How Warc sees 2020 playing out for marketers

The company's annual guide expects to see AI gain further traction and data privacy become even more important for brands.

As 2019 begins to wind down, Warc is looking ahead to the new decade. The advertising and media effectiveness company has unveiled its annual marketers’ toolkit exploring the trends that it believes are set to dominate next year.

The ninth edition of the annual report explores five drivers of change – society, tech, economy, industry and policy – a few of which are explored below. Warc’s guide is based on a survey of 800 senior client and agency-side practitioners around the world, as well as interviews with a group of CMOs, Warc data and industry experts.

Brand purpose morphs into brand activism

Brand purpose has emerged as a big theme from the last year, as companies respond to conscious consumerism and concerns over privacy. Next year, Warc expects to see brand purpose continue to evolve into brand activism along these two fronts.

Today, more than 75% of marketers agree that brands need to take a stand on social issues, and privacy and environmental concerns are expected to have the most influence on marketing strategies, with 87% and 84% respectively saying it’s either quite important or very important to their business, followed closely by the “low attention economy” at 83%.

When it comes to addressing environmental concerns, 57% of those surveyed plan to focus their efforts on “changes in corporate culture and processes,” while 47% expect to change the way they communicate those efforts. As consumers become more discerning about environmental claims, brands will continue auditing their packaging, assessing their supply chains and implementing “recycling by design.”

AI gains, voice wanes 

Hype around the potential of consumer tech appears to be waning as brands approach further tech investments with more caution next year. In fact, according to Warc, most respondents to the survey agreed that brands have “over-invested in tech at the expense of creativity.”

The firm sums up marketers’ thoughts on emerging tech this way: “Artificial intelligence gains traction, but no sign yet of a voice revolution.”

Heading into 2020, they’re prioritizing AI the most (83% consider it either very or quite important to their business or their clients), followed by payment tech (75%), chatbots (77%) and live video (74%). 5G mobile tech (65%) is being viewed as an “enabler of other technology.” Meanwhile, after two years of hype, voice continues to have limited traction, with a greater proportion of marketers rating it as “not important” than “very important” to their business.

Brands take “privacy-first” approach to data

Data privacy is “one of the most important global themes for marketers in 2020,” according to Warc, which finds that it continues to trend as a target of regulation and a growing consumer demand.

The introduction of the California Consumer Privacy Act in January 2020 – which, like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, limits companies on what they can collect, store, use and share when it comes to customer data – is already forcing brands and media owners to reexamine their data management practices. Forty-five percent of Warc respondents said they expect to face tighter regulation next year, with data privacy being the primary reason.

The changes will pose organizational challenges, but they also present an opportunity for brands to position themselves as proponents of “privacy-first” approaches to data collection to consumers who are increasingly wary of how their information is used.

Overall, 86% of respondents believe “big tech firms should be subject to greater regulation,” and 66% of them strongly agree that consumers will take greater control of their data in 2020.