It’s the end of the decade—and what a decade it’s been. As we in communications and marketing look ahead to 2020, what can we expect?
Twenty influencers shared their thoughts about this question: “What lies ahead for communicators in 2020?” Here’s what they predict.
1. “I think brands will need to become story makers as much as storytellers. We often hear about how brands must create great stories, and this is true, but due to the changing nature of social media, they need to be able to support their audience to tell the stories they want told. A couple of years ago, you could post an update to your Facebook page, and you could easily get a lot of engagement and traffic to your website. But Mark Zuckerberg decided to change all this and recently said that Facebook will focus on meaningful connections. A person can have a meaningful connection with another person, but they don’t do this with brands. The conversation is happening amongst your audience through personal profiles, messaging and groups. The brand may not be invited to these conversations, but you need to give people something to talk about. Hence, the importance of a brand creating great experiences that will generate conversations they may never be involved in is more important than ever before. Where this conversation happens on social media doesn’t matter. It’s the audience that engages with this conversation that’s the issue.”—Ian Cleary, founder, RazorSocial
2. “In 2020, you’ll see a lot more ‘content cameos’ where bloggers include quotes from experts in articles. Bloggers will feel like they’re on the cutting edge of organic influencer marketing. But former journalists will wonder what the big deal is. They’ve always included quotes from sources. Those who do this are likely to reap benefits, in content quality, in social reach, and to their networks/relationships. The latest research supports this.”—Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder and CMO, Orbit Media
3. “Looking back over the past decade, communicators transitioned from traditional PR with some social media (remembering that the social media press release was created by Todd Defren in 2006 but not widely adopted until years later) to digital, to seeing the collapse of mainstream old media, to seeing media become pay-for-play advertising. There has never been a time when it’s both easier and harder to reach the public than now. In 2020, the watchword is ownership. Think about the term public relations: it’s your relationship to the public. That means being more of a community manager and less of a broadcaster, helping your company retain its loyal audience as much as trying to help attract a new one. For sure, it means less shouting into the void and more talking to your customers. In an economic downturn, which is nearly certain, companies will want to know what they’re getting for their money (and ROI has been a challenge for PR for decades). The more communicators can help at every stage of the marketing operations funnel, from customer service up through advertising, the more PR will make an impact in 2020. Own the relationship with the public.”—Christopher Penn, co-founder and chief data scientist, Trust Insights
4. “For all the hand-wringing that came from Instagram removing public-facing “like” counts on photos in late 2019, I actually hope that this hints at a broader shift away from vanity metrics—which speak mostly to ego—and toward deeper measures of how we connect with our audience. It’s so easy for digital communicators to get distracted by these numbers, and to focus on growing the number of followers or “likes” instead of truly growing a deep and meaningful relationship with their audience. I’m hoping 2020 is the year we can back away from quantity as a measure of quality, and focus on creating deeper and more meaningful relationships with the audiences that gather around our message.”—Melanie Deziel, founder, StoryFuel
5. “My hope is that communicators will continue to raise the bar in 2020. How can we lead conversations that are meaningful instead of rehashing things that have already been said? How can we truly move our industries forward with thought-provoking content and discussions? And how can we provide our readers with something they actually want to read and engage with?”—Michele Linn, Co-founder, Mantis Research
6. “When we look back over the last 10–20 years, marketers have been on a joyride of explaining benefits: persuading buyers of the whiz-bang delights of whatever new gadget/app/platform/etc. we were hustling. But now, the ride has slowed to a crawl. What’s really new? SaaS is like its rhyming partner—everyone has one. In fact, everyone has caught up to technologies that are now familiar, which means you and your competitors are selling the same benefits, over and over again. Looking ahead, we have to move beyond benefits to dig deep and uncover the qualities/virtues/features of your product/services that have real meaning for your buyers and sell the snot out of that.”—Jonathan Kranz, Kranz Communications
7. “Communications professionals in 2020 will need to deal with an unprecedented amount of noise. On top of the usual din of normal PR announcements, the airwaves and online media are about to be flooded with a deluge of election-related claims, counterclaims, accusations, outrage, and plain old fake news. To succeed in this environment (1) don’t even think of taking sides (unless that’s already your brand identity), (2) be aware of the national mood when making announcements, and (3) concentrate on clarity and provable truth. And as much as I love humor, election jokes are likely to backfire—so don’t even think about it.”—Josh Bernoff, bestselling author of “Writing Without Bullshit” and blogger at withoutbullshit.com.
8. “I have a theory that the concept of ‘nice’—as in companies doing the right thing—will come back in vogue in 2020. Given the general state of society and the nearly 200 CEOs from Business Roundtable announcing last August that companies should care about more than cranking out money, I think the corporate communications function is in for a change in the coming year. Specifically, I envision communicators putting much greater emphasis on shaping a 360-degree view of their companies.”—Lou Hoffman, president and CEO, The Hoffman Agency
9. “AI and data analysis will be an ever-larger part of the communications toolkit, not just for measurement but also for responding to crises, managing risk and even writing press releases. Given the data that many companies already have, available technology could, if we used it right, tell us what the most effective response to a crisis is and how to best de-escalate a situation before it turns into a crisis.”—Katie Paine, CEO, Paine Publishing
10. “I believe PR professionals should pay attention to natural language generation, which is the ability of an AI to write text and content after being given a prompt like a phrase or other data. Right now, we’re still in the early stages. And if you want to see it in action, there’s a great piece in The New Yorker, where one writer got the GPT-2 natural language processor to finish the end of each section he wrote. While the machine-generated text is a bit wonky in places, the AI got the New Yorker tone to a T. It won’t be long before AIs will be able to come up with good headlines and text, and provide marketers and communicators with lots of options to choose from. And then a human can review and edit these, test them, revise and add our creativity. Of course, the flip side of this is that machines will get so good, humans will no longer be needed to write. I hope that’s not the case.”—Martin Waxman, MCM, APR, President, Martin Waxman Communications
11. “Creativity and CMOs will come back into fashion. For a long time, marketing got beat up by the business for not being data-driven. Today, the pendulum has swung too far in the analytical direction. As a result, creativity isn’t valued enough, and the trade press (and analyst community) is full of itself with the-creative-CMO-is-dying stories. It’s left marketers everywhere chasing the same clicks, with the same look and feel, because we all have the same data and tools. To be clear, analytics will remain important, but in 2020, creativity needs more weight in an overall marketing equation. Differentiation is derived from the word different. To be different, you have to be creative.”—Frank Strong, Founder & President, Sword and the Script Media, LLC
12. “In 2020, I think we’ll see greater emphasis on corporate reputation and workplace branding. Among our clients, a ‘best company to work for’ positioning used to be an also-ran within a broader PR program, but it has recently become a higher priority in light of the war for talent. More broadly, I think 2020 will bring greater pressure for major corporations to bridge the ‘trust gap.’ With consumer confidence in government, faith, and media institutions eroding, corporate America is in a position to step into the breach. Many previously reluctant companies are more willing to embrace activism than before. Finally, and maybe most significantly, I see 2020—especially as an election year—bringing even more concern about Big Tech and its dominance, and a growing ‘tech-lash’ by consumers, not just about data privacy and misinformation, but around issues of automation, ethics and AI, and income inequality.”—Dorothy Crenshaw, founder, Crenshaw Communications
13. “2020 could be the year of immersive communication. While the written word still rules, virtual reality and 360 video are so easy to produce that communication teams of all sizes can easily share their message in this new interactive way.”—Christoph Trappe, CCO, The Authentic Storytelling Project
14. “I think, and I hope, that clients of marketing agencies will understand that they need to advertise less and build a brand more. This means they need to adopt the saying, ‘Patience is a virtue.’ While we all want things to happen overnight, it’s not realistic. Yes, some things can happen quickly, like clicking ‘post’ on an ad, but what’s quick isn’t as effective as it used to be—especially ads. Instead, be patient and take small, strategic steps daily to build a brand of authority and credibility in 2020.”—Christina Nicholson, owner, Media Maven
15. “I’m convinced authority and trust will become more and more of a priority. While people may debate E-A-T’s impact on rankings, it’s hard to deny that those qualities aren’t crucial for establishing credibility and building connection with your audience. My prediction is marketers will continue to create content that’s valuable and demonstrates their knowledge in their field, and they’ll focus on promotional tactics that highlight that expertise (like earning media coverage, getting backing from respected microinfluencers, etc.).”—Amanda Milligan, marketing director, Fractl
16. “The short answer is the mainstream media has wised up, for the most part, and won’t act as stenographers and report opinions and outright lies as facts. So communicators and their clients will need to double- and triple-check their facts and statements much more closely. The era of claiming ‘fake news’ as a shield every time a politician or corporate spokesman is caught lying is slowly ending.”—Rob Wynne, owner, Wynne Communications
17. “I see corporate communications and content marketing coming together in 2020. Both disciplines seek to reach and influence an audience. Both can no longer make an impact with the same old story—or even the ‘same old, new’ I think thought leadership is the answer. But not thought leadership in terms of ‘being an authority in your industry.’ Robert Rose, in his CMI Weekly Wrap podcast, urges us to take this approach to thought leadership: ‘Rather, we must discover the unique ideas we really believe in and then spend our effort to learn how to present the information in a resonant way.’ The communicators who succeed in 2020 are those who take this approach.”—Dennis Shiao, Independent Marketing Consultant, @dshiao
18. “What lies ahead for communicators is the adoption of qualitative measurement, in my opinion. Impressions and AVEs can certainly be used for historical benchmarking purposes (since that’s all most public relations professionals had in the past), but beyond that, they are superfluous. Our industry needs to adapt to the current business environment or risk not only potential insignificance but irrelevance. Numerous professionals talk about getting that ‘seat at the table,’ but that seat has to be earned—which requires embracing and understanding your business’s objectives, and then proving how you are contributing to its success.”—Tressa L. Robbins, VP Client Onboarding/Implementation, Burrelle’s, @tressalynne
19. “Artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning will continue their integration into all areas of sales and marketing. These advancing technologies will make legacy marketing and communication mediums such as email marketing more responsive, more profitable and, therefore, more valuable. I’m already using all three for email marketing, email subject lines, Facebook advertising and copywriting. The ability to leverage machines to create and test hundreds of instances of advertising, images, and offers will now be at your fingertips.”—Doug Morneau, marketer, speaker, author and host, Real Marketing Real Fast podcast
20. “I think 2020 is going to be the year communicators put a lot of effort into uncovering—and telling—the stories that make us feel good. The world feels fractured right now. But we can help to do our part by making our audience feel good. The fact that there is a podcast dedicated to Mr. Rogers, with a movie starring Tom Hanks out now, is pretty telling. We are a society that needs our faith restored, and these stories we tell can go a long way in helping us feel whole again.”—Brad Marley, founder and consultant, Yelram Media
What do you foresee taking place in the communications realm for 2020?
Michelle Garrett is a PR consultant and writer at Garrett Public Relations. Follow her on Twitter @PRisUs or connect with her on LinkedIn. A version of this article first appeared on MichelleGarett.com.