Wednesday, December 20, 2017

WSJ Validates Our Prediction About IoT Isn't Cybersecure

In our list, Ongoing Trends for 2018, published Dec. 18th,  we predicted that "IoT will continue to be victim to cyberattacks."

In its special cybersecurity supplement on Dec. 19th, the Wall St. Journal published an article entitled, "Smart Devices, Increased Risks: John Carlin on how security isn't ready for the Internet of Things." The article featured John Carlin, a former assistant attorney general in the national security division of the DOJ, who validated our main point: "Across the board, we didn't properly calculate the price of risk in making the decision to move all of this information and connect it through this insecure medium."

Carlin also said:
With the Internet of Things, we are on the cusp of a massive exponential increase in new devices that can cause immediate loss of life or serious injury that are going be connected through this same insecure protocol. What we can’t do or shouldn’t do is make the same mistake again of discounting risk before we make this societal transformation.
The move from a car with a driver to a driverless car, for example, is going to bring significant changes to our society and the way we move goods and services. In government, we didn’t think of trucking as something that could fundamentally disrupt society. But if all of those trucks are connected, you can disrupt it on scale.
The Journal also published another article, "Connected Device Manufacturers Not Addressing Cyber Risks: Manufacturers of connected devices aren’t adequately addressing cybersecurity threats associated with them."

We love the idea of IoT but are concerned and skeptical about security issues around the convenience that IoT offers its users -- and potential hackers.

Meanwhile, since our prediction on IoT and cybersecurity came a day before these articles hit, you can say that we scooped the Journal.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

New Popular Naming Strategy: Drop Part of Your Corporate Name

The latest popular corporate naming strategy is pretty basic. Recently, Walmart Stores, Dunkin' Donuts and Business Insider have all dropped part of the name to become Walmart, Dunkin' and Insider, respectively.

For Walmart, the move is to position the company as an e-commerce player.

For Dunkin's, it's to move beyond just donuts.

And For Insider, it's because they now cover more than just business.

That strategy may be a problem for companies with only one name. 

Of course, Fox seems like it will drop its name, if the acquisition with Disney goes through.

Usually, we recommend against changing a company's name, especially if there's a lot of brand equity in the current name. And we have some skepticism that a name change makes much of a difference. (A new logo, on the other hand, can make a difference.) But with Walmart, that's what everyone calls it, anyway, so we doubt it will make much of a difference.

The same with Dunkin's.

That may not be true of Business Insider, a good online news site. Insider sounds like a TV celebrity gossip show more than a reputable news source. But, as we mentioned in our trends, 2018 will be a tough year for online news sites. So we expect more changes. And we wish Insider the best of luck.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Ongoing Trends for 2018

Not all significant trends next year will be new ones.  We always look at ongoing trends that will continue to impact the media, marketing and tech worlds.

The first 14 of the 18 trends listed below include an explanatory sentence. The final four are, we feel, self-explanatory.

1.  The news cycle will continue to speed up. There were days in which there was major news several times a day. We expect that to continue in 2018 – and that when there’s a slow news day – let’s say only one big news story – consumers of news anxiously click on refresh, thinking they must be missing some additional news. Regardless of political views, people, including late-night comedians are finding this exhausting.

2.   2018 will be tough for traditional and online media. We hate writing this but the layoffs and shutdowns affecting traditional print (Boston Herald) and cool online outlets (BuzzFeed) that occurred the last two months of 2017 will continue in 2018. Despite living in a time when staying on top of the news (throughout the day) has never been more important, with more people than ever following hourly developments, fewer people seem to want to pay for the news. This is true also for hyperlocal media (like DNAInfo and Gothamist, both shutdown), which for a time was considered to be an exception since people seemed to favor local news about their communities that weren’t getting covered by regional or national media. Great reporting takes lots of effort and resources (as does debunking fake news, as the Washington Post showed us when it reported on a failed attempt to offer a false narrative by the Veracity Project). The problem for traditional and online news sources is, increasingly, Americans turn to social media for news. So traditional and even online media need to develop a new advertising and subscription business model. So far, great journalism is helping the New York Times and Washington Post attract and retain subscribers. But it must be frustrating for them to see hat purveyors of true “fake news” (those that are not based on facts and don’t correct mistakes once they learn of them) can generate tens of thousands of page views when real, serious news doesn’t get clicked.  Another aspect that will affect traditional and online media will be if either or both of the AT&T-Time Warner and Sinclair Broadcasting-Tribune Media deals go through.

3.  Fake news won’t fade in 2018. It’s still easier and more lucrative to generate totally fake news than it is to produce real, fact-based news. Some players are doing this for financial gain and others for a different, more sinister reason, and we expect both to continue in 2018. If Facebook, Google and Twitter all have trouble dealing with the fake news scourge, how will regulations and Congress be able to solve what the social media giants can’t? (For more on this, check out "Why the Fact-Checking at FB Needs to Be Checked: Some measures may not work all that well.") 

4.  Cord cutting will continue but still won't save money: Streaming will continue to be popular but consumers will at some point realize they are not saving money. There will be more streaming services, making it complicated to watch what you want on your TV (remember those?) and you’ll still have to open different apps to find the movie or TV show you want to watch.

5.  Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality still won’t be everywhere. Both VR and AR are making progress but neither is there yet.

6.  IoT will continue to be victim to cyberattacks. We think there will be more IoT cyberattacks, as IoT and Smart Homes go mainstream. Perhaps the only advantage of having to get up and walk over to a light switch is that hackers can’t hack your home.

7.  The future is still looking cloudy. This may be the one tech trend that has yet to experience a backlash.

8.  Driverless cars attract significant coverage. There’s lots of interest in driverless cars because driving is such a part of the American persona. While there’s been great momentum forward, we’re also seeing new challenges that need to be addressed: insurance-related, business model, infrastructure, and tech issues. Do you need Uber and Lyft if you can own or rent a driverless car? If you can rent, why do you need to buy a car? If Uber and Lyft deploy driverless cars, what happens to their former drivers? Meanwhile, we’re also seeing a push for electric cars; China announced plans to eliminate all new combustion cars and trucks by 2030 so we expect to see the rest of the world to follow, which one challenge being ensuring there are enough charging stations.

9.  There's never enough cybersecurity/privacy. There’s still not enough of either. The European Union has proposed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to strengthen and unify data protection for individuals within the EU but it also will affect companies outside the EU. So expect that U.S. companies will need to look at and evaluate how to meet GDPR.

10. NFL ratings will continue to decline. We don’t know whether it’s because of too much football (we’ve never liked Thursday night games) or because of severe injuries or because of the protests but we expect this to continue.

11. Corporate boycotts & consumer boycotts will continue. These are boycotts by companies in order to demonstrate distance from controversial programs and personalities. We also expect boycotts of companies that are boycotting those controversial people and programs.

12. Drug pricing will continue to get a lot of attention. But there won’t be an easy solution so don’t expect much except outrage.

13. Wearable tech will still not be as mainstream as people in the industry were hoping. But wearable will make quiet inroads so that before you know it (probably not in 2018, though), lots of things will have built-in technology.

14. STEM will continue to be important. With a looming labor shortage (in some fields), businesses are looking for employees with a firm grasp of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). We think funding for STEM will continue to keep U.S. businesses competitive.

15.   3-D content, 3-D TV and 3-D printers will still not be as popular as they are cool.

16.   Artisanal will still be a hot concept.

17.  e-Wallets still will gain traction in 2018 but mostly for Millennials as opposed to their parents.

18.  Content management remains king.  

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Wall St. Journal Validates Our Prediction in a Column Entitled, "How Retailers Can Thrive in the Age of Amazon"

It almost seems like there's a law that an article about the status of the retail sector must mention Amazon.

In our predictions for 2018, we discussed the possibility of a "retailpocalypse" due to "Amazonification."

The Wall St. Journal interviewed a shopping mall owner in Bellevue, WA, and wrote about it in a In a column published after our predictions hit entitled, "How Retailers Can Thrive in the Age of Amazon The secret, says Bellevue Square’s owner, is to provide customers with ‘emotional fulfillment.’" So even in an article that looks at how retail can survive, please note:

  1. The presence of Amazon in the headline.
  2. The mall owner, Kemper Freeman, acknowledges that there are two problems facing most retailers, and one is that America has 50% more retail space per person than Canada and that Canada has about 50% more retail space per person than Germany -- and that Germany has it about right.
Which means even a mall developer who is doing well, and has found ways to drive people to his locations -- the article makes it clear that Freeman is actively engaged in boosting traffic -- feels the U.S. retail sector is facing problems, observing, "If he's right, a severe real-estate contraction is coming, and weak stores and malls will get eaten alive."

And that's from a booster of the industry.

Freeman also makes the point that online sales represents a low-double-digit percentage of overall retail sales, and that some of his malls' hottest retailers are those, like Amazon and Tesla, have an online and bricks-and-mortar presence at his mall.

In other words, for many, shopping is still entertainment, getting out of the house, socializing, and about a level of experience that point-and-click does not equal. According to Freeman, that's why bricks-and-mortar retail will survive but they have to know how. His bet? Macy's will not survive because it is run by accountants not by entrepreneurs, who truly value customers, not just costs (as accountants do).

We don't want retail to fail. We're just interested in how the media covers the sector, when we think it is vital to the U.S. economy.

We'll find out in mid-January how retail did this Christmas season when the National Retail Federation (NRF) releases the numbers at its annual conference. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Key Predictions for Trends in 2018, Part II

When we evaluated trends for 2018, we came up with more than five -- while avoiding politics. 

Here's what we're calling our Bonus Set of Predictions:

1.  The media landscape will change in 2018. Beyond newsroom layoffs and publication shut downs, which is upsetting, the media landscape will change in other ways in 2018, thanks to three deals: a DOJ-opposed AT&T -Time Warner combination, a more likely Sinclair Broadcasting purchase of Tribune Media, and a Disney acquisition of Fox’s TV and movie studios (but not Fox News, Fox Sports and Fox TV channel). If two of those three deals go through, expect others as defensive moves.  In an Internet of media choices, consolidation at this level may not be in the consumers’ interest.

2.  Artificial Intelligence and robotics, now interconnected, will continue to be “hot.” A.I. and robotics will be combined in articles (instead of considered separately as in prior years), and we expect to continue to see scare stories about a “robocalypse” in which A.I.-enabled robots replace human workers as well as more-reasoned articles that debunk the scare stories. We’re not as worried because there we think it will open other types of jobs, and that implementing A.I. seems inevitable because the potential benefits could be so significant. 

3.  Innovation often will come via business models. You might not be able to get a reservation at that great local restaurant you’ve been ordering from but that’s because of their delivery-only business model relies solely on mobile-ordering apps. By eschewing things like waitstaff, expensive leases, and needing to focus on turnover rates for tables, these restaurants are able to flourish in a notoriously tough sector. We expect coverage of that sort of innovation – not so much of technology but in the use of technology – to continue in 2018.

4.  Bitcoin and blockchain is hitting it big time. Lots of coverage. Still not mainstream but finally reaches a point where people who haven’t paid attention at least have heard of the two cryptocurrency terms.

5.  Is the internet dying? Long before the (possible) end of net neutrality, some have predicted that the internet is dying. The internet (which was once so important it was always capitalized) has been subsumed by apps and by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, which control much of the online ecosystem, from app stores to cloud storage to online ads. Ending net neutrality favors those five companies, while making it harder for small disruptive startups.

6.  The first amendment becomes a battle-ground issue. Between campus culture wars (regarding who can speak on campus and who can disrupt those who try to speak on campus), varying definitions of hate speech and the more-open expression of bigotry, the fight to protect free speech will generate coverage in 2018. Part of the challenge is a polarize climate is finding the balance between allowing free expression and preventing bigoted express.

7.  Millennials’ impact will change how companies market products and services. Currently America’s largest generation (sorry, boomers), millennials have had a significant impact on the workplace. In 2018, marketers will increasingly realize they need to change how they reach the 4.8 million 26-year-olds, and the millions of others currently 25, 27 and 24 as they encounter life-defining moments that include: choosing a career or to enter the gig economy; buying or renting a place to live, along with renovating or making repairs; taking on different responsibilities such as paying taxes and keeping track of their finances, including retirement; getting married, deciding whether or not to have kids and/or get a pet, and cooking. Millennials’ preferences and needs have already spawned new apps and services to deal with these responsibilities and choices. For example, we’re seeing a rise in food-delivery apps from restaurants that offer only takeout (not sit-down) service because they have a kitchen but no need for a dining room. We also expect a trend that began in 2017 to continue: companies will continue to develop educational programs such as classes, online tutorials and how-to videos on what the Wall St. Journal called “such basic skills as to mow the lawn, use a tape measure, mop a floor, hammer a nail and pick a paint color.” We also expect millennial preferences to become the default choice; for example, doorbells may become vestigial as millennials text, not ring, when they arrive at a friend’s house.

8.  Smart-Home automation will gain acceptance but still a niche offering. Smart homes are preferred in some markets by some buyers but not everyone wants them or values them yet. That said, smart home technology and appliances are getting easier to find, install and deploy. One possible driver of smart home tech could be counter-intuitive: with a growing population of seniors aging in their homes, their adult children may insist on installing tech that can help them monitor their parents. As long as the internet doesn’t crash, adult children will be able to check in on their parents, adjust heating and air conditioning (already possible with Nest and other devices), turn on lights and get help via apps that their parents may not have figured out. As tech-friendly boomers age in their own homes, expect them to embrace smart-home technology. We think Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to be a widely used phrase but that “smart home” is a more user-friendly term that may be easier to market. By the way, the biggest smart home tech segment will continue to be intelligent personal assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home speakers.

9.  The ranks of unicorn startups will grow but expect a backlash because unicorns are difficult to sustain. There’s a lot of money being thrown around, which is why we expect some of the enthusiasm for unicorns to diminish. It’s been very difficult to maintain a $1 billion-plus valuation in a meaningful exit. Also, we think New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo is right when he said, a continued threat for startups is that just “fewer than 1 percent … end up as $1 billion companies” and that the Frightful Five (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft) can out-pay key employees (an issue in the A.I. space), out maneuver or just invest in startups and co-opt them.

10. Religious nonprofits will be able to publicly make political endorsements, but doing so will change how they are perceived. As this is written, the GOP is discussing whether to eliminate the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits nonprofits from endorsing political candidates. We think Congress will repeal Johnson because it’s a campaign promise President Trump made. However, we think – and some, who otherwise hold opposing views, agree that it will affect how American’s perception when religious organizations are turned into political action committees. 

In our next post, we will post a set of ongoing trends that we think are important to keep in mind.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

TrendReport 2018: Our Annual Look at Media and PR Predictions

Here is our 16th annual list of predictions of media trends. We develop the annual list to help our clients understand key trends that will affect media, marketing and technology over the next 12 months, so we can help them develop more compelling story angles and strategies to be effective.

Here are five of the agency’s top 18 media and marketing trends for 2018, and we will roll out the rest over the next week:

1.  Expect to hear about “the retailpocalypse” as a key consumer sector tries to fight Amazonification. Consumers love to shop online for the low prices, unlimited selection, and fast, free delivery (if they have Amazon Prime or specials). But traditional grocers and retailers (including Wal-Mart, which recently dropped “Stores” from its name to boost its e-commerce cred) have to find new ways to compete. A retailpocalypse could cause far-reaching ripples into: real estate (there are more than 1,000 malls); advertising (a downturn in retailers’ ad buying would also impact media’s budgets); and employment (the sector lost 51,000 jobs in 2017).

2.  People will be more anxious and angry. The ‘60s may have been the Age of Aquarius but this decade seems to be the Age of Anxiety and Anger. One cause: screen addiction. Constantly clicking our smartphones for the latest news – and it seems that there’s continually breaking news – may help us feel we’re on top of the situation but it leaves most of us feeling more empty, worried and angry than before – despite political preferences. We anticipate more coverage on stress, anxiety, mental health and ways to de-stress, which includes taking a break from your device – aka a technology cleanse or digital detox – which is healthy and a good idea but may seem impossible to do.

3.  There will be a debate about whether or not and how to regulate Facebook, Google and Twitter. The concern is about the power of their algorithms to determine what we see, especially regarding political ads and the veracity of the news delivered to each of us. The three major platforms have not disclosed specifics but have committed to working to increase transparency and prevent completely false and irresponsible content from being perceived as real news. The underlying questions are: "Has big tech gotten too powerful?" and "Can the major players truly clamp down on the false narratives spread on their platform?" and "How can Congress find a way to regulate them to prevent it from happening in the future?" Expect Congress to continue to hold hearings on the subject – just don’t expect any agreement on the answers before 2018’s midterm elections. (Net neutrality, another issue that also involves big tech, will be an additional source of debate and contention.)

4.  The labor shortage and the gig economy will spark think-pieces about the nature of work. The media will examine the nature of work in the age of a gig economy, including whether it’s a temporary arrangement until a full-time job comes along or a side-gig to supplement primary salaries. Also look for articles about rethinking the social safety net and the future of unions for gig workers who may not get minimum wage, unemployment benefits, employer-contributions for workers’ comp, social security and Medicare, among other benefits.

5.  Conversations about gender, sexuality and sexual harassment have changed – at least in the media. We’re in the midst of a necessary and significant societal change, and hope that the conversation will deter sexual harassment, and cause toxic cultures to reform, whether in the office or elsewhere. While a post-Weinstein mentality has certainly affected the media and entertainment worlds, we will know if there are long-term changes if men in other fields, like banking (not just VCs) and politicians (not yet named), are resign or are forced out of their positions. Meanwhile, gender and sexuality issues will continue to generate coverage, whether about bathrooms, pronouns or other ways to be inclusive.

The complete list, containing more than a dozen additional predictions, touching on the changing media landscape, bitcoin, smart-home tech, and the future of unicorns, will be rolled out on PRBackTalk.

In the meantime, let us know if you think we were right, somewhat right, kind of wrong or totally missed it.