The five trends in public relations are: Content, Ads, Customer Loyalty, Influencers, and Customization.

This year made me wonder what PR and marketing is really about. The shifts we are witnessing are re-defining our professions, strategies, budgets, and even the skillsets we will need to succeed … and the changes are just beginning.

I could probably write a book on this topic, but for your rapid reading pleasure let’s address five cataclysmic PR and marketing shifts that will be impacting us in 2018 and beyond.

1. Content is King

The entry barrier to creating web-based content is near zero. Anybody with a mobile device and an internet connection is a publisher. This explosion of content means it is getting tougher and tougher to compete and get our message to stand out from the noise.

Since 2011, the average organic reach for a company Facebook page has dropped from 23 percent to below 2 percent. Why? There’s just too much stuff. The average Facebook customer now can see more than 2,000 stories in their newsfeed. Facebook must whittle that down to a reasonable, consumable number and that means almost all company content is cut out.

What are the implications for your business? “Organic reach” may be a thing in the past for many companies. Content creation and distribution going forward will need to be much more targeted, strategic, and interesting just to maintain the content “mindshare” with our customers.

2. The ad-free world

I watch more television programming today than I did at any other time in my life. Unless it is a live event or the news, I never see ads. My content consumption is generally through an ad-free subscription service like Netflix or Amazon Prime.

I spend hours in my car each week and always have the radio on, but never hear an ad. My music is coming through an ad-free Sirius XM channel or streaming from my mobile device.

I subscribe to four online newspapers. I almost never see ads. More than 20 percent of Americans now have ad blockers on their mobile devices, disrupting most digital ads from reaching your audience.

In short, my advertising consumption has dropped by 95 percent in five years. And I’m not alone of course.

The opportunity to reach people through traditional advertising channels is in dramatic decline. Inexorably, we are moving to an ad-free world. Agencies have gone through massive layoffs and re-structuring, budgets from the CPG giants have been slashed, and a foundation of our marketing strategy is being toppled before our eyes.

If you have been relying on paid advertising through TV, print, and radio it is time reevaluate where you’re putting your money and consider digital ads through Facebook/Google, content-based marketing, influence marketing, and native advertising as alternatives.

3. The end of loyalty as we know it

I came across an article about a company that specializes in removing logos from clothing. I grew up in a generation where you aspire to that logo, but it seems that more and more people do not want to be a walking advertisement for a brand.

This is a symptom of a larger trend. A recent report from a global consulting firm revealed there is actually a backlash against loyalty. Consumers don’t trust companies, they don’t trust marketing, and they will have a negative reaction if they think you are trying to buy their loyalty.

Today consumers don’t want to be “sold” to their favorite brands. They want to be involved. Study after study shows consumers want to know what companies stand for, how the products are made, and who is working behind the scenes.

How do digital natives feel about their brands? For them, it is more important to be acknowledged by their favorite brand than their own friends. I think that is because they believe that the brand IS their friend.

This suggests a new mindset for PR and marketing: Are you focused on creating customers, or making friends?

4. The rise of the influencer

In 2012, the first book on influence marketing was published, Return On Influence, and in it I predicted that within a few years this trend would become a mainstream marketing channel.

I could see that a power shift was underway … from Madison Avenue to Main Street USA. Today, any individual can publish content, find an audience, and maybe even create their own fame.

The YouTube and Instagram success stories are well-known by now. Self-made teen heart throbs are being offered massive sponsorship offers, lucrative movie deals, and ridiculous amounts of money to wear a branded sweatshirt. These new influencers are calling the shots with such a massive and engaged audience that I could argue that they are the new ad agencies.

There is a subtle, but no less important trend. People are stepping up and sharing their passions and interests on every topic from ice cream to software. These micro-influencers might not be making red carpet appearances, but they move the needle for product awareness and sales with a powerful and loyal niche audience … perhaps your audience.

Content generated by relevant, passionate industry experts can greater reach than content created by a company. No wonder figuring out the influencer puzzle has become a priority for many companies. I recently completed a research study that showed that even in the B2B space, influence marketing is becoming an extremely sophisticated process, with rapid advances in influencer identification, relationship-building, and measurement.

5. From mass marketing to mass customization

One of the biggest topics on the business front is the inevitable and profound impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on our businesses and careers.

I don’t think the impact of AI will have the same impact on our lives as say, moving from riding a horse to driving a car. It will be more like driving a car that gets insanely more useful every week. I believe AI’s biggest impact on consumers will be making every product and service easier, more fun, and increasingly personal and relevant.

While this idea of using technology to create personalized experiences has been a dream for a long time, largely it has been a failure. Maybe the ads we see on Facebook are a little better, but overall the marketing I see is no more personalized today than what I experienced 25 years ago by opening the ad inserts in the Sunday newspaper.

In 2018 and going forward that is going to change, and it is going to change quickly. The opportunities we have to merge data and experiences are breath-taking. I truly believe we are on the cusp of the most exciting era of PR and marketing in history.

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