Prediction is both art and science, and what the balance is depends on the subject in question. In order to make accurate predictions about a complex question, we of course need reliable data, and ideally a large amount of it. But, perhaps more importantly, we need people who are able to interpret that data accurately and make sense of it in context. We need experts whose insight can help guide us.
Since our inception in 2001, Siren Communications has thrived and grown, coming through several near-unprecedented recessions along the way. Part of our resilience and responsiveness to change is having the good fortune to be able to call upon the collective wisdom of a board of truly expert advisors when making crucial decisions about the future of our business. Their knowledge of relevant markets, trends and regulatory landscapes has made all the difference.
Our board of advisors is comprised of a panel of stalwarts in their respective fields, each with countless years of front-line experience within some of the most recognisable and influential brands and organisations in the world. From this vast experience, they have each acquired a sixth-sense for the industries in which they operate, and their insight and predictions are invaluable to us as a business in navigating a complicated, competitive and evermore rapidly changing future.
This year, we have been feeling particularly generous, and have decided to share some of the predictive power of our board of advisors with the wider world, and give readers an insight into the trends that have begun to emerge in 2021 and are likely to blossom in 2022. All from the people whose fingers are firmly on the pulse of these industries and sectors.
The political, economic and regulatory landscape
The fact that we live in a globalised economy is nothing new, but it does mean that we are always vulnerable to the ripple effects of events that occur within the borders of our trading partners. And ironically, the very tumult that we are currently both experiencing and witnessing is largely due to a backlash against globalisation itself. Nationalism is on the rise across the globe, and this is breeding adversarial relationships between nations, each seeking to assert their independence and dominance, which is creating uncertainty for imports and exports and shows no sign of abating in the coming year.
Charles Anson, a member of Siren’s board of advisors has previous experience in being a lay member of the UK Press Complaints Commission from 2012-14, working as a Director of Communications for the investment bank Kleinwort Benson, Grand Metropolitan plc (now Diageo plc), and Hilton International. His specialisms in corporate communications include media relations, brand building and reputational management. From 1990-97, he was Press Secretary to Her Majesty The Queen, and from 1978-81 he served in the Downing Street Press Office under two successive Prime Ministers; Margaret Thatcher and James Callaghan. Prior to that, he served for 20 years as a diplomat in the British Diplomatic Service, with postings to Washington and Tehran, before and during the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79:
“Erstwhile allies are less predictable than they once were. In the US, despite losing last year’s election, Trump claims that he intends to run again in 2024, in another vote that would likely be too close to call. Meanwhile, in Asia, China and Russia are ramping up aggression and continuing to make marginal encroachments seemingly in order to test the nerve of the West. Reciprocal measures to deter this aggression are predictably causing relations to deteriorate, and fuel access and market restrictions are being used as leverage in a tit-for-tat game that could turn cold. Despite disagreements over fishing and Northern Ireland, the UK has to look closer to home to find positive, reliable political and economic relationships that can ensure stability going forward. And despite what we may have been led to believe, Britain does have a great deal to offer the world, much of which is respected and sought-after by other nations. Britain punches above its weight when it comes to areas such as scientific innovation, as exemplified by our rapid vaccine development and roll-out, and in creative fields such as product innovation. This reputation precedes us. It gives us heft in our commercial relationships in key markets, even for small businesses. There should therefore be optimism when looking forward towards the prospects of British businesses in an international market.”
The effect of the pandemic and other crises on FMCGs has been seen in empty store shelves and increased prices. This has affected both the ability of businesses to survive and the pocket of consumers themselves, at a time when budgets are already strained. But consumer purchasing behaviour of FMCGs has also changed as a result of the pandemic. Not only in what they’re purchasing, but in how they’re purchasing.
Mark Sims, a member of Siren’s board of advisors, has held Chief Executive, Vice President, Regional, Managing and Marketing Director roles in the UK, EMEA and Asia Pacific. He has operated within the branded FMCG market with Kellogg Company, kitchen appliance and home carbonation drinks, chilled ready meals, handheld snack and industrial food components, sports equipment and household cleaning markets. He is highly respected for his innovative business solutions and change-management initiatives underpinned by a deep commercial understanding:
“Practically every food and drink business is seeing rapid input cost inflation, not seen for decades and, perhaps most importantly, never experienced by those now sat in key positions. Raw materials, energy, transport and labour costs are all on the up, and access has decreased markedly. As a result, many businesses are being forced to push through sizeable price increases - the long-term effect of which on consumer behaviour remains to be seen.
But consumers are already behaving differently due to other factors. Contactless and online shopping - whether that be home delivery, click and collect or self-checkout - has become commonplace throughout the pandemic. Its implications are that consumers are increasingly shopping off-list and purchasing less spontaneously, which is impacting stores’ expected revenues and growth.
We are also seeing consumers thinking more about how they spend their money and which brands they give their money to. There is a trend towards more sustainable and local brands that emphasise their quality and provenance, and this looks set to continue in 2022 - a big opportunity for those looking to move into this space.”
Food and Drink
The last 18 months have refocused our attention on our relationship with food, and our lifestyles more broadly. We are more considerate about what we put into our bodies, where it comes from, and what impact it has on our wellbeing, both mentally and physically. People have begun to take more accountability for their health, and this has been borne out by emerging trends.
Katie Wright, Director at Siren, works across a range of our food and drink and travel clients. She has a wealth of experience ranging from large-scale event management to crisis comms for both B2B and B2C clients:
“From what I’m seeing across the news, social media and from industry data, next year will be the year of plant-based everything. The trend for eating more sustainably and introducing more plants into our diets seems only set to grow. Brands are pushing the boundaries continuously in this space, making a plant-based diet an evermore attainable, exciting and viable alternative to traditional diets. People are beginning to question the impact of conventional diets on animal welfare, on the environment and on their health, and they’re doing something about it.”
Travel has been one of the major casualties of the last couple of years. Though leisure travel has recovered impressively, there remains a great degree of uncertainty about the future, which makes planning nearly impossible. Business travel, on the other hand, has yet to reach even a fraction of pre-2020 levels.
Andrew Waller is Non-Exec Chairman at Siren and has a long career and wealth of experience in the travel industry spanning companies such as British Airways, Norwegian Cruise Line and Walt Disney Parks & Attractions. For the past 20 years, Andrew has held senior roles in business travel as President EMEA for CWT, before becoming CEO of ATPI, a leading global travel management company. Andrew is now working as a Leadership, Business and Personal Coach:
“Any optimism about the future prospects for travel has been swiftly killed off by the Omicron variant and this has given people a reality check that other variants and disruption could follow at any time. On the leisure side even though there is pent-up demand for a holiday in the sun, people will be reluctant to book without strong cancellation options and will book late and last-minute where possible, and only then if the cost of any required tests is not prohibitive. Staycations are likely to remain strong, as many have discovered the merits of a UK-based holiday and will stick with a safe option.
Only essential business travel will return. Corporates will impose stringent travel policies due to constrained budgets and concerns regarding duty of care. Norms and expectations have also been altered fundamentally and permanently. The behavioural ‘zoom’ change brought about by lockdowns and border closures has become embedded. Even for ‘necessary’ travel, continued disruption will reinforce travel hesitancy. Environmental concerns will also increasingly become dominant as pressure increases from shareholders, governments, customers and the media for businesses to reduce their environmental impact.”
Katie Wright, Director:
“Wellness travel, sustainable travel, big ticket trips, or the awfully named ‘splurge-cation’ – there is always plenty of buzzwords for new travel trends. And while 2022 travel looks promising, I think everchanging regulations will continue to reinforce the need for ATOL-protected trips and a lot of extremely exciting pre-holiday admin.”
Sarah Rathbone, Managing Partner at Siren, has been with the agency since day one. Her experience spans commercial, government and charity work, having run comms campaigns across B2C and B2B sectors. A specialist in reputation and news management, her client work has included global ship launches, major international trade events for government departments, consumer campaigns, corporate restructures and more:
“Travelling with real purpose is a trend to look out for; the Covid-cautious are not jumping on planes and trains for multiple long weekends but are instead planning carefully for the right trip on an important occasion. After years of curtailed travel, trips for ultimate family reunions, weddings, birthday milestones and all manner of celebrations are where money is being spent. With hearts set on making memories, these travellers are looking for opportunities to share experiences despite the price tag. Becoming a careful traveller also means that far greater attention is paid to other factors such as sustainability and local economic impact. Those who only travel for set reasons want a travel brand who shares their commitment to making the world a better place. Expect greater interest in ESG data and schemes, and to be able to present ways for guests to make a meaningful impact on the community around them when they travel.”
Lifestyle and Interiors
Our lives changed almost overnight early last year in an unprecedented manner, when the likely impact of the virus on our health care systems became apparent. Every aspect of our day-to-day was deeply impacted, including our work, our social lives, our self-care, our romantic relationships, and our leisure time. This meant that we had to adapt our home environments to support this new lifestyle, and it also reinforced how important our everyday social interactions are, from our colleagues to our family and friends, and even the stranger in the street or the worker in the store.
Al Farrimond, a member of Siren’s board of advisors, has over 20 years of client-side experience in senior travel and leisure marketing positions. Al’s career has included time with Walt Disney Travel Company, Travel 2, Tourism Australia, Silverstone Circuits and APT, among others:
“‘Multi-functionalism’ and ‘back to nature’ are going to be the big trends for next year. Having to spend so much more time in our homes has spurred us into creating spaces with lighter, more calming tones that evoke the feeling of being in nature, and that make us feel less enclosed. But more and more people are also designing spaces in such a way that they can seamlessly transform, depending on their intended purpose – from cosy home offices that can morph into guest bedrooms, to desks in landing nooks. People are becoming increasingly creative with their home spaces and putting more thought into how to integrate each aspect of their life into their home without feeling claustrophobic or cluttered.
But despite having reorganised our homes to suit new ways of living, after two years of restricted socialising, and extended periods of confinement to our homes, people are very keen to return to normality as much as possible, to see people and to enjoy experiences. We are rediscovering the joy of reconnecting with family, friends, colleagues and clients, and the momentum of this is likely to carry itself forward for as long as it is allowed to. We have all realised the joy that we had taken for granted of sitting face-to-face across a table with good food and good friends in our local pub, bar, restaurant or cafe - the same businesses that our communities are so dependent upon for employment, character and identity. I think people are increasingly feeling that sense of community, and are aware of the importance of doing what they can to support those businesses that are crucial to the survival of local economies.”
In recent years, and particularly following COP26, there has been much talk about the electric vehicle (EV) transition, and the importance of reducing the impact of the transport sector on the environment, particularly as it relates to emissions and air pollution, the latter of which has become an increasingly salient subject in urban areas. But there is still some doubt about how big of a part EVs are likely to play in the world’s decarbonisation strategy, or rather how big of a part they can play, given the state of the technology, and how optimistic we should be about their potential.
Iain Sanderson, a member of Siren’s board of advisors:
“It seems inevitable that, at some point soon, the UK government will realise that EVs are the answer for making transport emissions-free at point of use, and ensuring that more and more of our vehicles are powered by renewable energy from the grid. However, though this may be the solution for inner-city or metropolitan travel, for long-haul journeys, EVs look likely to continue to struggle. For example, in a recent experiment comparing EVs with conventional vehicles, over the course of a 1000-mile trip around the UK, the electric vehicle took five hours longer than the fossil-fuel-powered car, due to the amount of time required to recharge it.
To stimulate widespread adoption and bring about meaningful change, both long and short-haul EV travel must be viable. I think, then, that vehicle manufacturers and governments will begin to reorientate towards hydrogen as an alternative fuel for larger, more long-haul vehicles, or they will reconsider hybrid vehicles as a short to medium-term solution, à la DRS (drag reduction system) in Formula 1, which can significantly improve an engine’s mileage. However, hydrogen will first have to be made cleaner, which suggests that hybrid vehicles will be the way forward initially. One thing is clear though, and that is that EVs alone cannot solve all the transport industry’s emissions and pollution problems.”
Social media is often the canary in the coalmine for trends and population-wide behaviour, within certain demographics at least, and throughout the pandemic, given the limited face-to-face social interaction, social media became a more important vehicle than ever for allowing us to feel connected. Certain platforms in particular flourished throughout the pandemic, and capitalised on the increased activity, providing new ways for influencers and brands to entertain and engage with users.
Katie Wright, Director:
“Instagram and TikTok continue to go from strength to strength, and brands not dedicating time or resources to producing quality content and engaging with their audience here will be left behind. Even the platforms that consistently come under scrutiny – we’re looking at you Facebook – continue to report growth in users and engagement.
I also think it will be interesting to see what becomes of some of the newer ‘start-up’ platforms, like ClubHouse, for example. Though not necessarily a traditional social media platform, it allows for targeting of more niche audiences and a different way of reaching existing audiences. As with most platforms or media, those who are quickest to grasp its benefits and begin to monetise it will have the upper hand.”
Sarah Rathbone, Managing Partner:
”Companies now not only report their sustainability KPIs and efforts to shareholders in meetings and annual reports, but also to customers through social media. Social media provides a platform for companies to quickly and engagingly communicate the good they are doing to their stakeholders and encourage buy-in from them. This is an excellent development, but businesses can and should do more. There are other issues and metrics that consumers care about, such as workers’ rights and inclusion. These are also areas in which businesses can demonstrate their proactivity. Consumers are beginning to wake up to the fact that they can influence the trajectory of society with their wallets and purses, and are thinking more deeply about how and where they spend their money. The businesses who are doing good work in the areas that people care about and who can best communicate that directly with their customers will be tomorrow’s winners.”
As the saying goes, the only constant in life is change, and this is equally true for comms. As time goes on, society evolves, meaning that people’s values and the way that they communicate and receive information changes too. As comms professionals, it’s imperative for our survival as businesses and as an industry that we are able to stay abreast of these changes, have our ear to the ground, and continue to understand what matters to people, where their attention is and how to maintain it.
Katie Wright, Director:
“For those of us working in comms, I think the expectation for businesses to take a stand on various political and social issues will continue to grow. More than ever, clients need robust crisis comms planning to help them navigate and be prepared for a treacherous political landscape, as well as having a clear and transparent ethos about what their business aims to achieve beyond simply making money. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, customers want to know what your brand stands for, and whether those values align with their own views.”
Sarah Rathbone, Managing Partner:
“Consumers today have real investment in the brands they choose. They need to see how their opinions and values are respected and taken onboard. The ease of social communities to deliver real-time feedback means that while brands have access to immediate focus groups and market insight, they need to act on these waves of movement. Many brands have harnessed this to their advantage and are providing opportunities for collaboration with their customers and communities. Interestingly, a brewing backlash against some of the world’s largest social platforms is also something to be very mindful of, including taking proactive steps to support and protect those who engage with your brand in online spaces.”
As we’ve mentioned, when it comes to predicting the future of industries, it’s more art than science. But in the case of Siren’s trusty board of advisors, it’s a fine art.
If you’re looking for a team with countless years of deep and broad experience working with some of the world’s most established brands, as well as exciting, innovative and disruptive start-ups, then you need look no further. We believe our body of work speaks for itself, but if you want to have a conversation about what your business’s goals are, where we see your industry headed, and how we think your business can best navigate that future in order to achieve its goals, then get in touch.
We’re an agency with a purpose. We invest in our clients, and we want to do the best work possible for them and help them to achieve their goals. For us, this isn’t just business. We are a team of people, each with our own passions and skills, and we know that our clients are the same. Yes, we’re in the communications business, but we’re also in the people business. We trade in trust, and in helping people to fulfil their ambitions and their potential. So if you’re interested in how we could work together to achieve your ambitions and your potential, then we’re just a phone call or an email away.
Happy New Year,
From the team at Siren Comms