The year ahead has its challenges and advertisers, and their agencies will need to draw on the flexibility, adaptability and ingenuity that they are so well known for in the industry. Marketers expect to be stretched in 2024 and various ad spend growth predictors from industry bodies and agency holding groups are cautious.
However, confidence does vary across sectors - while some sectors are weak others are giving growth signals for the coming year, including Healthcare, Entertainment and Gaming. Also, the year holds major events that usually drive ad spend and offer brands creative and media opportunities. These include Euro 2024 for footy fans, the Paris Summer Olympic Games, a US presidential election - and maybe an election much closer to home!
Marketers will need to keep a close eye on industry trends and customer behaviours to identify and take advantage of opportunities. No one has a perfectly working crystal ball, but here are seven trends we think should be on marketers’ radar to help creative and strategic planning in the months ahead.
- Attention as a key goal for campaign activity and measurement of success
This topic has bubbled away during the past year and will be front and centre in 2024 as brands try to figure out what marketing channels drive ‘real’ value and improved ROI. The ad industry is focused on devising robust attention metrics – essentially being able to measure audience interest at a meaningful level – and this means going beyond comms viewability to actual engagement. The pivot towards attention was highlighted by research at the start of the year showing 91% per cent of UK marketers think the trend towards attention measurement is important. With insight into what channels achieve high attention, marketers can then optimise their media mix for effective campaigns. We conducted independent research into mail’s value in the battle for attention in partnership with WARC. The results were pretty ground-breaking. Two-thirds of recipients say mail attracts their undivided attention and it persuaded 16% of recipients to consider the brand – leading 5% to a transaction.
- Sustainability will be a greater focus for consumers and brands
Consumer awareness is high on environmental issues and research regularly points to a propensity to purchase from sustainable brands. But aspirations to prioritise and improve sustainability is under pressure in an economic downturn. The ad industry is making efforts to be more sustainable but does trip itself up. An Advertising Standards Authority report showed consumer confusion over words like “biodegradable” and compostable” with brands either consciously or inadvertently greenwashing. On the positive side, we have brands like Mars using stock footage in ads to reduce environmental impact by avoiding travel, filming and production costs. In Mars’ case it also makes the environmental point using humour. And there are more tools being developed constantly to measure the carbon footprint of marketing channels and formats with decarbonising specialist Scope 3 recently expanding the carbon measurement capabilities for Digital Out-of-Home. We carried out a UK first Life Cycle Assessment for mail in 2023 and used the insights to create an interactive tool to help mail users understand the carbon footprint of different mail formats. You can have a play with it here.
- Brand safety and trust will be top of mind for businesses
Organisations are working hard to gain consumer trust and loyalty in an environment where consumers are often price-led or happy to trial different brands. Any reason to distrust a brand can be an excuse to drop it. This includes greenwashing and also, as seen on a number of social platforms this year led by X, appearing next to content that is offensive. Brands want to appear on trusted channels and avoid damage from negative associations, so expect more scrutiny of where ads are appearing and a greater emphasis on brand safe environments to provide a more enjoyable customer experience. Ofcom’s 2023 report on News Consumption in the UK found that while social media is rising as a source of news it rates lower for “trust, accuracy and impartiality” than established channels. Consideration of how to build and gain trust be that through brand reputation or channel choice is something to closely consider. As part of the customer journey mail is proving to be a trusted channel with 71% saying they completely trust the mail they receive.
- Consumers will be looking for more practical help from brands
Consumers continue to struggle with the cost-of-living pressures and high interest rates. Brands that do show they empathise and are willing to hold prices or help in other ways will benefit from the much-needed brand loyalty already mentioned. One example is Boot’s which in December pledged to donate 10,000 essential hygiene products to charity The Hygiene Bank. Consumers are likely to keep scouting for vouchers and ‘money off’ offers and brands will have to figure out how far they can go in this direction without becoming addicted to short-term promotions. The Q3 IPA Bellwether report indicated a drop in promotional ad spend and a strengthening of investment in more longer-term brand resilience. Help doesn’t just have to relate to pricing – it can be clear and actionable advice from financial services on how to manage debts or how to save on heating costs from energy suppliers.
- Brands will look for AI use cases
Chat GPT debuted more than a year ago and the ad industry (and wider world) is still very much struggling with working out where and how AI tools can add value. Use cases on efficiencies and enhancement of the CX, such as prioritising and answering customer calls based on urgency, are emerging. From a creative point of view, agencies are exploring how to work with text and visual tools like Mid-Journey, Dall-e and other packages to create content. But the cautious advice heard at many conferences is “Remember, AI is a tool, not a strategy.” Like any tool, AI has the potential to cause damage. This is why some agencies have paused using AI while working out their policies around copyright, IP and transparency. On a macro-level the UK government is working on AI regulation but is diverging from the EU in looking to be more ‘light touch.’ The AI Safety Summit held in the UK November resulted in the launch of the AI Safety Institute but the US is pursuing its own version. In 2024 expect brands and agencies to develop educational strategies to skill up teams on how to use AI and the regulators to firm up their guidance.
- The return of the physical in the omnichannel mix
The consumer hunger for real world experiences – albeit aided and abetted by the latest technology – will continue. Look at the media buzz around the innovations at new entertainment complex The Sphere in Las Vegas where the band U2 took centre stage. In Retail, businesses are realising they need physical outlets to complement their online services as the big online sales spikes seen during the pandemic declined. Online brands like ASOS are keen to make their mark in the physical world with pop-up shops and partnerships. Even Avon is adding physical locations to its channels. Brands targeting the younger demographic need to take on board that Gen Z like to see, touch and try out products, as surveys show. They are also more open than people imagine in how they like to receive communications.
- Investing in people is still the smartest strategy
Successful businesses need to nurture supportive work cultures as employees begin to vote with their feet. The ‘Great Resignation’ may be over but the new generations entering the job market want to do work they feel has a purpose and to join companies that align with their values. Among the emerging workplace trends, it’s important to monitor the growing importance of ‘psychological safety’ and note this is different from a risk-free ’safe space.’ A recent study by Behave found that only 16% of HR leaders were clear on what psychological safety means. The consultancy defines it “as an environment where employees balance comfort and discomfort to take well-calibrated risks.” Businesses are going to need to focus on how they measure and improve psychological safety as part of their culture if they are to stay competitive.
Trends come and go and to make use of the market intelligence at any given time brands need to think deeply about how trends affect their business. As futurist, strategist and trends expert Tracey Follows wrote in a Management Today column “Trends need to be turned upside down, and looked at back to front, and investigated for the assumptions that lie beneath them, and the different perspectives they can bring.”
Use trends to interrogate your own business assumptions and decisions and make sure you keep an eye on their shifting patterns – this will help you to move quickly in changing the strategy and execution of marketing plans for maximum optimisation in the year ahead.
The Attention Advantage: exploring the impact of mail in an attention-scarce world https://www.marketreach.co.uk/resource/WARC-Attention-Advantage
Ofcom - News Consumption in the UK: 2023
What is the latest on international, EU and UK initiatives to regulate artificial intelligence?
The Rise of the Gen Z Consumer
The death of the comfort zone? Unwrapping psychological safety in the workplace?