As we wrap up an eventful 2023, this is a great time to reflect on our cultural touchstones and what we talked about the most. What continues to link generations? Where do the paths diverge and why? And how do companies and brands draw on these issues to better position themselves to appeal to audiences and customers?

The Worldcom Confidence Index (WCI) is an indispensable business tool that provides global and local insights from over 100,000 C-suite executives and sheds light on brands' and consumers' deeper motivations and aspirations. It is AI-powered, collecting data in real-time, so users can track trends, topics, and issues year over year.

Here’s a look back at what we couldn’t stop talking about in 2023.

The most powerful tool to fight misinformation? Authentic engagement.

In a “post-COVID-19” world, we are still hungry for human connection but have been hardened by political tribalism, fake news, bots, and the new normal of polarization. Brands that once reliably engaged with audiences on social media must pivot to a new strategy. What’s old is new again. The way to create trust is to engage with real people. We’re getting back to the basics with storytelling and demonstrating authenticity and empathy, both internally and externally.

AI is never going away, ever.

We can sum this section up in one word: ChatGPT. For better or worse, 2023 opened new conversations about advanced technologies, including copyright laws, plagiarism, academia, and so much more.

Some people want to preserve our planet. Others just want to talk about it.

Perhaps the apocalyptic news about global warming is resonating. Brands have finally gotten the hint that consumers are really paying attention to their sustainability efforts. We are long past the days of performative CSR and social media posts celebrating Earth Day. In 2023, addressing climate change became a mandate.

DEI: we’re not quite there yet.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has remained the most talked about topic in the WCI, which is a positive sign. However, talking and writing about it doesn’t always equate to action. Too many companies and brands still treat DEI initiatives as a box to be checked off. Collectively, we have a lot of work in front of us to take systemic change from idea to action.

We’re using data to make smarter decisions.

In 2023, data was the ‘compass’ guiding brands toward more meaningful connections. Insight-driven campaigns emerged, not merely to follow trends, but to create them. In leveraging sophisticated data analytics tools, brands didn't just send messages. They started meaningful conversations. They used these insights to understand consumer pain points and desires, ensuring every piece of content was both timely and timeless.

Here are some trends and issues we are keeping an eye on in 2024.

Polarization is accelerating ethical consumerism.

As author and speaker, Simon Sinek, often says, “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” People will put their money where their beliefs are. The new normal of polarization has forced consumers to be more discerning about what brands they align with. This is another salvo fired in the ongoing culture wars. There are now “conservative brands” and “woke brands.”

The era of one-size-fits-all marketing is behind us.

In 2024, brands will dive deep into understanding individual consumer journeys. Advanced AI and machine learning will play pivotal roles in curating experiences that feel personal and intimate. Expect to see more personalized product recommendations based on past behaviors and content, recommendations that are tailored to individuals. Say goodbye to generic e-newsletters.

Immersive experiences are no longer just a novel distraction.

The metaverse is “on pause” (for now), but VR and AR continue the long march toward broad adoption. In 2024, those acronyms will no longer just be buzzwords or one-and-done marketing promotions. Now that AI has entered the picture, expect a renewed push from Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Apple to revive interest in these emerging technologies. Adventurous brands will look for points of differentiation and consumers will get to be more comfortable with these technologies.

Brands will direct marketing efforts to employees.

Leveraging employees to serve as brand ambassadors is hardly a novel approach. But the motivations will be different in 2024. Paid media and marketing have become so expensive, it’s difficult for companies to justify paying social media influencers, running Google PPC campaigns, and other tactics. It’s more cost-efficient to leverage employees, incentivize them to promote products and services, and spotlight them. The most authentic and compelling narratives often come from employees, adding in turn, layers of trust and authenticity. That being said, this approach only works when employees are treated respectively, compensated fairly, and excited to contribute.

Brevity in storytelling: how much shorter it can get?

While we have even more platforms and channels on which to convey our stories, our audiences’ attention span is still dwindling. In 2024 we will see brands (attempting to) master the art of even-more-concise storytelling. They will rely on potent visuals, powerful headlines, and micro-content to deliver messages in seconds while leaving a lasting impression. Simply put, in a world buzzing with information, less will be more.

A Bright Horizon

In the world of PR and marketing, change is the only constant. It’s important to be clear-eyed and realistic about the challenges yet, stay optimistic and excited. Next year promises a landscape where brands don't just sell, but inspire; don't just advertise, but connect; and don't just exist, but leave a lasting legacy. It's about connection, purpose, and crafting narratives that resonate at a human level.

Stefan Pollack

Stefan Pollack is President of The Pollack Group, a partner agency of the Worldcom Public Relations Group, and is an Adjunct Professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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