Awareness Apocalypse: Why Your Brand Won’t Get Attention in 2018

Good riddance 2017, right? Just over a month into 2018 and it’s hard to find a communications executive or brand marketer who’s reluctant to put the past twelve months behind them.

Thanks largely in part to President Trump, the 2017 news cycle was one of the craziest and most negative in modern history. It wasn’t just that we were hanging onto every second of a truly 86,400-second news cycle. It was the depressing nature of the news that left us all feeling morose and exasperated. Furthermore, for marketers and communicators, it was nearly impenetrable.

Case in point? The JFK files were released last year and the government acknowledged that they had a secret program monitoring UFO’s, and neither story was able to maintain headlines for more than 24 hours. If aliens can’t get more than 15-seconds of fame, how will your brand?

That illustration of non-staying-power may be the calling card of 2017. It was a year where the signal-to-noise ratio in consuming online media swung strongly towards the latter. The background noise of fake news surrounding breaking news was nearly deafening.

Unfortunately, we can’t simply turn the page on 2017 in hopes of 2018 being a blank slate. The Trump administration, along with several micro issues that are playing out across the media and marketing landscape, will make for strong headwinds for communicators looking to drive brand awareness throughout 2018.

Media Have No Time to Cover Trivial ‘Earned’ Stories

RIP fluff stories. Communicators have been declaring the death of media relations for nearly a decade. However, with traditional media organizations being able to hang on longer than some projected during their transition from analog dollars to digital dimes, the practice has also hung on by a thread.

While it’s still too soon to completely strike media relations from your public relations and brand awareness toolbox, it’s true that there has never been a harder time to pitch your brand related story to media. The news cycle surrounding the Trump administration has built up an appetite from consumers for deep-dive, reporting and trustworthy analysis on news that has huge national and even global implications.

Look no further than the data that points to information consumption shifting from BuzzFeed back to traditional news organizations such as the New York Times, The Washington Post and even Fox News. RIP branded puppy video?

The issue for communicators looking to leverage media relations as a tactic to drive eyeballs and awareness of their brands is compounded by several other micro issues. The digital transformation of news media has led it to a focus on national and global news. This change is best exemplified by the geographic consolidation of journalists. One in five reporters lives in NY, DC or LA. A lack of reporters across the country — especially middle America — makes it nearly impossible to find reporters interested in diving into compelling stories if they don’t have a national tie-in.

And for brands that feel like they truly have a national story to be told? Good luck. You’re competing for attention from journalists sifting through the junk in their inbox from PR professionals that outnumber them 5-to-1.

“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.” – Yogi Berra.

ROI on Pay-to-Play Social and Influencer Marketing Drops

As social shifts to only enabling pay-to-play brand engagements, marketers will continue to be hurt by consumers desire to block anything resembling an ad. Facebook, of course, is the elephant in the room as it continues to dominate communicators time and budget allocation for social.

Unfortunately, for those focused on Facebook, they’re being hit by a double whammy of organic reach spiraling down to zero and engagement with sponsored posts also declining. Internet users have become incredibly adept at recognizing the stench of a paid or sponsored content. As we saw with the rise of ad blockers in 2016, people are continuing to turn away from anything that isn’t organic.

To keep social and influencer campaigns from going down on this sinking ship, marketers and communicators will need to focus on finding new and authentic strategies to engage their audiences in ways that don’t trigger their sponsored content alarms.

And while AI has been hailed as a potential savior for everything from travel to cybersecurity, it can add Influencer Marketing to the long list of areas that will be leveraging its capabilities to improve ROI. We can expect to see brands leveraging machine learning and AI more frequently to make smarter alignments with influencers and their followings.

The End of Net Neutrality Could Wall Off Your Message

With the FCC recently voting to repeal Net Neutrality, Donald Trump might not be the only one looking to build a wall in 2018.

Internet users may soon have to pay extra to access certain sites and walled off content. Of course, not everyone will be able to afford access to the content they want and will instead be forced to choose cheaper options.

There’s also the issue of competitive blocking. If you’re a startup that competes with an offering from an ISP affiliate, perhaps a Comcast, then your content could end up getting blocked by Xfinity on say an online outlet like CNBC.com altogether. While Comcast has come out and said that they will not engage in these type of practices, we will just have to wait and see.

As a communicator, the impact is simple: it will become harder and more expensive to get your message in front of an increasingly fragmented audience. As a startup, this could mean the beginning of the end.

One of the main reasons that startups have been able to compete against much larger companies is because of the Net Neutrality principle that ISPs must treat all data on the internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user. This gives a bootstrapped startup with a scrappy marketing team the ability to get their content and message in front of the same people that Amazon can without breaking the bank.

However, we could soon find ourselves in a situation where startups are forced to allocate a significant part of their already insignificant budgets to reach potential customers, draining their coffers at a rate that they simply can’t afford.

Hope for the Mission-Driven, Video Inclined & Crypto-crazy Brands?

Alas, there may be hope for some brands this year. If you’re a creative and mission-driven organization, video inclined or running marketing communications for a cryptocurrency and blockchain related company, you may still have a fighting chance.

Mission Over Message

In December of last year, Patagonia issued a defiant statement in response to President Trump’s plan to roll back protections on two national monuments in Utah. The company’s homepage read “The President Stole Your Land.” Patagonia took things a step further and filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration to block the cuts. In short, they took your lightly branded and cute microsite for your brand’s passion project and raised it 10-fold.

Aside from being a morally admirable move, this was also a brilliant and defiant marketing strategy that aligned well with the company’s mission-driven brand. For one, it led to an influx of coverage and successfully thrust Patagonia into the Ever-Trump news cycle. Supporters took to social media and rallied behind the company, so much so that sales were 7% stronger the week after the company issued the statement.

In 2014, the Global Strategy Group released a survey that found that 56 percent of Americans believed corporations “should stand up for what they believe politically. This sentiment has only increased as Millennials and Gen X continue to show a penchant to galvanize around issues that are important to them.

And while it’s never a good idea to show support purely for PR sake, companies with strong missions and values would do well to speak up.

Video Killed the All-Other-Types-of-Content Star

When it comes to video, the stats speak for themselves:

  • Between Snapchat (10 billion), Facebook (8 billion), and YouTube alone (4 billion), there are 22 billion daily video views.
  • There is more video content reaching audiences every 30 days than the major US TV networks have created in 30 years,
  • More video content is uploaded every 30 days than all 3 major U.S. T.V. networks combined have created in the past 30 years.

These numbers show how video has become the preferred way for people to consume content — on any channel. With an unfathomable amount of clutter bombarding us on a daily basis, video may just be the last hope in capturing attention and engaging an audience. According to data from Buzzumo, videos now gain twice the level of engagement of other post formats on Facebook.

Another key to video is the fact that there are so many channels to distribute it on. Even if Net Neutrality ends up walling off your content marketing efforts on the web, there will always be another video-focused platform for you to get your message out.

The Blockchain Bunker

This past holiday season cryptocurrency was thrust into the headlines as Bitcoin enjoyed a meteoric rise in value, minting plenty of millionaires in the process. Since then, it seems we can’t go a day — or hour — without hearing about cryptocurrency and blockchain and how it’ll either transform our world or go the way of the Tulip.

There’s been a lot of shameless maneuvering by brands to attach themselves to the buzz and insert themselves into the crypto-centric news cycle. In December, the Long Island Ice Tea Corp., changed its name to Long Blockchain and saw its shares soar 400 percent. And more recently Kodak announced that it is issuing its own cryptocurrency, called Kodakcoin.

While these are certainly cringe-worthy actions, they illuminate the glimmer of hope that lies ahead for companies that are playing in the blockchain and crypto space. No matter your thoughts on the viability or efficacy of these technologies, the fact is that they will remain buzzworthy topics for quite some time.

So, if your brand falls into one of the above categories you may be among the few that survive the apocalypse. If not, you may just end up feeling like Yogi Berra, talking among the noise with no one listening.

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