Monday, June 21, 2021

What We Can Learn by Looking at Past Predictions

We were cleaning up our office last year, sorting through paper files if you can believe it, when we saw a document entitled "Social Media Predictions 2009" -- a simpler age, or so it seems from a near-post-pandemic period.

So we thought it would be fun to see what some of those predictions were, from the perspective of being able to determine if that future ever arrived.

  • They were talking about Web 2.0 back then. The prediction was that social media would bring about a "culture of rapid response." That certainly seems like that occurred. Social media spreads news -- accurate or not -- much more rapidly, often scooping traditional news sources. We do now expect quick response when we post a complaint about a service or product. That was from David Armano, then with Logic + Emotion.
  • One prediction said that in 2009, marketers would move from assigning "responsibility for social media strategy to the most logical person in the communication team" to allowing the most passionate individual from any division to lead social media efforts." Even now, that sounds like a smart move. But the reality is that social media marketing is often handed off to the youngest team member, based on the hope that they understand this social media thing better than Boomer bosses.
  • That same prediction also said marketers would go from reaching "out to the biggest bloggers you could find" in 2008 to targeting "the most relevant bloggers for your campaign, (offering) them something of value and build relationships." Again, interesting idea. But we've seen clients who want to reach the biggest bloggers and podcasters (something that wasn't a thing back then) and shy away from those who are passionate but don't have broad reach. Influence can't always be measured by reach, and podcasters often don't have (or prefer not to share) metrics, the way traditional media does. We think it makes sense to target relevant bloggers and podcasters even if they don't have huge numbers but it's important to justify the executive's time or else walk away from the opportunity.
  • Another prediction was that "2009 will also be the year we rediscover the appeal of 'live intimacy,'" live conversations with online consumers and also that we will "see more companies doling out good old fashioned hand-written notes and letters" based on the premise that "intimacy touches emotion." We think that was a swing and a miss. Not that hand-written notes and letters might not break through the clutter -- we think they would. But it takes time, special talent and more time, to be able to hand-write notes to customers.
  • One pundit said "TV will be a big focus, because viewership in aggregate is actually going up." Perhaps it did. But more than a decade later, TV viewership even of once-major events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl, are in decline.
  • Chris Brogan had two interesting predictions. He said there would be a rise in Velvet Rope Social Networks -- sites that "aren't 'come one, come all.'" We don't think that's entirely true but Clubhouse certainly fits that. He also said there would be "Lots of Consolidation and Shuttering." He was right about that, too. For a client interested in reaching regional business-oriented podcasters as well as national innovation-based podcasts, we found that many ideal podcasters stopped production as recently as 2020 but there were tons of reasonable podcasts that ceased production in the three years prior. 
  • One prediction was that while clients "are eager to explore the benefits of social media engagement, (many) are absolutely terrified of the potential downsides...The tipping point has not only not been reached could still tilt away from social media if negatives outweigh positive examples." We think it would be interesting to return to a world before social media mattered, where companies could walk away from social media. But that's not the world we live in. So most companies, even complex B2Bs, do need to find a way to engage via social media.
  • Ann Handley of MarkteingProfs said that companies will increasingly craft content. That's certainly true. With traditional media shrinking (as it has for much of the past decade), companies must generate their own content.
  • Scott Monty, then at Ford, had a couple of accurate predictions, including: "Twitter will continue to achieve legitimacy." It certainly has. He also said, "Online video will come into its own." That also became true and I don't think it was so obvious back in 2008.  
  • Other predictions:
    • Google would buy Twitter.
    • "Blogger outreach from PR pros will get better, but not much." We think this one from Jason Falls, is accurate.
    • Better metrics. That may have come true but we still need better, more accurate and faster metrics.
    • eCommerce will go social by allowing "consumers to use the critiques from people they don't know." 
    • "People will rally to support companies they love when hard times hits." We think this prediction from Andy Sernovitz came true.
    • "We finally settle the debate over whether PR or Marketing 'owns' social media." Sorry, we did not. Although we've seen PR functions integrated into Marketing, which means Marketing probably does 'own' social media after all.
    • One pundit said that "After much election season talk about Obama's social media presidency,'" many will "realize that his win had less to do with his innovative use of social media than we'd thought." Well, that may have been true. But we did see how Trump's use of social media was vital to his visibility and reach.  
The conclusions included: "We understand the technologies but need to employ them with a human empathy" and that measurement and relevance are key to success. That still seems to be the case. We guess this is a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Bloomberg Businessweek Validates Our Supply Chain Prediction

 Back in January -- which, like so much of our time during the pandemic, seems like ages ago -- we issued our annual set of predictions. This year, among our predictions, we said that "We will all become more aware of supply chains."  

 There have been many other articles about supply chain issues -- like we're running low on semiconductors in part because of strong demand for cars and running low of sheetrock because of a rise in the number of renovations -- but Bloomberg Businessweek described what's going on as Fear of Running Out (FORO). 

It's worth checking out the Bloomberg article because this is likely to affect all of us. We have several new clients this year, and we've already been asking them how they will prepare for possible supply chain shortages. 

It's an issue that businesses need to prepare for because their suppliers may be already affected.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

6 Additional Media Trends for 2021

Of course the biggest story in 2021 will continue to be COVID-19 pandemic, the rollout of vaccines, the reopening of businesses, gathering at sporting events, holidays, family celebrations and getting back to normal.

Though we're not sure what "getting back to normal" will actually look like.

We do know that reporters, who had to adjust to covering the impact of the pandemic on their particular beats, will continue to cover both their beat areas and the pandemic. For example, sports reporters continue to cover games, trades, etc. while also reporting on games cancelled because of athletes who tested positive. What might be different is that they're testing positive to COVID, not to steroids. (As compared to a decade or so ago when steroid use in baseball was a big problem.)

In this post, we will look at six additional trends we think will be important this year. If they look familiar from 2020, they are. These are long-term trends affecting the media world, and are important to note because they address the daily circumstances that affect reporters. With an understanding of some of the variables reporters contend with can help when pitching stories to the media, developing marketing campaigns with media outlets, etc. 

  1. In a post-truth era, media polarization will continue and media credibility will decline. For years now, Americans have been living in a post-truth era – in which there’s a lack of shared, objective facts. Unfortunately, the growing distrust of the media and the chasm between media bubbles will get worse in 2021, especially on social media. This is bad for business because it exacerbates polarization and diminishes the credibility of all media outlets – making it harder for marketers to reach broad population segments while making it easier to unintentionally alienate parts of the population. Bonus thought: we expect the phrase post-truth to be used quite often in articles that look at the current lack of unity inside the U.S., fueled by social media and conspiracy theories and the immediate past administration.     
  2. The news flow won’t diminish in the first half of the year. The chaos of news over the past few years boosted engagement with news sources as people tried to keep up and make sense of it all. Despite a change to a presumably more-disciplined/boring administration, we expect the news flow to continue at its current levels through the fall due to the ongoing pandemic, its impact on the economy and continued volatile political situation. We also expect Doomscrolling will drop off but not fade away in 2021. The implication for marketers is that it may be hard to get the attention of reporters and producers as well as from consumers while they continue to be distracted by the latest developments.
  3. From a business perspective, the media sector will face a challenging year. Although we’re confident about demand for news will stay steady, we know demand by itself has not been the panacea for the media. In broadcast news, there’s a battle for viewers between Fox versus NewsMax and OAN plus a possible new threat if Donald Trump launches or buys a media property. Meanwhile, among newspapers and magazines, the New York Times, Wall St. Journal and Washington Post, and People are doing well, but the rest haven’t found a sustainable business model, especially because retail advertising has dropped due to COVID. Keep in mind: despite the strong demand for news, thousands of newsroom positions were cut in 2020, especially at local media, and that, sadly, will continue in 2021.
  4. More newsrooms will be shuttered. Since the start of the pandemic, most reporters have been working remotely so some companies have decided to save money by shuttering physical newsrooms including New York Daily News, Hartford Courant, Orlando Sentinel, and other big papers, much less at smaller, regional papers. That’s not a good thing because we feel there is real value in training junior staffers, which becomes harder when they’re working remotely from mentors. It also makes it harder for PR functions because it’s much harder to call reporters when they’re working from home, and have given up or rarely check their office voicemail.
  5. There are fewer reporters working, but it seems like there's more news than ever. Especially at local media, which increasingly seem understaffed, reporters are overwhelmed. They have to file more stories with fewer resources and less time between in which to develop stories. In years past, they would have had time to talk to the executive and get an original quote and add some insight into the announcement. We're not blaming reporters -- we blame the economics that have resulted in the layoffs of tens of thousands reporters over the last few years. Given smaller staffs, there's just not enough time to interview every executive. At some outlets, reporters are told they must file a certain number of stories per day. And when they're done with a story, they need to cross-promote it via social media. 
  6. Substack won’t save most reporters. An email newsletter platform designed to enable reporters to turn readers into paying subscribers, Substack has lured dozens of prominent reporters with the claim of a better business model for journalists to control their destiny and make money. Some, like historian Heather Cox Richardson, have thousands of paying subscribers and generate significant money via their Substack newsletter. But it’s not a solution that will scale and save the industry or even help most reporters. For PR professionals, it will mean evaluating new media targets and explaining to clients why a Substack newsletter represents a worthwhile opportunity.
All these issues still remain in force in 2021, and PR functions need to be aware of them in order to be successful in dealing with the media.

Friday, January 15, 2021

TrendReport for 2021: Top Trends for This Year

    For the 19th year, here are our predictions for the upcoming year.

    As always, we will be rolling out other key trends over a series of blog posts but here are our top 7 predictions for 2021:

    1. We will all become more aware of supply chains. While supply chain and logistics are vital, they rarely get mentioned in the mainstream media because they’re typically invisible to consumers. Because the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines encountered significant challenges and there were shortages of key consumer goods and appliances, we will all become more aware of supply chains issues this year. We expect more coverage if key shortages arise.
    2. The workplace of the future will be your home. Experts predict that a significant percentage of employees will choose to continue to work from home – which has propelled some to move to cheaper, less dense neighborhoods. Companies will have to rethink HR, recruiting and team building as well as reconfigure workflow, collaboration, and customer support to address the realities of the new workplace. For grocery stores, restaurants and retail locations, expect short-term changes like plexiglass dividers, asking people to socially distance, etc. to likely remain into 2022.
    3. Cities will need to reimagine downtown business districts. Office buildings will be emptier in 2021 as many businesses re-evaluate office needs and try to get out of leases. Local hospitality businesses and retailers need to focus on delivering customer experience, not just commodity service. To overcome stories about closures and stagnation, stimulate the local economy and give people a reason to visit, cities will need to revitalize downtown areas by expanding cultural activities.
    4. Telepresence, industrial robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will get more attention. Companies will experiment with deploying telepresence and robotic solutions and integrating AI to be better able to weather the next pandemic. This is an opportunity for industries like manufacturing that require onsite employees but haven’t updated processes. There will also be articles noting concerns about the impact of robots in the workplace on jobs as well as advances in AI.
    5. Telehealth becomes a preferred option, not an alternative. Telehealth will become the preferred option, particularly for therapy or appointments that don’t require hands-on treatment. We expect to see stories on the delivery of healthcare to those who don’t have access to telehealth and whether patients will get the same level of care and attention via virtual sessions as they do with in-person visits.
    6. Big Tech’s role will be scrutinized. With antitrust suits against Facebook and concerns about Section 230 – the FCC rule that protects social media companies from being sued for the content posted onto their sites – 2021 will be a tough year for Big Tech. Forcing Facebook to sell off Instagram and WhatsApp won’t solve the real problem: the polarizing nature of social media and the impact of disinformation in the public square. But everyone has an opinion, and we expect to see think numerous stories exploring the topic this year.
    7. The streaming wars will continue with no real losers. With the exception of Qubi, a standalone service that closed in six months, most of the new streaming services were launched by networks trying to optimize their content. The currently expanding number of streaming services have benefited from people staying home, but there are too many different providers to be sustainable. Contraction of non-network-based services (Crackle and Tubi, for example) won’t happen this year but could happen within 24 months.

    As always, let us know if you agree or disagree with these. 

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.