Boldness, Measurable Impact and Mutual Respect

1/13/2022
— Ruth Allchurch, MD, UK 

The Trends Brands Need to Follow in 2022

The uncertainty of the past two years has put unprecedented pressure on brands, and as we head into 2022 the demands are higher than ever. WE Communications’ 2021 Brands in Motion report, found that the expectation for brands to help create stability in uncertain times rose by a staggering 30% since 2019.

Our partners at Foresight Factory have also been tracking this shift, so at the end of 2021 we met to discuss and compare our Brands in Motion research with Foresight Factory’s Trending 2022 Report. Our conversation revealed many intersection points between our data and three key trends brands can expect in 2022.

TREND 1: Brands NEED to take bold stances on societal issues

There’s no more room for waffling: WE’s data found that 80% of people believe that brands have a moral obligation to bridge divides within society.

Foresight Factory’s data further reinforces this idea with 39% of UK consumers expressing willingness to pay 5% more for ethically produced products. What’s more, consumers want to see and hear the information that will enable them to make that decision upfront. Foresight Factory found that 72% of global consumers and 71% of UK consumers would like to be able to evaluate the ethical credentials of a product before purchase.

Consumers are not satisfied by purely performative and reactive brand responses to injustice, but they do respond positively to brands that demonstrate a deep commitment to their core values. For example, cosmetic brand Aesop is deeply engaged in community outreach, such as distributing books written by LGBTQIA+ authors for free, as a part of its Pride celebrations. Aesop also walks the talk in its daily operations, with an Ethical Sourcing Program that ensures that it’s suppliers use environmentally responsible processes, have safe working conditions and treat workers with dignity.

How brands should act on this trend in 2022

To remain relevant and viable in 2022 and beyond, brands must truly practice what they preach. They need to accept that they will never please the entire audience, and instead focus on staying rooted in their core values and doing what’s right. Lofty manifestos or purpose statements won’t allay suspicions about purpose-washing or green-washing. The times call for boldness and bravery.

Trend 2: Brand engagement must be long-term and measurable

Brands don’t need to weigh in on every societal issue—in fact, jumping on the bandwagon or rushing to comment on breaking news can prompt suspicions of purpose-washing, especially when the topic has little or no connection to the organization. Instead, WE’s research finds that brands should carefully consider which issues they invest in and then stick with them for the long term. In our Brands in Motion study, 74% of respondents said they prefer that brands invest over time in singular umbrella topics rather than switch causes annually.

Foresight Factory finds a similar desire for substance. Consumers want brand claims to be backed up by clear metrics, hard science and respected experts in the field. They’re also willing to offer their own proof points. In the UK, 63% of adults expressed interest in an app that helps them track their personal impact on the environment. In this more holistic view of optimization, they want moral metrics as well as physical and mental ones. They want to track how their behaviour impacts the world, and they expect brands to do the same.

Volvo, a WE client, is a great example of a brand that backs its pledges up with clear data and action plans. In March, Volvo announced the goal to become a fully electric car company by 2030, a clear signal to the industry and to consumers that they are serious about the issue and ready to move quickly. But this is just one part of a long-term and multi-pronged strategy to drastically reduce carbon emission and live up to its brand promise of prioritizing safety, stating “Climate change is the ultimate safety test.”

How brands should act on this trend in 2022

The bottom line: Brands need to demonstrate long-term commitment to purpose initiatives backed up by data. Although consumers don’t want brands to reactively switch causes, they do want them to engage in constant re-evaluation of how their initiatives are tracking, and they want companies to communicate about their progress almost constantly. Partnering with respected authorities and delivering frequent and quantifiable updates will help underscore a brand’s authentic engagement.

Trend 3: Employee power will continue to grow

Perhaps the most significant shift WE has seen in the past year is the recognition of the power of employees, a brand’s most important audience. When asked the most important topics for brands to engage in to be considered purpose leaders amongst their peers, “employee well-being” was a top-rated issue across sectors.

Foresight Factory predicts that employee well-being will continue to grow as a high-priority concern with consumers, finding that consumers are now looking closer at brands’ internal practices, from executive-level diversity to the basic human rights of workers on the factory floor. 73% of UK and 68% of global consumers agree or agree strongly that employers should be legally required to allow flexible working options to those with unpaid care duties like children or elders.

UK food manufacturer Premier Foods is a good example of a company with an employee-first mindset. In August 2021, Premier told its 800 employees that they will be able to decide where they work. “Work is a verb, not a place, and whether it’s for a team meeting or just personal preference, our office remains open for anyone who wants to use it,” said Premier Food’s group HR Director. Providing employees with a choice of whether to work remotely or in the office, based on their own thoughts and feelings around their productivity, sits in stark contrast to many businesses that continue to urge employees back into the office.

How brands should act on this trend in 2022

For brands to create meaningful impact and an enduring purpose legacy, they must partner with employees. That means ensuring that all employees feel respected, and that a healthy workplace culture pervades the organization. The days of top-down communication about missions and manifestos are over. Brands must bring employees on their purpose journey by consulting on what matters to them. They need to open the dialogue and keep it going.

 

As brands head into 2022 and attempt to meet these sky-high expectations, nearly all will find areas where they can improve. No one is perfect, and the job is never done. This is an ongoing process that requires constant work and assessment of internal practices. Most of all, it requires the courage to stand up for what you believe in, even if not everyone agrees.