• January 29, 2021

Guest blog: Five key trends for brand communications in 2021

Guest blog: Five key trends for brand communications in 2021

Guest blog: Five key trends for brand communications in 2021 1024 576 micebook.

Cheerful Twentyfirst recently held its virtual ‘Brand Playbook’ event, delivered by the agency’s strategy director Hannah Luffman and hosted by our own CEO and founder Chetan Shah. And we’re thrilled to exclusively share the following insights from the content including five key trends for the year ahead….

Brand Playbook: You’re on mute

94% of Brand Playbook audience respondents say their communications strategy has significantly or somewhat changed in the last 12 months. (January, 2021)

COVID has been a catalyst for major shifts in consumer behaviour. Remote working and living has changed the way people learn, consume and connect with each other. Brand strategists face new challenges to reach and connect with digital audiences in 2021.

Trend one: Audience Accessibility

71% of Brand Playbook audience respondents consider audience accessibility a priority but noted their understanding of learning theory still needs developing.

This is critical and there are three main things to take away. Accessibility for education looks at access across all learning capabilities, representative accessibility looks at representing every voice, and accessibility for adoption looks at simple formats to increase adoption, for example the use of subtitles and other text caption options.

There is a huge difference in a product or a campaign that has placed representation at the end of their comms strategy versus those who designed with the user in mind. Brands are going to see a greater challenge in actively showing that they care. Active is crucial here because statements and policies just aren’t going to cut it. This means representing every voice in the audience group and most importantly, it means designing with every voice.

There is also a shift from brands from using the expert voice to the authentic voice. This sees brands move away from using the CEO, the technical specialist, the science lead for representing the voice of the user. Audiences are connecting better with the authentic voice now more than ever, as content moves away from lecture-style learning and into more discussion-lead learning concepts.

The second piece is accessibility for adoption and using simple content formats to maximise that adoption. The rise in the use of audio is truly fascinating. 2020 saw a rise in audio-first and audio-only book releases, podcasting continues to rise as a rollout channel year on year. This shift is grounded in strong learning theory.

Individuals learn in one of, or a combination of, three learning styles:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic

What’s fascinating about auditory learning is that it is not just about audio consumption, it’s also about those who learn better from conversation and two-way dialogue.

Kinesthetic learners understand and retain information best through tactile or physical play and engagement. The crucial part of strategy planning is to have dedicated conversations at the very start of the campaign design and for brand communicators to make sure they are accommodating for all three types of learners.

Trend Two: The Virtual Experience Economy

Active participations (experiences) have a much higher engagement rate than linear channels of engagement.

Offline industries are moving into the virtual experience economy space to reaffirm brand loyalty and keep audiences engaged. For example, digital skiing is now available as an alternative experience to hitting the slopes in person.

There are two key trends within this space. On-demand content or the ‘Netflix model’ is rapidly increasing in popularity. Users are looking for a content experience that matches their lifestyle i.e. consuming and learning when, where, and how suits them best.

E-gaming understands how to build an online community and incentivise the audience to return to the game or platform. Across the digital world there is an increase in virtual rewards programmes, through streaks, leader boards, and online competitions. 

Trend Three: Sense of Community

40% of Brand Playbook audience respondents said their biggest challenge for 2021 was building team culture and a sense of community in digital experiences.

The 2020 Time US Survey showed that nearly half of all Americans identified as being lonely, some or all of the time, rising to 79% in those aged 18-38.

Loneliness is not the same as being alone: one can be alone or singular in a household without suffering from loneliness. Loneliness is in fact a gap between the relationships a person has, versus the relationships a person wants. What that means for the communications industry is a focus on building a community through authentic experiences.

Event organisers must continue to personalise the individual journey but most importantly, they must identify a common purpose in the audience, and weave a community element throughout the experience to build engagement. It is crucial to allow ample time for social interaction and sharing over the common interest.

Trend Four: Useful Data

20% of Brand Playbook audience respondents indicated they are rarely using data to inform comms decisions.

The user is more aware of how their data is used than ever, so organisers need to be transparent and really build the data journey with the user in mind. They are not only interested in what is legally permissible but what is appropriate for them and what feels like the right level of data personalisation.

On the opposite side, brands are using data to increase engagement and adoption, using insights from consumers’ past and current behaviours to make it easier and more enjoyable to engage with them.

In today’s landscape, data is only useful if it benefits both parties. Brand strategists should use data to improve the user experience and simplify it. Tailored digital communications to an individual user do just that.

Trend Five: Hybrid Events

28% of Brand Playbook audience respondents are planning for a year with a range of hybrid events.

Virtual and digital experiences are not trying to replicate live. The key is understanding the audience and designing formats of delivery that will meet the objectives of the experience.

One really important question brands need to ask before any conversations around hybrid is; Is this experience live-first, virtual-first, or true hybrid?

Live first implies that there will be an enhanced experience if guests attend live, a social event, an in-person keynote only opportunity or similar. Virtual first implies a hub-and-spoke model, where regional or similar live engagements are available but the majority of learning will be delivered digitally. True-hybrid delivers the same experience value across both formats.

The key to hybrid in 2021 is to offer choice. Regardless of what audiences are ‘allowed’ to do, there will be hesitation from some to travel again too soon, so offering choice is an important channel in putting the user first.


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