This is the time of year when the world’s digital pundits post their annual trends outlooks. Some may actually come true. My favorites (thus far, though it’s still early days) for 2013 are from Peter Kim, Millward Brown and Edelman’s own David Armano. That said, perhaps the most salient piece I’ve read lately in regards where we are and where we are likely headed was Mary Meeker’s State of the Web deck, released last week.
Not being a great forecaster (ask our CFO), I’m not going to try to predict the future. Rather, I’d like to propose four themes that organizations of all kinds should consider embracing – wholly and without compromise – in their marketing and corporate communications plans, programs and processes to drive greater stakeholder engagement, and ultimately, greater return on effort across their paid, owned and earned media.
- The first is Empathy. Translation: the world does not revolve around any brand or company, nor is any individual truly on edge waiting for the next Facebook update from the brands s/he may favor. If engagement is the goal – and ideally, sustained engagement at that — then anyone on the receiving end of your communications needs to see some value in it for themselves. What we as communicators say and do should embrace what our audiences want to feel and do as much (or more) as what we want them to feel and do. At the most fundamental level, this all boils down to conveying a feeling of mutual respect. Today, far too few programs are truly based on that principal, and consumers are calling on us it. Put yourself in their shoes.
- Second is Inclusion. No, I’m not talking about crowd-sourcing everything you do. That said, involving your most passionate advocates and those who influence them in candid, transparent discussions about what’s working, what’s not and why, and then further engaging them on potential solutions will drive both greater advocacy and improved performance. Similarly, denying them that opportunity will cost you. Most companies claim to want this level of relationship with their stakeholders. Truth be told, few have the courage to ask for, listen to and act on what their staunchest supporters and detractors really think. Transparency is not just inevitable, it’s liberating. Open up.
- Third is Intuition. Data is an incredibly powerful tool, but abused, an equally paralyzing crutch. Fact: it’s impossible to analyze the risk out of decision making. So why are so many are attempting to do just that with alarming frequency? (Note: the inverse — “shooting from the hip” – is equally foolish.) Innovators become leaders by taking smart, informed risks faster than their competitors. And innovators mitigate risks in the decisions as to what, how, where and when they communicate with the same discipline. Do your homework and then trust that gut. Tim Cook said it well in his recent interview with Bloomberg Business Week: “At the end of it, the things that are most important are always gut calls.” Don’t let the next feeling you have down there be remorse for losing an opportunity to lead.
- Last but not least is Resilience. Everything we do is moving ever faster; indeed, a lot faster than most organizations are prepared to handle. Poptech‘s Andrew Zolli (pictured above) wrote a really great book on this phenomena aptly called, Resilience. Zolli defines it as our ability — as individuals, businesses, governments and societies — to absorb disruption by changing the way we think; and from focusing on risk mitigation to risk adaptation. He challenges us to ask ourselves how we can embrace change, disruption and failure to bounce forward, instead of bouncing back. In communications, pre-planned campaigns built around peak selling periods are beginning to take a back seat to ongoing content-fueled initiatives that drive engagement among each of many distinct stakeholder groups in real time. Embrace the change and shape your future in the process.
All four of these themes share two things… a sense of humility and humanity. And what communication wouldn’t benefit from a solid foundation in both?
Rick Murray is president of Edelman’s Chicago office.
Photo originally published by Kris Krug.