: The Rise of the Human Brand
Covid has reshaped the way we deliver marketing. While much of marketing traditionally was driven by the established corporate brand – top-down advertising, marketing, and the like – take a look at what you see on your LinkedIn feed. You’ll see lots of pretty pictures, but you’ll also see lots of people. And these often aren’t people dressed in suits filming a highly produced corporate brand video. They’re people in their homes, with pictures of family in the background, offering a candid view of what they think.
Go outside the LinkedIn universe and you’ll see a similar universe of Twitch content creators and YouTube stars who are brands in and of themselves.
Covid has broken down boundaries. There used to be a division between life at home and work. And a division between the corporation and the people who worked for it. Now, the professional and personal sides are all jumbled together. And increasingly, marketing needs to reflect that new dynamic.
Brands aren’t just built any more by top-down advertising. They will be built by people – thought leaders, dynamic thinkers, relatable executives – who share their candid views online and more often. It’s up to brand marketers to think about how to deliver this human dimension of their brand. How do you help your thought leaders and executives clarify and build their personal brands? How do you help them regularly produce highly relatable, smart content? And how do you help them distribute that content effectively?
Trend #3: Brand Passion
We’re pleased that at least one of our predictions in 2020 was spot on – defining brand purpose has become a centerpiece of every brand marketer’s job. In 2022, we expect that trend to continue, but to also shift into a focus in activating that purpose and igniting brand passion.
The idea here is simple: Brands have defined their purpose, and that often is in the form of a simple, crisp statement that gives employees and customers a sense of a company’s higher purpose. The question now is: How do brands make people passionate about that purpose? How do they use their purpose to rally employees and customers alike?
Brand marketers should think about finding ways to bring employees and customers closer to their brand purpose, exploring things like real storytelling that brings a company’s brand purpose to life, creating incentives for employees to lean into that purpose and cause marketing initiatives that are expressive of the purpose.
To put it simply, the focal point needs to be on using your brand purpose to create passion – which creates a more engaged employee and customer base, and translates into more advocacy, more retention, and more revenue.
Trend #4: The Rise of the Political Brand
This is less of a trend and more of an opportunity – for those who dare go there. During the summer, the New York Times published an article about the Black Rifle Coffee Company – a coffee brand aimed at the conservative crowd. Featuring blends like the AK-47 Espresso Blend and leaning hard into MAGA culture wars, the company has narrowed its audience down to a very particular crowd. And in doing so, the company has gone from $1 million in sales in 2015 to $163 million in sales last year. That’s a lot of growth, regardless of how you feel about the company’s politics.
In reality, brands that center their audience on a political target are not a new thing. Think about companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia – they are unapologetically progressive in their beliefs and values, and have catapulted into the forefront of their categories as a result.
What’s interesting are the trends shaping society now: rising political polarization, a social media-driven marketing universe, and a consumer demand that brands take a political stance. That creates an opportunity for customer-centric political brands. Why isn’t there an investment company that’s unapologetically marketing towards free market conservatives? How about a bank that’s there for young progressives who want to have an impact on climate change?
While these brands will be vilified by the other side of the political aisle, they will be deeply loved by those who align with their beliefs. Black Rifle is evidence of this – and we expect to see more of this kind of marketing in 2022 – especially as the midterm elections approach.
We love to write down our trends for 2022, because next year, we’ll get to see what we got right, and what we didn’t. The X-factor is always the fact that no one knows what 2022 holds. But with any hope, it will be better than 2021. And yeah, no matter what, it will be better than 2020.