As we close in on the end of 2023, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the art of prediction in our fast-paced, technology-driven world is more challenging than ever. This year has underscored a crucial lesson: our reliance on current data and trends to forecast the future often blinds us to unforeseen variables that can dramatically alter the course of events. In essence, unpredictability is precisely what makes disruption, disruption.
Historically, we’ve witnessed (if not also forgotten) countless examples where unforeseen innovations have abruptly shifted entire industries. Consider the great horse manure crisis of the late 19th century, a dilemma that dominated public discourse, only to be resolved almost instantly by the advent of the automobile – an innovation few anticipated and even fewer thought was just around the corner. Similarly, Nokia, once the biggest and most profitable mobile phone manufacturer in the world, found its empire decimated due to the unforeseen emergence of the iPhone. What people thought was going to happen didn’t and what actually did happen no one saw coming.
These examples serve as reminders that predictions, no matter how data-driven, are fraught with uncertainty. It’s usually what we don’t see coming that moves us forward rather than what we do. And now, with the rapid pace of technological advancement, predictions are increasingly being seen more as performance art than sage forecasts.
Considering this, as we navigate the remaining days of 2023 and look towards 2024, my focus shifts from grand predictions to practical, immediate strategies. For marketers and PR professionals, the goal is to concentrate on the here and now, leveraging current tools and trends that respond to the market we actually have – not one that we imagine.
Embracing the present: the route to AI and more for communications professionals
This year, AI’s rise to prominence, particularly in realms traditionally dominated by human intellect, has been a key theme. From SEO to creative design, the initial fears of AI rendering traditional roles obsolete are giving way to a more balanced view where AI is seen as a complementary force – a friend rather than a foe.
At the same time, don’t be fooled into thinking that AI is the only story in town: it may be infusing its way into everything, but there’s still a bigger picture we need to understand and grapple with to deliver results.
1. AI: improving how we connect
AI is reshaping how we understand and connect with audiences. Tools like Salesforce and HubSpot are already integrating AI into their functions to create deeper customer insights and enable more targeted marketing strategies. AI chatbots and virtual assistants, like those from IBM Watson and Intercom, are transforming customer service by providing instant, personalised responses, enhancing engagement and satisfaction. AI-driven content creation tools are also better aligning with SEO strategies and audience preferences, becoming essential in a marketplace that is being dominated by digital content.
2. Search: it’s not just an engine, it’s a vehicle
The landscape of search is rapidly changing, shifting from traditional search engine optimisation (SEO) to a more holistic ‘search optimisation’ that spans multiple channels and leverages AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard. Now, social media platforms are increasingly the starting point for brand discovery and interaction, often preceding traditional search engines. For instance, a potential buyer might initially use AI tools to research key aspect of an ERP system, then turn to platforms like LinkedIn for insights, and then treat a search engine more as a directory than a tool for discovery.
This transformation demands a more integrated approach to influencing search, one that incorporates conversational, contextually relevant content that is optimized for a variety of channels and AI algorithms. By adapting to this multi-channel, AI-influenced landscape, marketers, and PR professionals can ensure they’re helping their brands show up where it matters most.
3. Content: it’s always on and it’s always important
For PR and marketing teams, the power of continuous, educational content is paramount. As customers increasingly prefer self-guided research, providing accessible, informative content is crucial. Video content, particularly on platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Instagram Reels, is leading this trend and becoming a core staple of the content mix. These platforms offer dynamic ways to showcase products and services, enhancing understanding and engagement. B2B brands need to ensure they don’t shy away from the TikToks and Instagrams of the world. Yes, LinkedIn has been the safe space for B2B content but the times they are a-changing, and brands that can authentically break through to other, more traditionally B2C platforms are seeing the rewards.
4. Events: central to engagement and content planning
Contrary to expectations that the pandemic might diminish the role of events, they have emerged as more vital than ever in our hybrid world. Events, blending in-person and virtual experiences, have becoming crucial for connecting with partners, customers, prospects, and colleagues. Far from being obsolete, they are playing an ever more important role in the content mix, offering unique opportunities for engagement and content generation.
The integration of digital content into these events enriches brand experiences, making them more memorable and impactful. Looking forward, the use of innovative technologies like augmented reality and AI-driven networking in events is set to enhance these connections even further, underscoring their importance in B2B interaction in 2024.
5. Data: it’s time to tune in to the nowcast
As we say goodbye to 2023, our key takeaway is clear: the future is unpredictable, but our agility and adaptability to the present are non-negotiable. Our best bet for 2024 is to stay flexible, embrace evolving trends, and make the most of current tools.
A big part of that will be reimagining our relationship with data at large. For a long time, marketing and PR has turned to data to explain what happened to a brand or in a campaign. The promise of trend and predictions spokespeople is often that they’ll use data to explain what’s going to happen next. The more difficult and important thing, however, is to use data to know what’s happening right now and act accordingly. That’s exactly what the leading edge of data intelligence tools can now do for our industry.
The real prediction for the upcoming year, then, is not about specific trends but about embracing a new mindset. The ability to move quickly and swiftly and make sure you leverage change to your advantage.