Thursday, November 12, 2020

Track Report 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

Track Record 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

Track Record 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. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

9 Tips and Considerations for Conducting PR When It's Not Business-As-Usual

For businesses and nonprofits, as for all of us, the world shifted dramatically with the arrival of COVID-19. 

It's certainly far from business-as-usual. 

Yet business continues, and organizations need to continue to operate and keep in communication with their employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

This article will offer some ideas of steps to take during the crisis. But before we get into that, we want to thank: healthcare workers who are taking care of others, EMTS and other first responders,  along with everyone who work in supermarkets -- those who stock shelves and the cashiers -- and other always-essential stores that remain open, including restaurants -- and everyone in the kitchen -- now offering take-out food. We also want to thanks all those who deliver and transport the things we need as well as cable and phone technicians who are maintaining our Internet capabilities, while we're sheltering in place. 

Here are some ideas:
  1. Understand that the media's focus has changed. This is important, especially if you're targeting consumer or national business media (as opposed to trade media): every reporter now also covers how COVID is impacting their regular beat. This is true for trade media, too, since they continue to cover their regular business but they are likely to ask questions about the impact of COVID.
  2. Recognize that COVID-related layoffs have shrunk a lot of newsrooms. A lot of businesses are suffering -- we're not trying to minimize that. But for PR and marketing functions that work with reporters, it's important to realize that a lot of local and trade media have initiated significant cutbacks on staff. That means that newsrooms may not have the resources to cover your story (even if they did just a few weeks ago).
  3. Re-evaluate your communications and marketing objectives, strategies, goals, announcements and product roadmaps. Whatever you planned for 2020 may no longer be relevant, starting with launches and trade shows -- especially launches at trade shows. While we don't know yet when the general economy will reopen, you should like at key themes, plans, announcement and goals and adjust them given current conditions. It will require being more flexible and more sensitive to context than usual. 
  4. Stay relevant. Look for ways to support and contribute to your community because they need that support. For a software development client, we suggested offering tips for programmers working from home -- and found some interest among trade reporters. Make sure you and your messaging stays focused on employees and customers (and not on the company itself unless its how the company is taking specific new steps to help employees and customers).
  5. Postpone unnecessary announcements. Not all announcements are equally important. Those that aren't should be pushed back or dropped. A potential client asked us about issuing a press release to announce a new CEO for a small, international healthcare product company. We told them to hold off on that press release. While trade media continues to publish, it seems like it would be better to wait. For one thing, the news might get lost or overwhelmed amid the COVID news. Please note: some announcements are absolutely necessary; those should go forward but make sure you understand the context of when and how you issue the release. Also keep in mind: your news may not get the coverage it would have just a few months ago.
  6. Don't try to generate coverage because you're doing something about COVID. Every organization has had to shift its operations to adjust to the current crisis. So doing something to fight COVID isn't enough. You need to have something special to stand apart from what everyone else is doing. There's a lot of COVID messaging. ads, content (including this blog entry) and spam so you need to find ways to break through the clutter. Keep in mind:  Jumping on the COVID bandwagon risks making your organization look desperate. 
  7. Find a way to stand out by doing something unexpected but that fits with your brand. This won't work for most brands, but Steak-umm's social media experimented has paid off, according to the Wall St. Journal: "Steak-ummEmerges as Unlikely Coronavirus Misinformation Watchdog: Processed-meat maker encourages Twitter followers not to trust everything they read; ‘peak irony’ for a brand builder." 
  8. Content remains important. Trade media remains interested in bylined articles; we've been in touch with a couple of editors in different sectors who have been requesting content for May, June and July. They’re thinking ahead but some of the planning is taking place now. For the short-term, you still need content for your blog and social media if only to show that your organization is active and current. 
  9. Think long-term. There's still work to be done, even during a crisis. After the dot-com crash and in 2007-8 financial crisis, we used the down time to develop new processes and content for when we came out the other side. We're working with clients to continue to develop relevant content (some of which will be posted after the crisis is over), and we're doing that for ourselves, too. 
We're going through something that requires the sensitivity of the post-9/11 era and the post-financial crash of 2007-08. And it may be weeks, if not months, before we're able to get back to some sort of normalcy. (Unfortunately, our guess is that this will happen later rather than sooner.) And we think that once we're on the other side of the crisis, there will be significant changes to how we live, work, shop, educate, and entertain ourselves. Companies need to start thinking about what that future may look like. In the meantime, it's an opportunity to re-evaluate what your organization does and how it approach and update that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Pew Research Validates Fragmentation As An Ongoing Trend

According to a new Pew Research Center report on media polarization, Americans place their trust in two nearly inverse news media environments.

According to Pew, not surprisingly, 65% of Republicans and those leaning toward the GOP trust Fox News. By contrast, Democrats and those who lean that way, 67% trust CNN, 61% trust NBC, and 60% trust ABC. 

Again, without taking a stance either Republican or Democratic, this is not surprising but provides some context for what we predicted back in January (which feels like a different era): further fracturing and fragmentation of the media and the country. This Pew report confirms our prediction that Americans are divided by news sources, and that further fragments our country.

Companies need to find ways to talk with both sides. Not to be cynical about it but to be successful, marketing functions will need to be able to tell their stories in two ways, to tailor the story to appeal to two different sets of news teams to reach people on both sides of the aisle.

That's not always easy to do, of course. But it does speak to developing customized pitches (as opposed to sending out a single generic pitch) to the media. It takes more time but could expand coverage of your story.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

New York Times & Wall St. Journal Validate Predictions about Facial Recognition, Robots, Retailapacolpyse and More

Some trends move more quickly than others.

We predicted that privacy would be a big issue this year — this, after years when people said Millennials aren’t concerned about privacy. We’re seeing a lot of articles that raise concerns about privacy. We also said that facial recognition would get a lot of attention this year.

The New York Times recently wrote “Facial Recognition Moves Into a New Front: Schools,” noting that, “A district in New York has adopted the technology in the name of safety. Opponents cite privacy and bias concerns.”

Part of the reason for putting facial recognition in schools is a topic we didn’t identify: the need to improve safety to prevent mass shootings in places that didn’t have or need much security before, including schools, churches and temples. (We do expect to see a lot more coverage about protecting these kinds of locations this year, as these organizations, often nonprofits or otherwise under financed, have to figure out a way to protect the people who visit those locations without keeping away people who need their services.) 

In addition to reporting on facial recognition, the Times also wrote about robots, which we said, “Robots won’t take over in 2020 but will be more commonplace. ” The Times recently published an article, “The Robots Are Coming. Prepare for Trouble,” noting that “Artificial intelligence won’t eliminate every retail job, an economist says, but the future could be grim unless we start planning now.” First, it says that “robots are coming,” not that they are fully here yet, which aligns with our prediction. 

The article also looks at AI and how it’s used in retail — which correlates with another of our predictions! The article notes that the impact of robots and AI in retail has led to more than 6,000 store closings in 2018. Interestingly, the growth of e-commerce is strong, growing at nearly doubled but over the past five years, it went from 6% to 11%.
 (You’d think from all the claims of Amazonification or the coming of the Retailapacalypse, that the percentage of e-commerce as a share of the overall retail market would be substantially higher.) Just wait, we guess.

But the article also mentions how AI is being used to “figure out what customers want and to get it to them quickly,” which is another point we made. 

Meanwhile, more bad news the retail sector. Bloomingdale’s is shutting down its fur boutiques — but that seems like being the victim of fashion trends. But Macy’s is shutting down 125 stores over the next three years and approximately 2000 corporate jobs. The impact is that Macy’s has “served as a backbone for America’s shopping malls.”

This is our final validation for this blog: we had said that food delivery apps are going to face challenges this year, due to completion from other apps and from restaurateurs realizing that they’re not making enough money, maybe even losing money, and that this is not sustainable. Here’s the latest on this from the Journal: “Grubhub Spends to Draw In More Diners: Tight competition is pushing food-delivery rivals to experiment, adapt to industry in flux.” The costs for consumers will have to increase in order to make it sustainable for apps DoorDash, GrubHubs, Uber Eats, and Postmates as well as for the restaurants themselves.

Grubhub said it will sacrifice profits to compete — the challenge is how long they can operate before generating a profit. With an expected $100 million in profits for this fiscal year, we guess they have some runway to reach sustainability. 

We're living in an interesting time: there is a trend for people to spend more time cooking for themselves, with organic ingredients, even with food selection and recipes delivered to your door for you to cook at home. At the same time, we're seeing a strong appetite (pun intended) for food delivery services for people who don't want to prep, cook and clean. We guess that means you can have it your way. 

Which is our way of saying: consumers will have more choices for how to approach meals, and they seem willing to pay a premium for convenience. How much of a premium has yet to be answered.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

More News For Retail That Validates Three Predictions

There’s been a string of bad news in the retail sector: 
  1. Pier 1 Imports — which one late night comedian (accurately) described as “that store where you bought that pillow one time” — has filed for bankruptcy. The bricks-and-mortar retailer plans to close nearly half of its 940 stores, according to the Wall St. Journal.
  2. Wayfair recently announced the layoff of 500 employees, per the Wall St. Journal, while Walmart laid off 200 employees from an online furniture retailer it owns. 
  3. Victoria’s Secret has been sold to a private equity group, with the Wall St. Journal noting that: “Les Wexner’s decision to part ways with Victoria’s Secret is an admission that the 82-year-old billionaire couldn’t revive the fortunes of a troubled lingerie brand he had built around shopping malls and sex appeal.” 
So we’re seeing ongoing weakness from both primarily mall-based as well as online retailers. 

That’s a real problem, and a trend that we’ve been predicting for some time. We’re not happy to be right, especially because we don’t have any recommendations or solutions.

But AdWeek has some suggestions for brands — which is not the same thing but shows that even brands that do well selling online are fearful. Check out “How Brands Are Battling Knockoffs on Amazon: With a proliferation of third-party sellers, fighting copycats can feel like a never-ending game” and “How to Protect Your Amazon Listings From Copycats.”

Meanwhile, validating another trend that retailers will use technology to improve the customer experience, in an article entitled, “Grocers Wrest Back Control of Shelf Space,” the Wall St. Journal reports that, “Retailers are relying on their own proprietary research to decide where to shelve products, dealing another blow to large U.S. food companies that are already dealing with increased competition and shifting consumer tastes.”

Finally, we’ve predicted that there’s a renewed push for profitability and financial discipline among apps, particularly pointing to food delivery services as a sector that would need to raise fees and change their business models to stay in business. That prediction has been validated by yet another Wall St. Journal article: “Food-Delivery Firms Put Mergers, IPOs on the Menu: DoorDash, Grubhub and others are weighing tie-ups or looking for funding.”

American consumers still seem fine spending their money, but spending patterns are evolving. And other than Amazon and Walmart, retailers don’t really knows how to survive. So we expect ongoing turmoil, unfortunately. We're not economists but it seems hard to believe this is not going to impact employment rates and the economy at large.

9 Questions to Consider In Preparing to Be a Thought Leader

Recently we got a PR question from a former marketing colleague -- a designer who used to work at an ad agency with whom we collaborated on a range of projects.

She's now running a small rental property business, and asked: "How do I generate some PR about what I'm doing?"

This is someone who's a terrific designer and is smart about marketing. Her website is great, and the properties she manages look wonderful.

But that's not enough to generate media coverage.

There's no story there.

At least not yet.

To get media coverage, we told her she needs to think about the following things (see, list, below), and we thought these questions may help others, too:
  1. What story can I tell? We know she (and others have a business) but that in itself isn't necessarily media-worthy. So what insights and experiences can you tell? What advice can you provide? How do you help solve a problem that your customers have? What are you passionate about? These days, providing support for a cause that's important to you can help reach your key audiences, and can be the lens through which you become a thought leader. (A German client has embraced diversity as a core value; part of it commitment includes holding an annual job fair that helps more than 4,000 refugees get jobs. Through their dedication and experience, they've become a thought leader about diversity.) 
  2. Who are your customers? Where are they located? If they're local and they're looking for additional rooms for out-of-town wedding guests, the media she needs to go to is different than if most of the renters are from within the state or from another region entirely. What brings them to the area? What are they looking to do? She can find out some of this by asking the renters when she books the rentals or if that's done online, by asking if they'll fill out a survey after their stay. Companies of all sorts need to have a clear understanding of their customers -- and a surprising number don't have a firm grasp.
  3. What do customers want to hear? Her potential customers are looking for short-term rentals, so what may interest them beyond good location, nice furnishing and amenities? Perhaps its tips about things to do that only a local might know: the best restaurant, the best shopping, the best place for a walk or scenic vista. If she conducts a quick survey, she might have a better idea of what customers are looking for.
  4. What influences their purchasing decision? Is it price, location, amenities, availability? What is her competition? Is it Airbnb? Is it local inns or B&Bs or hotels? Again, the better understanding she -- or any company -- has of its customers, the better she can deliver to her customers.
  5. Based on her customers, what media should I target? Again, if most of her customers are coming for out-of-town events like weddings or bar mitzvahs, then local media is the ticket. If from outside the area, perhaps she needs to target travel publications. Understanding the type of media will help answer the next question.
  6. What stories will interest reporters? What type of stories are they looking for? A local business reporter might be interested in local business trends, and her insight into her customers can help tell a story about the local economy. A local broadcast reporter may be receptive to a story that has a compelling visual element. A podcaster may want tips or advice for small business owners, for example.
  7. What do I need to do to present that story? Do I need a blog and social media? (We'd say, "absolutely," to that. You can't just say, "I'm a thought leader" without being able to show appropriate content.) Do I need video? Does my website tell that story and is it a compelling and current story? (We've found that if it tells a story, the websites of many small companies still tell the story that was appropriate when the company was launched -- but that several years later, the story on the website has not evolved.) Reporters will check websites and if they don't see the story or something interesting, they may not respond to any media outreach, either email or phone. So the website needs to tell your story.
  8. What are resources do you have? Take a look at your budget (Do you have enough money to produce a quarterly video -- for example, with the rental property, February and March in New England may be tough times to get short-term renters so perhaps she could produce a video highlighting fun things around town during winter.) Who is heading up this initiative? Do they have the time, resources and expertise to focus on this? 
  9. What are realistic goals? What key performance indicators are you measuring? Is it traffic to your website? Engagement on social media? Inquiries, either online or via phone or email? In terms of media coverage, do you have a sense of what's a home run? What kinds of news or stories you are likely to have that's worth sharing -- just because it's good news for you doesn't mean a reporter will find it worth writing about, unfortunately -- and will interest your target media? 
These may not be the only questions to ask but we think they form a good foundation from which to strategize next steps. We think they're useful whether you're trying to generate media coverage or position yourself or company as a thought leader. If you're interested, please check out are other blog articles about developing PR programs and being thought leaders. Or contact us by emailing us here.