By Sarah Longbottom
There have never been so many challenges facing the communications industry. Technology, AI, diminished brand trust, balancing truth with public interest, and the impact of social corporate responsibility are just a few of the key issues the industry is grappling with today. This industry is tasked with identifying current and future challenges to either avoid them, or turn them into opportunities.
Here are three topical issues affecting the communication industry today:
CSR / Corporate purpose
Customers – and particularly millennials and Gen Z – are becoming increasingly aware of corporate social responsibility. A report issued by Deloitte earlier this year revealed that younger generations are actively supporting businesses that make a positive impact on society. They prefer to support and utilise companies that align with their values. In fact, 84 percent of millennials are saying that making a positive difference in the world is more important than professional recognition.
If a business is perceived as putting its bottom line ahead of global considerations, it can fast gain a bad reputation and may even be boycotted. According to a YouGov report, tax avoidance and evasion is the number one reason for boycotting a brand (55 percent of those who have stopped using a brand). Forty per cent stopped using a brand because of staff being treated unfairly (such as unfair working hours) and just over a third (36 percent) were prompted by workers in the supply chain being treated badly.
Tax shaming has affected global stalwarts such as Google, Starbucks and Amazon, who were sent before the UK Public Accounts Committee as a result of avoiding tax (not illegally, it should be stressed) in the country. The surrounding media coverage resulted in widespread boycotting of these companies and has had a long-term impact on the brand’s corporate reputation.
Brand must be seen to be making a difference – internal CSR practices are not enough, if there is no external outreach. Closely aligned to CSR is the necessity for transparency and authenticity in communication.
The rise in fake news has made ‘the authentic’ all the more valuable. Savvy consumers don’t want to be spoon-fed platitudes – they want to see what makes a brand ‘tick’. Sincerity helps to drive trust and the public expects to see brands express themselves honestly, without hiding their vulnerabilities.
According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report, there is a distinct lack of trust of governments and media among the general population. Seventy-three per cent worry about false information or fake news being used as a weapon. There is particularly low trust in social media in Europe and North America. Brand communication strategies must take into consideration this lack of trust, by offering authentic content that will resonate with target audiences.
Authentic communication requires knowing what a brand stands for, then clearly and consistently delivering that message to the market. Brand should leverage social media, surveys, focus groups, point-of-sale and other tools to better understand customers, then appeal to their values and the causes they support.
Technological advances mean the level of data now produced on a daily basis will change the way we work forever. The challenge – and, indeed, the opportunity – is figuring out how to use that data in the most effective and efficient way. While the concern over robotics ‘stealing’ the jobs of humans is a real one, there are also new roles being created as a result of technology. The UAE’s RTA, for example, now hires data scientists to assist with traffic management at particularly busy periods.
The younger generation, perhaps surprisingly, has a love/hate relationship with technology, according to Deloitte. While 71 percent of millennials feel positive about their personal use of digital devices and social media, more than half responded that, on balance, social media does them more harm than good. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of millennials said they would be physically healthier if they reduced the time spent on social media, and six in 10 said it would make them happier people.
Cybersecurity is also a major issue. Only 14 percent of millennials strongly agree that the benefits of technology outweigh the risks associated with sharing personal data, 79 percent are concerned they’ll be victims of online fraud, and a quarter of millennials have halted consumer relationships because of companies’ inability to protect data.
By understanding the issues, the communication industry can turn challenges into opportunities, working with brands to keep them one step ahead of the ever-evolving modern world.
Sarah Longbottom is the Director of Strategy & Planning, Cicero & Bernay Public Relations. Opinions expressed in this piece belongs to the author.