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January 12, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 10:54am

The metaverse, cookies and sustainability: Experts reveal their 2022 marketing trends

By Phillip Othen

With advertising spend rising to record levels in the UK last year, we asked industry leaders to see which trends and innovations are set to push marketing forward this year.

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Masters of the metaverse

Following the relaunch of Facebook as Meta, with a focus on human connection in virtual reality (although there are signs of difficulty with the technology, as reported in IGN), marketers believe this may represent the future of advertising.

Emma Neale, associate professor of marketing at Birmingham City University’s Business School, says: “As we move into 2022, I am excited to see how brands adopt the immersive world and explore ‘the metaverse’. During 2021 we observed how brands such as Gucci and Nike embraced this, by selling a digital version of their product, with some of these being more expensive than the physical product. This is an exciting time for both brands and consumers as they step into a virtual world of advertising and brand building. Organisations need to embrace this, be more creative and encourage brand loyalty in reality and also in the metaverse.”

Christophe Castagnera, head of connected experiences at Imagination (an experience design company) sees gaming as the first step into this brave new world. “If the metaverse is an entire experience ecosystem, then gaming is the broader, more accessible version that people have been engaging with for some time. While it’s still early days, we’re seeing more and more brands experimenting with ways to use the metaverse to meet their marketing goals – it might be an event within a game, or as large-scale as building a virtual version of a brand home, their very own metaverse.”

The inaugural Williams Nicolson Trend Index 2022 toes a similar line. “The metaverse is already fueled by substantial, corporate transactions. Business should embrace the metaverse as a new market to create, define and trade value. In a virtual world, NFTs are a brand-new asset class fuelling trade by defining the ownership rights of digital assets. Imagine an NFT as a digital key or membership card to an exclusive online space.

“In 2022, the challenge is to look beyond reality for investments. There are opportunities to create exclusive experiences, products and spaces to generate financial value in the online world.”

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To some this may seem like more hype than reality, and a big trend of marketing in 2022 will be to explain such online experiences to nervous brands.

Phil Dwyer from tech agency Ballou PR concurs. “In tech and in the media there is likely to be a lot of talk, and claims about Web3, the Metaverse, NFTs (and the nature of virtual vs actual goods, services, along with the security implications). It will be the PR and marketing teams’ responsibility to help clients and in-house teams navigate these shiny new trends and, as with the sustainability conversation, contribute in an interesting, relevant and authentic way.”

That said, the metaverse and its ilk certainly fills many in the industry with excitement. Shellie Vornhagen, CXO at innovation experts Emplifi, explains: “The metaverse incorporates AR, VR, 3D holographic avatars, video, and other communication opportunities. It’s naturally going to have a significant impact on the consumer journey moving forward.

“Online shopping quickly became the new standard throughout the pandemic. The metaverse takes this to the next level. With AR and VR, consumers will be able to explore brands and products digitally – from the initial discovery phase, through to the try and test phase and post-purchase care. Consumers no longer need to frequent physical stores to try new products before purchasing.”

Google and cookies

Understandably, the death of third-party cookies in 2023 will have a massive impact on marketing in 2022. Being unable to build up such connected consumer profiles means a massive rethink for agencies, brands and marketers.

Jennie Gerum, CMO of Voyado, who personalise online experiences, agrees. “Privacy concerns and regulatory laws are having a profound impact on the way data works. Google’s decision that Chrome will kill off its support of third-party cookies by the end of 2023 will remodel the online economy. Fortunately, marketers and brands still have time to shift to a first-party data solution – the first step to counter browser-based third-party cookie loss.”

First-party data collection will be a big focus this year. Christopher Baldwin, VP marketing at Insider underlines how transparency is at the heart of data collection. “Businesses should be working towards building a first-party and invited personalisation strategy, with CX leaders looking to build a transparent relationship with customers in regards to data collection. Most customers are willing to share data if they feel their privacy will be protected, in return for a more compelling and personalised customer experience.”

Jennie Gerum from Voyado follows up: “The secret is to set up your channels in such a way that you can collect all your data from your most valuable resource – your customers. This first-party data provides a rich source of accurate information to create more enriched profiles and unique, personalised experiences and messages.

“Active consent is a critical prerequisite for collecting first-party data successfully. Both current and non-current customers need to volunteer their data to your brand. Therefore, it’ll be in your interest to let them experience value in exchange for their consent, such as personalised offers.” 

Ben Murphy, UK MD of ad tech giant Quantcast, echoes these sentiments. “I predict a huge push for first-party data throughout 2022. With Google phasing out third-party cookies by the end of 2023, many publishers will leverage 2022 to experiment and establish a plan for a future without third-party cookies. We could see publishers explore new methods of collecting first-party data, or giving their visitors greater autonomy over the data they share. This could result in publishers reaching out to agencies and tech companies in order to get the most out of their data.”

And finally, Acxiom’s CEO, Chad Engelgau, concludes: “In 2022, we expect to see brands continue to focus on creating ways to collect their own first-party data, which is truly their most valuable data asset. With the decline of the third-party cookie, combined with changing data regulations worldwide, ethically collected first-party data at scale is set to reign supreme this year.”

Advertising Trends 2022: Climate change and net-zero

Sustainability represents a crucial message for businesses to impart on their customers and this could ramp up in 2022 as the various Government-led net-zero challenges kick in further.

As James Ramsden, UK & US Executive Creative at London agency Coley Porter Bell summarises: “Sustainability will continue to be one of the biggest trends next year for brands. Consumers will demand that brands turn everything on its head to have the most minimal environmental impact possible.”

The chair of the Customer Engagement Committee of the DMA (Data & Marketing Association) and Customer Engagement Director at data and insight agency REaD Group, Scott Logie, builds on this concept that customer decision-making will be driven by sustainability. “There is a lot of research, including the DMA’s ‘Customer Engagement: Consumer Mindset in Acquisition’ report, which shows that diversity and sustainability are becoming more important to consumers when deciding which brands to buy from. With a higher profile after COP26, younger audiences are increasingly engaging with green concerns, while consumers are demanding that representation is recognised in advertising.”

This environmentally-savvy audience exists ‘in real life’ as well as online, and this means events and experiential marketing needs to follow suit.

Petra Smith, managing director of marketing consultancy firm Squirrels & Bears, marks “Face to face events returning in a more innovative and experiential form, focused on sustainability and social value” as one her three major trends for 2022.

And managing director of PR company Clearly, Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, predicts that a sustainability drive equally affects B2B as it does B2C.

“In B2B marketing, the growing demand for data and greater transparency to enable the better management and disclosure of organisational ESG initiatives will become a key priority for business leaders in 2022 and beyond. 

“Formal non-financial reporting of everything from carbon emissions and choice of suppliers based on their own commitment to sustainability and social impact, to diversity and inclusion throughout the organisation, will be under the microscope. Non-financial reporting will become just as, if not more, important than financial performance reporting. There will be no hiding from this; consumer and client demand will necessitate it.”

The last words go to Nicky Holt, Managing Director (Commercial) at Bauer Media UK Publishing, for a real word example.

“We are already receiving more briefs that require us to demonstrate our own sustainability credentials and in 2022 will strive to work with partners that share the same social, economic and environmental values.”

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