2022: The trends shaping us
I am delighted to share our annual trends piece, which has been gathered from our colleagues, partners, and advisers. As always, there is a smorgasbord of themes, reflecting a very different world coming out of the pandemic to going in.
Stakeholder capitalism is a catalyst for change
Purposeful commitments are now an expectation, not a differentiator, and focusing solely on shareholder value is becoming a thing of the past. Increasingly companies will create value for their employees, clients, and communities in order to deliver long-term value for their shareholders. And stakeholders want companies to have a positive impact on the world around them.
Larry Fink’s latest annual letter to CEOs said, "Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not “woke.” It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers, and communities your company relies on to prosper. This is the power of capitalism. The importance of companies delivering for all their stakeholders.”
The focus on ESG issues is changing the way we do business
Accentuating the ‘S’ and broadening the ‘E’ in ESG
Sustainability commitments are fast becoming essential to the success of business. Climate change and decarbonisation will continue to be major themes but there will also be a stronger spotlight on protecting the natural world. In reporting, the proposed TNFD (Taskforce for Nature related Financial Disclosures) will increase the focus on biodiversity and deforestation with companies forced to consider the impact of their operations on our natural environment.
We’ll see an increased focus on social issues too. Diversity and inclusion, fairness and equity will sit at the fore, (going beyond gender and ethnicity and taking into account other facets of diversity), as will 360 wellbeing and mental health initiatives.
Meaningful metrics and alignment to remuneration
The continued consolidation of sustainability reporting frameworks and guidelines will have a positive impact in creating simpler and more consistent sources of information for measurement and comparison. Last year, the IIRC merged with SASB to create the Value Reporting Foundation (VRF). Further consolidation will continue with the VRF and the Climate Disclosures Standard Board merging into the IFRS Foundation and all acting as one organisation.
Greater accountability in this area is also being shown by the increasing number of companies writing sustainability metrics into their corporate strategy, and incorporating performance on issues such as climate change and diversity into remuneration outcomes through bonus and incentive plans.
The great (re)engagement
The pandemic has massively changed how people think about work and there’s rarely a conversation with clients these days that doesn’t focus on the ongoing challenge of engaging their employees effectively. Whether to mitigate against losing them, encouraging them to re-engage with being back in an office, or simply to reignite a culture that has been put under pressure through the pandemic.
Amongst other things, this is about deepening the bond with employees, ensuring that people of all backgrounds feel safe enough to maximize their creativity, innovation, and productivity, building a more adaptable workforce where the focus is on managing skills and not just roles, applying innovative recruitment strategies, and driving opportunities from within. Greater emphasis and investment of time is required and employer brands everywhere are being challenged to new levels. Gone are the days of the once-a-year employee survey and now we usher in an era powered by people.
Unconventional alliances and radical collaborations
When diverse views are bought together, they can generate creative and disruptive solutions to entrenched and complex problems. Unconventional alliances work well when difference is respected and emphasised. This is no mean feat when there are wildly different world views and power asymmetries.
As an example, one of our charity partners, The Rivers Trust, which campaigns for healthy rivers across the UK, recently called out the polluters in a very public confrontation. United Utilities like all water companies, is trying to manage a complex interplay of Victorian infrastructure, modern treatment plants and an angry public who are increasingly intolerant of raw sewage spills into rivers. Surprisingly, the two now have a partnership where they are bringing more citizen scientists into a role to hold polluters to account and get better data on rivers. Together, they represent a powerful push for different legislation and approaches to giving citizen and nature based solutions a much stronger role in a more resilient water sector.
Greater industry-wide collaboration will increasingly play a role in helping to address some of the critical sustainability challenges we face. We will also see more 'industrial symbiosis' whereby diverse organisations partner up and share resources (so one company's waste or by-product becomes a useful material for another company) in a mutually beneficial exchange. Businesses harnessing this new way of thinking are those that will thrive.
Consistent communications and impactful brands have never been so important
These big issues of climate change and the aftermath of the pandemic will have a big impact on design trends this year and defining what an impactful brand looks like will be vital moving forward. It’s about the connectivity of subject matter and getting brand, messaging and engagement involved on a much wider basis than we have traditionally seen before. This will mean raising purpose, inclusivity and diversity, and sustainability within the brand narrative and experience.
If you take climate change for instance, the route to net zero is the most pressing concern we face and it’s now top of the agenda for all stakeholders. No brand or sector is immune; everyone will need a clear narrative and this story will be told through every touch point from brand narrative, investor relations and talent attraction through to product design, packaging, and customer service.
Transparency and trust
At Emperor, our purpose is to help our clients deliver trust and transparency to their stakeholders. With so many issues to consider, the need for companies to increase trust by communicating with all stakeholders in an authentic, consistent and transparent manner has never been greater. There are still big gaps in communications - on values left misunderstood, strategies not communicated to employees, websites focused on too narrow an audience.
Minds are clearly focused on simplifying back to a clear and comprehensive corporate narrative as a singular thread running from purpose to vision, strategy to values and business model to governance. Key corporate communication channels - the annual report, website, and social channels - have an important role to play in ensuring you engage transparently with all audiences - with clear KPIs around impact.
Necessity is driving innovation
Building resilience in supply chains
Plato said “Necessity is the mother of invention”, and never has a truer word been spoken when it comes to the events of the past couple of years. Issues like resource scarcity and the circular economy will be massive not just this year but in years to come, and companies are looking to create resilience within supply chains affected by climate change, Brexit and the pandemic. Now and moving forward innovation will be critical to how companies seek to address these and other emerging issues.
The new connected age
Technology has always been a driving force of change in business and society, but it's the power of connectivity that has arguably had the biggest impact. Businesses have had to adapt business models, internal processes and how they engage with their stakeholders from the early days of search and ecommerce, through to social and mobile. The next version of this connected age will be underpinned by 5G, enabling cloud-by-default services, the bringing together of physical and digital worlds, and the continued rise of artificial intelligence into our homes and workplaces.
We've already started to see tech native firms jostle and position for leadership of these new omni-connected experiences. Facebook's focus on all things Metaverse (including a well-ignored name change), and Microsoft's proposed deal with Activision to focus on community and cloud-enabled experiences, signify big bets that the new connected age is here to stay. Legacy firms will have to quickly get to grips with the potential value of connectivity in their organisations (data analytics and decision making, cyber security, blockchain-enabled supply chains, new digital products and services, etc.).
This will bring a range of new technical, ethical and investment challenges to the Boardroom. But it's the impact on how customers and employees engage with organisations and each other that will have the biggest cultural transformational impact.
User Experience has long been a focus for website projects. The rapid digital acceleration we’ve seen through the pandemic and the move away from printed corporate literature, reports and brochures will drive more emphasis on user centricity. This will mean a greater focus on accessibility and readability – 7pt type squashed into the remaining space won’t cut it, and we’ll see a set of different typographic principles that make on-screen reading easier on the eye. Landscape format documents will become the norm because it suits the medium they’ll be viewing it on, and perhaps most importantly, there will be a change in approach to content.
Annual Reports crammed full of content that “no one will ever read” will have to become a thing of the past. Brevity will be the order of the day with detail found elsewhere through a link to a webpage. This will result in a more rewarding and engaging experience for stakeholders and more joined-up communications.
As advertising hoardings go digital and we remain working behind our screens, in B2B and stakeholder communications, we will no longer be talking about ‘digital first’ - we will be ‘motion first’. The conversations about dynamic, kinetic visual identities and campaigns are growing as motion design plays an increasing role in branding and identity systems.
The role that movement and kinetics can play in conveying the personality and the spirit of a brand is exciting, with companies having the opportunity to create ownable motion assets that become synonymous with its personality.
Our priorities are changing
It has never been truer that home is where the heart is
Over the past couple of years, homeowners’ spending habits have been forced to change as income that used to be spent on holidays was diverted into home improvements. ‘WFH’ and travel restrictions have also made us appreciate the beauty of our local surroundings far more. The home theme goes much broader, dividing those of us who are comfortable working from home from those who either don’t have the right home environment to work effectively, or who much prefer the social interaction of the office.
These divisions will fundamentally influence workplace and recruitment trends in years to come, and will become a differentiator for the companies who get it right. Building trust, maintaining culture and fostering team cohesion in an increasingly hybrid world is a challenge that many businesses will face.
It is unclear if this is simply wishful thinking or if we are seeing the beginnings of a movement; a mainstream revolt against media and social channels hell-bent on amplifying disharmony and conflict. With the rise of BCorp and purpose statements to which businesses can be held accountable, we in the creative and communications business have a powerful role to play in the guiding to and spreading of a bit of joy in the world.
There are more opportunities than ever before to create interesting, inspiring content that genuinely delights and we can’t wait to see a little more joy.