Friday, April 21, 2017

TrendReport 2017: Additional trends to expect

Each year we post our annual list of trends and predictions, as we did in Dec. 2016. We only posted our top five trends but, as usual, we actually identified many more. We recently added a new one about boycotts, with the twist being the boycotts were conducted by big brands not by consumers against those brands.

But each year, we typically identify more than a dozen trends, and we felt we should post the rest of these here (actually, we meant to post them a couple of weeks ago but have been busy).

Here are the rest of the trends we think will have an impact in 2017.
1.    2017 will be a tough year for traditional media. Financial sustainability used to be print media’s primary challenge. Not anymore. While still an issue, it has been replaced by the ascent of fake news, which has attacked traditional media’s most important value: credibility. In the last three months of the campaign, according to BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman, fake news stories outperformed and were shared more frequently than real news. Publishers need to figure out how to re-establish their own credibility, make facts relevant and attract readers (and revenue) who may or may not care about whether news is fake or real. We expect to see declining circulations and revenues at real news organizations, followed by more layoffs and smaller papers.
2.    Social media addiction becomes recognized as a thing. It’s not just kids who can’t put down their devices. It’s everyone. We expect more stories (spread on social media) about how to break the social media/device addiction. Here’s the problem: You can’t live without your smartphone: You don’t know anyone’s phone number without it. You can’t text them without it. Meanwhile look at all you can do with it: pay for things, shop for things, turn on and off devices in your home, much less use it to not have to interact with anyone. Taking a break from your device is healthy but impossible, and we expect more content in 2017 about this as an issue.
3.    Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality still won’t be everywhere. Many newspapers feature VR content. And the NBA is now testing VR. But we don’t think VR or AR like the faddish Pokemon Go will be ubiquitous yet in 2017. Solvable problems include VR headsets that offer an improved immersive experience than the cardboard headsets (that resemble cereal-box prizes) distributed by some newspapers so readers could access VR content or the current high-end headsets. Providing a feedback loop from user to the headset/content could be around the corner – a real corner. As with other tech, VR and AR need more content to encourage people they need to have it.
4.    Expect a cloudier 2017. Cloud computing has been a full-fledged trend for several years now. But we expect that it will evolve, to reduce the costs of cloud computing and to enhance capabilities.
5.    Artificial intelligence will continue to surge. AI become the big tech trend covered in the media in 2016. While there is overblown fear that AI-enabled robots will take over humanity, we expect to see AI built into all sorts of consumer and B2B environments – and to be featured in more Hollywood movies and TV shows.
6.    Drones still won’t take off. Consumer drones look like fun – for a couple of hours. We think the real market will be B2B, not just for deliveries (which we think is still a couple of years off). We expect B2B drones to help do things that are hard or risky for humans to do such as checking train tracks or oil pipelines in rural, hard-to-otherwise-reach locations. B2B use of drones, like B2B use of robots, will drive the market.
7.    Globalization will be a hot topic. From free trade agreements to tariffs, job losses, Brexit and the U.S.’s relationship with other countries, and the nature of globalization itself will be a very hot topic in 2017 and beyond. 

8.    Interest in voice speakers will turn up. Farhad Manjoo at the Times says gadgets are dead but there’s one area that he’s wrong: digital voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home. These two assistants/speakers are designed to be more helpful than digital assistants, and we believe this will be a big year for them, and that IoT connectivity will likely operate through them. Alexa and Home are the killer app for smart home technology in the living room, like lighting, home Wi-Fi networks, and thermostats but also may be the key to IoT in kitchen appliances.

Ongoing trends:
1.  NFL ratings will continue to decline.
2.  Drug pricing will get a lot of attention
3.  Wearable tech will still not be as mainstream as people in the industry were hoping.
4.  Progress to a driverless-car future will slow down – but not for the reason you might think. The closer we get, we will recognize that aspects of driving that we took for granted are more complicated to solve when a human is not driving. These tech issues must be solved even before we get to solving liability issues.
5.  3D printers will continue to proliferate in schools but remain unnecessary in the home.
6.   Eventually consumers will realize they can’t easily, more efficiently or more cheaply cut the cord to cable – since the bandwidth comes from the cable company. But it might not matter. People watch on many devices – but usually not on their TVs – so streaming services will continue to be popular, even if duplicating cable offerings.
7.  eBook sales will continue to plateau while traditional book sales increase slightly. (Meanwhile, sales of vinyl records will continue to climb but will remain a niche market.)
8.  e-Wallets still won’t be as widely adopted as some were projecting. They will go mainstream but not in 2017 or 2018.

This now completes the list of most of the new and ongoing trends we identified in December. We purposely did not want to add new trends that came to light as a result of changing global political realities or predictions that only would have been obvious after the fact (like Bill O'Reilly's departure this week from Fox). 

Let us know what you think about our list -- what we missed (not including political or unlikely predictions like one about O'Reilly). As always, we will issue a report card on these trends later in November.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Why Advertising Boycotts Are Being Conducted By Corporations

Last week we made a prediction about boycotts with a difference -- those conducted by big brands by withholding their ads that support now-controversial media outlets.

This weekend (after we made our prediction), the New York Times wrote about Fox News' top-rated personality, Bill O'Reilly, host of the $100 million-generating "The O'Reilly Factor," in an article with the headline, "Bill O'Reilly Thrives at Fox News, Even as Harassment Settlements Add Up." He's been sued multiple times and has paid out more than $13 million to settle cases -- and there are new allegations him.

Although the Times reports that O'Reilly "denies the claims have merit," this time something's different because advertisers are pulling their ads from "The O'Reilly Factor," according to a Times article, "Fox Losing More Advertisers After Sexual Harassment Claims Against O’Reilly." As of Wednesday, nearly three dozen companies had decided to pull their ads.

According to HuffPost, what's going on this time is:

The O’Reilly boycott seems to have accelerated more quickly, both in terms of advertisers taking the initiative ― some announcing their decisions on social media ― and in terms of sustained coverage online, which wasn’t as much of a factor in 2009, much less 2004. 
Here's another article about the situation: "Advertisers want their Google ads off offensive content" (that appeared in the Boston Globe courtesy of the New York Times).

Social media is playing a role, allowing people to vent about controversies that a decade ago might not have lasted past the initial news cycle. Now, the news covers the outrage -- that becomes the news. 

But that's not the only reason. 

We've had pervasive social media for the last five years but what we think is happening may be that Americans on all sides are already upset (again, this is across the political spectrum) and now more easily and quickly express their outrage. And that's something brands have to take seriously.

So we think top brands will be more responsive to avoid controversies that don't play well to their customers. (Talking to you, Pepsi and Kendall Jenner.) In some ways, these are preemptive boycotts: brands boycott to avoid contact or relationships that will anger their customers so as to prevent a consumer boycott. 

There will be some brands that will decide to take on the controversy, much the way some small companies take a risk by purchasing an ad during the Super Bowl. But we do expect these preemptive boycotts to continue.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Boycotts Will Be Big Trend in 2017 -- but by big brands and there could be implications for their marketing functions

It's still early in the year so we're going to issue some additional trends for 2017.

We now think that boycotts will be a big media trend in terms of coverage.

And actually, we're not even talking directly consumer boycotts.
We're actually talking about corporate boycotts.

We think there will be more emphasis over the next few years on how to help brands better manage their online programs. It remains to be seen what impact that will have on public relations.

But we're not talking about consumer boycotts, from the left and the right because we're not interested in taking a political perspective on this.

Instead, the boycotts we're talking about here are by big brands not against big brands.

The big brands seek to avoid controversy so they are trying to avoid placing ads on or working with sites that don't resonate with their consumers.

For example, we see concerns about controversial content on YouTube, porn content on Snapchat that are testing advertisers' tolerance for risk as well as concerns about advertising on potential fake news sites or politically biased sites.

One challenge for big brands is that the automated nature of online advertising known as programmatic advertising has made it easier and more efficient to get their ads out there. At the same time, the programmatic aspect makes it more difficult to control where ads appear. So a brand may have decided to not place ads on what it deems to be a questionable site but the way online advertising works, an ad may be placed ad on that site anyway. 

This is the aspect that interests us.

These big brands won't stop advertising but until there is a new tech solution combined with a business model that provides more control over where online ads appear, companies may want to consider changing the mix of their marketing activities since other marketing disciplines may be able to get the messages out without associating with the media brands that companies seek to avoid.

Further, PR and social media may be better positioned to help brands respond to concerns from their customers about ads placed on questionable sites.

While the tools don't exist quite yet to manage ads to the degree that big brands want, we expect that big brands will continue to avoid advertising on questionable sites, and will continue to need to communicate the core values that matter most to them (while avoiding online sites that do not mesh with those values). We expect the trend of big brands to boycott to continue.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

WIIFM: An acronym people forget when writing for customers: Answer "What's In It For Me?"

There's a problem I often see when I check out corporate social media pages. The content is often about them.

It's what they want you to know about the company.

And it's important to include that kind of messaging in your social media content.

But often there are two things missing.

  1. Actual interaction with customers, influencers and others.
  1. Content that addresses the real issues of what customers need.
Interactions on social media -- except by customer service teams like at cable/phone companies, airlines, banks and other companies people complain about -- can be hard to justify to a higher up in marketing. That's because it entails someone going out a listening, finding conversations in which the company can add value (without being too intrusive). Basically it looks like you're paying for someone to play on social media, and that's difficult to place an ROI on that kind of work. So I understand the challenge both for the supervisor/client, who has to pay for it, as well as the pressure on the person trying to generate conversation and awareness that can somehow pay off or justify the time spent searching for potential interactions.

As for content that addresses what customers want, that can be difficult for organizations that don't have a real handle on their customers. This is especially challenging for startups that are trying to serve every category rather than focus one a customer type and then build/expand into other areas. (Look, when you're a startup, sometimes you're looking for any paying customer, regardless of your original strategy. We saw one client that was focused on healthcare pivot to the extent to redesign their software for an insurance client -- and not a life or health insurer but a casualty insurer.)

No matter the reason, when developing content, especially for social media, companies need to make sure the content answers WIIFM -- "What's In It For Me?"
We're all busier and more distracted than ever so WIIFM is a key question to ask when developing and posting content.

For those who are trying to generate more compelling content, ask yourselves, "Why should my customer spend time reading my content? How does my content help them do their job, live their lives?

In fact, for this post, I've been trying to keep in mind the person who needs to have more compelling content but doesn't know what to do. They're not always asking WIIFM. But they are asking how they can be more effective in their job.

And keeping WIIFM in mind from your customers' perspective can improve your game.
By the way, WIIFM isn't always obvious. Check out this Inc. article that provides some additional insight into what customers want: "Top CEOs Reveal Their Secrets for Finding New Customers." It's a short read but the one I found most interesting was the one from Ari Brandt.

I hope this has answered WIIFY.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Wall St. Journal Validates Our Gig Economy Prediction With Articles That Explore The Changing Nature of Employment

For the last couple of years, we've been seeing the gig economy as a trend of increasing significance, as the population of workers who either work side jobs or businesses (known as "side hustle") or hold a series of part-time jobs continues to grow.

This year, with a new Administration that promises to bring back jobs to America, it may become more politicized. Our perspective is not political but merely recognizing a seismic shift in how American work, since many seem to prefer being in the gig economy (made possible by technology) rather than work traditional jobs.

In Dec. 2016, when we issued our list of top trends for 2017, TrendReport 2017, we went a step beyond just saying that the gig economy would be important. We also said, 
"We need to more accurately define the gig and the sharing economies (i.e., Uber, which touches on both; as well as Airbnb) and to identify and track meaningful metrics, both to gain an accurate portrait of overall U.S. economy as well as develop appropriate policies regarding taxes, healthcare and social services."
Today, in a article, the Wall St. Journal noted: "Counting Up Contractors Is a Tricky Business Government agencies and employers have difficulty tracking the numbers because many contractors are hired by one company to work for another."

A follow-up article, that the Journal felt important enough to place on its front page, was entitled, "The End of Employees," and noted that "Never before have big employers tried so hard to hand over chunks of their business to contractors. From Google to Wal-Mart, the strategy prunes costs for firms and job security for millions of workers." Interestingly, the article did not refer to the "gig economy" at all but did refer to "TVCs—an abbreviation for temps, vendors and contractors (who) test drive Google’s self-driving cars, review legal documents, make products easier and better to use, manage marketing and data projects, and do many other jobs. They wear red badges at work, while regular Alphabet employees wear white ones."

These are two of the first articles we've seen that discussed the point we think is crucial in terms of understanding how the gig economy works, what it's impact is -- whether you're in a traditional job or a gigs -- and how to structure our tax policy and health and other benefits.

Check out the WSJ articles because we do think understanding the nature of the gig economy is important for our country's future, regardless of one's politics. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Be Careful In A World of Competing Narratives -- a response to Scott Adams

We don't usually touch on politics here but felt compelled to respond to a blog written by cartoonist-turned-pundit Scott Adams. You can read his post, "Be Careful What You Wish For (especially if it is Hitler)."

I'm a fan of Scott Adams the cartoonist but grow increasingly exasperated with Scott Adams the pundit – based on articles like this one. I agree with part of it but disagree with more of the post. It touches on several issues that are relevant to those who, as Adams is, a "trained persuader,"

Adams is right when he says, “we’re all seeing what we expect to see,” underscoring the importance of people’s narrative when interpreting events. And he’s right that when presented with a reality that undermines the foundation of their narrative, people tend to “double down” (a term widely used on both sides) and support their narrative even more strongly. After all no one wants “live their lives as confirmed morons.”  

Unfortunately, Adams ignores the real problem. 

Exasperated by social media (this post included, no doubt), there not only is not much middle ground anymore – there is also a lack of willingness to try to seek middle ground. And that is affecting businesses, too.

We can’t agree on facts anymore. We can't agree on which media is credible, either. That's a real problem for marketers.

As a "trained persuader," Adams could have addressed -- and should have addressed -- how to communicate to (and with) people who hold opposing narratives. This is critically important for the future of our country because, as Lincoln said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Instead, Adams’ post says, “ordinary people doing ordinary things (could)… turn Trump into an actual Hitler” and that he “can think of dozens of ways the protesters could cause the thing they are trying to prevent.” So while Adams doesn’t think Trump is the next Hitler, he’s already blaming those afraid of that scenario to be the ones who cause it. That kind of blaming he victims is dangerous.

Meanwhile, when some corporate leaders have issued statements in favor or against one thing or another, the immediate response is to boycott them and their companies. What we need are political leaders to help bridge the chasm of the two competing narratives, to work together in the best interests of our great country. 

It's hard to reunite the country when labeling the opposing side as "the enemy.” 

As persuaders, we need to consider what we can do to help our clients to communicate with all their key constituents. Increasingly we may have to address the reality of the political divide without taking stances that will alienate either side. And we will have to find a way to do so while being true to the clients and ourselves.