Omicron and beyond: How will the industry shape up?

Forecasters (clockwise from top left): Wright, O’Neill, Bullen, Zargarian, Herrick

Forecasters (clockwise from top left): Wright, O’Neill, Bullen, Zargarian, Herrick

It is fair to say few business sectors have escaped unscathed from the devastating impact of Covid during the past 22 months, with the marketing and advertising industry witnessing wholesale budget cuts and job losses.

But just as the recovery was starting to gather pace, with most businesses adopting to new ways of working as well as new consumer behaviours, the emergence of the Omicron variant has got nerves jangling once more.

In the first of a series of articles and opinion pieces, Decision Marketing quizzes leading industry figures to gauge how they believe the next 12 months will pan out.

Tribal Worldwide managing partner Richard Wright predicts that one of the biggest changes will be how consumers interact with products online.

He explains: “Currently products are presented in a very static, two-dimensional way – a picture, maybe a 360 spin or a short animation. We will see a shift towards a more immersive experience where gaming software will be used to allow the consumer to truly interact with the product.

“The analogy to explain this is with viewing a film. The film has already been shot and is a finite piece. The consumer can press play, pause, rewind or fast forward. They can change what part of the film they watch but cannot change what happens in the film. Compare this to a computer game where the viewer can influence where the character goes and what they do.

“Now think of content online. Rather than pre rendered 2D experiences, we will see consumers being offered an immersive experience using gaming software where they can influence what they see and how they interact with the product.

“Looking at the automotive industry as an example, currently consumers see still images of a car and maybe a film of the exterior and interior. With gaming software, the consumer can move around the car anywhere they want to go. They can open doors, programme the SatNav, load items into the boot, creating a totally immersive experience.

“In turn this will build greater brand engagement, help explain feature benefits and increase the sale of optional features. It will support the evolution of ecommerce by bringing the showroom experience to the comfort of the consumer’s home.

“This may not happen overnight, but both technology and the consumer’s desire is already there.”

Staying in the online world, Analytic Partners senior director Justine O’Neill reckons the looming demise of cookies will have a major influence on brands because consumers will have more choice, transparency and control over how their data is collected.

She comments: “In 2022, brands will finally take serious steps towards future proofing their measurement without relying on user-level data. We will see businesses build their analytics expertise and use data agnostic solutions with next generation marketing mix modelling at its core – to allow for faster, deeper and broader insights into the full business, while remaining consumer-centric.”

In a similar vein, Coley Porter Bell chief executive Vicky Bullen forecasts that love affair with artificial intelligence and data will continue, but with a new twist.

She comments: “I believe the tide is turning in terms of a strengthened understanding that this is in service of creativity and not a replacement for it. To make the breakthroughs to the future that the world needs from brands, human ingenuity will be vital. We are seeing a shift back towards a belief in the power of intuition and instinct, complemented by data rather than purely data-fuelled decision making.”

Meanwhile Interbrand strategy director Naeiri Zargarian reckons that consumers will carry on integrating their pandemic habits into their return to normal.

She adds: “We will continue to see the success of delivery, convenience, home cooking and sensitivities towards cleanliness. There will also be an integration on a deeper, individual level – the internal shifts and insights from living through the trauma of the pandemic have clarified things for people which they will now act upon.

“There will also be a reinvention of ‘self’. We’ve already seen this with people reassessing and changing their careers – but this will also trickle into self-expression and self-identity. This can positively impact the beauty, medical cosmetics, fashion and personal care categories.”

Finally, Strat House strategy partner Victoria Herrick believes the next 12 months will see further expansion of “blended working”.

She explains: “According to the Gartner Inc Digital Worker Experience Survey 80% of workers are now using collaboration tools – that’s up 44% since the pandemic began. We’re all using the tech but we’re far from accomplished. Hardly surprising given the speed with which we’ve all had to adapt. The dominant models for working evolved over decades and were shattered in a matter of months.

“More of us will be working in distributed teams, more of the time in 2022. For many, the new challenge will be to make blended working – where some are co-located and others are remote – work well. Communications businesses have relied on constant proximity; think pitch rooms, break out spaces, scrums, or those valuable ‘down time’ exchanges that happen when people are together but working independently. Blended working requires further reinvention – from how we use our office spaces to how we schedule and use our time together.

“Collaboration platforms will continue to evolve rapidly as they adapt to emerging ways of working. We should start to see better solutions for blended working, but the tech alone will not solve what is essentially a human problem. We think that creative, planning and client teams that identify new ways to facilitate the creative process will be on to a winner.

“Meanwhile we can expect further shifts in the design and functionality of collaboration tech. And these shifts, though helpful, are the reason why in 2022, we’ll still have those moments when we’re talking on mute.”

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