The digital future we’ve been predicting is here—and brands better take notice

by | Jul 7, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

Over the last few months we’ve undergone a pandemic-induced acceleration toward digital transformation that has propelled our society forward into a new reality, guided by emerging technologies and a near-total digital workforce. We’ve watched as a massive technological integration has taken place seemingly overnight—a feat futurists once predicted would materialize over multiple years.

As we enter this next phased reopening, this reliance on technological innovation will only continue to swell in what’s sure to be a COVID-19 digital economy, wherein all industries—including communications to marketing—will need to adapt and reimagine stakeholder experiences, keeping purpose-driven consumers, and their experiences, top-of-mind.

Digital channels will be a sea change-enabler

Amid the pandemic, and against the backdrop of the greater social conversations around racial injustice happening in our society, digital is no longer seen as something keeping us all siloed, but rather, as a means of greater interpersonal connection. Today, digital and social channels have evolved beyond engagement, and into tools for mobilization and revolution. And this is only the beginning. This idea of activism around racial injustice has incited a sea change and bred greater expectation that companies need to be vocal about change, diversity, and their own initiatives.

Companies are going to need to continue to care about important causes, like ending racial bias, with digital channels becoming the means for them to share their efforts and engage with their communities. In fact, the most authentic, genuine conversations are happening online, in real time—not in traditional print or broadcast media—and we’re bound to see this continue to swell not only on the individual level, but among brands and whole industries, as well.

This is particularly true on TikTok, the most globally downloaded app last month with close to 112 million new installs; once considered a more playful corner of the Internet, the platform has recently emerged as a hub for far-reaching, highly-engaging protest content, including this TikTok video from May that quickly went viral, becoming one of the platform’s top clips with a #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and drawing more than 43M views, 8.1M likes and 205.5K comments. Similarly, this TikTok parody of visibly inauthentic marketing campaigns calling for equality in light of recent protests has already garnered 105.5K likes and 1085 comments.

In our digital present and future, brands will be called to be more genuine and vulnerable—leveraging their digital platforms to incite and engage in conversations, heed their consumer audience’s words, and activate real change.

The technologies once feared will now be embraced

Despite historic wariness of AI and machine learning technologies, in recent months the pandemic has thrown our society into an inherent reliance on and overall acceptance of these very technologies that have kept our businesses running and the greater public safe—and this will only increase in the months and years to come as robotics and AI are able to go where humans must remain 6-feet distant.

For instance, Attabotics, a supply chain solution for e-commerce companies, has replaced traditional warehouses with vertical storage, accessed by robots and inspired by ant colonies. CVS and UPS have partnered to provide contactless, drone deliveries of prescription medicines to Florida’s largest retirement community, The Villages. Floor scrubbing robots at Walmart, Kroger and other big-box retailers have allowed for around-the-clock disinfectant cleaning. With today’s widely distributed remote workforce, new collaboration technologies will continue to more necessary than ever. The next wave of digital transformation has only just begun and this time it will be a tsunami, not just a wave.

Consumer experiences will be reimagined

Once a company’s fallback plan, virtual experiences have today become a dime-a-dozen practice during Covid-19, as brands continue forward with programming amid the new necessity for strictly enforced health safety measures. And despite the slow reopening of states across the country, these experiences are destined to remain largely virtual, given consumer anxieties around large gatherings will likely remain high even after the pandemic ends.

In short: Traditional Investor Days are as over as the salad bar, but this is ultimately for the best, given the fact that virtual events can actually be more targeted and better organized than their live counterparts, with the potential for father geographical reach, higher attendance and an overall greater ROI for those who are more inclined to attend from the comfort and safety of their own living rooms.

Amid this new future, brands and agencies will be challenged to rethink old even structures through new digital mediums, where content can be optimized digestibly in every format with an emphasis on platforms that are easy-to-use. The average human attention span is eight seconds, after all, so it will be imperative that companies employ simple, user-friendly processes—providing the fastest, most secure, and most efficient experiences imaginable to ensure success.

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Tejas Totade

Tejas Totade is the Chief Technology Officer at Ruder Finn, overseeing the agency’s Tech Lab, a technology incubator across AI, Robotics, Voice, and Analytics. Tech Lab helps in the identification and piloting of new tools, particularly from early-stage start-ups along with developing and growing an active network of emerging technology partners for experimentation.

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