Joining the Conversation
This year's Guardian Changing Media Summit (London, March 15-16) was dominated by the discussion of "fake news". While this subject is most obviously affecting journalism, speakers offered strategies that equally applied to brands looking to engage distrustful, divided consumers.
"We have to listen to communities, understand their goals and needs, and only then bring them journalism," said Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. "Give up the notion that we are always the destination. We need to take journalism to the conversation when and where it occurs – be it Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, in the appropriate context for the platform." See our Macro Trend The Currency of Dissent for more on this subject.
Arguably, brands have been ahead of the media when it comes to understanding this need for joining and shaping the cultural conversation. Regarding the opportunities of chatbots and messaging apps, for example, brand marketers have led the way (see AI-First Engagement and The Messaging Opportunity for more).
At the summit, CNN's head of social and emerging media, Samantha Barry, described the benefits CNN has seen after launching on Line, Kik and Facebook Messenger in 2016. "We are reaching customers we haven't reached before," she commented. Kik, particularly, "has been a revelation in how we talk to young people in the US".
The Promise of AI
The other key topic of conversation was the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform media and marketing. In May 2016, Sarah O'Connor, employment correspondent at UK publication the Financial Times, competed with AI platform Emma to produce a piece of financial reporting – could a robot be a better writer than a real journalist?
While the story Emma produced was competent, according to O'Connor: "[Emma] didn't have news judgement. She did not know which were the most important facts – which is one of the human things that journalists need."
Marketing expert Sarah Speake nonetheless worried that, for marketers, AI could lead to homogenisation. "There's a huge danger if we over-algorithm ourselves that brands lack differentiation," she commented. David Harris, executive creative director at UK ad agency Gyro, agreed: "Tech only works if there's an ecosystem around it, and that ecosystem is not there yet."
For those concerned that AI will take over human jobs, Parry Malm, chief executive of AI email marketing platform Phrasee, had reassuring words: "If you're a lawyer or accountant, you're probably [in trouble]. But [AI] is creating new jobs. Phrasee just hired a dozen linguistics graduates – we're creating a new career path for people with specialist skillsets."
Tom Goodwin, executive vice-president of innovation at marketing measurement firm Zenith USA, offered 10 media trends that pointed to a future of increasingly omnipresent technology. "We've only ever known an internet that we went to," he commented. "The internet is now more a pervasive, assistive interface. I don't need to know everything, just the things specific to a need." Goodwin pointed to the Dark Sky app as an example: the hyper-local weather tool simply tells you when it's about to rain where you are.
He also discussed Sony's concept prototype N, a neckband wearable previewed at CES 2017 as an example of how we might interact with the internet in the next few years (check out our reporting from CES for more). Brands should "embrace the way that these products are and the philosophy they represent", Goodwin said. "Digital is oxygen."
For more on pervasive technology, see our latest Industry Trend, Invisible Marketing.