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  • How's tech transforming our conversations?
  • How's tech transforming our conversations?
    Thomas Hawk, Creative Commons (2011) ©

2016 Expert Outlook on Communications

Canvas8’s 2016 Expert Outlook on communications explores whether ‘impermanent networks’ will be the platforms of choice in the future, if people are becoming more careful about what they share on social media, and how brands can listen to consumers to better suit their needs.

Location Global

Canvas8 speaks to Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image, Tamsin Fox-Davies, senior development manager at Constant Contact UK, and media psychology specialist Dr. Pamela Rutledge about how the way we communicate with each other will change in 2016.


Mitch Joel is the president of digital marketing agency Twist ImageHe has been named one of the top 100 online marketers in the world and is a founding partner of Distort Entertainment.

As consumers, we’re becoming way more contextual. Technology isn’t just a destination; we used to go to our laptop or phone, but now it’s on us, part of us, and really integrated into our daily lives through things like wearables. That's the macro theme of communications – we’re spending a lot more time with it and brands can constantly communicate with us. Content is now everywhere though platforms like Snapchat and Facebook, but the question is how does this change the game for businesses trying to drive people to their sites and channels?

There are so many new ways in which we’re getting information. From a consumer standpoint, my biggest hope is that people become more media-savvy and understand the implications of what’s being posted on their Facebook feeds or other platforms. The more people that we’re connected with doesn’t equal more diversity. We may have a lot of friends on Facebook, but we’re mostly friends with people similar to us, so our newsfeeds only give us a narrow view of society. Unfortunately, as we’ve become more connected on these platforms, we’ve become more short-sighted because we’re only seeing a very small section of information from who we’re following and who they’re connected with.

Brands have an unprecedented number of ways to reach people Brands have an unprecedented number of ways to reach people
Kit Captain (2014) ©

We're seeing more and more platforms come up, more ways to communicate, more ways to share. If you look at things like Periscope or Snapchat, they’re what I'd call ‘impermanent networks’ where people have these conversations and there's no archive structure. So it's not so much about whether people’s behaviour will change, it's more a matter of the growing access to communications tools. There's this pace that businesses need to keep up with to stay connected with their customers.

The macro shift, for me, will be in messaging. Messaging apps are bigger than social networks at this point, and they’re going to have built-in functionality that will mean people don’t need to keep such a public presence. They'll still post things to Facebook and Instagram, but all the communications that we have will probably take place in these more private apps – things like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

I've become very attracted to brands that are spending time understanding the customer story at a deep and specific level. Patagonia communicates a story about how its clothes last forever; it's not about pushing consumers to buy the next sweater, but rather about the people who have been wearing their jackets for 20 years. The storytelling behind it has really put the brand in a different class in the outdoor and performance world.

Moleskine has done an amazing job of bringing in components from other brands to make new and interesting paper products that keep it relevant in a world that's fundamentally digital. Lego has similarly done well to develop its brand story. It’s not only the most powerful toy brand in the world, but probably one of the most powerful brands outright through adjunct product lines like Mindstorms, which have been used as educational aids in schools.

Digital messaging looks set to become even more private and ephemeral Digital messaging looks set to become even more private and ephemeral
Andrew (2011) ©

Tamsin Fox-Davies is the senior development manager at the UK office of digital marketing software provider Constant ContactTamsin has educated more than 5,000 small businesses on behalf of Constant Contact since joining the team in March 2012.

The way that brands are communicating with their customers will get more sophisticated. Not so much in terms of the technology being used – although that will be more complex as well – but the messaging is getting better. Brands have to come to the understanding that if they want an audience to step away from what they’re doing to interact with a message, it needs to be entertaining. The level of engagement is changing and I think brands are getting better at acknowledging that.

I'm seeing a resurgence of interest in email marketing right now. A lot of the big consumer brands have never turned away from that, but the concept that you either go down the social media route or the email route has been common among smaller businesses. We’re now seeing more of a combination of both email and social, and the desire from brands to actually have ownership of their database. This is because the problem with social media is that it’s the channel that owns the data, whereas if you have your own database (which you can email) then you have control over who sees your messages and when. We know direct mail has a very low return rate, but if you can combine that with a digital campaign and target it more effectively, you’re more likely to get a response, so I think that’s really important.

Some brands are much more interested in user generated content and encouraging their customers to speak to them. For example, there’s a new restaurant called Dirty Bones near our office which is an upscale American diner, and when they bring the bill it comes tucked into a little notebook. It’s like a guest book and people write little messages to the restaurant. The idea is that if you do something like that, it gives you material that you can use for social content. I think the idea of listening to customers more and asking them what they think is brilliant.

The problem with social media is that it’s the channel that owns the data, whereas if you have your own database then you have that information – you have control over who sees your messages and when

There are some brands that continue to stand out as excellent in the way they communicate with people – Innocent being a good example. It has this power to amuse and that goes back to the fact that people want to engage with brands in a way that’s interesting and entertaining for them. Its social media content and everything down to its brand packaging is just lovely. I find it very charming.

We’re probably going to see greater gamification of marketing, with more interactive experiences. We’re also going to see brands thinking more about multichannel communication with a common message.

Brands are also starting to understand that consumers see social media as a customer service route; they’ll leap online if they have a bug bear with a brand and they expect answers. Some brands have done really well picking that up, and then there are others that haven’t done so well and they’re trying to avoid being in that position but it’s just not an option. You have to be on the channels that your customers are talking to you on, and you have to talk to them in an appropriate way. It makes no difference to the consumer whether they’re texting a company, calling them, emailing them, or walking into a shop, but they’re all very different routes from the perspective of the business.

Consumers are going to expect a highly personalised experience. The way marketing automation is going, people are starting to understand that the communications they get from brands can be targeted to them and they’re going to want that. People want to have things packaged up in a more digestible format. Studies show that our attention spans are changing because of digital culture; we don’t retain information in the same way and we don’t have patience anymore, so I’m not going to read a long email on my phone anymore. But if it’s short and sharp, I’m much more likely to engage with it. In fact, a recent Constant Contact study found that the ideal email should have fewer than 20 lines of text, three or fewer images, and that if you include more than one call to action, the response rate drops off dramatically.

Shorter brand messages are a better fit for mobile lifestyles Shorter brand messages are a better fit for mobile lifestyles
Guido Gloor Modjib, Creative Commons (2015) ©

Pamela Rutledge is the director of the Media Psychology Research Center and a blogger for Psychology TodayShe is a media psychologist and studies the impact and experience of media – the place where media and technology meet.

We're not going to get rid of TVs, but a lot of access to brands and customers is happening through mobiles and tablets. There's a big psychological shift between how you perceive the TV on your wall and your phone in terms of violation of personal space. When you violate someone's personal space without their permission, you create ill will.

People trust other people 80% of the time and they trust brands 14% of the time. So if you're a brand and you're violating personal space, then you've moved yourself into the not just untrusted territory, but the ill will bucket too. This is going to be a real challenge for brands looking to connect with consumers where they are. Native ads and Facebook ads are just annoying, so brands need to create value and be invited in.

Social marketing will become a big part of traditional marketing. Companies can use corporate social responsibility as long as it's brand-consistent, letting consumers know that their custom can help the business support something that they care about. Patagonia has been doing that forever and has an incredibly loyal following because of it.

There's a big psychological shift between how you perceive the TV on your wall and your phone in terms of violation of personal space. When you violate someone's personal space without their permission, you create ill will

There's going to be a very interesting trend around how people use YouTube celebrities and influencers. Their appeal right now is that they appear like normal people, but there's going to be a tipping point as people start to realise how much money these people are making. At what point do real people turn into professionals because they're getting paid? Brands have to be prepared to have their influencers be honest, and that means they have to produce decent products. I’d encourage them to make it transparent, and to give lots of information about their products to these people. Just make the relationship clear.

Augmented reality has been under-appreciated because it enhances your experience but doesn't take away power like virtual reality can. For example, you can use AR to visualise outfits and see how they would look on you personally. It changes the way you see that brand in relation to yourself because if you can visualise that brand as part of what you're doing or wearing, then you already have a relationship. And that's where augmented reality is so powerful. It's a cool experience in all that it enables, but what you're really doing is creating an image of that person and your brand together.

What Airbnb has done is to tap into this fantasy that everyone has when they travel – ‘I know exactly what it’s like to live here’. It understands that no-one wants to be a tourist. That's a derogatory thing, so it transformed the travel sector from that understanding. For any brand who wants to be disruptive about how they're selling their product, it's about the core messages that consumers are giving, what they’re saying, and how these basic concepts and messages can be reimagined.

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