Thursday, November 12, 2020

TrendReport 2020: How Accurately Did We Predict Key Trends for 2020, Part 3

Here is our final list of ongoing trends that we predicted would be significant in 2020. (Part one is available here and part two here.)There's not as much description of the trends because we think, since they're ongoing, they need no introduction. Our point in highlighting them is that some trends don't immediately fade away. Obviously some trends disappear. But just because a trend went mainstream one year does not mean it goes away the next. 

These ongoing trends can continue to be relevant in subsequent years. That's why we always identify ongoing trends, and why we think it's worthwhile to look at which ones made a difference.

 Here are grades for 21 ongoing trends.

1.  Robocalls won’t go away. Grade A.

2.  More home exercise equipment will offer at-home streaming classes. We didn’t anticipate the huge growth in the sector but we were right about at-home streaming classes. Grade: A.

3.  News fatigue. Even reporters complained of being overwhelmed by too much news. Grade: A.

4.  Short news cycles. In Oct. alone, there was so much news that there wasn’t enough time to process everything before being overwhelmed by some other news item. That happened all year. Grade: A.

5.  Fake news and disinformation will continue, probably increase in 2020. We shouldn’t have hedged our bet by including the word “probably.” Grade: A.

6.  The credibility of news media is under attack. This remains a problem for marketers. And also for the hope of bringing people together to heal our country. Grade: A.

7.  Social media will continue to undergo scrutiny and it won’t look good. We expect more scrutiny in 2021. Grade: A.

8.  Cord-cutting will continue to attract the media's attention. Not sure it did. Grade: C-.

9.  Most tech reporters at newspapers will continue to focus on FAANG: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. They also discussed Zoom and accessories to help you work from home. Grade: B+.

10. Elon Musk and Tesla will continue to attract undue amount of media attention. Probably true. Grade: B.

11. Driverless cars still won't be ready. True. Grade: A.

12. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality still won’t be everywhere. But the pandemic may accelerate adoption. Grade: B.

13. Blockchain and bitcoin will continue to get media coverage but most consumers still won't have much contact with bitcoin and won't understand how Blockchain affects them. Probably true. Grade: B.

14. Corporate boycotts & consumer boycotts will continue. Corporate boycotts are when companies pull their ads from specific shows, hosts or networks to protest something said or done. This did happen in 2020. Grade: B.

15. 3-D content and 3-D printers will still not be as popular as they are cool. True. Grade: A.

16. Student debt and healthcare will continue to be big issues. Student debt did not get the attention we expected while healthcare was significant. Grade: B.

17. Climate change will be an issue. This got attention, in the wake of fire storms and other natural disasters. Grade: B.

18. Drug pricing will continue to get a lot of attention. Also, we all learned about the cost to develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines. Grade: B+.

19. STEM will continue to be important. But there didn’t seem to be as much media coverage of this. Grade: C.

20. More small colleges will merge or close. We expect more of that in 2021. Grade: B.

21. The future continues to look cloudy – as in cloud computing. Cloud computing was a big help during the pandemic. Grade: A.

We did pretty well with this set of predictions. We think many of these trends will continue to have impact in 2021. 

Let us know what you think. We are preparing our trends and predictions for 2021 and will issue them in early November. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

TrendReport 2020: How Accurately Did We Predict Key Trends for 2020, Part 2

This is the second-part of our look back at the trends for 2020 that we predicted last year. (The first part is available here.) We think it's important to look at what we got right and what we got wrong so that we can improve our process in time to make predictions for 2021. (There were, of course, plenty of trends that we completely missed, and we look at how to address any foreseeable trends that we did not see -- though to be fair to us, a lot happened this year that few actually predicted.)

Again, we're grading how we did with our second set of trends.

1.  Too many podcasts eventually will overwhelm listeners. We said that “Probably by 2021, we will have reached podcast saturation and there will be a backlash, both from advertisers and from listeners so that the proliferation of new podcasts will slow down, if not actually decrease.” We certainly didn’t reach the saturation point in 2020; as far as we can tell, the number of listeners has not declined this year. That said, we think listeners are overwhelmed by choices. Grade: C+.

2.  The expectations of well-design products will include connectivity and voice control. We think that consumers do expect Bluetooth connectivity and voice control but we’re not seeing those capabilities built-in in as many items as we’d like…for example, you can’t navigate your PC like the crew on “Star Trek” was able to. At least not yet. Grade: C.

3.  The trade-off between convenience and data collection will get recognition. This trend did not get much attention in 2020. Grade: C-.

4.  There will be a lot of media space allocated to covering outer space. We overshot this. There was some but not as much coverage as we expected. Grade: C-.

5.  5G and facial recognition will get lots of attention. We got this correct but there wasn’t much doubt about that. Grade: A.

6.  Artificial Intelligence will be in everything. We said,AI has reached a tipping point and will be built in to many things that weren’t possible just a few years ago.” We think that was right. Grade: A.

7.  AI will affect in-store retail.  We said that “AI will change how stores stock shelves because they will have better customer intelligence about how customers shop and what they want,” but we don’t know if that was true in 2020, due to the pandemic, which hurt retail, especially the kind requiring customers to enter stores. We stand by this trend but we may not see significant movement until 2022. Grade: C-.

8.  Software is the once and future king. We said that although “hardware and gadgets are always going to be important … it’s the software that will add new features that improve the things we already have.” Grade: A.

9.  Drones will experience significant growth in B2B applications. Drones did not get as much attention as we thought in 2020 so we feel this trend may take place by 2021 or 2022. Grade: C-.

10. From customer service to mental health and beyond, chatbots will be there to help us. This did not get the attention, and thus make the impact we expected in 2020. Any progress may have been behind-the-scenes. Grade: D.

We're not too thrilled with some of the C-s and the D but we're trying to hold ourselves accountable so we did not give ourselves an A+ this year for any trend, and tried to tamp down any sense of grade inflation.

We have more trends to evaluate. Check back later this week for our continued look back at trends that did or did not have an impact in 2020

Friday, November 6, 2020

TrendReport 2020: How Accurately Did We Predict Key Trends for 2020

One thing for sure: 2020 won’t be easily forgotten.

It’s been a year that sadly redefined a new normal in how we live and work. We continue to track deaths resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and see ongoing violence against people of color that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

We won’t be doing a comprehensive recap of the year – including the lives lost or disrupted, although our hearts go out to all of them – because that’s outside the scope of our trend analysis.

As we’ve done each year for nearly 20 years, we will review the trends we identified the previous year and grade how we did for each prediction.

1.  Distrust of Big Tech and media fuels anxiety. We got this one right – noting that “This will fuel feelings of anxiety, anger, exhaustion, and isolation, regardless of political perspective” – though we underestimated the scale of the distrust or the anxiety. This is a significant problem because American generally live in one of two news bubbles, ones that communicate vastly different narratives so that we don’t operate with a single set of facts. This will continue to fuel distrust and anxiety in 2021.  Grade: A.

2.  The loss of local news coverage will continue, and will erode trust. According to Axios, “In the first 6 months of 2020, more than 11,000 newsroom jobs have been lost. That's nearly as many as were lost in all of 2009.” We’ve also seen many local papers reducing the number of days they publish, scaling back their print editions or going out of business. We were right about the continued loss of local news; we have not seen data yet about the impact of that loss. But we know that the trend impacts how local news gets reported and what kinds of local news gets published. This trend will continue in 2021. Grade: A.

3.  Streaming services will get a lot of media and consumer attention. We said that the so-called streaming wars is not a zero-sum game, that American consumers will choose to subscribe to several streaming services, not just one, and we got that right. Streaming services became even more important in 2020, with some like Disney+ premiering movies that would otherwise have been released first into movie theatres. We also believe we were correct when we noted that, “The growing number of ad-free streaming content services will make it harder for marketers to reach a mass audience. Even ad-supported services will be out of reach for local and regional organizations so they will need to look for other ways to reach local customers.” Grade: A.

4.  The Gig Economy isn’t just for millennials. We said to expect older Americans to enter the gig economy, and they may have but the pandemic hurt the gig economy. The gig economy did not get as much attention as it should amid huge losses of traditional jobs this year, nor did the impact on gig workers who don’t get benefits like unemployment checks when their jobs dried up. We believe that after the pandemic – whenever that is – the gig economy will recover, but gig workers will want a safety net to help them in case of future job losses. Grade: C.

5.  Consumer spending patterns are shifting. We said consumer spending would shift from owning to renting things like ZipCars, Citi Bikes and any number of sites that rent the latest fashion trends. On a short-term basis, spending did shift though that was due to the pandemic. Long-term we think that what we call the “non-ownership economy” or the “convenience economy” will continue. Grade: C.

6.  The sharing economy will become more expensive. We said to “expect (that companies will pay) more attention to gross margins (a measure of profitability), detailed financial models for startups looking to raise money, and a focus on discipline” as opposed to focusing only on growth. Instead, many companies focused on survival in 2020, which included pivoting to offer new products and enter new markets. That said, Netflix recently announced it will increase its monthly rates, and we think others will follow. Grade: B-.

7.  Streaming — but not owning — content increasingly means you might not be able to access the version you want. We said, “Consumers will become increasingly aware of the risks of streaming, which include ongoing monthly costs that will increase; content that disappears when a streaming service loses its rights even if you were in the middle of the program); and services that might disappear or abruptly shut down. Grade: A. 

8.  Going cashless will also affect consumer spending. Driven by the pandemic, contactless was huge in 2020 as almost everyone shifted to Venmo, PayPal, Zelle and other services. Many of us have hardly used cash all year. We can’t tell if contactless affected spending since retail was hurt by the pandemic. We do stand by the statement that “An increasingly cashless society will make it much more difficult for the poor, who may be unbanked (as the banking industry calls it) and can’t get a credit or debit cards.” Grade: A.  

9.  Robots won’t take over in 2020 but will be more commonplace. Robots will likely see a boost om a post-pandemic environment but we did not see as much coverage in 2020 as we expected. Grade: C+.

10. The age of plant-based “meats” has gone mainstream. This was a significant food trend though not the biggest of the year (that was cooking at home). Grade: A.

These were our initial sets of trends. We will post the next set on Monday, and will give us a final grade for the year. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Getting Ready for Our Annual Trend Report: a look back at 2020

It's soon going to be one of our favorite times of the year -- and we don't mean Thanksgiving, though that's our favorite holiday.

We're getting ready for our predictions for 2021.

But before we do, we're going prepare our recap for how we did in 2020.

The short answer: Not good. 

If you look at the top stories of the year.

We'll do a fuller recap of the our predictions versus the reality of 2021. We did get some trends correct -- like that more home exercise equipment will offer at-home streaming classes. But we didn't anticipate that Peloton would have a higher market cap than Ford. 

But more on 2020 trends after the election.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The New Trust Deficit: Facebook, Facts & a Frantic News Cycle

The U.S. is facing a number of simultaneous crises -- rising COVID infections, ongoing civil rights protests for BLM, an economy in recession that's driving huge job losses, bankruptcies, supply chain issues that could cause further harm. 

But there's one thing making each of those crisis worse, more dangerous and out of control.

It's that we can't agree on a single set of facts.

Instead, we have a credibility gap making things worse. Different parts of the country can't even agree about how to frame the various crises, including those cited above and others that have been in the news lately.

CNN's Reliable Sources newsletter recently called this a "trust deficit" in a story about Facebook and why some companies have stopped buying ads on Facebook.

For Facebook, the trust deficit is fueled by allowing misinformation and hate speech to spread.

Social media platforms use algorithms to continue to feed you content similar to the kinds of content you click on. This makes it easy to perpetuate your bubble because you continually see posts that fit your narrative.

Part of the problem: some information may have already been debunked only after we've seen it. Which is too late. People who consume the original message, and used that to bolster their narrative, rarely see the correction or update afterwards.

Another problem: we're so inundated by news that we're overwhelmed. We don't have time to process yesterday's news. Which means we don't have time to process today's news, to put it into context, to make sure we understand it -- before we're hit with the latest shocking piece of news, which is replaced by the even-more-recent news.

The result: we now live in a world with strongly held opinions that aren't necessarily based on facts. 

Which means: we might not agree that the top stories that are, in fact, the most important stories. 

We certainly don't agree with the implications of those stories -- whether they are fake news or facts might be debatable if we could meaningfully debate these issues. 

And we definitely disagree regarding any possible solution to a given crisis.

It's a helluva way to celebrate our nation's independence. 

We try to avoid taking political stands in this blog. But we're tackling the trust deficit because we do see it as a potential business threat for marketers.

It means that where you advertise (and where you don't), where and what you post could be seen as supporting or fueling the trust deficit. It's more important than ever to think about how you communicate to your publics while being aware and sensitive to how your marketing plays today and how it might play in a couple of years.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

2020: The Mid-Year in Review

From the perspective of late June, it feels like 2020 to date has had more chaos (including COVID, the suspension of all professional sports, the killing of Qasem Soleimani that seemed to push the U.S. to the brink of combat with Iran, Australia's devastating bushfires) and news (Black Lives Matter, Kobe's death, Brexit, the convictions of Roger Stone and Harvey Weinstein, etc.) in five months than we experience in a typical year. 

That doesn't include the impeachment -- which seems to belong in the distant past.

And we haven't reached peak campaign yet. Here's what Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog had to say (as reported in Brian Stelter's Reliable Sources newsletter):

"To get a sense for how much *news* there is in the a given election year, we looked at how many full-width headlines there are in the NYT from Jan. 1 through Election Day in election years going back to 1968. 2020 is, uh, pretty special." Most years, just 2 to 5 percent of the relevant editions had banner headlines. The years 1968 and 1972 were more intense, with banners across about 10 percent of the Page Ones. And 2016 was hectic too, with banners across 15 percent of the fronts. But 2020 is uniquely crazy: Thirty three days of the year have called for banner headlines so far, nearly 21 percent of the front pages since January, and it's only June!

Silver wrote: "The average election year features 10 full-width headlines through Election Day. There have already been *33* this year, and we're not done with June yet."

So it's not just your imagination -- there really is more news, and more intense news, than usual...
In our annual list of trends, we did not identify any of the above news stories.

But we did predict that 202 would mark an age of anxiety, fueled by distrust of big tech firms and traditional and social media.

So we feel we correct called the overall direction of 2020.

We're reminded of that because of an article that appeared in the Vietnam Investment Review entitled, "Pandemic throws global media trends up in the air." We find it interesting that an outlet around the world from us picked up on our view of the world.

Here are two key paragraphs in VIR's article:
Norman Birnbach, president of strategic PR firm Birnbach Communications, predicted in January that 2020 would mark an age of anxiety, fueled by distrust of big tech firms, and traditional and social media, even as people began to rely on those sources more than ever, especially in the United States. “Marketers must not only be relevant – they also need find ways to credibly appeal across a divided America.”
The projection was uttered at the start of the year – before coronavirus hit North America, and before civil unrest plagued the United States as it has done for the last few weeks. Divisions well-noted in the past have intensified to scarcely believable levels. And yet, as more and more citizens around the world look to the media for information, there is no easy solution for the industry to ensure that information is credible, accurate, timely, and is transparent in what it does with the data it collects.
We think the point about credible and reliable information is important. 

We're at a point where whether or not you wear a mask is seen as political. Where lies and misinformation on Facebook and Twitter by politicians is accepted because FB and Twitter don't want to be in the censuring business. Where the New York Times published a column that looks at whether or not there some kind of secret deal between Trump and Zuckerberg.  (Check out "What’s Facebook’s Deal With Donald Trump? Mark Zuckerberg has forged an uneasy alliance with the Trump administration. He may have gotten too close.") Where John Bolton's book can be accused of being full of lies that are classified information. 

We'll do a more thorough recap of the year in November, as always. But we thought it worth discussing information credibility. Because it is a real problem affecting the U.S. and the entire world.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Additional Thoughts on -- On Thursday the podcast company Stitcher and the University of Chicago are launching a new podcast, "Pandemic Economics," hosted by Eduardo Porter and Tess Vigeland and exec produced by Ellen Horne...

We're living in uncertain times due to a terrifying pandemic that continues to raise questions that healthcare professionals can't answer (like do you develop immunity from it if you've already recovered from COVID-19 -- or could you get sick again from it?) combined with economic chaos that's reshaping our economy while creating huge numbers of unemployed workers. 

Against that backdrop, two questions we've been hearing are: "Should businesses conduct marketing and PR campaigns?" and if so, "What's constitutes an effective campaign now?" 

We recently set to answer those questions in a blog post entitled, "9 Tips and Considerations for Conducting PR When It's Not Business-As-Usual" that appeared in CommPro.Biz.  

But after that article appeared, we came across a couple of additional thoughts we wanted to discuss.

For example, one colleague wrote on LinkedIn: "The biggest challenge for companies, IMO: Being relevant while not appearing predatory." 

We think that's right, that getting the balance right -- between letting their customers know they're open for business while also being sensitive to what we're all going through, and that this is far from business-as-usual -- will be a big challenge.

For example, we've seen a lot of ads that tout the heroism of their employees. But in our article, we advised companies that their marketing messages need to match reality. That may be a problem because some of those companies don't have a great reputation for how they treat their employees, unfortunately. They need to watch out for articles such as this from VOX: “'I did not sign up for the military. I signed up for Walmart.' What grocery store workers say they’re facing during the pandemic." We think there could be more articles that highlight the discrepancy between messaging and reality, and that could be a problem.

And according to CNN's great "Reliable Sources" newsletter, "Kantor Media held a webinar about 'TV & video consumption in 'the new normal.'" One of the findings was there's been "an even more pronounced surge in YouTube consumption than Netflix, and a relatively small decline in 'co-viewing,' or people watching together. That means increased TV/streaming consumption mostly consists of people scattering to watch, as opposed to a major bump in shared or family viewing."

But to our perspective, what's important are the implications for advertising. Kantor's "researchers found that people don't feel that brands should stop marketing during the pandemic, but that companies need to be careful not to appear as if they're exploiting it -- a 'fine line,' as media division CEO Andy Brown put it....But the findings generally reinforced some key points about increased consumption, acceleration of streaming and the hunger to return to some semblance of normalcy whenever that's possible..."

We do think the desire to return to normalcy among consumers is important to keep in mind. Marketing functions should keep that in mind when considering how to approach their marketing efforts.

We also expect there to be long-term changes in how we work (more will continue to work from home afterwards) and live, and how we pursue leisure and entertainment. Companies that can anticipate how this will play out should start developing campaigns to address that.

Let us know if you have additional thoughts about how to navigate this crisis from a marketing perspective.