Constant change of communication

In the course of the evolving media landscape, communication strategies are developing more and more. In the last few years, a lot has changed in the PR industry. New media has brought up new possibilities and opened up innovative communication channels for companies and agencies in order to be in a closer relationship with their customers and to reach new target groups. The Worldcom Public Relations Group, the world’s leading network of owner-controlled PR agencies which HBI has been an active member of for many years, examined the current global developments and analyzed their significance for the communications industry.

Political developments like the Brexit or the elections in the USA have caused unease across the whole world. This situation has significantly influenced internationally operating companies and eventually their customers. Accordingly, it is obvious that trust plays a particularly vital part in the communication industry. Now, what counts are convincing messages that can win the trust of customers, partners and stakeholders. This trust goes hand in hand with the growing need for reliable sources, giving companies the opportunity to position themselves as opinion leaders on the market with valid data and extensive background knowledge. In these uncertain times, employees pay more attention to the decisions their employers make and are more cautious with regard to job changes. Therefore, employee commitment is more important not only in the recruitment of new talents, but also during the employee development within the company.

New technologies and media have stirred up the media landscape worldwide. Worldcom experts have observed an increasing integration of different channels and the merger of paid and editorial content within the last couple of years. Campaigns for lead generation like e.g. Thought Leadership are no longer loners, but they encompass various channels in order to get the maximum out of a cross-media campaign. At the same time, editorial content is being spread more over advertising to increase their ranges. This is also due to the decreasing number of journalists, whilst the influence of online platforms increases. Online readers are more demanding in their choices, because usually they only have limited time and therefore have to filter the online content sharply. This makes it even more important for communication experts to make content more attractive – less purely informative texts and more topic-specific content that is of value for the readers. On the other hand, the virtual world offers companies the opportunity to better reach out and connect directly with their target groups by using online communities like e.g. social media that some specific target group takes interest in.

One of the most important trends, that is already changing communication today, is the increasing significance of mobile. The use of mobile devices – some of which are already the only form of information intake – is turning the digital strategy upside down. Visual content is becoming more and more important. The attention span is getting shorter day by day and therefore it is getting harder to reach target groups and thrill them. Expressive images and technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality or 360°-videos can convey key messages of the company in a faster way and create an even more evocative brand experience.

Communication has been changing constantly and in the years ahead, it will transform even more due to the rapid development of technology. Thanks to the technologies that make our everyday life easier, consumers are much closer to the manufacturers and at the same time harder to connect to because of the information overload. For us communication experts, it is amazingly interesting to observe how this sector is developing. Moreover, it gives us the chance to develop further and let our creativity run free.

In order to produce efficient prognoses for the communication sector, the Worldcom PR Group has summed up the expectations of their worldwide working PR experts regarding current events, technologies and trends. Aside from the HBI Helga Bailey GmbH in Munich, partner agencies in Albuquerque, Amsterdam, Atlanta, Bangkok, Brisbane, Brüssel, Budapest, Cleveland, Copenhagen, Denver, Hong Kong, Indianapolis, Lima, London, Los Angeles, Milan, Minneapolis, New York, Paris, Prague, Phoenix, Rochester, Sao Paolo, St. Louis, Stockholm, Virginia Beach, Washington DC and Wisconsin took part.

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When computers learn to love – Affective Computing

©bamenny/pixabay.com

©bamenny/pixabay.com

Hollywood has already been telling this story in movies like Baymax or A.I. – Artificial Intelligence, predicting that computers will soon be able to recognize and show feelings. Currently, machines are mainly fulfilling their purpose – our smartphones remind us of appointments, Netflix analyzes our television viewing behavior and proactively suggests movies and TV shows that we might like. It is also possible to interact with voice-controlled personal assistants like Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. This already creates a feeling of a growing emotional interaction between us humans and our smart devices. We generally tend to personalize our everyday objects. However, there is still a decisive step missing – our smartphones and televisions still cannot identify our emotional state. What if today we would rather watch an exciting action-thriller instead of a comedy? Or sometimes, we prefer to listen to sentimental music, because we are having the blues.

However, that will soon change as well. We give our PCs more and more information about ourselves in order to obtain the biggest possible advantages. Simultaneously, machine learning and artificial intelligence are experiencing an accelerated development. People are also becoming more open-minded towards new technologies. Wearables are already a part of the daily life of many people and the IoT is not only revolutionizing the industry. The development of affective computing – the sensitive computer – is being advanced by voice recognition and first interactions with smart devices.

Affective computing broadly describes systems and gadgets that are capable of recognizing, interpreting, processing and simulating human emotions. Put more simply: it’s about technology that knows how we feel and how to respond accordingly.

Learning about or programming emotions

But how exactly is my television or refrigerator supposed to know how I’m feeling? Artificial intelligence and machine learning are the fundamental key technologies. In particular, thanks to voice command technical equipment can learn about and analyze emotions – tone pitch, phrasing, pauses. The better the speech recognition, the more can be learned from the machines and the more parameters can be analyzed. For instance, a connected home can react to a tense mood by dimming the lights, setting the heating, playing music and preparing a cup of tea in order to create a relaxing atmosphere.

Aside from the speech technology, face recognition could also play an important role. There are certain advertising analysis tests in which study participants are asked to watch commercials, so it can be detected where their gazes were turned to the longest in order to find the best position to place the advertised product. A similar approach is used by face recognition software which can independently search for certain spots on the face that in turn are used to learn about which facial expression is linked to which emotion.

Other gadgets that many of us use nowadays can help with the identification of emotions. Wearables which measure movement, pulse or body temperature can be a source of information about the current frame of mind.

This already shows us that affective computing is not really about recognizing emotions, but rather about reading signs, interpreting and simulating them. A real interaction with machines is still difficult, but the opportunities that we already use now offer various possibilities. If and to what extent machines will truly be able to interpret and authentically simulate emotions currently remains a vision of the future.

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Competitive analysis – why is this tool so important?

©Stevepb/pixabay.com

©Stevepb/pixabay.com

You may ask yourself why firms should analyze other companies, since they are not directly involved with one another. According to the old saying “Everything flows” (lat. Panta Rhei) or “The only constant is change” they should not only notice changes around them, but also around their competitors. With the help of a competitive analysis, companies can examine all of the important factors that influence the target market. In this way, managers are able to understand – and in the best case – predict the strategies of the competitors, for example in the case of changes in the market. Thus, companies can conclude what they can improve or change.

Generally, competition is a natural phenomenon of rivals where only the strongest survives. The situation in the market is similar. Nowadays, companies acquire a competitive advantage by creating offers that meet the needs of a potential customer better than the offers of their competitors, so there is a constant rivalry between competitors. If the company conducts a good analysis of the market, its further actions will have more success in most of the cases. Furthermore, the best competitors have the power to create prices (market makers) and secure a big share of the market for themselves. In today’s highly competitive market, an analysis of the rivals is very important, because it is the foundation of a company’s future.

One of the most famous examples of long-standing rivalries is the rivalry between Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Their rivalry has been going from the late 20th century, and ever since then it is visible in the media or in the social networks. Coca-Cola has reported earnings much higher than Pepsi, but Pepsi has higher revenues thanks to its wider range of offered products and services. Another example of constant rivalry can be found among smartphone manufacturers. New technological innovations are being launched on a daily basis and smartphone manufacturers compete on price, design and quality. To achieve a competitive advantage, it is necessary to monitor trends on a daily basis and to respond to the needs of the market, which is a particularly demanding task in the fast fluctuating market. Globalization contributes to greater competitiveness and market liberalization.

A competitive analysis should be an integral part of every business plan, because it not only allows a company to have a better position at the market and to develop a better marketing strategy, but it also enables to predict some future outcomes. A good analysis takes a lot of effort and time, however, in the long term it will be profitable for the company.

There are many different methods to analyze your competition. To start a good analysis, it would be advisable to identify the following points:

  1. Current and prospective competitors of your business
  2. Their goals and strategies
  3. Their strengths and weaknesses
  4. Type of media they have used to advertise their products or services
  5. Potential threats and opportunities which competitors pose (based on the SWOT external analysis)

Information about the competitors can be gathered by analyzing their ads, advertising materials, suppliers, customers and employees, customer feedback and so on. The SEO analysis is often used for the analysis of the competitors’ websites: by using specific keywords you can see how good the company is rated in the web. The better the ranking of a certain website on the internet, the higher is the number of visits and more conversions of potential customers into clients. SEO optimization can show, for example, strength of competition, popularity of certain themes and of primary and secondary keywords. It can also list the websites that work actively on improving their position and it can estimate how successful those improvements are. Such a strategy is used by companies in order to outrun the competition.

Therefore, a competitive analysis is a really useful tool for marketing and for further development of strategies. The point of competitive rivalry is to learn constantly through the comparison with the best in your field and to use the gained knowledge to stand out in the best possible way.

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Crowdfunding – the best way to fund projects?

©GlennCarstens-Peters/unsplash.com

©GlennCarstens-Peters/unsplash.com

For a few years now, crowdfunding has become a new tool for start-ups to fund their projects. There are many crowdfunding websites (for example Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe), but all of them share the following model: a platform which allows entrepreneurs to launch a fund-raising campaign for their projects and to get in touch with potential supporters (also called “backers”), who make the realization of these projects possible – thanks to their contributions or donations.

On these sites, you can find a large variety of campaigns focusing not only on new technological tools, but also on new food innovations or even helping someone in need.

Two of the most famous and successful campaigns are “Exploding kittens” and “Flow Hive”. The first one is about a card game which was launched in 2015 on Kickstarter. The initial goal was to reach 10,000 dollars, but the creators managed to raise almost 9 million dollars in just 24 days. The latter is an innovative beehive box that allows bee keepers to harvest honey without disturbing the bees. The project was launched on Indiegogo in April 2015. More than 13 million dollars were raised in less than a month. These examples are only two of many that show how successful crowdfunding campaigns can be. Everything you need to have is a creative idea that excites potential backers and get them to investing in the realization of the project.

But is crowdfunding really the best way to fund projects?

Certainly, there are a lot of advantages for both the entrepreneurs and the consumers or supporters. The biggest advantage is that start-up companies can raise money more easily than via traditional means (e.g. bank loans or private investors). In fact, companies don’t have to worry about negotiating with investors and don’t have to deal with finance charges – in this way it could also be less time-consuming. Also, the entrepreneurs can find out how much the consumers are interested in the product or service, or if they like it in the first place. In addition, they can count on their supporters for striving to promote the project which results in an extension of the customer base. Furthermore, the backers often receive particular benefits for their support, such as a discount if they purchase the complete product/service or special gifts and gadgets. Finally, fund-raising campaigns usually provide a higher degree of transparency, which means that the progress of the project is visible and the funders are in close contact with the entrepreneurs, giving them feedback if it’s necessary.

On the other hand, there are some disadvantages that you should consider before launching a crowdfunding campaign. It could be a problem if you don’t protect your idea with a patent or copyright. In this way, someone who sees your project could steal it, and then it could be difficult to prove that you are the original inventor. In addition, once you raised the money, you cannot change your project drastically. From the consumer’s point of view, there are other disadvantages to consider. In some campaigns, companies promote some extra characteristics or options which can be unlocked only if a certain amount of money is reached. Well, sometimes projects depend too much on the sum of money collected and are in the end not realized after all.

In conclusion, crowdfunding is a great possibility for start-ups without a big budget to realize their projects. Crowdfunding strengthens a country’s innovation capacity, because creative ideas that could not be realized without help are supported and put into action. Especially when the project is not too complex and the realization does not need a big investment, founders can take crowdfunding into consideration. However, you should always be aware of the possible disadvantages and potential problems that this kind of funding can involve. But: If you consider all risks and decide to give crowdfunding a try, maybe with a bit of luck your dream can come true.

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Modern PR and Classic Heroes

©ErikaWittlieb/pixabay.com

©ErikaWittlieb/pixabay.com

What do Spider-Man, the new Edeka commercial and good PR have in common? It’s all about heroes! The hero is the center of every story – thus, he is of great importance for PR, too. For some years, storytelling has been the PR and marketing trend per se. Now, some may claim that PR managers have always been telling stories. That is true in the sense that PR has always been helping journalists to find stories or companies to tell their story. But modern storytelling goes far beyond that. It is narrative, creative, and creates exciting stories around brands, products and companies. Stories concentrate information in an entertaining way to make it easy to remember. A good story is also emotional and arouses familiar feelings. That means, storytelling is entertaining, emotional and sticks in the recipients’ memories. Furthermore, today’s digital media landscape offers various new ways of telling stories multimedia and in different channels.

Who or what is a hero?

A good story stands and falls with its main protagonist – the hero. But who is a hero and what makes a good hero? For modern storytelling, it is important to create a hero who is basically “one of us”. The hero as one “who is naturally equipped with respectable appearance and extraordinary strength, who has gained glory from heroic deeds, and who stands out from all others”, is not a very contemporary characterization. The hero should not stand out by appearance or ability, but rather be like you and me. He has to deal with the same problems like everyone else. This means, a good hero is a regular person with whom the recipient can fully identify.

(This characterization of the hero also makes a great part of the success of contemporary Marvel superhero movies like Iron-Man, Spider-Man and others. The heroes of these movies have fantastic abilities – which make them super-heroes – but they are rooted in reality and have to deal with everyday problems.)

The hero’s journey – all-inclusive in 12 steps

Besides the hero, there is a second requirement for good stories: structure – and this is definitely nothing new as well. The so-called hero’s journey is the archetype of every good story and has been told as long as we can remember: from the great antique myths to current Hollywood blockbusters, almost every popular story follows the same structure. This structure has been elaborated by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell divides the hero’s journey into three acts which consist of a total of 17 steps. Screenwriting expert Christopher Vogler modernized Campbells ideas and reduced them to 12 steps. Let’s look at this version of the hero’s journey to find out how typical hero stories should be structured:

  1. „The Ordinary World“: The journey of the hero – who is not yet heroic – begins in everyday life. There exists some kind of problem which all members of society suffer from.
  2. „The Call to Adventure“: Our protagonist recognizes that the problem must be solved. He hears the call to adventure.
  3. „Refusal of the Call“: At first, the hero does not answer this call because if he did, he would have to get out of his comfort zone.
  4. „Meeting with the Mentor“: The protagonist meets his mentor, who inspires and convinces him to start his adventurous trip. The mentor does not necessarily have to be some wise old man with a grey beard. As in the case with Edeka’s new commercial Eatkarus, it may only take a bird to inspire the protagonist to become a hero.
  5. „Crossing the Threshold to the Special World“: The hero starts his journey.
  6. „Tests, Allies and Enemies”: On his journey, the hero has to overcome obstacles and fight sinister foes. But he also finds friends and allies along the way.
  7. „Approach to the Innermost Cave“: We are now approaching the story’s climax as the hero is near his destination.
  8. „The Ordeal“: This is the story’s climax – the final decisive fight. The hero (almost) always emerges victorious.
  9. „Reward“: The hero is presented with some kind of reward for his glorious victory. This reward may be special abilities, knowledge or tools.
  10. „The Road Back“: The hero starts his journey back home.
  11. „The Resurrection“: Our protagonist has gone through a transformation. From an everyday normal person, he has turned into a true hero.
  12. „Return with the Elixir“: The hero returns home with the reward he received for his victory. With this special tool, knowledge or ability is now able to solve society’s problems. He uses his power for the greater good.

This twelve-stepped journey can be divided into three acts: Steps 1 to 5 make up the story’s first act, which introduces the initial situation and main characters. The second act consists of steps 6 to 9, where the main plot and climax take place. Steps 10 to 12 make up the third act which closes with a happy ending. This means, the hero’s journey follows the classical three act structure of exposition, confrontation and solution.

Classic Stories in modern make-up

Let’s recapture: How we tell stories underlies constant change. Digital media offer a multitude of ways to tell stories. In contrast, the stories we tell are basically always the same. It has always been true that good stories need strong protagonists and exciting conflicts to win over the recipients’ favor: A hero moves out on an adventure, he overcomes obstacles and returns home to solve society’s problem for the greater good.

Despite all the changes and the fast pace of our digital age, the hero’s story is a constant we can rely on. The recipient is already familiar with this story. Thus, these stories are so easy to remember and they promptly evoke well-known emotions. The recipe for success may go like this: Take Vogler’s classical hero journey and root it in the recipients’ lifeworld. Add a strong hero who is easy to identify with, add a pinch of suspense and humor and finish it off with a happy ending. Voilà – that’s storytelling!

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