The WARC Marketer's Toolkit identifies key trends that will disrupt existing global marketing practices in 2024. Jim Misener, President of 50,000 Feet, takes a closer look at these trends in the context of business-to-business marketing and offers advice on how B2B marketers can address them.

Businesses face intriguing challenges and opportunities as they embrace brand transformation in 2024. The Marketer’s Toolkit offers a snapshot of major trends that brands must be aware of. WARC taps into insights from more than 1,400 marketers worldwide, informed by one-to-one interviews with marketing leaders. Here are some of the trends WARC examined.

Preparing for the Age of Polarization

One of the recurring truths that we see throughout the Marketer’s Toolkit is the reality that businesses do not operate in a vacuum. This has always been true, but over the past few years, brands have been called upon to comment on the social and political events that affect their employees and customers.

Some brands have gone beyond commentary. They have embedded purpose-driven themes in their marketing, at times with controversial results that put their relationships with customers, investors and employees at risk. Moreover, not taking a position on a social/political issue can make a brand vulnerable to blowback.

Business-to-business brands operate in the same climate of polarization, and some have not shied away from articulating a position on social issues that shape our world, often through the lens of their executive leadership. One might ask whether it’s possible for any brand to avoid friction when they do. We believe brands can protect themselves by thoroughly examining their core purpose and values and then asking whether embracing a particular issue amplifies them.

When brands do and say things that violate their purpose and values, they erode trust with their clients and their own people. To operate bravely in a polarized world, brands should first do a gut check on what they stand for.

Unlocking the potential of Gen AI

Since the launch of transformative generative AI tools like ChatGPT, the marketing world has begun to rethink every aspect of how we operate, from customer research to strategy. And yet, for all the discussion about how gen AI will affect businesses, the most interesting question is how the technology transforms the core ways that a brand connects with its audiences.

For example, chatbots are rapidly evolving from being robotic tools that service the needs of businesses, employees and beyond. Today, bots are becoming something more powerful: virtual beings, human-like and intuitive. Brands now face an exciting set of questions. How will a bot express the essence of a brand through its tone and visual expression? How will an organization localize brand attributes for a bot that services stakeholders across country markets? These questions are familiar to any business that made the transition to waves of technology-driven change such as the rise of the internet, mobile and voice-based computing. AI is transcending all of those waves.

Being a more authentic, inclusive brand

For decades, businesses operated in a world where white men in the executive ranks called the shots, and the decision-makers on the other side of the table lacked diversity. Today, businesses increasingly reflect the diverse nature of society, including gender identity, sexual orientation and ethnicity. The WARC report focused on young men, especially growing up in a splintered world in a business-to-consumer setting. We see masculinity in transformation, not crisis.

Operating in a more diverse world poses compelling questions for brands. How does a brand represent itself in an authentic, inclusive way? What changes are needed for a business to remain relevant at a time when its stakeholders are more diverse? The fundamental premise of brand transformation needs to be thought of from more angles than ever. This creates more opportunities for brands to adapt and endure in an evolving world.

Sustainability is coming home

Sustainability permeates every aspect of how a business builds its brand. That’s because sustainability touches every brand’s audience, ranging from its employees to clients to investors (if a business is publicly traded). This is true of business-to-business brands, too. They – we – need to ask what sustainability means to our organizations and our brand transformation journey and determine how we convey this to audiences worldwide consisting of splintered micro-markets.

As brands answer these questions, they must align statements with action. When they do, sometimes the actions are found lacking. For instance, the $700 billion advertising industry has a substantial carbon footprint – largely from the electricity used by the millions of servers that fuel digital content in all its forms. How can businesses be more authentic in their adoption of sustainable practices?

How a brand shares its commitment to sustainability may differ by region. A global B2B brand needs to consider the regulatory context, sentiment of its clients, political and social climate and cultural differences, among other factors, just as B2C companies do.

Brand transformation

2024 is a rewarding time for businesses to effect brand transformation, which is about creating meaning in what a brand stands for and unlocking new strategies to drive value. Great ideas lead to transformative action that delivers sustainable impact. To learn more about the additional ideas shared in the report, read The WARC Marketer’s Toolkit with an eye toward how the report’s trends affect the ways your company builds trust and forges an enduring identity in a world shaped by waves of change.