[Viewpoints] 10 trends shaping brand communications in the Year of the Rooster

These days, making predictions is risky business. But I’m going to do it anyway – because it’s important to explore how the biggest trends today will affect marketing and communications in the coming year. Working around four topic areas – politics, content, technology and the market – here are the 10 trends that I see shaping brand communications in the Year of the Rooster.

1. Trade war of words

Brands can easily get caught up in today’s geopolitical uncertainty. As surging nationalism and international disputes affect consumers’ brand perceptions, we must be ready to help brands increase transparency, engage with the local community and debunk myths.

2. Alternative facts

Allegations of fake news will increasingly make consumers sceptical of all media. Combatting fake information could well become a key area of issues management for brands and I also expect to see brands making greater use of paid media to proactively control their messaging.

3. Social purpose

Consumers today expect brands to engage in CSR, or what’s now called social purpose. Nine out of every 10 millennials would switch to a brand associated with a cause, and 68% want brands to be more socially active. Brands that make a stand – such as HSBC with its “rainbow” lions – might risk losing some customers, but those who remain will be more loyal and tend to spend more.

4. Original content

Most millennials avoid or block ads, so brands must create engaging, original content. Netflix is proof that consumers don’t have short attention spans – but they do want exceptional content. As an industry, we must better understand our audience’s entertainment demands in order to produce blockbuster content that won’t be blocked.

5. Silent movies

We must also master the art of silent movies. Facebook users consume 100 million hours of video per day, but most view with the sound off. We must create great content and cut it a million ways – from the feature film, to the 6-second captioned video, to GIFs, graphics and podcasts – to get more mileage from great stories.

6. Channel optimisation

Brands are overwhelmed by launching campaigns across every channel, and customers are tired of stale content everywhere they look. What’s more, most of us are spending more time in fewer apps. In this context, brands need help to identify relevant platforms and do more across fewer, more active channels.

7. PR, VR and AR

Will virtual reality (VR) become a communications tool? We may see more VR stunts this year, but when it comes to truly pushing forward the customer experience, augmented reality (AR) may be more relevant. Considering the popularity of Pokémon Go, I’m eager to see where AR will take us next.

8. Bots

If chat bots are the future of communication, what’s the role of the agency? I don’t see robots bringing creativity to the table anytime soon. If we continue to offer inspiring, insightful ideas, I have no doubt brands will continue to seek our expertise – whether we’re writing bot scripts, or preparing crisis comms in case the bots do something they shouldn’t.

9. The year of data

Data is key to driving insight, however this year, I expect agencies to bring in people uniquely capable of understanding it – hiring ethnographers and social scientists alongside data analysts. Agencies should also invest in the right partnerships to get hold of quality, credible data.

10. Management consultancies

Will management consultancies disrupt the market? Consultancies’ one-stop shop is appealing, but I believe we must up our game, upskill our teams and stay competitive. More than ever we will need to prove – through data, and our own communication skills – that our creative work can drive sales and business results.

Jon Hughes is CEO at Golin, and a member of the Council of Public Relations Firms of Hong Kong (CPRFHK).

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)

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