How will you connect with your employees in 2022?

February 8, 2022

It seems like just yesterday when we were all gladly waving goodbye to 2020, and yet in a blink, here we are. In the next several columns, I’d like to focus on helping you get prepped for coming out of the gate strong in 2022 by having a plan in place.

This week let’s focus on one of the most important and overlooked audiences – your employees. All too often how, when and what we communicate to our own team is an afterthought, despite the fact that they are often the conduit through which we communicate and connect with our customers. That feels very shortsighted.

All of that is true under any circumstances. But today, as every organization on the planet is struggling to find and keep good staff, it becomes mission-critical. If we don’t become an employer of choice, we’re going to struggle to even maintain market share, let alone increase it.

There are several key communications (I might even call them marketing) components to being an employer of choice. If you can’t give yourself top marks for each of these, they are worthy of some planning time as you look forward to 2022.

Values/mission: People want to work for companies whose worldview aligns with their own. Having some values on a wall or in your employee handbook isn’t enough. You should plan on communicating regularly about what those values and mission mean to the organization and spotlight all the ways you are actually walking your talk.

Beyond that, recognizing employees who exemplify those values and, equally important, not tolerating employees who behave in violation of them, is one of the most powerful ways to communicate that they’re more than lip service.

Where are we headed: Your employees want to know where you plan to take the company in the coming months. More than that, they want to play a role in helping you get there. They very well could have ideas or insights you need to actually get to the goals more quickly.

Setting goals that they can be privy to and sharing a progress update every month or quarter will help create a sense of teamwork and accomplishment when you hit the goals. It also reminds them that they work for an organization that is hitting its marks, which means more opportunity for the employees. In this ultra-tight labor market, that’s a good message to reinforce!

What’s on sale this week? On more than one occasion, we’ve worked with a client who didn’t have a mechanism for sharing the upcoming ads or promotions with their internal team before they went live. Imagine how frustrating it would be to have your customers know more than you do about a current offer.

If this is your situation, solve it. Find a way to always share any marketing messaging or sales promotion with your team before it hits the streets.

Don’t just say it once: Whatever your most important messages are for your team, don’t fall into the trap of assuming they heard and retained it once you’ve shared it once. If it’s truly important, it’s something worth repeating. It’s also worth repeating in different ways. Everyone has a natural way of taking in information. If it’s really mission-critical, use a variety of communications tools – visuals, video, audio, etc.

If you want your team to accelerate their retention and understanding of a key company initiative or focus, get them involved in an activity around it. The more hands-on we are with ideas, the more we remember them.

As we begin 2022, one of the first commitments I’d like to suggest you make is to overcommunicate with your employees. Believe me, it will not be too much!


This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Smart marketing on TikTok

February 1, 2022

In last week’s column, we looked at the phenomenon that is TikTok and the numbers behind the app’s success. This week, I want to examine how agencies and brands are using the incredibly popular app from a marketing perspective.

There are several challenges when it comes to leveraging TikTok as a marketing vehicle. The most obvious is that you only have 15 seconds to convey your message and the audience is not going to tolerate anything that looks or feels like traditional advertising. The highly produced commercial has no place on the platform. If it’s not native to the format and it doesn’t feel a little raw with minimal editing, the audience will simply walk away.

It’s critical to adapt your content strategy to take full advantage of the platform’s tools, like in-app editing. Using features that are unique to TikTok, like the Duet function and filters, clearly communicates to the audience that you’re staying in the sandbox to play.

TikTok users go to the app to be entertained, first and foremost. If your brand shows up just to sell, you’re going to be out of luck. It’s about creating connections and triggering an emotional response. The app and the audience demographics both lend themselves to authentic storytelling, which is one of the reasons why influencers are so big on TikTok.

Building off an influencer’s audience is a powerful way to magnify your presence on TikTok. Because they’ve already built up credibility and context around whatever area of expertise or celebrity they have, you can catapult your campaign and lend their influence to your brand.

Walmart jumped on this particular bandwagon with their #DealDropDance campaign. They paid several key influencers to create videos of themselves dancing to express how Black Friday savings made them feel. Other users jumped on board and by the time the campaign wrapped up, they’d generated 3.6 billion views and reached 17 million followers.

Whether you work with an influencer or not, branded hashtags are a cornerstone element within the TikTok community. These hashtags encourage user-generated content, which is one of the most popular elements of the app. User-generated content may be organic, but in many cases it’s bought and paid for and the TikTok creators are bound by FCC rules to disclose that fact. That does not seem to detract from the engagement levels, however.

Challenges are another highly leveraged model on the platform. Chipotle created one of the most successful challenges on National Avocado Day. For six days, they challenged the users to create videos of themselves dancing to celebrate their love of guacamole and to use the hashtag #GuacDance. Over the course of the campaign, more than 250,000 users uploaded videos with the branded hashtag. It also triggered Chipotle’s biggest guacamole day in history. They served over 802,000 sides of guacamole, using an additional 7,500 of avocados to meet the demand.

Converse is also making the most of challenges. Recently they invited their audience to customize a pair of sneakers and share their creations with the hashtag #ConverseAllStar. That hashtag has now generated more than 54.3 million views.

It’s clear that when you understand both the medium and the audience’s expectations, the results can be quite spectacular. Like any channel, it’s critical that you have a long-term strategy that allows you to avoid being a one-hit wonder.

Being mindful of being part of the creator community and forming relationships with key creators and influencers seems to be critical to success. But even with those relationships on your side, not staying true to the format and or sharing anything that looks like an overproduced ad is bound to deliver lackluster results.

Bottom line? Know your audience and accept that it’s their playground and their rules.


This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

Understanding TikTok

January 25, 2022

TikTok is a short-form video-sharing app that allows users to create and share 15-second videos on any topic you can imagine. It’s such a phenomenon, it’s hard to fathom anyone in the U.S. not being familiar with it. But for many marketers over 50, you may not be as familiar as you should be with this app or its uses. Only 7.1% of TikTok users are age 50 or older.

We may not use the app personally, but as marketers, we can’t afford not to understand how the app works and its appeal to both its core audience and to brands.

Since its launch, the TikTok app’s popularity has been growing tremendously. In October 2018 it was the most-downloaded photo and video app in the Apple store globally, and it maintains that position today.

In the U.S. alone, it has been downloaded over 96 million times. It had about 1.1 billion active global users by early 2021.

The app has simplified video creation and sharing and taken it to the next level of easy and convenient. To contribute to TikTok, all you need to do is record anything — from a routine part of your day to a special event, or an orchestrated attempt at humor.

You can then post it instantly. Because of the 15-second length limit, neither the video creation nor the consumption of a video takes much time or effort.

Another feature of the app that adds to its popularity and usage is that the short-form video content is played as soon as a user opens the app. The videos start playing one by one and a viewer gets lost in a sea of video content. Due to the addictive nature of this type of content, it is very easy for people to keep watching random videos for hours. In 2020, the average user spent 21.5 hours a month on the app and more than 50 minutes per day.

Over 90% of the users use the app more than once a day, and 34% of the content creators on TikTok post at least one video per day. One huge advantage TikTok has over its competitors is that it can and does localize content.

The average TikTok user is a female between the ages of 13 and 24.

Marketing on TikTok is still in its infancy, which is an advantage to the early adopters. Brands, and in some cases their agencies, are eager to create the kind of content that gets clicks on TikTok. Conventional advertising that stresses a product’s superior features and benefits won’t work on this particular platform. Lighthearted, whimsical or funny campaigns set to music hit the spot. The ultimate goal is to go viral on the site, and in some cases, actually encourage imitations by other TikTok users.

One of the more universally appealing aspects of TikTok is how celebrities and influencers are using it. The app has paid partnerships with several celebrities around the globe, who promote the app to their audiences. The app uses these paid celebrities and influencers to create buzz around the platform and generate viral content.

The platform also launched TikTok for Business in June 2020, essentially an in-house marketing agency. A Shopify integration was announced in October 2020 to bring e-commerce into the app’s offerings.

By building these advertising and e-commerce functionalities, TikTok is clearing a path that will see the platform mature into a powerful social commerce tool as well as an epoch-defining creative hub. As marketers, we can’t afford not to have a handle on this important channel and how we can leverage its audience and functionality.

In next week’s column, we’ll look at some successful TikTok campaigns and why they worked.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Don’t build on rented land

January 18, 2022

Imagine if you invested a few hundred thousand dollars in building your dream home only to discover that you didn’t own the rights to the land you’d built it on. And what if, after a few years of living in your dream home, the owner of the land decided to sell access rights to a highway developer, and you received notice that, unfortunately, they were going to have to either move or take down your house to make room for the new highway they’d had planned.

It seems ludicrous, doesn’t it?

You’d, of course, be smarter than that. No one would invest all of that money to build a house on someone else’s land, even if you could get a long-term lease.

And yet, many organizations make this same mistake when it comes to their marketing. How much time and money have you invested in building a presence on:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • A private forum or website based on the industry
  • Discussion boards you don’t own

You put in the time. You build the audience. You create value and connections. And then the channel owner changes the rules, and all of a sudden, you are either not able to continue to participate, it shifts the audience, or it becomes pay to play. Or, in extreme cases, like Google+, it goes away.

If you’ve been working on your company’s online presence for more than a couple of years, you’ve seen this play out, time and time again. Remember when Facebook used to show all our posts to people that liked our business page until they didn’t anymore. Can we buy what we used to get for free? Absolutely. What’s that phrase – “if the platform is free, you’re the product?”

I’m not suggesting for one minute that you don’t invest time and energy to build an online presence that includes rented land. But you should not build your house there. In today’s marketing environment, for 99% of the organizations out there, your most valuable properties are your own website and your own email list. Everything should live there in terms of information, content and points of contact.

When you post on social or in a discussion forum, you want to invite that audience back to your home base. You want to meet them wherever they hang out, but you want to ask them to come to hang out at your place.

The key to this is the invitation. It can’t be a sales message. It has to be an opportunity for you to be even more helpful to them. Start with incredibly valuable, ungated content that they don’t need to provide an email address to access.

Think of this as how you’d welcome a first-time visitor to your home. You’d want to have something to offer them, to make them feel welcome and demonstrate how glad you are that they came. It doesn’t have to be fancy or too elaborate. It should be helpful and aligned with who and how you are as a brand. It should give me a sense of your expertise and how you might be even more helpful to me down the road.

As you think about mapping your marketing efforts, put your website in the center of the page and build as many offshoots as you can. Again, for ninety-nine percent of you, your website is your marketing workhorse and should be thought of as your hub. There can be a mix of owned and rented properties, as long as your home base is something you own and have total control over.

The goal with marketing is to take advantage of the cumulative effects. That’s tough to do if you build it on shaky ground!

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


How is AI being used by marketers today?

January 11, 2022

Last week’s column explored some of the benefits of artificial intelligence when used in marketing and some of the reasons more marketers haven’t experimented with it, let alone adopt it.

But of course some have, and in this week’s column we’ll look at some common use cases for AI in marketing today.

One of the most common uses for AI today is in the area of production. Marketers are leveraging the power of AI to create data-driven content that often outperforms human-created content time and time again.

One of the most impressive AI tools out there will monitor what your website visitors are looking for but can’t find on your site. It then suggests what content you should create to fulfill that unresolved need.

Another tool will let you test content ideas before you create them. It will give you a performance score, indicating how useful your audience will find it before you invest the time to write it.

As you might imagine, one of the most common uses of AI is optimizing your existing content so it is more search engine friendly. The tool evaluates all of your existing content and overlays the most common search terms to see how you’d rank and makes suggestions for improvement.

Personalization is another common use for artificial intelligence. When a visitor is on the site, AI can recommend some highly targeted content based on the real-time data of the visitor’s actions at that moment. In the same way that relevant content can be served up, so can relevant offers that are tied to specific pages visited, queries, or even how long someone was on a particular page.

One of the most potent aspects of personalization is that you can create very customized experiences for your website visitors with some workflow expertise. You can genuinely give each of them a unique path to follow, tied to millions of data points about that and previous visits.

Smart marketers can also leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to promote their products and services. One tool that some brands and agencies are leaning on will examine millions of social ads and each ad’s performance and then, based on the success metrics of those ads, will suggest tweaks to an ad that you’ve created.

The tweaks might be as simple as changing the color of the model’s shirt in the photograph or modifying a headline. This same tool will tell you exactly how long you should run the ad (the average right now is eight days) before swapping it out with a new ad. This saves the advertiser time and money that would typically be invested in A/B testing.

Another way AI is being used is to monitor social media and news outlets in real time and suggest related or tangential promotional opportunities.

As you would expect, one of the most critical aspects of marketing where AI can lend a hand is in measuring performance. The possibilities here are vast, and odds are you’re already deploying some of these solutions, even in a rudimentary form.

AI will simplify and improve your ability to measure your return on investment by giving you real-time success metric data by channel, by campaign, and over time. Not only will it help you determine success, but it can also give you insights as to why some elements of your campaign or a specific channel were more successful than others. Even better, you can use predictive modeling to point you in a more profitable and efficient direction for the next effort.

AI is here to stay. It’s up to us to decide how it can serve us best and how to leverage its capabilities. For marketers it’s a matter of how and when, not if.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Are you already behind the AI curve?

January 4, 2022

McKinsey recently released a study looking at how AI-powered digital transformation was affected by the pandemic. Their data shows that 25% of almost 2,400 business leaders surveyed said they increased their adoption of artificial intelligence due to pressures they felt during the crisis.

Did you? Do you even have an AI strategy? Are you using AI at all in your marketing? Whether you said yes or no – are you sure? The truth is, we all use AI every day. Amazon, Netflix, Google and Facebook are all powered by AI technology that we interface with on a daily basis. They use machine learning, deep learning, computer vision, speech and image recognition, natural language processing, and natural language generation.

But as marketers, some are falling behind. The benefits of leveraging the power of AI are pretty compelling. When used well, AI will:

  • Accelerate revenue growth.
  • Create personalized consumer experiences at scale.
  • Drive costs down.
  • Generate more significant ROI on campaigns.
  • Get more actionable insights from marketing data.
  • Predict consumer needs and behaviors with greater accuracy.
  • Reduce time spent on repetitive, data-driven tasks.
  • Shorten the sales cycle.
  • Unlock greater value from marketing technologies.

In a recent study done by the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute, 77% of respondents (all marketers) had less than a quarter of all marketing tasks intelligently automated to some degree. Eighteen percent said they have not intelligently automated any functions at all.

Despite their lack of adoption, over 80% of those same respondents believe more than a quarter of their marketing tasks will be intelligently automated in five years. A full 43% think more than half of their tasks will be automated in that time.

The question is, how are these marketers who admit they aren’t really deploying AI today going to get more than half of their tasks automated within the next five years?

They’re asking themselves that same question. According to the study’s data, most are in the “researching” phase (65%), where they are becoming aware of AI. A majority are also in the “understanding” phase (56%), where they are actively exploring use cases and technologies. More than a third (34%) say they have entered the “piloting” phase, which is defined by prioritizing, and starting to run, a limited number of quick-win pilot projects.

Despite some data points showing that AI understanding and adoption are rising, 50% of marketers classify themselves as beginners in their understanding of AI terminology and capabilities. In comparison, 37% identify as intermediate.

Interestingly, it’s not that marketers are afraid that AI will take their jobs or pose a real threat. Instead, it’s ignorance that is keeping them from taking advantage of AI’s capabilities. Most see the potential to improve both capabilities and results through the intelligent automation of data-driven, repetitive tasks.

Seventy percent of respondents said the most significant barrier to AI usage is a lack of education and training.

When asked if their organization has any AI-focused education and training, only 14% said yes. So most marketers believe they are on their own to figure AI out.

Where do you fall on the subject of AI? Have you started researching or experimenting? The good news is if you’ve barely scratched the surface or haven’t even started, it’s not too late. Yet.

Like it or not, the age of intelligent automation is here. We need to learn more about it so we can start experimenting and taking advantage of these tools. We may not be behind today. But it isn’t going to take long.

The next couple of columns will dig into how we can begin to experiment, and what others are already doing so we don’t fall behind.


This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Where should you be investing?

December 28, 2021

One of the more interesting realities of 2021 is that many organizations started the year flush with cash, partially because of federal and state support. There was a flurry of spending in the first and second quarters, but it was mostly around infrastructure, staffing and shoring up what was damaged in 2020.

But now that work is done or well underway and it’s time to get back to building the business. Exactly where should you be focused going into 2022?

Existing customers: If 2020 taught us anything, it’s to be grateful for the loyalty of our best customers. Now is the time to reward and reinforce that loyalty. Many organizations are beefing up their rewards programs, client-only perks and privileges, and exclusive access programs.

The most efficient marketing dollar you can spend is on your current clients. They’re receptive to your messages, their referrals pack a potent punch, and it’s easier to get a larger share of wallet than that first dollar.

Your online presence: We cannot deny how critical it is to be findable online and for our clients and prospects to be able to actually connect with us there. The buying patterns were established well before the pandemic, but they were set in stone during the lockdown. Having a robust website and social media presence are table stakes today. It’s almost impossible to compete without it.

But it goes far beyond just having a website. The real investment is time. Time to create content that is valuable to your prospects and clients. Time to engage in conversations in the comments section of LinkedIn or social platforms that are unique to the industries or customers you serve. Time to monitor customer service through your digital platforms.

This needs to command your attention and a decent portion of your budget.

Being findable: It’s not enough to be online if your prospects don’t know you’re there. COVID accelerated the inevitable shifts in the media landscape. Cord-cutting, a move away from traditional media delivered in a traditional way, and more time spent online were all heading our way. They just got here a little faster than some were expecting.

Very few organizations today can avoid investing in being findable. For some, that might be a robust organic SEO strategy. For others, it’s a digital media spend. But despite the recent success of the Field of Dreams game here in Iowa, in marketing, building something does not mean anyone will discover it or show up.

Polish up your brand: Another reinforcement of a powerful marketing tenet was delivered in 2020. Your brand matters. What you stand for and stand up for matters. As we all fight for the attention, respect and love of both our customers and our employees, having a clear understanding of your brand and how you communicate it has never been more vital.

Understanding your brand is just the start. You also need an activation plan. How will you communicate your core values, your vision for the future and your commitments around what matters to you? These can’t just be words on a wall anymore.

We have four months to hit our 2021 goals and set ourselves up for success in 2022. While these four areas are not the end-all and be-all, they are also nonnegotiable. Get these locked down before the end of the year so you can make the first quarter about capitalizing on your advantages, as opposed to teeing them up.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Are post-COVID live events possible?

December 21, 2021

My company recently hosted a live event for 250 people in Chicago. It’s been years in the planning and was originally supposed to be in May of 2020.

It exceeded my every expectation. We sold out the attendee tickets and sponsorship opportunities, and people are already signing up for next year’s offering. The energy at the conference was palpable. People were hungry to be together and connect. They wanted the proximity, but they wanted to do it safely.

You absolutely can do both. We learned a few truths regarding a post-pandemic event that are worth thinking about if there’s an event in your future, either as a host or attendee.

Safety is key: No real surprise there. Some people are still wary of travel and being in larger groups, while others are craving both. We required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event. Ninety-five percent of our attendees were fully vaccinated, and we used a secure third party to verify everyone’s information.

People’s concerns ranged from masks/no masks to indoor versus outdoor dining to how the seating was going to be handled. We did have a small handful of people opt out at the last minute, which we honored with grace.

You are not communicating enough: We thought we had communicated to the point of irritating our audience, but we were wrong. We still got lots of questions and requests for clarifications, and there was an overall hunger for detail. For many of our attendees, speakers and sponsors, this was the first time they’d flown or been at a work event since early 2020. They were very excited, but they were also very nervous. We did a lot more hand-holding than we’ve ever had to do before.

Attendees also wanted to know that other people were attending, so we did a “Countdown to Sold Out,” just to reassure them that they were making the same buying decision that many others were making. It also created some buzz about the scarcity of the tickets, which did help sell it out.

The typical event rules may not apply for a while: There are certain givens, like increasing the price for attendees as you get closer and closer to the event, that are tough to apply right now. Everyone is still living life day to day, and you don’t want to discourage them from deciding at the last minute to join you.

We also splurged on the amenities at the event, especially the food. We wanted everyone to feel well cared for and well nourished, so no continental breakfasts or skimpy snacks. We did a lot of variety and got many compliments that it was the best food anyone had seen at a conference, so it paid off.

Enjoy the extra energy and gratitude: Our attendees, sponsors and speakers were all so happy to be with their colleagues that their enthusiasm bubbled up over the entire event. Everything seemed heightened, like their reactions to the speakers. Even their attentiveness toward the sponsors felt over the top, and of course the sponsors loved it!

That energy also meant we ran a little long on most scheduled activities because it was hard to get them to break it up and move to the next thing. After we realized this trend on day one, we adjusted the schedule slightly for the second day to give everyone a little more connection time and breathing room.

I believe live events are going to come back with a vengeance in 2022. People are hungry for the connection and the normalcy of being together to learn and share. But the game has definitely changed a little. Prepare now and your next event may be your most successful yet.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Do you serve these consumers?

December 14, 2021

In last week’s column, we talked about WGSN’s “Future Consumer 2023” study and the trends that the study revealed. The same study also identified four distinct consumer groups that deserve our attention, each with different desires, motivations, fears and expectations of the brands in their lives.

The first of the four consumer groups is the predictors. Above all else, these consumers want stability, security, comfort and normality. They are looking for a nice, steady experience without a lot of peaks and valleys.

They want to be put at ease and want their lives to be simple and appreciate products and services that help them keep everything on an even keel. Interestingly, they’ve embraced a recessionary mindset, even if their personal finances have not been affected. To make a considered purchase, it needs to feel easy, affordable and incredibly convenient.

Anything unexpected or that causes a ripple in their world is unwelcome. They want minimal interference or disruption in their lives. They also don’t appreciate an overabundance of marketing messages.

And this group – craving certainty and security but low on attention – is a great match for auto-refill and subscription services, which provide security and eliminate choice fatigue, while at the same time offering brands a source of data and a commitment to future purchases.

The next group has been labeled the new Romantics. They are people rethinking their whole work/life balance and making big changes to their lives. We are all seeing these people in the workplace, leaving good jobs to go back to school or stay home with the kids. Determined that their life after the pandemic will be different from how it was before or during the crisis, they’re moving out of cities, ditching their commute, and honoring new priorities built around the importance of family and service.

Their focus is on health, sustainability and equity. These are people who are taking control back and choosing to change their sliver of the world.

Conductors, the third group, are multidimensional, multitalented and always multitasking. Like everyone, the pandemic was hard for them, but these people were able to channel their energy in multiple directions and pursue new opportunities.

They’re now looking to capitalize on what they’ve learned, seeking out new experiences and driving the passion economy, in which people can make a living by doing what they love.

Their workday will remain flexible, with a focus on their output rather than time at their desk.

Finally, the impossibles are the fourth emerging consumer group WGSN has identified. These people are angry at what they see as a lack of governmental and institutional assistance in 2020. They are committed to using technology and their community of like-minded people to create a future in which anything is possible.

They expect businesses to stand for something, are tech-savvy and socially driven, and want to challenge the status quo. They feel the onus is on them to build back better, and it’s in their power to do better for communities around them.

The study also predicted that the next two years will require all businesses to think about a quartet of underlying factors that will reshape the customer landscape, no matter which of these consumer groups they’re dealing with:

  • Predictability – making people’s lives easier and helping them feel safe and secure.
  • Diversification – prioritizing what’s important to people and developing products and services that meet those new needs.
  • Shopper entertainment – using new platforms and experiences to make commerce more exciting.
  • The metaverse – a collective shared space that will change the way people live and work in the future.

This new era is one of opportunity for us as business owners and leaders. We can help shape not only the future of our businesses, but of our communities.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


How COVID has changed consumers

December 7, 2021

Consumers have been indelibly changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but have coped with it in a variety of ways.

There’s no doubt that consumer behaviors have changed in ways that could not have been imagined before the pandemic. As marketers, we need to understand the emotional and functional needs of our audience so we can develop an appropriate strategy in response.

The impact of the pandemic continues to evolve, and consumers are responding with an ever-shifting blend of caution and hope. We’re already seeing how many people are making fundamental changes to their lifestyles as a result of the pandemic, presenting an opportunity for us to create new ways for our brands to show up and earn the consumer’s attention.

The trend-watching company WGSN recently released a study that looked at the impact of COVID-19 on consumers, predicting what we will see in 2023 and beyond. Their report also highlighted four key trends.

A warped sense of time: The pandemic has given most people a warped sense of time. The events that normally define and create boundaries around our weeks, months and years disappeared in 2020, and most people experienced a social jet lag, a disconnect between our internal biological time and the social time of the outside world.

This time warp helped explain some of the yearnings that many displayed, a need for reminders of simpler times. Consumers watched reruns of old TV shows, there was a resurgence in the retro “Mario Kart” game, and a nostalgic desire for things like the comfort foods of our childhood.

Numbness: Many people developed a coping mechanism that was driven by fear and apprehension about what might come next during the global public health emergency. The sense of the pending doom of the unknown was prevalent during much of 2020 and has left its mark.

This numbness is also driving a sense of compassion fatigue – people have come to realize that they can’t solve everything for everyone and are having to choose where to direct their energies.

We’re seeing this in the increase of ad blocking, disconnecting from social media, or “unfollowing” people on Facebook and other social channels, as individuals look for more curated content and to focus on what really matters to them.

Hope: Humans are, at the end of the day, inherently hopeful. We have an infallible belief that things will work out. And despite the numbness we all experienced, there is hope. We see glimmers of it as people emerge from isolation and work hard to get back to the elements of life that meant the most to them pre-pandemic.

This returning optimism is important to people of all generations but is especially critical to the members of Generation Z, because of how deeply their lives were affected and how they literally watched their futures change in an instant when the pandemic struck.

Cautious motivation: This is a trend we need to be particularly mindful of, because if we get it wrong, our messages could fall very badly.

People are taking tentative steps forward into what they’re hoping will quickly become a more normal world, but everyone is going at a different pace. Messaging in this moment can’t be that everything’s wonderful because some aren’t there yet. But we can begin to project a return to the people and experiences we love.

As you begin to think about these trends, remember that it’s expected that they’ll be drivers well into 2023 and beyond. The last 18 months have taken their toll on everyone. The impact is just beginning to show up in how consumers are moving back into the marketplace. If we can demonstrate our understanding now, we’ll earn their trust for years to come.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.