By Robert T. Grieves
Reports of the latest digital brand marketing trends for 2019 discuss the importance of content marketing, big data, artificial intelligence, even the role of chatbots.
Before we delve into new, high-tech marketing channels, we need to discuss the most serious challenge facing brand marketers in Asia during the Year of the Pig: lack of trust in what they say and do on social media channels.
These days marketers must work on behalf of clients against a backdrop of rising populism, trade tensions, fear of technological innovation and widespread distrust of news and information sources, as well as of institutions.
According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global survey, average engagement with the news has surged by 22 percentage points from last year, with 72 percent of respondents saying they consume news once a week or more. Forty percent said they also routinely amplify it – by posting, sharing or commenting on stories.
Increased engagement is the good news. The bad news is that 73 percent of respondents overall worried about fake news being used as a weapon. So, even while consumers of news read more voraciously and engage more actively with news sources than ever before, they continue to distrust the news they are consuming.
Beyond concerns over fake news, trust for social media is the lowest in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APACMEA), according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, with only 50 percent of respondents indicating they trust social media as a news source. (The 2019 barometer surveyed some 33,000 respondents in 27 markets between October 19 and November 16, 2018.)
Which leads us back to the major dilemma confronting brand marketers in 2019: how to communicate about brands in ways that are credible and that burnish corporate reputations? Building trust with clients, journalists and targeted audiences is still a major goal of brand marketing.
A brave new world of technological channels is promised to marketers in pursuit of gaining trust: Using artificial intelligence to automate ad buying so that marketers can target more specific audiences (known as “programmatic advertising”); chatbots, which use instant messaging to chat in real-time, day or night, with customers or site visitors; live video marketing, used for interviews, product demos and “behind the scenes” glimpses of events or how products are made; influencer marketing, which employs celebrities, Instagram or YouTube stars, or well-known bloggers and journalists who can spread the word about a brand and its products through their social channels; social messaging apps; visual search; voice search; and social media stories that disappear after a set period of time, raising the specter of FOMO (fear of missing out) in the target audience.
While interesting, the new applications still feel a bit like gimmickry, and it will be interesting to see how successful they are in 2019. Beyond the technology, some existing strategies are still useful.
One solid trust-building tactic is the alignment of marketing and public relations with content marketing. This represents a shift away from a brand’s self-promotion at an audience’s expense, and towards giving the audience a chance to connect with a brand by using content to educate, engage and deliver value.
Another new-ish tactic is what I call executive communications, undertaken with the goal of personally branding business leaders. Overall perception of a brand includes how audiences view the people leading a company. The way company leaders and indeed key employees brand themselves plays an outsized role in the way audiences connect with and trust a brand.
Related to executive communications is a not-so-new but still important channel of brand communication that is relevant in 2019 – thought leadership. Thought leadership programs communicate the insights and value that a brand brings to the market. Thought leadership content ranges from insightful market analysis to a company’s sustainability efforts. PR teams must be ready to work alongside marketing teams to help key employees create content that builds their thought leadership and connects them to their audiences.
In this brave new world of distrust and hyper-scrutiny brand marketers and PR pros must play a role in content performance. It is no longer good enough to sell a story to the media and get a story “hit” online or in a publication. Media contacts and editors are becoming more concerned with content performance, for instance page views, social shares, and time on site. To strengthen their relationships with the media, marketing and PR teams should look for ways in which the content they produce will help their media allies via a content distribution plan and an engaged following.
Big data is key to the future of brand marketing. The amount of information generated online daily in unstructured data sets is staggering. The Economist has estimated that up to 90 percent of all the existing digital data available today has been generated only in the last few years.
One way in which big data is used in marketing is sentiment analysis. By combining big data with social listening, marketers can gather useful information about sentiment toward their clients among various communities. They can then customize campaign materials to fit the perceived values of the targeted community.
Brand marketers can further use big data and social listening to mitigate any negative press their client may receive. Big data also allows marketing teams to collect information from a wide range of sources to catch any bad publicity that could turn into trending news stories, thus creating a crisis situation for a client. In many cases this can happen in less than an hour.
In the “earned media” space, meaning when a story is placed in a publication based on an interview with a company or brand representative, new analytics tools powered by big data allow PR professionals to gather more accurate and insightful information regarding earned media placements. For example, insights on how many people click on a third-party post or article, how many website visits occur after an article is read, and even how many people bought a product or asked for more information. As Cision states, big data allows professionals to “quantify the degree to which their earned media content contributes to meaningful business outcomes such as awareness, consideration and behavior.”
Marketers can analyze what has caused a trend in the past and then predict when it will occur again. Big data enables them to assess trending topics, or identify what causes a negative reaction within a particular company or industry. Because big data can analyze trends within large sets of information, it can be used to correlate data over long periods of time. Big data can also help marketers adjust messaging based on the trends they find, and more effectively generate interest in a product by analyzing which audience to target first.
Trends such as big data mining can help companies build trust with their audiences more accurately and cost effectively than in the past. PR for CEOs and other key corporate officials can also build trust between brands and their audiences if handled correctly. Where marketers and PR teams continue to run into difficulty is in linking their corporate clients to causes, such as economic equality, sustainability and social justice, only to face scandals within the client organization that negate audience trust.
This year we will see which companies develop the most effective brand campaigns, and which crash and burn against the barriers of distrust and skepticism.
Robert T. Grieves is AmCham’s Chairman for 2019. He is also the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Hamilton Advisors Ltd, a strategic communications firm based in Hong Kong.