Trends 2020: Another year of disruption for the communications industry

Arpan Basu, GM & Head - Communications, Coca-Cola India & South West Asia, writes about the big communications trends seen in 2020, the rise of social influencers and the disruptions expected in the communications industry. 

What were the few big changes that you think were of importance in 2019 for the industry?

In 2019, communications professionals were called upon to be brand ambassadors, social media experts, content marketers, and trend spotters – a trend we expect will continue in 2020. Some key changes that continued to dominate the industry in 2019 that necessitated this need were as follows: 

  • The industry continued to see increasing alignment with content marketing to educate, engage and deliver value to their audience. However, in 2019 companies realised that they must be built on a foundation of research driven insights. The art of knowing what, why, how & when is important. Companies understood this and invested more in it. 
  • Influencer marketing continued to rise on social media platforms. The rise of social influencers, particularly on Instagram, meant communications professionals began integrating this increasingly common tactic into their own programmes with the aim of developing partnerships to help directly access a specific target audience. 
  • Technology improved efficiency and relationships. For example, AI and machine learning tools helped teams with tasks as simple as curating media contact lists and automating certain touchpoints to bigger projects, like predicting a potential communications crisis before it’s was too late. Communications teams will need to get more comfortable with the idea of integrating tools and tech if they want to stay competitive in 2020. 
  • While social media platforms give opportunity to engage and interact with customers through a convenient channel, users grew increasingly leery of the information on social media platforms, leaving them feeling distrustful of both the brand and the platform. The focus shifted from the quantum of content to the quality of content. Communicators realised this and looked for ways to build trust and connect with their audiences on a meaningful level. 

Amongst these shifts, there was one element of the communications industry that continues to be as fundamental as it always has been: the art of storytelling. The ability to craft persuasive and compelling narratives is the foundation of communications and it will undoubtedly endure. What we have seen from our ‘Share a Coke’ campaign is that stories that evoke emotions can be very powerful tools to drive people to action. The future of storytelling is not only connecting with consumers to capture their attention, but connecting with them on a personal level with relevant messaging. 

What are the big changes you are expecting in 2020?

2020 is set to be another year of disruption for the communications industry. At the dawn of the New Year, some trends that we can expect to dominate the industry are as follows: 

Artificial Intelligence promoting personalised communications

  • AI enables deep understanding of consumers so that messages and content can be tailored towards them. 
  • Overall, it would make our work more impactful, more relevant, more targeted, more rapid, and far more valuable. 

Data is and will become your new best friend

  • Since digital has become an integral part of everyday life, interpreting data has become a vital skill for every communications professional. In 2020, data will play a bigger role than ever before. 
  • Communications in 2020 will be profoundly influenced by in-depth and precise data, changing the way that campaigns are crafted, executed and evaluated. It will be required for guiding communications efforts, measuring their impact and determining the overall value of communications. 

The comeback of storytelling & authenticity

  • Like a good book requires a strong plot, the best content weaves powerful stories with a strong message. The idea is to Engage, Educate, Entertain, Interact and Build personalisation in stories. 
  • The focus now is shifting from the quantum of content to the quality of content. Instagram is leading the way by removing likes from its platform, reducing the ‘peer-pressure effect’ in the process. The idea is that this move will eventually lead to the creation of more compelling content that isn't bolstered by artificial praise. 
  • The impetus will now be towards brand storytelling and creating authentic experiences for customers. 

Prioritisation of regional languages or hyperlocal storytelling

  • We are a complex country and a huge pocket of population residing in Tier 2, 3 and 4 markets is consuming regional media in a big way. 
  • In such a scenario, regional language digital storytelling will become a major trend, to capture the attention of the consumers from different geographies, culture or languages for the true success of the campaigns. 

How has digital transformation impacted the business of PR?
Digital transformation is already altering the business of communications, and the pace of that transformation is likely to accelerate in 2020. Communicators who embrace this transformation and are willing to take calculated risks are the ones most likely to benefit from it. 

In the communications industry, there has been a paradigm shift in communication driven by advances in technology. The underlying environment that the communications industry grew up on has changed. This old model has changed from having only a few choices for information delivery in an uncrowded environment where companies had distinct positions, trust, and an audience with a positive desire for brand broadcast messaging to now where consumers are no longer large general demographic groups, but splintered individualistic over-distracted, untrusting, and often unloyal consumers who are also vocally amplifying their opinions of every brand move, message, and experience. In fact, the entire decade has served as an active catalyst for innovation in this space. 

A handful of media positions has turned into millions amplifying your messaging 24 hours a day and creating user-generated brand content that you have no control over. Control of perception is no longer an in-house asset to be managed. 

In such an evolving environment, one needs to focus on creating tailor-made content matched with personalised attention to create and maintain a community of highly engaged users. Put consumer insights, interests, desires and demands at the core of every campaign and use data to inform strategy and keep testing, learning and iterating. 

The key to digital transformation is to ensure the consumer of the content is at the heart of the strategy and you’re coming up with a better way for them to make decision or buy a product. 

Could you share the key to managing perceptions in the information age?
Perception Management requires a voice and a medium. Today, the voice is being heard through a new medium (digital). However, the most crucial aspect of this chain is the consumer, who buys your product, or service, talks about it and may or may not recommend it. Perception is managing what they think about you. 

In this information age, where most of the consumers are online, quick, real time conversations connect them to each other and you. This is where you come in, you need to take what they are saying and create value. Digital integration is the key. Data driven analytics would be the ultimate tool to getting insights and making decisions. 

While it is important to manage perceptions in this digital age, it becomes critical to make a concerted effort to establish ourselves as organisations as inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable. Consumer loyalty today, rests deeply on people being able to see that corporations are going beyond their daily businesses to make a contribution to the wellbeing of the world and quality of life. It has more focus on building reputations in the long term and it also puts a high importance on brand consideration and influence.


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