20 for 2020: The trends shaping our conversations

Posted in News on 31 January 2020 By Steve Kemp, Co-Founder and CEO

What are the forces impacting the industry and what are our predictions for the next decade?

Few at the beginning of the last decade foresaw the major developments that would impact and revolutionise our day-to-day lives. From the sheer ubiquity of the smartphone and social media, to drastic political and economic change and the rapid emergence of a fierce environmental and social conscience among the public, we enter 2020 in a very different place to 10 years ago. 

These mega-trends are already impacting business on a massive scale. From the fundamental rethinking of traditional operating models, to unprecedented levels of transparency, continuing geopolitical instability and transformation of global workforce demographics, companies are being forced to respond to a new business environment, or risk becoming obsolete.

The 2020s will undoubtedly present many more surprises and will impact Emperor and the work that we do. While by their very nature, many of these will come out of the leftfield and be a surprise, others are easier to foresee. What is certain, is that our services will become increasingly relevant and important and we will continue to be fit for purpose to capitalise. 

Having counselled our senior practitioners, here are some of the important trends and themes as we enter the 2020s.

Our market

Corporate activity
The constituents of the FTSE will continue to change, with UK plcs increasingly under threat from corporate activity. The last six months saw us lose seven clients to takeovers from foreign organisations. Concurrently we saw more businesses going private to avoid the market straight jacket of ever-increasing regulation and governance.

New competitors
We will increasingly see a change in our traditional competitor, the corporate and reporting agencies. There’s a shortage of independent agencies of a certain size, meaning we will overlap more with consulting and professional services groups around reporting digital and brand, and different types of businesses will continue to enter the sustainability and ESG space.

Corporates

Trust and confidence
Trust has never been more important for companies. As they aim to grow and transform in the future, the trust of customers, employees, regulators and investors remains critical to ensuring confidence in the company and building a business that can last. Figuring out how to guarantee this will be a priority in the coming decade.

Longer-term focus
Rather than focusing purely on short-term financial performance and shareholder returns, companies will increasingly consider their broader social impacts and focus on long-term sustainable success. There will be more engagement with all key stakeholders, more discussion and reporting on this engagement, the key issues raised and how they have responded, and how these issues have been considered in Board decision-making. 

Reporting

Sustainability fundamental
Sustainability now dominates many of the big conversations we’re having with clients. However, as companies wrestle with things such as carbon reduction, energy efficiency and social purpose, we are still very much at the start of this long journey. The joint forces of legislation and stakeholder demand will continue to elevate the necessity of companies having a cogent strategy. This will result in businesses needing greater support in understanding stakeholder expectations and developing engaging collateral to demonstrate their commitment and performance. The most pressing specific issue will be climate change, where companies will need help understanding TCFD requirements and implications.

Integrated thinking
Recent governance and reporting reforms will result in the convergence of financial and non-financial matters. To stay relevant and meaningful, companies will think more about financial and non-financial performance, profits and social impact, success and sustainability, as intrinsic to one another not as separate things. As a client recently put it, "we don't have a sustainability strategy, we have a business strategy to be sustainable.”

Reporting formats
Unwieldy documents that get bigger every year will eventually be replaced by something much more fit for purpose and with digital reporting playing a much more pivotal role. We have already seen development here with a single European digital format for annual reports (a mix of XHTML and iXBRL) on the horizon, while other multimedia channels – such as video – will be increasingly used. 

Brand and people

Disruption and reinvention
As recently as 2006, only birds tweeted and the largest hospitality company wasn’t even a mattress on a San Francisco apartment floor. You certainly couldn’t book an Uber with an iPhone or measure your steps with a Fitbit, while Facebook was still on campus. We are living in the age of the disrupters and we can expect a continued period of innovation and reinvention in the years to come, as technology creates opportunity for new ways to do things and deliver traditional services, as well as birthing whole new industries.

Brand clarity and authenticity
Customers will demand even more honesty, integrity and transparency from the brands they align to, engage with and purchase. Successful brand authenticity builds customer trust and ultimately improves brand and business reputation however, companies need to be able to support their promise throughout operations, culture, standards if customers are to fully trust their products, services and business. Those who genuinely weave ethical practice into their operations are more likely to prosper.Alongside this,as the lines between B2B and B2C continue to blur and the movement from short-term gains to long-term sustainability takes hold, we will see B2B businesses becoming increasingly aware of the significant benefits of a clear brand strategy and the value of consistent, channel appropriate communication.

Purpose and culture
An increasing number of companies will recognise the value of a people-first culture. Supported by regulation, more companies will develop a culture strategy, grounded in purpose, to deliver business strategy, and attract and retain the right people. 

Multi-generational, increasingly inclusive workplaces
It’s predicted that by 2027 there will be 13.5 million jobs and only 7 million younger workers to fill them, meaning an ageing workforce, growing competition for older recruits and five generations all working flexibly together. It is also envisaged that 30% of today’s jobs won’t exist by the early 2030s.

Remote working
Infrastructure and space can be a big constraint for small businesses, real estate is not cheap but growth is important and small businesses cannot afford to be left behind. Remote working solves this problem. The traditional 9-5 is no longer the norm and technology has made remote work easier than ever. This is a fast emerging small business trend, with many companies allowing employees to work remotely several times a week and can also help to attract the best talent from across the globe. However, this will bring with it new HR and workplace culture challenges, and make quality engagement between companies and employees vital.

Employee happiness
Keeping employees happy is not about a bigger paycheck, it’s about letting them know they matter. The modern workplace is very different from the past, and all this is done to retain the company’s top talent and also attract the best. Employee happiness has a direct correlation to productivity; treat your people well and they will take care of the company. With the unemployment rate at an all-time low of 3.7% (as of April 2019), the labour market has become extremely tight. When this is the case, the competition to hire the best talent can depend on factors such as culture, work environment and the overall employee experience. 

Design

Honest aesthetic
Design trends are naturally influenced by the world around us. Against a turbulent economic and political backdrop, communications need to be bold, honest, authentic, optimistic and brave like never before. There is a palpable sense of change and progress brought about by ordinary people and the design trends for 2020 reflect this. There will be a move towards a more raw and unforgiving aesthetic where we'll see some direct, powerful messaging being delivered in hand drawn lettering (with bags of personality) rendered in bold and radical colour schemes.

Simplified creative and design
We’ll also see a trend towards simplification in 2020 and beyond. From logos to messages; clean, clear and direct will win out in an increasingly mobile world. The skill comes in avoiding 'bland-simplification' and retaining personality and individuality this trend, coupled with bold bright colours and gradients, should see us moving into an eye-catching new decade. 

Data visualisation
Data visualisation has been a growing trend for years. It’s coming up more and more in project briefs and finding creative, clear, engaging and easy-to-update ways of delivering this is becoming increasingly important. Complex live data – like dashboard stats – will become even more immediately available, and designers will need to showcase information in a way that adapts to changes and dynamically animates.

Technology

Unified websites
In the digital world, clients will move away from the church-and-state separation of business units and website ownership and see different areas come together to deliver digital experiences that add genuine value to organisations.

By adopting a united front, it will create value for the brand, attract new customers and serve existing ones better, and boost efficiency in marketing and talent acquisition. Our challenge comes in challenging and changing existing views of corporate websites to become an integral business tool capable of creating brand experiences that marry together creativity with technology.

VR and AR
It’s been a long time coming but virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will finally come into the mainstream. What's exciting for design is that more than being a trend, VR and AR offers a whole new medium to create in, as well as offering new ways and opportunities for companies to engage with their stakeholders. 

5G
The introduction of 5G will create a wealth of exciting opportunities for new products and services. Delivering faster data speeds than ever before, it will help brands optimise the relationship between people and machines. The proliferation of 5G will also accelerate advancements in smart cities, smart vehicles, smart manufacturing, and many other things. 

AI
Thanks to AI and machine learning, complex data sets can now be analyzed in a fraction of the time it used to take just two years ago. Businesses that embrace automation will undoubtedly have a clear advantage moving forward. 

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Bill Gates famously said, ‘we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten’. While we do not have a crystal ball, we can be certain that change is coming and staying on top of emerging trends, movements and technology is essential as we help our clients turn their ambitions into success.

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