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Digital Trends for the New Year
Episode 224th January 2022 • Copper State of Mind: public relations, media, and marketing in Arizona • HMA Public Relations | PHX.fm
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As the digital landscape becomes even more entrenched in our daily lives, companies and brands, both large and small, must continue to adapt to the online behavior of their audiences, clients, and customers. In this episode, Abbie and Adrian talk about digital trends that are continuing into 2022.

Read Abbie Fink's blog post for this episode: "Trends in Digital for the New Year"

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Copper State of Mind is a project of HMA Public Relations, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm in Phoenix.  

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B podcast network in Arizona.

Transcripts

Adrian McIntyre:

Every New Year is a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” as the French say. Or as Michael Scott used to stay on The Office, “the less things change, the more they stay the same.” In any case, it is a new year. It’s our first episode of 2022. And we’re looking ahead as digital trends are new and continuing. Our host for this conversation is Abbie Fink, vice president and general manager of HMA Public Relations. Happy New Year, Abbie. How are you?

Abbie Fink:

Happy New Year to you too. I am doing great. It is so nice to be back with you. As I said, I haven’t seen you in a year. I mean, how many times have we said those silly jokes when you leave class at the end of the semester, “See you next year”? And we think we’re being so clever, but we still do it. Here I am all these years later still thinking that’s pretty funny.

Adrian McIntyre:

It would be fun to go back to the 8th-grade yearbook and see how many of those people did “stay cool” ...

Abbie Fink:

Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Adrian McIntyre:

... did “stay awesome.”

Abbie Fink:

And “my best friend forever.”

Adrian McIntyre:

Right. For sure.

Abbie Fink:

Sorry, I have no idea who you are, but I’m sure we were friends at that point.

Adrian McIntyre:

Well, it’s funny. We’ve talked about this before on other podcasts we’ve co-hosted, this idea that somehow the calendar rolling over from December 31st to January 1st is a significant, momentous occasion that changes everything ... or not. How are you thinking about it this year? I mean, certainly 2021 was not what we expected or wanted. Many aspects of the global pandemic are continuing. We had hoped this would be over by now, and it’s not. Certainly in the world of work, we had talked on our last episode about the way that the “new normal” of remote and hybrid workplaces and media launches, and things of that nature, is becoming kind of just how things are done now. How are you feeling about all this?

Abbie Fink:

It’s an interesting question as we flip the calendar to not only just a new month, but to a new year, we get the chance to sort of hit the reset button and maybe look at things a little differently. We all set plans and goals and resolutions, both personally and professionally about what we want to do. And this last year has been I think equally as challenging as the one before. You’re right. We had certainly hoped we would be out of this discussion as it relates to what the pandemic is doing. And I’m starting to hear from clients again about rethinking some of their in-person activities that were in the immediate future, maybe two months or three months from now and what do we want to do and should we do, and how will we do it and how will we be safe in doing it. But one of the things that has sort of made those discussions a little bit easier to have or in more of an automatic potential solution is really what digital has done for us, what technology has given to us. And it really is so much a part of our world these days that we as consumers just expect that everything we want to do and everything we want to access now is going to be available online. And whether that’s ordering up from our favorite restaurant or having groceries delivered to maybe taking a class online or accessing your medical professional, we expect this interaction to happen in a digital platform. And so really as businesses, as organizations, nonprofits, for-profit, our government sector, wherever you happen to fall from the workplace is what are we doing about digital and how are we thinking about it, and adapting it to our business structure as it is today? And that’s really across all aspects, whether it is from the consumer side, organizations, the brands themselves. We definitely have to be thinking about digital. It’s not going away and it is probably going to be even more so an integral part of our business model.

Adrian McIntyre:

And it’s an integral part of our audience’s experience of their daily life. I mean, it’s fascinating to me as somebody who’s always had a geek streak and started building websites in the early ‘90s, HTML 1.0 and all the way through as things have evolved and changed through to today. It was somewhere in the mid, early 2000s that we started talking about “mobile first” design for websites and how you need to have a mobile first approach to things. I’m struck by how many people today have a mobile only experience. And so while thinking about your business’ online presence from a mobile first perspective is still true, for so many people their experience of the world beyond their physical surroundings is 100% happening through the phone. And mobile only may be more accurate as a way to think about this kind of the entrenchment of digital technologies, apps, the kind of platforms that layer on top of the internet. And how that shapes our experience of ourselves, of our world, of the messages that we consume, of the politicians trying to convince us of things, of the companies trying to sell us stuff. And of course, for business owners and leaders thinking about how to be fluent in a mobile only world takes some effort for some folks.

Abbie Fink:

I love that, actually, mobile only. And I think that it’s becoming more and more relevant and even sort of multiple mobile only. We’re watching a streaming show, we’ve got our tablet or our phone next to us, and we are looking up the name of the actor of that character that we like. And then we’re seeing what else they were in. And then we’re saving those other shows into our feed so we can watch them again. And this is all while we are supposedly enjoying a movie, we’ve got all these other data points coming after us. And the evolution for me has really been about how not only as a consumer adapts to the access of all of this information, how we take it in, and in some cases how we shut it off. We’re just coming out of a break. A lot of us took some time off at the holidays to shut it down for a little bit. But I would venture to guess that none of us disconnected completely. We might have put work to the side, but we were not unattached to any of our devices, but how has this evolved and changed the way that we do that? And just by way of an example, your local newspaper which used to be the mainstay. You’d open up your front door in the morning and it would be on your front doorstep, you’d pick it up, you’d come in, you’d have your cup of coffee that you actually made a pot of coffee, and you’d read the newspaper before your day began. And now you can lean over, grab your phone and see all of the day’s headlines before you’ve even gotten your teeth brushed in the morning. And what that has done, of course, has added new depth to what the media and the media marketplace is. There’s more opportunity for stories and places for us to go and visit and click from here to there. But that physicalness of the newspaper has certainly changed. When we watch the news on TV, they’re pointing us to their websites to get more and additional information. And so it is so much a part of our vernacular now. Google is a verb, is a noun. It’s an action that we take, but we have to be smart about it from a business perspective and make sure that what we are creating for our digital experiences are really quality experiences. We still have to recognize that the consumer has very high expectations of that experience. And although we can deliver it to them quickly, maybe more efficiently, maybe less expensively than a physical product or a physical destination, we can’t do it on the cheap. We still have to make that investment and deliver that product. Because as a consumer our expectations are higher perhaps because of the way we can find all this information. And we can quickly make decisions to leave you and go find something else at the click of a button on whatever device it is that we happen to be using at that particular time.

Adrian McIntyre:

I mean, certainly the days are over of a single screen culture, the television in the family room being the primary screen that people interacted with, they gathered around, et cetera. And we have entered the world of streams, multiple streams and feeds. So these apps that are feeding us information and advertisements and perspectives, and all generically kind of lumped together under the term content. But really what’s happening, it’s so tricky and interesting. For those of us who are working in the realm of communication to try to get the right message in front of the right people at the right time. That’s our task. We are trying to reach people who are organizing their lives, their minds very differently. The old adage from direct response marketing was that your message needs to enter the conversation that’s already happening in your perspective buyers’ minds. Well, there’s 37 conversations happening in our mind as we jump from TikTok to the news, to YouTube and back again. We’re on this app and then we’re in the car and SiriusXM, or Apple CarPlay, whatever it is, consuming podcasts and snippets. So, streams and snippets, that’s where we’re at. And I don’t know that hand-wringing and thinking like, “Oh, it’s terrible. Nobody reads long form anymore.” Well, that’s also not true. Books are still popular. Audio books are still consumed. There’s a lot of long form content being consumed. But it really does means some thoughtfulness, some self-awareness in planning campaigns and in trying to work together with our partners to reach the people. Influencer marketing is a great example of one of these digital trends that has only continued to gain speed and importance for brands to reach micro audiences. Often it’s a influencer, somebody with a following who has their attention that you can enter some sort of partnership with, whether it’s to sell shoes or get out the vote, or what have you. So how do you advise clients or even clients to think about this multiplicity of options? It’s almost overwhelming in the number of different ways this can be done these days. What are your thoughts?

Abbie Fink:

And it is and I think the point of entry. A handful of years ago, we would create an experience and we would talk about where we were going to find our consumers, what was the way we were going to reach them, how we were going to bring them in, keep them engaged and create an opportunity for them to take an action. And whether that, again, was sign up for something, buy something, donate something, whatever it was. We had this very well-orchestrated. Well, the consumer now really controls the point of entry however they happen to come. And so from a business perspective, we need to be at these multiple points now. We can’t just expect that they’re going to come to us because we put it out in a particular way. And so really the conversations that we all have to have, and, and to be thinking about really goes back to what, what is the action that we want our consumers to take and where are they going to be when they make that decision? And so it truly is a 24/7 environment now. We can’t expect that consumers they’re working all day long so they’re not watching television until six o’clock at night when they’re home. Well, the TV’s probably on now because they’re at home and they’re working from home, and it might be on in the background. Or they’re listening to a podcast that might have some commercials involved with it and they’re spurred to action because of something they heard. So we have to kind of put to the side some of what we might think are our more traditional actions in the way that people find us and think more like the consumer and where are they going to be. And I saw a very interesting strategy play out over, or the course of the weekend. We’re all in this fresh start environment and we’re thinking about healthy habits, the weight loss programs that are being advertised and the different fitness centers and gyms. And the different ways that you can access healthy lifestyles. And the use of technology via the traditional vehicle of television advertising was something this weekend that was so powerful to me. I could take my phone app, hold it up to the television that was displaying a QR code, and get additional information about this particular gym that was advertising. And the promotion that was running through the end of the calendar year was sign up now before the first of the year. Starting on the first of the year, same commercial, but the QR code led me to a different promotion because we’d flipped the calendar into the new year. And I sat back, I’m like, “What a brilliant strategy.”

Adrian McIntyre:

Because the code in the creative could stay the same, but you could change the destination of the code on the back end. So again, a very smart way to use a relatively expensive media buy with a static asset that’s actually got a dynamic campaign behind it. Great example.

Abbie Fink:

Really smart and kind of built into this idea that we’re already got our phones sitting next to us while we’re watching television. We’re already kind of doing that dual or triple screen action. And so it was I thought a real smart way to do that. But the world as we see it now is digital. It is going to be for the foreseeable future. It’s not going anywhere, but we still want interaction. We still want some of that human component. So I think one of the other things that you’re going to start to see is although you may access a particular website through a link or an online portal, there is going to be some human interaction. We’ve gotten very used to doing chat boxes and other things, but there’s going to be actually people behind some of those now for some of those brands, and some of those products that really need a little bit more personalization that can’t be answered by a script. It really needs to have a little bit more personalization. So I do think we’re going to start to see a bit more of that happening. And that although we know as consumers, we can have a little bit of anonymity and hide a little bit behind the screen. There are still some things that we want to have human conversation with. As a consumer, I’m always very pleasantly surprised when I actually do get someone, an actual someone when I’m interacting, or I’ve picked up the phone to make a reservation or some such thing. And so we want that realness that comes with that human connection and we want to access in our own time. But if we are ready to make a decision or we want some more information, we definitely want to be able to see and talk to someone that can respond to my specific needs. And not just be part of an online chat that is a little bit more automated.

Adrian McIntyre:

I think a key theme here has to be that we are in an “and” world, not an “or” world. And it’s not that AI and the bots are replacing human interaction. They’re simply adding in an assistive function for some of those lower level tasks. And things like telehealth, it’s very interesting to watch the emergence of new hybrid forms of healthcare where devices that track data are helping machine learning algorithms better understand the warning signs for a variety of life-threatening conditions. And at the same time through the app you can directly access a human provider. We see this in the mental health space, which is wonderful. There’s access to therapy or counseling available directly through some of these apps. And we’re also seeing it with accessing your own primary care doctor. Again, depending on how you’ve got this all set up, what network you’re a part of, et cetera. So there’s still all lot of legacy bureaucracy that we have to figure out to get into this fully and really unleash the potential of all of it. But a side note here is it doesn’t mean that the old stuff is obsolete. I read a really interesting article the other day that millennials are widely considered to be one of the first, most wired generations. They were the first ones to be called digital natives. And as they age, they are also more connected to some of these health apps. They are tracking their steps and their weight and all that kind of stuff through apps. But there’s one thing that they’re not checking, because the only way to check this is really old-fashioned, and that is blood pressure. Millennials are as a whole, that’s a terrible generalization, but this is how these things are made. Millennials are ignoring their blood pressure and are potentially in trouble for this. Because in order to check your blood pressure, you still got to get the old, the cuff. That hasn’t changed in probably 100 years, sit down, the thing’s got to tighten ... So blood pressure’s still important. The blood pressure cuff is still the way to measure that. So as a metaphor in all these other areas of life, there are still some really essential old school ways of doing things that still work and are still important. For example, in the realm of public relations, picking up the phone and speaking to a journalist to maintain a relationship is still essential. Even though you can also have them on your Twitter list and interact with them there. You got to do both. Thoughts?

Abbie Fink:

Perfect example. I mean, so much of what we do and I look at all of these access points as opportunities, but nothing will replace a one-on-one conversation. And so I think that as we have opportunity to access things like technology and we can track everything and everywhere and all of this, there are still human beings involved with all of this in spite of we may not see them all the time, but there is somebody at the other end of all of that. And so as you’re evaluating what you do in this mobile environment, in this digital environment, what are you doing to make sure that you are enhancing the experience that you are creating an opportunity for your consumers to engage with you in a smart way that you have created an experience that they are willing to share and willing to talk about in whatever circles they do. Don’t forget the things that we used to use and what value they brought to us. We still listen to things. We may not be listening to the radio in the same way that we did, but we are listening to podcasts. We’re listening to books. We’re listening to other programming classes. I mean, you can learn languages. You can do all sorts of things. So we’re still engaging with our listening skills. We’re still watching things. Now our attention spans might be a little shorter so maybe our videos that we would be willing to sit and watch for two or three minutes seem like a lifetime. So we need to be more 30-second in our creative videos, but we’re still watching things. We are still reading. Reading may not be holding the book in our hand or picking up the newspaper, but we are still taking words and using them to express ourselves. We put a different viewpoint on it now and we think about it a little bit differently, but our consumers, the people that interact with our businesses have an expectation. They want a smart interaction. They want to feel like the organization, we’ve talked about is doing good in the community, is having a philosophy of adding value to the community and to the environment that we’re working within. And that as a user of your product, as a client of your business, I’m valued and that you are providing value to me by this interaction. And so although technology is an incredible asset for all of us. It comes if the same kind of responsibility and understanding as any other form and tool that we have to create these campaigns for our businesses and for our clients for their businesses. And we have to think about the consumption of our products, how our consumer are going to interact with us. What is the human component of it? Are we being informative? Are we educational? Are we adding value? And then the technology becomes, “Okay, great. What now are we going to use? This is what we want to achieve. What’s at our disposal in order to do that? What do we have access to? What product can we use?”

Adrian McIntyre:

When it comes adding value, I think this is the thing that we all need to spend as much time as we can deeply grappling with for ourselves in a serious way. Because it is too easy I think for so many brands, and quite frankly, so many marketing partners to check off all the boxes. Like we’ve got all the right pipes in place, but we haven’t talked about the quality of the water. So yes, we got our digital strategy, our SEO optimized content. We’ve got our analytics. We’ve got our mobile first thing. We’re doing short videos and long videos. And we have a podcast now. So great, you’ve got the pipes. The water still matters and probably matters more now than ever. And what I mean by the water in this case is the message, the human dimension of what you’re communicating. And I think it’s easy to assume we’re adding value when in reality what we’re doing is driven by self-interest. People are hungry for real connection, real conversation, real inspiration, real meaning because a lot of this other stuff can amount to noise. So let’s talk for a minute as we wind this up about that dimension of it. How do we, you and I, and how do our clients and partners really do the harder thing, which is keep it real? These are sometimes buzzwords, but I think they’re really important to kind of work out for ourselves. Find that authentic, vulnerable, honest voice that will be different, that will connect with people in a meaningful way. It’s hard to do that in an ad when you’re selling soda or sneakers, but it’s important for so many of your clients at HMA Public Relations who have a real mission, a real message. Whether it’s in the realm of financial or health or well-being, or banking. Like all of these areas of life where your clients really care about doing good work for folks. How do they communicate that care in a world that is full of so much shallowness?

Abbie Fink:

Consumers are smart and we have to recognize that that what they’re looking for from whatever interaction they’re having with brand is, as you said, honest, authentic, and provides me with value that enhances my experience, enhances my life. Whatever we want, that’s what we want out of any interaction that we’re doing. And so really for us it’s a conversation about what you do as a business as a bank, as an attorney, as an accountant there’s a very definitive role that you play. Who you are as a business, who you are as an individual, how you approach that, the way that you want to give that back into the community. That’s the stuff that we really resonates with your potential customer. We’ve always talked about that it starts with the story. What do you want to tell, why do we want to tell it and who do we need to tell it to? And if we can answer those questions and come up with a very clear voice of what we’re doing, all of these ways of telling it, just become the tool that we have. If we don’t have something good to say or we don’t have a great thing to talk about, we’re not ready yet. And a lot of the conversations we say is we have to be ready for this success that this is going to be. And so make sure that we have what we need once we tell everybody we’ve got it, that we can live up to the expectations that we’ve set. Because again, our consumers are smart. They have very high expectations as they should. And what we need to do as any brand, as any organization is make sure we do everything in our power to live up to that expectation. And put that content, put that message, put that voice out into the community so that that interaction happens in an authentic way. And again, whether we’re doing that in a podcast, whether we’re doing that in video, whether we are sending out a well-crafted email or an actual letter that lands in your mailbox. If it isn’t coming from that place of authenticity and really strategic messaging, it just lands. It has no value whatsoever. And nobody wants to be on the receiving end of that. And I am almost certain none of us want to be the one putting that out there. So it’s really about thinking through what is it we want to say, who do we need to it to, what is it we’re going to be talking about? And then how we access that whether, again, it’s through a digital campaign or the more traditional tried and true things that we’ve all experienced over time. It all comes down to that clear message of what we want our business to stand for and what we want our consumers to know about us.

Adrian McIntyre:

And history has shown that there’s a low road and a high road when it comes to this stuff. And we have certainly seen in recent memory, as well as in the 20th century, examples of people manipulating their audience through fear, through negative characterizations of the other, the enemy, the threat. And really using that kind of strategy to get people frothing at the mouth and aligned around something. And we also know that there’s a very dark downside to that. And so for folks wanting to take the high road, sometimes it’s hard. Because it’s like how do you sell people on celery as opposed to sugar? Well, celery’s better for you. Okay, but sugar taste good in the short-term. And you can’t only flip the script and start playing on the fear like, well, yes, but your teeth will rot and you’ll have to go to the dentist. That also just goes the wrong way. So it’s not always obvious how to do this. There’s certainly no paint by the numbers way to do it. But for every client, for every campaign, for every communication, whether it’s the letter or the podcast or the TikTok or whatever. Trying to find ways that really do communicate that human truth, that honest open value that you stand for and that you’re acting from, I think that’s the way forward. And I hope it works because there’s a lot of fear-mongers out there who are trying to sell the sugar when people really need the celery. And our job is to try to make the celery work. I don’t know if this metaphor holds up, but anyway. It’s something that’s on my mind a lot right now.

Abbie Fink:

It was a good effort to keep that one going, but you’re right. I mean, look, there’s decision-making that has to happen. The consumer has a lot to do with what they’re going to do, but we have to provide access and we have to provide information. And my hope is that we do it in an honest way. Using your example, if we all are the sugar company, there are benefits to it. There are reasons for it and it’s all done in moderation, and yet you can still have this and be healthy. And any product in that kind of category has a responsibility. They have to sell their product, but they also need to do it in a smart and an understanding way of what happens when you’re out there doing that. Now here’s the thing what it comes back to for me is that these are these conversations that good communications professionals have with their in-house teams, with their clients about what do we stand for? What do we want to be known for? We’ve talked about having a do good strategy as part of your business philosophy and why you want to do that. We talked about some of the predictions at our last podcast about this sort of kindness communication. What’s the future going to look like? Well, it’s really more about who we are in this world and how we want to be seen as a business. And businesses are in business to make money. There’s no denying that, but we can do it in a way that is good and understanding and authentic and clear about our expectations. We can do it in such a way that puts the decisions into our consumers’ hands and gives them access to it in a way that they feel empower or to make a good decision, or entrust them with the decision-making power. And so, again, if we’re doing that with use of the digital platforms that we have at our disposal, if we’re going back to a printed brochure or however it is, the messaging, what we stand for, who we are will always resonate, will always need to be the first thing we think about in order to be successful.