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On our minds – and on your radar

What should companies watch out for as this year unfurls? Marie Stafford at WPP’s Wunderman Thompson Intelligence bundles up dozens of trends into five key ‘watch outs’ for 2023

“Resilience, innovation and joy in the face of continued hardship,” is Wunderman Thompson Intelligence’s prophesy for 2023, according to ‘The Future 100: Trends and Change to Watch in 2023’. It is no accident that Pantone’s colour choice for 2023 is Viva Magenta – that says it all: vibrant and optimistic. However, the challenges are real – and the analysis of them well told – but there is so much else to embolden and inspire brands, both in the near-term and in the future.

Consumers under pressure

Shifting consumer priorities are very real. The cost-of-living crisis, compounded by the energy crisis and inflationary pressures are having a tangible impact on people’s – and businesses’ – behaviours, spending capacity and brand choices. “This calls for brands to align with an approach we call ‘adaptive resilience’,” says Stafford. “Individuals and businesses are making different choices now, they are having to adapt, dig deep and become more resourceful.”

In fact, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence is detecting – across the board – consumer fortitude and stoicism in the face of uncertainty, and consumers are adopting make-do-and-mend mindsets to prolong the lifespan of material goods so they can cut back and embrace the circular economy.

“From the brand point of view, we're advocating allyship. How can you help people not just cope financially, but also navigate some of the problems they're facing?” she asks. “Can you offer advice? Is it about education? Is it about those helpful hacks that can help consumers find ways to save energy, not just save money; or can you help consumers use their existing purchases for longer?” There is also a huge surge in demand for mending services. “This all adds up from the long-term brand loyalty point of view,” says Stafford.

“But people also need positivity and uplift when they are having to work so hard to keep afloat. This is a key part of resilience. It is important for brands to remain positive and optimistic, and for them to demonstrate playfulness and fun. It is what we call the ‘joyconomy’,” she says. “Much of the joyconomy is driven by wellbeing – in particular mental wellbeing, balance and the ability to cope. This is a time for all brands to think about how they can support in this way.”

Workplace 2.0

Workplace 2.0 has been thrust upon us by the pandemic and continues to dominate the way in which we live and work. “It’s been a waiting game,” says Stafford. “We have been waiting to see how things play out – this has been a period of reflection and experimentation. One of the trends we are talking about this year is nonlinear work, which is where people want to not only work remotely, but also set their own timetables to fit work around lifestyles. And we're starting to see technology being developed to support that.”

She continues: “There is also a new group of consumers called ‘super commuters’ who split their week across two locations. And again, there are services and technologies emerging to support that. There is also the re-appearance of retired people in the workforce. We're seeing the idea of retirement as being quite outdated and this brings with it a potential cohort of talent that’s not been tapped into in any significant way previously.”

Meanwhile, an artisan wave is rising in response to the desire for work to be increasingly aligned with lifestyle and values, and to satisfy a desire to make something tangible. “We're also seeing start-ups founded by marginalised communities, and we’re seeing them growing well. In those cases, the motivation is meeting the needs of a community – but this is, nevertheless, another type of entrepreneurship we’re seeing alongside artisanship.” Both these developments are putting pressure on workplaces.

Tech is moving at lightning speed

“We’re in the midst of epoch-defining changes in technology,” says Stafford. The noise around generative AI, the metaverse and Web3 is intense, and yet some of these technologies are still at a very early stage – perhaps years away from maturity. “There's so much that we'll still need to evolve before we can really start to harness their true potential,” she says.

“However, we are seeing a lot more brands experimenting with metaverse technologies. They are trying to understand how to use these spaces and platforms for immersive engagement. We're also seeing consumers dabble more.”

And a decentralised internet – Web3 – is on a march. It will potentially be tied to the blockchain and have democracy at its heart (consumers will also be creators, and they will also own their personal data and creations, which they can potentially monetise). “It will be interesting to see consumers go from just looking and buying to creating, owning and earning,” she says.

Climate, nature and a better society

“Concern over climate, despite all these other trends, continues to dominate companies’ and individuals’ thinking,” says Stafford. “We hypothesised that, during the pandemic and all these other crises, the welfare of the planet might slip down the agenda – and that didn’t happen. The level of concern is now almost universal.” In fact, the cost-of-living crisis plays nicely into arguments in favour of the circular economy, conscientious consumption and the elimination of food waste.

“But we are also seeing companies raising the bar on their carbon commitments, and what it means to be a leader in this space has been redefined,” she says. “The consumer piece has also advanced, particularly in relation to Gen Z and Millennials whose consumption is actively influenced by brands’ climate and nature performance.”

There is also more climate anxiety coming from this cohort too – especially at the younger end of the spectrum – but there is a new movement that focuses on optimism, and positivity. “These ‘climate optimists’ are doing something positive and practical, to make a difference and move the dial. There’s a huge opportunity to co-create, collaborate, connect and build communities,” says Stafford. “We haven't seen many businesses doing this yet but there is plenty of potential to do so.”

People, equality and equity

Finally, we get to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. “People, whether they are consumers or employees, want to see inclusion meaningfully implemented by businesses, in their products and services, in the environments they create, through to workplace culture, as well as the way in which they do business,” says Stafford. “No matter who the stakeholder, treating people fairly is important.”

So many of the trends identified as important for 2023 incorporate thinking on DEI and accessibility “And we're seeing it reflected in in the decisions businesses are making about their supply chains and who they collaborate with,” says Stafford. “We're also seeing a lot of innovation around making physical spaces more welcoming and accessible.”

She is adamant – and this came through in the research – that DEI and accessibility initiatives cannot be treated as projects – they have to be ongoing commitments and part of the overall sustainability agenda. “After all,” she says, “when we talk about saving the planet, what we really mean is that humanity is at stake. We cannot deprioritise that.”

Marie Stafford

Wunderman Thompson Intelligence

published on

28 February 2023


Experience Technology & innovation

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