2022: New Normal, or Not Normal?

Finn Raben, Director General at ESOMAR muses about what 2022 has in store for insights and analytics professionals.
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Finn and Joaquim standing and ready to speak
Date 6 January
Author Finn Raben
cartoon

Recently, I – like many of you – received multiple requests for a series of 2022 predictions or forecasts, and so in considering that which I have heard, thought or discussed in recent weeks, I thought I’d “centralise” them into one collection!
As these are predictions, any fallibility in their ultimate realization is entirely possible!!

Firstly, I do believe that the ever-present wish to “return to normal” is a pipe-dream.
Rishad Tobaccowala – a speaker at one of our conferences last year – clearly stated that there would be no return to normal, nor a new normal, but rather a new “abnormal”. I have great sympathy for this view, as much of our personal, corporate and societal life has been irrevocably changed in the past two years, and – in my opinion – will continue to need to evolve.

Society

“Beat the virus”

I do not believe we will ever “beat” the virus. We must learn to live with the virus, as we do with influenza or other comparable and 'combatible' diseases. Government messages that centre on “beating” the virus are simply an illustration of a lack of foresight by that legislature; we will need improved healthcare systems (which will require infrastructure investment), we will require more frequent vaccination (necessitating more medical R&D investment), and we will need to stop thinking of “me” and return to thinking of “us”.

This latter point of needing to focus more on “us” instead of “me”, is relevant in a number of ways….

  1. No-one is vaccinated until all of us are. Variants thrive in unvaccinated hosts, and so while a substantial part of the global community remains unvaccinated, new variants will continue to appear and will continue to impact upon our lives (as the influenza virus does). The developed world will have to do more to provide medical resources and support to lesser developed countries, and debates/messaging will need to shift from “the right to choose” to “how can we better protect our neighbours”

  2. Threats – medical, military or just metaphysical – promote the “circling of wagons”. This results in populism, propaganda and in extreme cases, xenophobia. The problems of the world will not be solved by us retreating behind borders, and we do need to restore and promote transnational cooperation and collaboration. Research – and Social Polling – can and should play an important part in facilitating this restoration.

On a more positive note, lockdowns have – for many – restored a desire to be close to dear ones, and to help facilitate better circumstances for all… this renewed focus on purpose provides legislatures and leaders with a unique “asset” that they can leverage to restore a common “good”.

Business

“Remote” will be the theme, the challenge and the opportunity for all businesses in 2022.
Many countries already have a tradition of remote employees, but probably not on the scale that the pandemic has confronted us with.

There are three key components to fulfilling the “remote” opportunity:

  1. Ensuring your co-workers have the facility to work some time from home, or “remotely”;

  2. Ensuring your office space(s) facilitate and promote a congregation of staff when needed;  and...

  3. That “remote” means “as your co-workers wish”, and not “distant/unconnected”.

There is an additional benefit to “remote” (if the above three elements are catered for), which is that no company now needs to feel “constricted” by physical boundaries or borders... rather, talent (and business opportunity) can be found anywhere, which, with good connectivity and communications, opens up a whole new series of advantages and benefits.

Research and Insights

Within our Community of Interest – and to finish with a further theme of “three” – I believe the following will hold true for our profession:

  1. Customer centricity and customer experience will lie at the heart of successful businesses.
    The home – either by choice or by lockdown – has become a much more significant focal point of our lives, facilitating work, education, shopping and entertainment as never before.  In that context, the (successful) delivery of customer service, co-worker support or simple brand experience (and perceived brand purpose) at distance will become ever more central to business success.

  2. With an increase in “remote” work, the adoption of self-serve platforms will continue to accelerate. The key with all such implementations, however, is ensuring that the users have an appropriate understanding of the research or data requirements behind it. There is no point in offering users a button to push which provides a “conjoint analysis”, unless the user knows when and what such an analysis requires, and when and why is it appropriate?


    This brings with it two important consequences…i) there will continue to be a desire to invest into good data systems and insight engines, which will mean our sector should remain attractive to PE and VC firms; and ii) companies implementing platforms will have an important training need that we can and should support, as more knowledgeable users of research will be more powerful advocates of research!

  3. Lastly, we will continue to see a resurgence in people’s demand for, and appreciation of, Codes of Conduct and respect for data. Yes, data is a key asset for all companies and services, but when it comes to customers, consumers or citizens, each data point represents an individual, whose data we MUST respect. In the context of the ever more widespread use, application (and criticism!) of machine learning, A.I. and automated decision systems, this WILL BE the unique discriminator between “good” and “bad” systems. As a result, membership of organisations such as ours will become increasingly important for both suppliers and users of insights, as it represents a comprehensive appreciation of, and respect for, the proper use of an incredible business asset.

I look forward to any other views on the near future, and in the meantime, I wish everyone a safer, healthier and happier 2022.

Finn Raben
ESOMAR Staff, Director General at ESOMAR