We are halfway into 2019, and it is already shaping up to be an excellent year for marketers and communication specialists. The Netflix documentary “The Greatest Party That Never Happened” and Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” put the spotlight on the Fyre Festival and the role of social media influencers to promote false realities and exaggerated fantasies. The Fyre Festival brand flourished and died on social media, but not before teaching us a few vital lessons on the importance of having a strong product.

2018 was an eventful year for brands across Southeast Asia. We saw better strategic planning by our clients and requests to drive integrated communications lead by digital and public relations. While big brands are now content publishers in their own right—with the editorial staff producing original content in-house, smaller brands have also jumped on the content publishing bandwagon. The push to attract non-traditional media, such as industry-specific social media influencers and bloggers to get more bang for the buck and improve PR effectiveness, continues to be strong. New measurement tools now provide more opportunities to demonstrate the return on investment and the business value of digital marketing and public relations.

In this feature, I am going to focus on five trends which have started to shape the communications strategy of brands in 2019:

The CEO remains the face of the brand, while the C-suite becomes more relevant

The CEO carries the mandate of being the most crucial spokesperson. However, It’s not just the CEO who needs to be a great spokesperson, but the entire C-Suite needs to be in on this opportunity. The challenge that brands faced in 2019 was to ensure that members of the C-Suite are seen as eloquent, ooze charisma and represent the company’s culture and leadership.

Despite having more information immediately at their disposal, the C-suite is increasingly time poor. This is why PR/Marketing professionals are making their communication even more succinct and accessible. On the other hand, customers, as well as the media, are more interested in the “story behind the story” and there will be a move to create “personality profiles” of business leaders rather than focus only on sanitized “leadership profiles.”

The margin for error is reduced, and crisis communications becomes more important

Customers, as well as the media, were more clued-in than ever on updates from companies they support and follow. This means that the margin for errors is diminishing as brands up their social game. For instance, Huawei’s New Year’s Eve message sent using an iPhone caused a massive embarrassment for the company and resulted in two employees being demoted.

2019 saw an increased awareness and push for employees, partner agencies and marketing teams to be true ambassadors for the brand they represent. To achieve this, organizations trained their employees on the three “R”s: Representation, Responsibility and Respect and encouraged employees to proudly announce new products and exciting company news while supporting talent acquisition campaigns.

Brands relate to their customer’s core value system

Traditionally, brands showed restraint and chose not to engage with issues that did not directly impact their businesses. In 2019, we are witnessing a growing number of brands stop being apolitical. No longer will they be able to take the path of least resistance. Organizations will become comfortable with taking a stand on hot-button issues and relate to their customer’s core personal values and beliefs. For instance, companies like Starbucks, Hyatt, and McDonald’s are planning to phase out the use of plastic straw globally.

2018 saw Nike take a stand in their “Dream Crazy” campaign and Levi Strauss & Co. decide to support restrictions on gun control. While those campaigns saw a section of their client base alienated, it fostered brand loyalty with those who bought those ideas and converted new customers as advocates. With issues such as data privacy and social stratification taking the spotlight in 2019, we expect more brands to engage with the community on potentially controversial topics.

Southeast Asia starts to drive digital communications in Asia

When it comes to economic growth in Asia, the focus was on China and India in the past. However, Southeast Asia is experiencing rapid growth of the Internet, digital, social media and mobile activity. Previously strong print presence in Southeast Asia is complemented by a marked increase in digital access, fueled by the popularity of low-cost smartphones paired with easier access to mobile data plans.

The internet penetration in countries like the Philippines and Indonesia has been steadily increasing, and with the regional internet penetration at 58 percent, we can expect to see more emphasis placed on digital outreach efforts in Southeast Asia in 2019.

Exceptional experiences are creating true brand advocates

Consumers and media are tired of the “one size fit all” approach. Brands started to strive harder in 2019 to differentiate themselves in a copycat environment and enable their audience to empathize with an otherwise faceless corporation.

Customers have started demanding a tactile experience, and the concept of less is more is no longer valid. To meet these demands, organizations not only crafted exceptional experiences in the form of workshops but built a community around their core offering and provided a wholesome experience – thus converting their customers into lifelong brand advocates.

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Lars Voedisch

Lars Voedisch

Lars Voedisch is an experienced global communications and business professional with over 15 years of expertise in growing, managing and defending leading brands’ reputation from an in-house and agency perspective. He started and runs PRecious Communications out of Singapore, a regional integrated, strategic communications consultancy that works with young brands and startups as well as global market leaders and government agencies.

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