New year, new rules? Our Marketing and Consumption group at the University of Bristol Business School believes that 2023 will bring some important shifts in the digital marketing landscape, ranging from digital platforms supporting well-being, to new solutions to sustainability, and many more – the list goes on. Below, some of our Marketing academics and PhD researchers share their expert opinions on the upcoming development in these areas. Without a doubt, this year has plenty in store for everyone involved in this space!
Consumer well-being in the digital age
Dr Rushana Khusainova
Broadly speaking, well-being is closely linked to notions such as life satisfaction, prosperity, happiness, and purpose. Brands will find themselves focusing progressively more on consumer well-being, as it is becoming increasingly more crucial to meaningfully engage with consumers in this space. Unsurprisingly, digital technologies play an important role in that.
The pandemic lockdowns have seen consumer brands shifting their focus to online spaces, fostering and nurturing the sense of community, belonging and connection. In 2023, a first new year of a post-pandemic era, online brand communities will continue playing an important role in satisfying psychological needs for relatedness and connection.
Moreover, simply minimising the potential negative effect of marketing activities is no longer sufficient. Brands are progressively incorporating sustainability themes into their marketing strategies and campaigns, encouraging consumers to reuse, resell or gift old items (e.g. IKEA’s buyback and resell or Patagonia’s Worn Wear), often relying on online platforms to support these activities. Such initiatives provide consumers with opportunities to derive well-being by being engaged in societal and environmental activities that contribute to the “greater good”.
In terms of personal health and well-being, we’ve seen apps such as Calm and Headspace grow and expand their outreach. Wearable technologies get smaller (e.g. fitness tracking rings), more effective and sophisticated. But consumers will also go back to the basic technologies, such as screen time apps (e.g. iOS Screen Time and Freedom) and sleep schedule apps (e.g. Sleep Cycle and Pillow), in the quest to achieve a healthier work-life balance and a better control of life in the digital age.
Finally, sensehacking is expected to be one of the key trends in the well-being space in 2023. This term refers to the tapping into our senses to improve how we feel. The trend of creating the multi-sensory shopping experiences is not new, but we are now seeing a more intentional use of immersive technologies such as augmented and virtual technologies to tap into our senses with a specific purpose to enhance our moods and feelings.
The end of the ‘wild west’? New social media advertising regulations
Dr Raffaello Rossi
Whilst 2023 brings many exciting new digital marketing opportunities, it also brings much tighter regulations. For years, social media advertising was seen as the “wild west,” but regulators are finally taking steps to ensure that social media advertising regulations are fit for the 21st century. Whilst the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has recently updated key regulations for content marketing (a booming advertising technique), the Online Safety Bill currently being considered by the UK Parliament is likely to introduce much stricter rules for paid-for ads.
Content marketing on social media
Content marketing is a type of organic social media advertising that is intended to be subtle and not overtly promotional. It is designed to go under the radar, so that users don’t realise that the funny meme, insider joke, or cute cat video they just saw in their feed is actually an ad. Major brands such as Aldi, Nike, and Netflix have had great success with content marketing, as it has been found to generate up to three times as many leads as other types of marketing while costing 62% less to produce. Although marketers have been praising it for years, until very recently, content marketing operated in a regulatory loophole, with the ASA arguing that it was not a form of advertising and therefore outside of their remit. However, due to increasing pressure of researchers and the media, the ASA announced a change in 2022, stating that content marketing will now be subject to all advertising regulations. It is currently unclear what this will actually mean in practice, particularly whether content marketing will need to include a label indicating its commercial nature (e.g. #AD), similar to influencer ads, to allow consumers to immediately recognise its commercial nature. While this would help to protect consumers, it could potentially end the content marketing boom. More guidance from the regulator is expected in the coming year.
Paid-for ads – changes in responsibility
In addition to stricter regulations for organic ads that advertisers will need to follow, the Online Safety Bill includes various changes to advertising laws that place the responsibility of the published ads on social media platforms. After facing pressure from various stakeholders, the DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) expanded the scope of the original bill and announced that “A new legal duty will be added to the Online Safety Bill requiring the largest and most popular social media platforms and search engines to prevent paid-for fraudulent ads from appearing on their services.” This increased responsibility of platforms regarding the advertising content they publish on their platform could restore broadcast-like control mechanisms. By doing so, the aim of the legislators is not only to cut down on fraudulent ads, but also ‘harmful, offensive and misleading adverts’. With some of these changes expected to take effect this year, 2023 could mark a seismic shift in social media advertising. It appears that the era of the “wild west” of social media advertising is finally coming to an end.
Financial well-being and investment trends on social media
Adrienne Watson, PhD student
As living costs soar, financial well-being will be more important than ever in 2023. With this comes an influx of advice on social media to not just save money, but to invest it too. Blockchain investments, including cryptocurrency and NFTs have been rising in popularity, particularly amongst the Gen Z and Millennial age groups and social media platforms have been busy keeping up with the trend by integrating new financial features.
Financial well-being advice on TikTok
TikTok has become a resource mostly aimed at the Gen Z audience for finance tips, with financial advisers and “Finfluencers” taking to the platform to share financial wellness advice. This can include setting financial goals for the new year, ways to save money on your bills, and viral money challenges such as a “30-day financial cleanse”. The popularity of this content can be seen in the hashtags searched for by users, #financialwellbeing has over 2 million views, and #financiallystable has 54.6 million views. According to a survey from Credit Karma, 61% of Gen Z respondents seek financial advice and information online or from social media, and almost a quarter stated that social media influencers have taught them more about money than school or books. However, this must be approached with caution, as many of these influencers do not have financial credentials, plus some videos can be well-disguised paid adverts.
Twitter has rolled out a new “Cashtags” feature that allows users to view stock and cryptocurrency prices within the platform. When a user searches for a stock, cryptocurrency, or ETF symbol with a $, the platform displays the current stock or crypto price with a performance chart. This can also be accessed through clickable hashtags within the Twitter feed. For those who want to find out more detailed information on financial performance over time, users can click to view more on Robinhood, a stock trading and investment app. Twitter’s CEO, Elon Musk, has hinted at this being the first of more financial features in the works for the platform, so we could see more integrations to come this year.
Use of NFTs for social media avatars
Last summer, Reddit launched limited edition collectable avatars made available to purchase as NFTs (non-fungible tokens) on the platform. The avatars can be purchased within the Avatar Builder on Reddit to customize how users appear within thread comments and posts. Reddit users who own collectable avatars stand out from free avatars as they have a glowing effect. This draws some similarities with Twitter’s NFT verification feature published last January that displays NFT profile images in a hexagon to prove ownership. The integration of NFTs within social media platforms could signal a shift in users displaying their NFTs as their profile images instead of the traditional selfie.
Is the Metaverse heading into the mainstream? Not quite, but marketers should pay attention nevertheless
Dr Ana Javornik
In the last year, the concept of the metaverse has shaken up digital marketing communities around the world. On the one hand there has been little agreement about what the metaverse (could) represent(s), but there has also been a great deal of excitement about the opportunities that this curious virtual universe can deliver. And, importantly, criticism about the potential misuse and harm associated with it. Marketers are starting to build some foundational knowledge and skills for navigating these spaces. In that sense, they will be acquiring a more thorough understanding of what works – and what doesn’t. Expect 2023 to be a year of learning, trial (and probably some errors).
Gamification, communities and fantasy
Some of the key trends are starting to shape up. The virtual goods’ economy which is relying on consumers’ excitement to possess virtual-only items, is growing. It will be crucial for brands to try and understand what virtual items – be that an arty NFT or an overpriced pair of sneakers – are of value to consumers and why. The associated virtual experiences are often driven by gamification, online communities and fantasy elements, giving the consumers opportunities to escape from the real world.
Temporary or permanent presence?
Many fashion and luxury brands have wholeheartedly dived into experimenting in this space. Examples are Gucci with their virtual world Gucci Vault in the Sandbox or Tommy Hilfiger with their pop-up virtual retail space in Decentraland. We can expect both temporary and permanent virtual spaces being built, as brands will be carefully navigating this space, not always ready for the long-term commitment, but definitely curious enough to want to get their foot in the door.
There is realistically not yet an expectation that the metaverse will enter into mainstream digital marketing or become the sine-qua-none of digital campaigns. This being said, it offers a precious space for trialling out new ideas and finding innovative ways to interact with communities and their members. There is also the “cool” factor, where brands can grab headlines with fancy metaverse experiences. However, this can quickly wear off if there is not a genuine value proposition behind it. Brands will thus need to balance the experimentation, short-term benefits and long-term strategic learning.
As one of the big players, Meta is investing billions of dollars into the development of the metaverse space, however these investments are currently not seeing promising returns. Meta is doubling down on its strategy to build virtual spaces where consumers will want to spend their time and money. However, these efforts are raising investors’ eyebrows, as they are doubtful about the “if you build it, they will come” principle. It remains to be seen to what extent all these carefully crafted spaces will entice large crowds. On the other hand, some figures are already a success story in terms of attracting online audiences. Millions of young users, particularly Gen Z, are spending hours on daily basis on popular gaming platforms such as Roblox, Fornite and Decentraland. However, this exponential engagement raises questions about the risks that the metaverse carries across mental health, privacy and ethics. These same questions will become a key part of digital marketing strategies.
One thing is certain – the immersive sector has a lot at stake. Will the metaverse become so big and so quickly as predicted? Probably not. Will it uncover some incredible ways to engage with consumers, particularly with younger generations? Very likely. Does that come with societal and individual risks that marketers need to pay attention to? Undoubtedly.
Information communication technology and environmental sustainability
Dr Davit Marikyan
Climate change remains a major environmental challenge raising concerns of private and public stakeholders worldwide. Many governments play a proactive role in sustainable development through interventions encouraging the transformation of energy and industrial systems, the reduction of pollution and natural resources protection. Against this backdrop, industry sectors are developing products that would reduce the environmental impact, for instance by adopting more sustainable ways of producing them. One of the sectors supporting the transition to sustainability is the information and communication technology (ICT) industry. Given the pervasive embeddedness of technology in people’s lives, the introduction of sustainable ICT solutions is believed to bear significant environmental implications. ICT advancements have led to the development of inherently sustainable solutions that may have direct utility for reducing carbon footprint or may indirectly impact the environment by delivering services in a more sustainable fashion.
Tackling sustainability through increased efficiency
The direct effect is manifested when new or updated versions of technology, such as blockchain, replace the current system to reduce carbon emissions. Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that enables secure and disintermediated transactions between actors in the network. While the technology became popular primality due to its application in the finance sector, blockchain can be used in other sectors, including the supply chain. Transaction efficiency that the technology ensures can bear benefits for environmental sustainability. That can be achieved through the traceability of products across the entire supply network, higher visibility of exchange data between all stakeholders in the ecosystem, and system decentralisation. Those features not only increase efficiency but help reduce waste. According to Statista, worldwide spending on blockchain-based solutions rose from 4.5 billion US dollars in 2020 to 6.6 billion USD in 2021 and is projected to reach 19 billion US dollars by 2024. That means that the wider adoption of the technology across supply-chain networks worldwide can have far-reaching environmental implications.
Tackling sustainability through “smartification”
The indirect impact is also known as “smartification” and relies on systems that monitor and control environmental indicators through smart sensors. For example, smart control panels and smart thermostats can monitor conditions in buildings by collecting information and feeding it back to the main system, which can respond accordingly – e.g., by increasing or decreasing the temperature on demand. Responsive energy management in buildings can significantly decrease the carbon footprint. According to the World Green Building Council report, buildings emit 39% of carbon related to energy use. 75% of those emissions come from the management of lighting, cooling and heating. By replacing systems that pull the exact amount of energy from the grid, it will be possible to increase the efficiency of buildings and make them carbon-neutral.
Sustainable use of technology: Exercising the right to repair
Despite the direct and indirect environmental implications of technology, there is a dark side to it. The increasing speed of new technology rolling out in the market enhances demand. That means that overconsumption can contribute to electronic waste generation resulting from product redundancy, the increasing usage of natural resources, and the consequent increase in carbon emissions. The way to address technology overconsumption is to adopt habits facilitating the longer use of old devices by repairing them. The gradual shift towards sustainable consumption habits has been reflected in the right-to-repair movement. The movement promotes the consumers’ right to repair or modify electronic devices with manufacturers or third-party repair shops. It resulted in the enactment of laws, such as the Right-to-repair Bill in the US and Eco-design policies in the UK. The regulations are aimed to remove barriers to normalising repair practices among consumers, thus facilitating the development of regenerative consumption culture.