Changed behaviours, the end of brand loyalty, economic headwinds, cultural division … 2022 is going to be a helluva ride for marketers, says Richard Exon, Founder of Joint.

We’ve all been disrupted

When business leaders talk about disruption we generally mean insurgent technologies and start-ups that challenge market leaders in a wide range of categories. Usually, these challengers spot emerging consumer trends early and develop new applications, products and services that leapfrog well established but less agile incumbents.

But the biggest disrupter of the 2020s hasn’t been a tech company or a brand, it’s been COVID-19. And it’s not hotels, taxis or music sales that have been disrupted – it's us.

The entire human race has been disrupted at pretty much the same time. But we have experienced the effect unequally, both as individuals and in the businesses we work for and with. Tech and grocery stormed forward, travel and hospitality suffered terribly.

The past is an unreliable guide

This has made business decisions based on established norms or past behaviours suddenly seem fraught with risk. And that’s scary if, like a lot of businesses, you had previously been successful at becoming a habit for your users.

Something they do almost without thinking. A default choice that operates like muscle memory. Think of the billions invested in creating brand memories, mental availability and seamless customer experiences to achieve just that. Why do I shop there? Because I do. Why do I bank there? Because I always have.

This isn’t to misunderstand how competitively brands fight for new customers. But it is to recognise how much effort and money big business has put into creating ‘calls to inaction’. Or reasons for us to stay with them without ever really questioning whether we should.

A shock to loyalty

There are two data points that flow directly from the great Covid disruption and both should give all marketers making plans for 2022 pause for thought.

First is consumers' propensity to try new brands which McKinsey tracked as a US trend and neatly sums up as: ‘A shock to loyalty…with an astonishing 75% of US consumers trying a new shopping behavior [and] a shattering of brand loyalties, with 36% of consumers trying a new product brand.’ 

Put simply, we have learned to question everything since this pandemic started and no brand should take our loyalty for granted.

Second is the scale of the economic pressure the UK consumer will face. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) projects the inflation rate will rise to 4.6% meaning a typical UK family will have £1,700 less disposable income in 2022 (and that’s without taking into account planned tax increases.) 

These twin pressures – customers who are less loyal and who also have less money to spend – put an absolute premium on brilliant marketing (and marketers) next year.

After all, in a world where there will be more customers switching between brands, every business has an interest in funding bold, brave marketing plans that win more than their fair share of the market.

Beyond the economics

Businesses won’t just call on their marketers to navigate economic headwinds. The UK is set for another year of fierce cultural and societal division. Marketers will be the ones responsible for businesses and brands striking the right tone, the right body language.

In a febrile atmosphere where one misstep can lead to consumer boycotts and worse, this part of a marketer’s role will never have been as important. Or more valuable.

The problem is, we have so much to fall out about in 2022.

The glib quote that ‘Brexit is a process not an event’ is proving horribly true, and this somehow seems to enrage remainers and brexiteers equally. We have a government that veers from one crisis to the next, all the time stoking a general sense of national dissatisfaction. And that’s before we get to potentially explosive revelations about how PPE procurement decisions were made during the early months of lockdown.

Progress vs tradition

To some degree the rows about Brexit, immigration, facemask wearing and unregulated ‘chumocracy’ are the same single cultural faultline rolling through various different topics. It basically boils down to whether people value progress over tradition, or vice versa.

And in fact the next battlefront is already taking shape, as a quick look at YouGov’s data around attitudes towards republicanism shows. Support for an elected head of state as opposed to a monarchy is rising in all UK age groups, but at only 23% among all Britons it remains an outlier.

What’s fascinating, though, is that 41% of Brits aged 18–24 want a republic, and they are the only age group where the option of a monarchy comes in second. We can be sure that this is another debate that will rage in the near future, perhaps in 2022.

For all these reasons every brand and marketer will have their work cut out over the next 12 months. Growing a brand in a divided nation full of promiscuous customers with less money to spend isn’t for the faint hearted.

So if you lead a consumer-facing business, take very good care of the marketers in your life next year. You need them like never before.