2024 Predictions for Communications, Brands and Reputations

With 2024 likely to be a transformative and risk-rich year for brands and corporates, adept communications will be non-negotiable to maintain a strategic advantage. Amid rapid technological change and market volatility, businesses will need to stay attuned to the latest innovations and societal expectations to build trust and brand value. In this dynamic landscape, Sefiani presents our predictions for the pivotal communications trends that will define success for brands and organisations in the year ahead.

1. Reputation management will be more important than ever

Brand Finance’s recent Australia 100 2024 rankings affirmed the direct link between brand value, brand strength, and reputation health. Organisations who ignore this reality will do so at their peril. Consumers, investors and employees will increasingly scrutinise the morals and ethics of brands, putting companies under the microscope for alignment with their own values.

Advances in AI, online data monitoring, sentiment tracking, and predictive analysis will empower swift action for companies to address and defuse emerging issues, hopefully before they escalate into a crisis and threaten reputations.

Following the spectacular public ‘fails’ in 2023, which led some brands and corporate reputations to suffer immeasurably as a result, 2024 will bring a heightened focus on the role of the CEO in a crisis. Organisations will likely be tested by high-profile cyber-attacks and customer privacy breaches that will inevitably occur in the year ahead, prompting communicators to swiftly assess when and how their CEO must step up and be accountable for their organisations.

2. The AI conversation will evolve, and communications roles will become more fulfilling and high-value

The rise of AI has dominated media discourse and filled many with both enthusiasm and apprehension. In 2024 a more pragmatic shift will occur as many organisations integrate AI into their business models, seeking innovative solutions and developing new business paradigms.

The ‘productivity versus job losses’ debate will continue, but for communications practitioners, AI is likely to transform the sector positively. Global research conducted by GitHub (a client of Sefiani) underscores this positive outlook, revealing that individual workers, when paired with an AI ‘copilot’ demonstrated a 55% increase in task completion speed and reported heightened job satisfaction. This enhancement stems, in part, from the ability to concentrate on higher-value work and bodes well for the communications sector, particularly at junior levels where roles are poised to become more fulfilling.

In parallel, Nobel Prize-winning labor market economist, Christopher Pissarides, recently warned younger generations against an exclusive focus on STEM subjects leading to careers in computer science and technology which will in the future be replaced by AI. Instead, he predicts, in the long term, creative and empathetic skills, including communications, will likely remain in high demand as they are less replaceable by technology and AI.

3. As democracy faces its ‘biggest test’, brands may feel pressure to pick a side

This year will be the most significant on record for democracy globally, with over four billion people voting in upcoming elections held in the United States, India, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mexico, and the European Union.

As democracy becomes increasingly polarised and political discussions grow ever more tense, misinformation will continue to exacerbate political divides. In 2024, this impact will be heightened by readily available AI-generated fakes, posing a more significant challenge for journalists to deliver accurate reporting. In these tumultuous times, the demand for credible journalism and reliable news sources will surge, becoming an indispensable lifeline for discerning readers navigating information chaos.

Organisations may face increasing pressures to align with an ideological side, driven by employees and consumers seeking brands that mirror their values. Navigating this landscape will become more complex as fake information emerges to escalate political tensions maliciously. Effectively managing these challenges will elevate communicators to strategic decision-making roles.

Depending on the outcome of these elections there is a risk that by the end of 2024, the world will become less inclusive and more conservative. However, recent elections in Brazil and Taiwan have showcased that progressive values can still prevail, with space remaining for leaders who unite rather than divide, offering a glimmer of hope amid uncertainty.

4. Sustainability communicators will have to work harder and smarter to build trust

In 2024, the role of communications in advancing sustainability will be more challenging and critical than ever. Brands rising to the challenge will, however, seize a genuine opportunity to influence real and lasting positive change.

Last year, regulators declared war on greenwashing, and scrutiny of sustainability communications reached new heights. Unfortunately, this regulatory pressure was not the antidote that many had hoped for, with greenwashing remaining rife within corporate Australia, according to Influence Map’s Corporate Climate Policy Engagement in Australia. Too many companies continue to fall into one of two groups – greenwashers and greenhushers – and both are holding back progress and weakening consumer trust. Those communications with an adept understanding of sustainability, conveying their organisation’s actions and progress with accuracy, accountability, and authenticity, will play a key role in closing this trust gap.

Brands can wield significant influence in shaping eco-conscious behaviours and purchasing decisions, even at a time when ‘cozzie livs’ keep purse strings tight. Consumers will increasingly rely on brands to guide them toward sustainable choices.

Despite the heightened awareness of climate change, many corporations still fall short of net-zero and sustainability goals. Over the next six years, urgent action is required to accelerate progress towards sustainability, necessitating communicators to steer companies away from greenwashing and motivate the public to contribute to a cleaner, greener, and more equitable society.

5. Consumers will continue to demand greater transparency and authenticity from brands

As we continue to move through this decade of cultural, social, technological, and political transformation, organisations and brands face increased unpredictability. For businesses that may have traditionally had an inward focus on profit and growth, there is now no choice but to look outwards – to listen and be ready to engage quickly, regardless of the communication channel.

Whether a B2B or a B2C brand, there will be continued pressure on organisations to demonstrate value for audiences now and in the future, while constantly innovating.

As last year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity showcased, the pendulum has swung back to investment in brand building and awareness. Audiences want to be engaged across all touchpoints and seek content that cuts through all the smart marketing technology in favour of authentic, creative and humorous communication. Campaigns from brands like Heinz are playing up brand’s iconic nature and having fun while evolving their relevance across audience groups and topics from the cost of living to small business and ketchup imitations.

Measuring the impact of long-term brand building will remain a focus. Measurement must go beyond share of voice to track how engagement is converted into action.

6. Slaying the corporate jargon dragon in favour of simpler and more transparent communication

Will 2024 be the year that corporate jargon dies? Probably not, but it’s likely to decline in favour of simple language in the workplace – particularly in internal communications.

From the Australian Financial Review’s annual Eye-Roll Awards for the most painful new jargon to emerge in corporate Australia, to the rise of thousands of social media influencers skewering corporate culture and language like TikTok’s Corporate Erin, it appears that a shared sense of exasperation with office buzzwords is growing. A 2023 global report from LinkedIn found 40% of workers have had a misunderstanding or made a mistake at work because they did not understand workplace jargon.

Anyone who has sat through earnest discussions about “the best way to move the needle” on their company’s “most critical pain points” – “finding new avenues of growth-hacking”, while not “boiling the ocean” – will understand!

While discontent around jargon grows, companies will do well to take a closer look at their internal communications and cut out anything that feels coded or unnecessarily complicated. Speaking plainly and openly to your staff is likely to improve corporate culture, increase trust and avoid misunderstandings at work.

And with that, we’ll close the loop on our predictions for 2024. Perhaps we’ll circle back on how they played out next year.

Street road with arrow pointing and the year 2024