Interrogative on Predictions

’Tis the season for forecasts and predictions about the coming year. Everyone seems to have an opinion about what can or should happen in the communications and marketing world.

Very little of it ever comes true.

Sure, there have been loads of recommendations for using new gimmicks or tools, usually coming from the folks who’ll happily provide those services to you (or profit from covering them when you pay others to do the work). But, more broadly, the world next year will look a lot like it does this year: the details will be different, as will the events that precipitate our collective joys or woes, but people will remain the same.

Here are three questions you might want to ask of a prediction before you decide it’s legit (or go to work trying to make it so):

First, does it challenge basic truths of human nature? People, and our psychological subsets called “consumers,” have been acting the same ways for the same reasons since time began. Customers shopping online today are driven by the same needs, interests, aspirations, limitations, and fears as they were when they visited medieval marketplaces. Digital might condition us to actuate ourselves differently, but it doesn’t change us.

That means if a forecast suggests otherwise, it’s either foolish or purposely a lie. Your customers won’t stop being curious or judgmental (or whatever) next year. They won’t want content from you that doesn’t address their needs, and they won’t want to change whatever imaginary relationships your brand evangelists wish existed between them and your business. You need to be relevant to their purchase decision making in 2022 and not to tangential or unrelated issues. Your “purpose” will remain to sell them stuff.

Put your money on people being people, just like always.

Second, does it sound too good to be true? It’s less a prediction than a certainty that there will be more opportunities for you to pay for publication of your content, as established and novel platforms have figured out how to monetize their brand names (why try to earn coverage in so-and-so media if you can buy it by producing a TikTok video?), delivering glossy reports that make your internal stakeholders feel important.

Such “paid media” is really advertising only without the creativity, purchase decision-relevant content (see Point #1 above), or accountability. Views aren’t purchases.

Next year will challenge you to uncover and present content that could get in front of your customers because of its credibility and merit, and gives them information that’s so timely and useful to them that they’d be willing to pay for it if they had to instead of relying on you buying their attention. Promised shortcuts will continue to be too good to be true.

Third, why are you interested in it? Another eternal truth of human nature is that keeping our jobs is always a component of our jobs, regardless of the other outcomes of our work. For some of us, it’s the primary driver of every decision, while others seem to exhibit at least an occasional disregard for their job security. The pandemic has moved millions of people to explore and reconsider how this tension plays out in their careers.

It’s through this lens that you’re seeing every forecast for what’s on tap for next year. It’s a bias, too, that makes things seem more or less relevant to you and will impact what you do in 2022.

Why and how you interpret and apply predictions is far more important than any of the predictions themselves. What are you trying to accomplish next year? Why do you think it’s right for you and/or for your business?

Making a forecast for your own motivations and goals is probably loads more important to your success than any blather about the near-future of communications or marketing.

Happy New Year!

By Jonathan Salem Baskin

I'm a writer, musician, and science junkie.