Charting the future of public relations
The Future Starts Tomorrow
Holmes Report
Holmes Report
News and insights from the global PR industry

The Future Starts Tomorrow

Trigger’s advisers have travelled the world with one aim in mind: to bring home the most important trends within PR, communications, marketing and technology.

Holmes Report

Last autumn Trigger’s advisers have travelled the world with one aim in mind: to bring home the most important trends within PR, communications, marketing and technology, to give valuable insight and help define new areas of development for the future. We have taken part in AdTech in New York, LeWeb in Paris, Wired Conference, Content Marketing Summit and iStrategy in London, Conference on Internal Communication in Vienna and we have exchanged experiences with Anomaly in New York and Volontaire in Stockholm.

We have boiled down all these experiences into 11 development traits which we think will put a stamp on our work with PR, communication and marketing in the near future.

1. Consumer and people movements: Single efforts lose impact. It is consumers and new movements that will create change and make an impact on the media landscape of the future. To generate movements that engage the target audience into activity by creating conversations will become one of the key areas for communicators and marketers in the coming years.

If the target audience engages with the communication then the credibility barrier usually faced in traditional advertising will be significantly reduced. That’s when friends will listen, ask questions and share experiences.

Once this movement is established, all the other tools can still also be used. That may be content marketing in owned media, PR work in earned media or advertising in paid for media. The difference lies in how these tools are deployed. Rather than focusing on messages and tasks per channel, it will be possible to focus on how each channel can build one movement bigger and stronger over time.

2. The mobile conversation: There is no doubt about it, mobile platforms will play a crucial role in reaching out to the target audience in the future. That a lot of people still struggle to use mobile phones as a communications and marketing platform is also obvious.

According to Buzzfeed’s founder Jonah Peretti, great opportunities exist for those who manage to be a part of the mobile conversation. Buzzfeed launched in 2006. In August 2013 they had 85 million unique visitors a month. Peretti gives the ’bored at work’ users a great deal of the honour for Buzzfeed’s success, but recently the ’bored in a queue’ users on mobile platforms have become a much bigger part of the user group. Peretti explains that content not optimised for mobile space loses half of the potential viewers. He has noticed that the majority of those visiting Buzzfeed via mobile platforms arrive from social networks, and he thinks this is a sign that the internet is adapting.

News which is ’shared’ has become a more important way for people to gain information, rather than today’s active search behaviour. It is even more important to work to become an integrated part of the target audience’s own conversations. Conversations which increasingly take place on the mobile phone.

3. Owned media becomes mass media: To grow with a focus on strong content in owned channels has almost become the default for most big businesses. Content marketing has moved from being an additional activity to becoming a key strategic focus area.

Developing quality content is nothing new in itself. Giving people more of what they want, and less of what you want to give them, is the mantra that will leave its stamp on content marketing going forward. Content is still king but technology has given us two important partners called context and distribution. Even if the content is of a high quality, if it has been badly distributed with the wrong context then it is nothing other than spam.

The combination of good content and the clever use of technology with insight into the distribution work, will be the key to success in the future. Those who succeed turn their own media into mass media. This gives them a great competitive edge for the future.

At Trigger we have seen the powerful synergy of working holistically by exploiting the interaction between owned and earned media. We increasingly find that editors are writing more about issues that started off as commercial chat on social media. This offers exciting possibilities which we recommend should be looked at in long term PR work.

4. Social identity building: Digital users don’t share just anything. They consciously select content which builds their personal identity and profile in a desired way. Jonah Peretti from Buzzfeed confirms how important it is to develop content which gives users the opportunity to build their own identity, in order to create a viral success. Users don’t share the content of a page just because they like it, they share it to build contacts with other people.

Beside the need to strengthen social bonds the sharing is about confirming one’s own identity. ‘you share a post and people don’t just want to laugh and share the post further, they want to understand you’, says Peretti. Therefore there’s a lot of content which is popular online, but will never go viral – such as naked images of Rihanna. ‘you want to share what you are proud of sharing and show your personality’ says Peretti. He is absolutely right, and this is something anyone who works in marketing and communication needs to consider carefully when developing content concepts for social media. 

5. Documenting impact in new areas: Eventually, as the ongoing content marketing hype calms down, the need to document impact arises. It is not a simple thing to isolate the impact of the work that needs doing, as there are multiple touch points with consumers, and the road to a purchase decision is long.

To succeed with content marketing, it is necessary to plan long term and to be willing to invest in everything from strategy work, content development and distribution to work on innovation. Resources must be set aside to monitor, listen and document the impact to have a constant understanding of what works and be able to improve a little every single day. Therefore a need to document impact in new areas arises, so that those who are brave enough to act develop knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work.

6. Authenticity to break the sound barrier: ‘The culture of advertising has been corrupted. It is about overselling and promise as much as possible for them to deal with everything as it happens’. These words belong to Yancey Strickler, one of Kickstarters founders, who has created a universe of sharing where people are honest and treat each other as equals. He thinks authenticity will become more and more important in all contexts going forward. He is not alone in thinking that.

The world we live in is becoming more and more transparent. This is why secrecy, over-selling and lies work have even less impact than previously. People can see through the marketing profession’s preference for self-promotion. They don’t belive in advertising messages anymore, and they have built up a shield to protect themselves against the advertising boasting in all channels. To reach the right audience you have to offer real content which is adapted to the audience and the situation they are in.

Rather than letting the message disturb the audience, an increasing number will want to focus on creating content which is so strong that the users seek it out themselves. Even more brands and businesses will therefore want to establish themselves in digital communities such as Tumblr, Vimeo and SoundCloud. It is resource intensive and demands its own understanding of the channel, but the benefit is to be seen as part of the community and therefore reach a believable and authentic position with a real opportunity to influence and change brand perception and reputation – as long as the content is good enough.

7. The internet of things: We’re tired of saying it, but we can’t escape the fact that it will be a major part of our lives in the coming years: the internet of things. Wearables. Health tech. Clever-anything-gadgets. Context aware devices and services. Google Glass will enter the market in 2014, so will Apple’s iWatch. If you find a gadget that hasn’t been connected to the internet by the end of 2014, you can be sure that someone will want to connect it to your mobile very soon. Your shirt, your smoke alarm, dog, baby, car – everything is connected to become context relevant and smarter. More of everything, but less of what people don’t need or wish to have.

The development gives everyone who works with communication and marketing new possibilities, but to succeed - courage to try and fail is required. Those who are the bravest will learn the most and be the ones able to implement new technology quickest. Whilst those still focusing on security risk to be left behind on the platform when the techno train whizzes past.

8. From big data to big relevance: As digital consumers we give away more and more data about ourselves and our own behavious and consumer patterns. Technology, data and marketing melt together in a new reality where the consumers expect content which to a greater extent than ever is adapted exactly to them. Just think of film and music recommendations you get through Netflix and Spotify, the restaurant recommendations you get based on geodata and how web adverts are adapted to your Google searches. We go from ‘big data’ to ‘big relevance’.

We will see more differentiated content adapted to different platforms in the near future. We are currently too concerned about volume. If you do the right segmentation you get communication with better impact. It will become more important to look at the type of content suited to different platforms. We have to be brave enough to be selective in the choice of channels, and not be present everywhere to create engagement.

9. From employees to brand activists: In several businesses internal communication is still about making sure the employees are informed. If a story has been published on the intranet the job is done. This doesn’t create engagement. This doesn’t create ambassadors. It hardly creates informed employees.

The time is more than ripe to take the employees seriously in communication and marketing work. It is about time to transfer the way we communicate in social media to internal communication. It is through engaging internal communication that employees are able to know how they can influence the results of the business. To use intranet as an example, we have to move from today’s ‘basic intranet’ (which is hierarchical and one-way) to tomorrow’s ‘digital workplace’ (which is flat, social and open).

If the management are to reach out to their employees, greater interaction is required, more openness, more discussions and greater extent of real time and user engagement. It is no longer enough to have informed employees, we need to create brand activists.

10. Empathic consumer orientation: A lot of today’s most remarkable innovations are about seemingly boring issues such as infrastructure and serious treatment of products, services and truths we take for granted. The trend is rooted in a genuine consumer centred starting point for development.

The taxi-alternative Uber is a good example of how successful it is possible to be if you really listen to the target audience, and use the existing technological possibilities to improve a user experience. The idea was launched on a snowy, LeWeb three years ago with a lack of taxis. Today the company is valued at more than 20 billion NOK. The success stems from an empathic way of thinking in everything from business development to communication, and we are many who have a lot to learn in this area - regardless of business area.

11. Lift your gaze – maybe all the way to China: Andrew Barra was a senior manager for Google’s mobile and Android developments. Part way through 2013 Barra announced his move to the Chinese mobile company Xiaomi as global manager with responsibility for the international expansion.

Today Barra can talk about how a speedy implementation of new solutions is happening at a grand scale in China. He talks about how social media that most of us have never heard of (check Weibo, Renren and Wechat) are changing the way the world’s biggest population communicate in a short period of time.

Without inhibitions, Barra explains that Xiaomi is heavily inspired by Apple even if the phones they make are built on Google’s Android. To be flexible enough to respond to the consumer’s feedback, the hardware development is inspired by software development. The ambition is super speedy delivery times and continuous improvement under the mantra ‘Design as you build’.

Xiaomi only sell its phones through owned media and have a great fan base in social media. They are nurturing them well, but does it work? Barra’s response is a real-life example. With one single post, in one social media Xiaomi sold more than 200,000 mobile units in three minutes. Welcome to the internet the West!

We look forward to the future. It starts already tomorrow.

The Trigger report was authored Chris Allan Simonsen, Henrik Bydal, Magdalena Kamøy, Andreas Ziener, Marianne Skøien, Tonia Kalantzakou, Camilla Kim-Kielland, Bjørnar Flyum-Thorsen and Preben Carlsen.

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