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2022: the year of the people, the people, the people

With each new year comes a new set of predictions and trends forecasts from industry experts. But while they make for interesting reading, do they actually mean anything to the real people our industry is meant to serve? Rupert Price, DDB Group Aotearoa Chief Strategy Officer says that while we of course need to be aware of what’s coming next, we mustn’t forget that the most important voice is still that of the customer.

Living in the Southern Hemisphere, the transition from the old year to the new is truly the perfect time to reset. Right in the heart of summer, late December and early January is an ideal moment to step back, take a break and recalibrate our expectations of the year ahead. 

We all get a chance to spend a few weeks outside the industry, explore the four corners of this beautiful country and reconnect with what matters most in our personal and therefore our work lives too.

It’s with great intentions then we come back to the office, refreshed and rejuvenated, buzzing with big ideas and big plans to get stuck into before the optimism and the tan lines fade away.

So, it’s more than a bit jarring when confronted with the inevitable ‘Big Trends for 2022’ reports that flood our inboxes and social feeds at this time of year. Having just spent a few weeks out in the real world, surrounded by real people, I do have to question who are all these trends really about? 

As I read of how ‘New tech from NFTs is deeply influencing consumers in previously unexplored ways’, (Think Forward 2022); ‘The rise of direct-to-avatar sales models is the biggest indication that we are moving into a time of metaverses (Dentsu, 2022 Media Trends: Reimagine Next); and of course the perennial ‘Consumers will expect brands and marketers to stand up when governments fail to meet increasingly high expectations they have been set’, (Appnovation, Top Marketing Trends: 2022) to pick out just a few, I struggle to connect the well intentioned predictions of our industry with the real people our industry is meant to serve.

Having just spent a few weeks in the company of ‘consumers’, the ‘target audience’, or to simply call them what they really are – people – I see no evidence that any of these predictions will matter an iota in the real lives of those living in the real world.

I appreciate its beholden on all of us in the communications industry to be aware of what’s coming next and to be able to recognise important cultural and social shifts as they are happening but surely it has to be within reason? Are we forgetting the most important voice is still that of the customer and understanding what’s really going on in their lives, their worlds and connecting to their hopes, dreams and realities is the magic that makes brands and communications relevant?

I don’t mean just listen to what the market research says. Of course a respondent is going to agree with a statement in a research survey that suggests they should expect brands to be responsible and contribute to the social good. But does it really translate to behaviour and change the way they shop?

Let’s go deeper, spend more time in their world instead of ours and get real insight and understanding of what people want, meet them where they’re at and find out where they’re going next. In doing so let our stories and the brands they represent truly serve the customer – not the other way round.

Just now the volume of talk around brand purpose and ‘purposeful branding’ is becoming deafening. Let’s remember a brand purpose, promise, mission, vision or whatever you chose to call it is all just built on an insight, a true understanding of the audience. 

In the past I have been involved with some of the most celebrated ‘purposeful brands’. 

However, when I worked with Dove on the ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ we never spoke about purpose, we spoke about insight. Going beyond the superficial and listening to what people, in that case real women, were truly saying. Same with Persil ‘Dirt is Good’. Again ‘purpose’ was never mentioned, instead a true understanding of what motherhood meant in the 21st Century unlocked a compelling brand positioning and many successful subsequent campaigns.

So let’s keep one eye on the trends but let’s make 2022 the year we get back to the essentials of what we do, finding fresh and compelling insights and the amazing ideas they inspire. 

To borrow the beautiful Mãori proverb He aha te mea nui o te ao He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

So let’s make 2022 the year of the people, the people, the people.

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