It’s no surprise when experts claim that the Internet is the root of all changes in consumer markets today. What is important to realize is how these markets are changing*. It’s through understanding these changes that we can incorporate better strategies that will ultimately have more successful results.
Change in the Consumer
Access to information, and the ability to relay that message, has put the “message” directly into the hands of the consumer. In doing so, their expectations have grown. They have a larger sense of entitlement because of this control and in turn, it gives them a sense of power.
Change in Dialogue
How we speak to consumers is shifting from a monologue to what has been coined a ‘multilogue’, a single conversation to what can be an overwhelmed collaboration of information.
Monologue (think of one person) – Messages are shaped and delivered in a one way process. There was a time where you could pick up a major publication and knew what everyone was talking about. This news cycle is now broken.
Dialogue (think of two people) – This was a more sophisticated communication between influencers and communicators but still is one way. It embodies the idea of “What do you need to be able to say good things about me?”
Multilogue (think of a sea of people) – Conversation that is happening everywhere, it takes place all around us and consumers are more important in shaping our brands than we are.
Change in Perceptions
Changing face and landscape – Who are the people making the decisions on what messages get put out there? With the increase in accessibility on the web it’s no longer suits in meetings that are deciding what messages and branding gets spread. The landscape has changed to include anyone who wants to get involved.
Lack of trust and confidence – A study conducted by MS&L showed that people are losing trust in their governments and corporations. Instead, they place their trust in other consumers. Again, this is a perfect illustration of the shift in where those messages are coming from. A corporate endorsement of a product (advertising) doesn’t carry the same resonance as another consumer’s opinion. Consumers are using forums much more, as a place of product comparison and review.
Loyalty is redefined- This was a bit surprising that loyalty to a brand is not what it once was. Here, the focus is on the transaction (use of the product) rather than of the company itself. Perhaps this is tied to the lack of trust and confidence. Here, brand identity is important (recognizing) but loyalty is not directly related.
Changing expectations- As explained earlier, the expectation that a consumer has on a brand are much higher. The product not only has to perform to quality standards as before and be available at a competitive price, it also has to hold value or meaning to the customers in order to be competitive. Connecting a brand with causes and issues is a way to meet those expectations.
Change in the PR practitioner
The face of PR is changing, or it must change, in order to be competitive. Relationships are no longer a one-way transaction and as such PR needs to adapt to these new communications characteristics. Keep in mind that the role has not changed completely; instead think of it as adding another tool to your tool belt.
Advisor – To provide counsel: “This is what you should do.”
Advocate – To provide counsel and meaning: “This is what you should do, and why”
Activist – To be involved and motivating: “What should we do?” This role requires more involvement, more participation from the audience and requires a practitioner that truly understands how to use the tools. They need to motivate and involve, incorporate feedback and provide areas for the consumers to participate and gain a sense empowerment and control over the product (whether it be an actual thing, support for a cause, or an idea). The key here is to have “Message Discipline” – Say what you believe and say it often.
Overall, the landscape of communications is changing and we need to adapt, not so that we can forget what we once learned, but add to our knowledge to better refine the way we communicate with our stakeholders. These changes are creating a phenomenon and public relations is the key in taking advantage of it.
*Related to the master class “The Role of Digital and Influencer Marketing in Driving PR Programs of the Future” by Mark Hass, global cheif executive officer, Manning Selvage & Lee.
Zoë Siskos, social media analyst, Social Media Group, makes it her business to know bloggers and other content producers by building relationships, not lists. Her role is a perfect blend of her own blogging experience and her education and work in public relations. She also enjoys zombie movies and hates writing ‘About Me’ paragraphs. Follow her ramblings on her personal blog, MediumandtheMessage.com.
For coverage on the PRSA 2008 International Conference: The Point of Connection, visit www.prsa.org/conf2008.
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