Five 2021 predictions to ignore (or at least take with a pinch of salt)

By Gareth Streeter, Fourteen Forty

Writers of “2021 predictions” lists have indulged the temptation to be both dramatic and definitive.  And they all follow one clear narrative.  Covid will depart.  It will leave behind it a world that is forever changed.

But does the available evidence bear this out?  Or have some of our would-be futurologists over-egged the pudding? 

Here are five predictions that should be taken with a pinch of salt

1. The 2020s will finally “roar” as confidence returns

The prediction: the “roaring 20s” got off to a rough start last year.  But a consumer boom will follow the roll-out of the vaccine as people party, holiday and spend like freedom is going out of fashion.  Even the Bank of England predicts that £100bn worth of “pent up” consumer spending could be unleashed when social distancing ends.

The reality check: 2021 will almost certainly be better than 2020.  But let’s not get carried away.

We’re still at the early stages of the vaccine roll-out.  Government continually refuses to name a date for the lifting of restrictions.  There will always be a risk that new Covid variants, resistant to the vaccine, hits British shores.

Yes, it probably is mostly uphill from here.  But I for one, will not be dusting off my dancing shoes any time soon. 

2. No return to offices

The prediction: we will never return to offices.  Why put workers through the commute and lumber employers with an expensive overhead?   We’ve all proved that working from home is a success.  

The reality check: offices will change, but it’s too early to kiss them goodbye.

Forecasts that enthusiastically predict the demise of physical workspaces tend to be penned by people well into their careers.   They are established in their trade and dwell in decent family homes. 

But do their younger colleagues share the enthusiasm?  They have spent the last year perched on the edge of a single bed in a crowded flatshare.   

Yes, we probably won’t ever revert to 2019’s setup.  But it can’t be as cut and dry as some anticipate.  Full time working from home makes it difficult to train youngsters, build teams and get new starters up to speed.   

Some form of hybrid arrangement will emerge. 

3. Employers will prioritise ethics and social good

The prediction: amid the biggest, and scariest, public health crisis in a generation, we have all finally stated to care.  As we go back to “normal” we’re going to expect more from employers.  Businesses will have to ramp up their commitment to ethics and social responsibility

The reality check: maybe.  But it misses the point.

Employers had a good crisis.  Despite the odd horror story, evidence demonstrates that businesses acted quicker than governments to protect the people in their care.  At the height of the crisis, people trusted pandemic-related guidance from their employers more than government.

Was all this only achieved because employers were forced to dust off their ethical management policies and tick a few boxes?  Or is it possible that many employers are quite decent, caring people?  The crisis didn’t cause companies to discover their ethics.  It gave them a chance to demonstrate them.   

Employers must be mindful of the wellbeing of staff and the wider world.  But they will also be busy getting productivity and profits back on track. 

4. The innovators will be the thrivers

The prediction: future consumer habits remain a mystery.  The companies that use “big data” to monitor changes in behaviour and shift their offer rapidly will be those that thrive.

Reality check: it’s never the super-quick innovators that thrive. 

From the dot com boom to the smartphone revolution, the first flurries of innovation rarely stand the test of time.  When was the last time you searched for something on Aliweb?  And how often do you reach for your IBM smartphone? 

Of course, companies need to respond to circumstances.  Often quickly.  But businesses need to develop a model that reflects deeper consumer changes.  Not one that blindly follows an initial burst of trigger-happy consumerism. 

5. Marketing budgets will be slashed

The prediction: Global chief marketing officers (CMOs) are preparing to tighten belts in 2021.  Marketing spend is a variable cost that can be scaled back quickly if tough times lie ahead.

Reality check: we’ve had downturns before.  Marketers can always secure budgets for activities with demonstrable outcomes.

Businesses will continue to invest in digital marketing and there are signs that spending on outdoor campaigns is beginning to recover.

Marketing that brings results will attract investment.  The onus will be marketers to make the link between campaigns and the bottom line of the business.   

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