So why place data and technology at the top of our trends list? Relocation is a people business and few (if any) of our members are likely to be looking into AI or data mining to grow their businesses anytime soon. But we think it’s important you understand the most influential disruptor of the decade that impacts absolutely everything, right down to our weekly food shop. So here goes.
DATA & TECHNOLOGY
1. Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and GDPR
Artificial intelligence is essentially the kind of task that, if humans performed it, we’d say they had to apply intelligence to execute the task. AI is not simply chatbots on a customer service helpdesk. It’s about machine learning and data analysis. Every query you make and every decision you take helps the system give a better, more personalised response as it learns to anticipate your requirements. And Waze telling you the best route in view of the current traffic situation or Facebook’s algorithm deciding which posts show up in your newsfeed, is just the start of it. No matter what you might principally believe about AI, chances are you are already relying on it.
Similarly, as a company, you possess data. There is personally identifiable data, or PPI (home address, dates of birth, work visas and more), and non-personally identifiable information (such as gender, age range or nationality). GDPR has changed the way we look at data from a business and personal perspective, and it’s a good thing. However, it’s the massive amounts of non-PPI data, also known as Big Data, that are currently driving marketing efforts around the globe as ROI becomes ever more measurable. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the counterweight to all this machine driven activity is a powerful need for a more human connection, more on which later.
2. Smart Speakers and Long Tail Keywords
The never-ending quest to rank well in search engines continues as before but has now gained an additional facet with the rise of Alexa, Google Assistant and other AI powered devices (hello, machine learning). The very nature of online searches is changing drastically, with ComScore estimating that half of all search queries will be voice-based by 2020. Deloitte recently predicted the smart speaker will really breakthrough in 2019. So what might this mean for your business?
Imagine you are considering moving halfway around the world on a foreign assignment. You’ve told your boss you’ll have to talk to your partner before coming back with a firm decision, and so whilst cooking dinner you ask Siri about international schools in the Brussels area or residential neighbourhoods in Waterloo. Siri will only give you a handful of answers, maybe even just one, instead of the 79.2 million that a Google web search will. To cater to this new technology you need to start including long tail keywords to bolster your online presence; highly specific multi-word phrases that answer the very specific questions someone might ask their smart speaker.
“I predict that storytelling will be one of the major differentiators between brands that get noticed and those that don’t. The market will continue to get noisier and brands that create human connections through the art of story will rise. This means that now more than ever, becoming a prolific writer and communicator is a key characteristic of effective marketers.” – Holly Tate, Vanderbloemen Search Group
STORYTELLING AND THE HUMAN TOUCH
3. Social Purpose, Authenticity and Brand Storytelling
We’ve spoken about the importance of purpose in previous issues of ReLocate and this continues to be the case in 2019. In fact, it is going to drive more decisions than ever before. No longer can we simply sell a service or a product, we have to lead with our business purpose to convince customers of our proposition.
“Social purpose is rising up the corporate agenda as consumers look for companies demonstrating (not just talking about) shared values. Watch out for brands taking Iceland’s orangutan lead and placing accountable leadership at the heart of their organisational strategies – and social media – to drive company value over the long-term,” says Sarah Hall of Sarah Hall Consulting. Supermarket chain Delhaize lost a lot of credit in the public eye just a few weeks ago for plastic wrapping the plastic wrapping on a plastic toy giveaway a week after their pledge to minimise use of plastics.
Authenticity is key and as such your brand story should be the solid ground on which all your communications are built. The Stackla Report tells us that 86% of consumers feel authenticity is an important factor when deciding what brands to support. This number is even higher among millennials. No matter how big or small your organisation, customers and employees alike are increasingly expecting your mission, vision and values to be more than just words. Driving your strategy, it is what you do and how you do it.
“Consumers used to accept that their favorite brands were neutral. “Don’t pick sides, and avoid topics and statements that alienate any audiences” were the common PR marching orders,” says Deirdre Breakenridge of Pure Performance Communications. “Today, there is a different set of consumer expectations. Businesses are required to have a voice and to take a stance for their customers on important topics. Maybe it is climate change, politics or other social issues? Social media and the citizen journalist have ignited brand purpose and social activism. There are businesses not only ready to join the conversation and be the voice, but that are also helping to create the change their customer wants to see.”
4. Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing
Advertisement fatigue is real and with 30% of all internet users expected to be using ad blockers by the end of the year, marketers are having to come up with creative new ways to reach target audiences. Sponsored articles (also known as native advertising) and user generated content are great ways of doing this. Their main strengths are that they entertain and inform audiences and – when done right – feel natural and authentic. GoPro for example almost solely relies on user generated content as a quick trip to their website will show you. Asking users to send in their best clips, they offer cash awards and promotions for the footage they use.
“In 2019, brands are going to find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain their audience’s attention on social media. The brands that develop creative content strategies that tap into themes that are culturally relevant (and topical) to their audiences, will win. People don’t go on social to see content about your brand, they don’t care about you or your brand. They want to be educated, entertained and inspired. The sooner you realise that and start creating content that fulfils those needs, the better.” states Dan Knowlton of KPS Digital Marketing
Similarly, influencer marketing is enjoying a meteoric rise. “For years we’ve been reviewing and rating products and services, which has paved the way for the rise of influencer marketing. Offering companies and brands a new way to survive, it looks like this trend is here to stay,” says Carol Lamarque of Duval Innovative Marketing. “People will always be receptive to recommendations by others. Think back to the last conversation you had with a friend about a new restaurant. If they enjoyed it, you’re highly likely to book there too. Social media have only strengthened this process as they offer committed influencers a great platform. You can’t underestimate the impact of a micro-influencer with a few hundred followers. Because they’re so small people see them as an individual, not a medium. It’s how they instil confidence.”
“Stories have redefined the way brands communicate on Instagram, and creative marketers are now learning to use this format to address each stage of the customer journey, from awareness to direct purchase. We’ll see even more investments in this channel in 2019.” – Todd Grossman, Talkwalker
5. Social Stories, Takeovers and Video Marketing
With 3.196 billion global social media users, equating to 42% market penetration (We are Social), social media’s significance to society cannot be ignored. Offering companies with limited resources access to powerful marketing tools, platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are adjusting their advertisement models to make marketing more effective for companies.
In this, video and social stories are leading the way. Done well, video marketing produces amazing results. According to HubSpot, simply adding a video to an email boosts click-through rate by a staggering 200-300 percent, and putting one on a landing page increases conversion rate by 80 percent. Forbes research supports this, reporting that 65% of executives visit the marketer’s website and 39% will call a vendor after viewing a video.
Thankfully, including video in your communication strategy doesn’t require a multimillion euro budget. Think about allowing team members to ‘take over’ your social media pages for a fresh new view. From interviews, demos and ‘behind the scenes’ glimpses of events, life in the office and more, thanks to smart phone technology, video is easily integrated. Use photographs and short video clips to create ‘stories’ on your newsfeed, and as they will only stay up for a limited amount of time, they serve to create a sense of excitement with followers. The more savvy marketers make use of the interactive options provided in stories such as ‘vote yes or no’, ‘click here to discover more’ and so on.
6. Personalised Content
If you want to stand out in 2019, you need to personalise your marketing – and that means personalised content, products, emails, and more. With the availability of data-like purchase history, consumer behaviour and links clicked, custom content has never been easier. In fact, Evergage reports that 96% of marketers believe that personalisation advances customer relationships. And it’s not just marketing that is driving this trend. Infosys found that 74% of customers feel frustrated when website content is not personalised. According to Forrester, 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalised service or experience. And Digital Trends tells us that seventy-three percent of consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make their experiences more relevant. Time to start looking at your customer data then.
When done correctly, using personalised marketing in digital and print business-critical documents can help you effectively reach your customers and yield a high ROI. In addition to revenue opportunities, personalised document marketing can help create a better customer experience by delivering content unique to an individual’s specific needs. Businesses like Netflix and Amazon are already leveraging the power of personalisation. Logging on to your Netflix account, for example, immediately shows you the evidence of this: the banner, carousels, order, artwork, text and search are all personalised for you. As Kevin George, Head of Marketing at EmailMonks, puts it: “The future of e-mail is real-time, behaviour-based personalisation. A study by Marketo shows that personalised, triggered e-mails based on behaviour are 3x better than batch-and-blast e-mails.”
7. Employee Engagement and Positive Experiences
From communicating with your target audience to communicating with your team, employee engagement is where all of the above comes together. Your corporate story is built on your strategy, which in turn is what brings your mission, vision and values to life. Your company culture needs to inspire and engage, as the business benefits of getting this right are impressive. Harvard Business Review reports that organisations that boast a clear and inspiring company culture can expect to achieve 20-30% better business results than their competitors. Michael Hartland wrote about the importance of delivering a positive employee experience in HR News last year, and we couldn’t agree more.
“An increased focus on building positive employee experience will be a core goal of internal communications plans. The benefits in improved customer experience and retention of top staff performers are undeniable. But while the value may be understood now, practical implementation has lagged behind. Nearly 80% of executives rate employee experience as important, but only 22% believe that their companies are building a genuinely different employee experience. In fact, employee engagement generally has been flat in recent years. One cause for this lies in our increasingly complex workplaces. Virtual teams, dispersed staff, technology, and multi-generations and cultures have all added to this complexity.”
8. One Tool to Rule Them All
This, in turn, segways into our final point quite nicely. We live and work in an increasingly mobile world. Over half of all internet usage is done on mobile, compared to just 31% three years ago. And although businesses have recognised the importance of a ‘mobile first’ mentality, the implications – and opportunities – for internal communications are both technical and physical. Witness the growing popularity of programmes such as OneNote, Google Docs and other cloud-based applications that facilitate team input and creativity.
Technological innovations have also opened the door for company apps as a new way to strengthen employee communication, engagement and loyalty. Allowing you to manage projects, assign tasks and keep other team members updated, free apps such as Slack, Trello and Asana offer a modern and convenient way of working within a team environment, irrespective of physical location. Holding the middle ground between a digital to-do list, a Whatsapp group and email, they go a long way towards keeping your mailbox free of clutter and help you pool information and resources within the team.
“This machine is not a space ship; it’s a time machine. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It lets us travel the way a child travels: round and around and back home again to a place we know we are loved.”
The compelling ‘Mad Men’ character Don Draper, creative director at a New York advertising company, pitches a campaign for a slide carousel to Kodak. While projecting pictures of his family and reminiscing on his mentor, he smartly interweaves his personal story with Kodak’s new technology and their wish to become a household name.
In every season of the Emmy Award winning television series one pitch stands out. The common denominator is the personal experience that helps sell a product. In Don Drapers words: “Trying to establish a deeper bond with the product – it’s delicate but potent.” Or, as Peggy Olson puts it during a pitch for Burger Chef: “Every great ad tells a story.”
And although we’re referencing a drama series, the show’s appeal lies in how relatable not only the characters are, but the stories they are selling too. People tell business stories to communicate and connect with employees, customers, colleagues, partners, suppliers, and the media. Business stories differ from regular stories, in that you tell them with an objective, goal, or desired outcome in mind, rather than for entertainment.
When you tell a story well, it can create an intense, personal connection between your audience and your message. Effective stories can change our opinions, they can inspire us to achieve goals that we didn’t think were possible, and they can show us how we can change things for the better.
Things to Sell and Stories to Tell
“Entertainment and corporate communications have intertwined for as long as there have been things to sell and stories to tell,” writes Alan Berkson from Freshdesk in a zdnet.com blogpost.
If traditional advertising is dead, brand storytelling is experiencing a meteoric rise, proving that although times may change, human nature does not. The easiest way to someone’s heart is through a perceived personal connection. Whether it’s your ‘about us’ page, your Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile or Facebook page – even the tone of voice of your internal communications – your ‘story’ is what turns your stakeholders into believers. Authentic, transparent and relevant communication holds the key to your success.
Thankfully, great communication isn’t exactly rocket science. From your clients and suppliers right down to your team members, you’ve already built a relationship. Strengthening that bond is simply a matter of combining all the ingredients you already have lying around to create your narrative:
mission + vision + values + strategy = brand story
In Alan Berkson’s words: “It’s what your company stands for, and how it’s making the world a better place. It’s a story that comprises your strengths AND your weaknesses.”
According to Incite’s Summit White Paper 2016 on Corporate Storytelling “your brand story extends beyond your marketing campaign and defines your company holistically. People buy into that story, not your product. They are alienated when you don’t live up to that story, and they are increasingly loyal and passionate when you do. Customers have plenty of choice nowadays. Yours is not the only option. You want them to choose to associate with you, not the competition.”
And it’s not just customers either, employees too want to know the ‘why’ of the company they work in, they want to feel connected and inspired. Chances are you chose your employees and suppliers conscientiously and without them your business wouldn’t be the same. By making them an important part of your narrative you are able to show how much you value and appreciate them.
“It [storytelling] is especially useful for leaders, for example when leading people into the future, taking them through change, influencing, unifying people towards a common purpose, transmitting values, motivating and inspiring. Incorporating stories into your messages helps to develop a shared sense of identity.” says Vera Woodhead, coach and brand developer, on allthingsic.com.
Some more sound advice from Alan Berkson: “Companies and their brand managers need to come to terms with the reality that they are no longer the only voices in the conversation. It begins with listening. You need to have the right tools and processes in place to hear and, most importantly, understand the consumer and then weave them into you corporate story. [That story] needs to be infused into everything, from marketing, PR and customer service, to HR, product development.”
It’s easy to miss an opportunity to connect so you want to be both selective and aware of your approach. In order to engage your audience your message needs to be concise, memorable, understandable, differentiating. A proper strategy is key. Your story is made up of different elements and not all of those are suitable for every channel. Once you’ve formulated your story and plan of action it’s time to share your message wherever, whenever you can.
We’ve all been there: we’ve dedicated time to keeping our lines of communication open, have raved about our great new services and special offers to clients and have shared our best photographs and most titillating insights on social media, only to find that we’ve failed to garner the reactions that we were hoping for. Our audience has failed to connect, our message has simply passed them by.
In fact, it’s your corporate storyline that ties everything together and not making use of what you already have is quite simply a missed opportunity. In order to build a dedicated following you need to make sure that your narrative holds across the many communication channels you utilise.
Messages have to reflect your vision in order to stand out from the crowd. Simply reposting interesting articles that are relevant to your field of business won’t do anymore. Where is your company’s view on the matter? Why should people care what you’re up to? What does your team have say? Get your story straight and your audience will start feeling that personal connection you’ve been seeking.
Not everyone gets away with Don Draper’s charades, but if you stay aware of pitfalls and keep it real, your story will surely be one of success.
Our top picks from Incite’s White Paper:
1. Determine where your brand story will come from. The main lesson here? Don’t manufacture something from nothing. Pick something you’re already doing. This can be aspirational (a “campaign for real beauty”), it can be a legacy point (the rich history of…), it can be based on sustainability and corporate responsibility, or it can come from your employees.
2. Don’t tell it yourself. This is beyond marketing and communications. You want to accentuate a message that’s already out there. Twenty percent of marketers say customers have more power to define your brand than anyone else. Your employees are a good bet, too.
3. Make sure you can tell it persuasively. If you’re going to ascribe the responsibility to tell the story to employees instead of the marketing and communications departments, you’ll need a different set of processes to sign off. You can’t strangle a story by running it past legal every time you have an opportunity to propagate it.
4. Ensure that this is for the long term. A brand story is most emphatically not a campaign with an end date. It’s far more wide-reaching than that. You need to plan further ahead and build foundations that last longer than any typical marketing campaign planning process you’ve done before. That means getting employee buy-in (which is why we talk not about creating a story, but about accentuating an existing one). This isn’t a paint job – it’s something people sign up for.
5. Use the story with more than just your customer base. Your brand story will help engage and build morale with your workforce, too. Use it to do so.
Master of the Universe
Where last year content was king, this year it has officially become Master of the Universe. Keyword-laden websites and articles have been in the doghouse ever since Google’s 2011 Panda update, and with the rolling-out of the Hummingbird platform in 2013 even more attention is being paid to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query – the whole sentence or conversation or meaning – is taken into account, rather than just particular words. The idea being that pages matching the meaning do better in search engines, rather than pages matching just a few words. This has put the onus squarely on producing relevant, interesting content that engages audiences across the board.
Additionally, consumers have become significantly better at spotting the meaninglessness of ‘cheap’ content, recognizing a lack of purpose in your message within seconds and excluding you from the content they wish to consume. Sharper positioning of your brand, the focus of your message, cutting through the clutter, condensed and more to-the-point content is the key to communicating online in 2016. Connecting your inner value system holistically with your audience will increasingly provide guidance and direction for how you create your content: authentic, engaging and from the inside out.
Another big trend in the world of corporate communications is brand storytelling. According to the Brand Storytelling Report 2015 by Headstream, more than a half of consumers are more likely to buy a product if they really love the brand story. People want to hear stories about real humans, stories they can relate to. Relevant stories that speak to consumers make brands meaningful. On top of that, they can go viral, giving brands organic recommendations that are more trustworthy than any other corporate messages. Emotional marketing helps businesses to stand out in the highly competitive market.
Apple, for example, don’t sell computers. They offer a way of thinking and a challenge to the status quo by making their products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. It just so happens that they fulfil this vision by making computers. Coke doesn’t sell softdrinks, they offer happiness, Samsung doesn’t sell mobile phones, they give you emotions and moments. Redefining your marketing strategy in 2016 can change the way people perceive your brand and bring them around to your offer.
Rise of the Social Influencer
That said, customers often trust peer recommendations more than a company’s sales message and curating user generated content (UGC) will become an increasingly important marketing activity. Internet users are more willing to trust a favourite blogger rather than a recommendation from a brand, making bloggers and other social influencers exceptionally powerful in the shaping of consumer opinions. Of course, word of mouth has always been a valuable source for customer acquisition and retention. However, with social media development it moved to a different level.
The traditional sales message is not the only way to gain attention for your brand as we move beyond the traditional publisher/advertiser relationship in 2016. By sponsoring great content, wherever it lives, brands are no longer reliant on display ads and banners to generate awareness. Instead, they can be associated with genuinely engaging videos, imagery and interactives which work on the platforms their audiences are using. Sponsoring content associates a brand with the site and topic at hand. Native advertising allows brands to develop their own content which looks and feels like a piece of journalism.
We’ll also see more companies partnering with industry peers and organisations with common goals to share know-ledge, start conversations, work on projects and campaigns together, and to generally increase the breadth of communications within the world they operate in.
Hot on the brand story’s heels is the increasing priority of thought leadership. Thought leadership is a newer marketing trend where business leaders and companies position themselves as experts in their area of business, which in turn serves as a great framework for related PR tactics and campaigns. From the publishing of white papers to appearing as a keynote speaker or putting yourself out there on LinkedIn with well-written opinion pieces, thought leadership is fast becoming a great way to get yourself and your company noticed, so make sure you get your story straight, keep your content original and most of all, be engaging.
Continued Shift Towards Mobile
With more communication taking place over the web, traditional communication tools have become increasingly obsolete. In addition to ensuring your business contacts’ information is available at all times, the real benefits of mobile devices are seen in the applications that they run.
According to Techcrunch there are now over 2 billion deskless workers in the global workforce, outnumbering desk workers 3 to 1. Collaboration platforms and productivity applications are supporting this trend towards remote working by allowing staff members to conduct business on the go as long as they have internet access.
These types of tools give employees access to business data and CRM platforms via almost any mobile device. Thanks to the power and versatility of mobile platforms and devices, the increased adoption of enterprise mobility is able to continue without hindering any business processes or negatively impacting employee performance.
Increased Reliance on Cloud-Based Solutions
This increased mobility provides an opportunity for cloud-based communication solutions to prove their worth. Many companies are already employing cloud technology because of its reduced cost and easy implementation. However, leveraging this technology’s capabilities will become necessary for companies who want to remain competitive.
Hosted real-time communications provide a superior business communication solution and integrating this technology with existing CRM software gives client-facing employees, such as sales staff, customer representatives, or office executives, a single place to access client data to manage customer interactions seamlessly. This level of service enhances customer experience while improving business efficiency. It also offers the added benefit of allowing employees to log onto the back-end systems on any device, even if their company-issued hardware is not accessible at that time.
Bigger Emphasis Placed on Enterprise and Cloud Security
While this notion is nothing new, maintaining enterprise-grade security will be as important as ever in 2016. With organizations continuing to migrate towards mobile and cloud solutions, the increased number of associated devices means more potential breakpoints.
Recent high-profile cyber-attacks have highlighted just how exposed any system network can be. The technological progress that continues to provide us with new business tools means that new opportunities continually arise for hackers. Each new technology has its vulnerabilities that must be identified and secured, and the rapidly-changing threats to communication applications require dedicated efforts to ensure the continued integrity of sensitive business communications.
And finally, we predict this won’t be the last set of trend predictions you come across this year!
Sources: smartinsights.com; newsweaver.com; tech.co;
addison-group.net; forbes.com; cotap.com; headstream.com; brandaffairs.com; hotwire.pr.us