As we reach the end of this disruptive year, the board of PRHK, Hong Kong’s association for public relations and communications professionals, highlights the key trends to prepare for in the year ahead. From authenticity, trust, responsibility and purpose to data, creativity and social commerce, 2021 presents many opportunities for businesses and brands who adapt their approach towards a growth mindset.
“2020 has been characterized by a phenomenal spread of fake news and divisive communication on the one hand, and tremendously empathetic and authentic leadership that has helped to guide people through one of the severest global crises seen since the second world war, on the other. As brands seek to transform themselves to meet new consumer expectations, what is clear is that the authenticity of the experience will be a key yardstick by which consumers will judge success. Consumers are expecting brands to put people first through behaviors of shared responsibility, sacrifice and values. In a recent study by FleishmanHillard’s True Global Intelligence unit, 91% of global consumers said it was important for companies to show that they are committed to doing the right thing. This starts by being authentic and living your values. In 2021, brands who forget this do so at their peril.”
– Rachel Catanach, FleishmanHillard
“Brands are entering a brave new era, where trust is make or break for consumers. In a world still upended by the Covid-19 pandemic, solving big and small problems for the individual and society is what will matter most for brands. Our Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust in 2020, uncovered that trust is second only to price when consumers decide to purchase or pass on a new brand. Brands today can’t just talk; they must act on the issues that matter to their consumers. Human trust is complex and nuanced; once broken, it can be lost completely, but when earned, trust enables brands to take more risks and protects them against headwinds. In today’s turbulent world, people are craving meaningful connections and they bring these expectations to brands. In 2021, brands must articulate their purpose, create differentiation, and build connections to earn trust with consumers.”
– Annouchka Behrmann, Edelman
“After the past year, the Friedman doctrine, if not dead, is certainly in medically induced quarantine. The pandemic changed consumer expectations of corporate behaviour and almost every major corporation has rushed to demonstrate their commitment to the community. We’ve also seen corporates take more robust positions, with the Black Lives Matter movement bringing equality and diversity to the forefront of people’s minds. As we look to the year ahead, and a hopeful return to some form of normality, organisations need to look beyond expressions of solidarity and create meaningful corporate responsibility frameworks that relate directly to their areas of interest. They will also be forced to assess the consequences of short term fiscal decisions against their long term reputations, especially as the public debt crisis begins to bite. In short, as we see government support withdrawn and the real financial impact of the pandemic felt, people will be quick to judge those firms whose open palms and glib comments this year translate into huge management bonuses, job losses and price rises next.”
– Ben Evetts, Independent PR practitioner
“For many PRs and comms professionals, developing a CSR or CSV strategy is not a new concept. But how often is it revived and refreshed? For a robust and purposeful brand purpose strategy to have impact, constant review is required to make sure it is meeting the current moment. During critical times such as these, does the approach still connect with audiences and to what extent does it reflect the values and beliefs of consumers as they stand today? There is a very long recovery journey ahead in 2021, and data has shown that consumers are becoming more selective and conscious of their brand engagement than ever before. Value-based spending behaviours will dominate, both rationally and emotionally. Brands and businesses are expected, or perhaps even obligated, to showcase their sense of purpose. They are expected to action their purpose in all aspects of what they do, have strong society and community connections and make customers feel good, or at least better, when engaging with their brand.”
– Carbo Yu, Sinclair
Data and insights
“On the client-side, data analytics and artificial intelligence are making big inroads into the activities of marketing managers at leading firms in Hong Kong. By constructing a so-called data lake, in which raw and processed material is drawn from across the organization, marketing managers can now perform their own data analytics without the need for IT support. This is allowing them to unearth new trends and insights into a mass of customer data enabling them to launch new campaigns. Also, by applying AI then the whole process can be automated. On the agency-side, similar inroads are starting to be made in terms of monitoring of coverage – useful for global campaigns – and in content generation. Already in the media, AI-equipped computers are churning out sports and financial reports, as well as selecting stories and laying out pages. It is only a matter of time before this technology is used more widely in the PR community, which could result in widespread job losses. A brave new world beckons in 2021.”
– David Croasdale, Newell Public Relations
The hallmark for brand success in 2021 is going to be how well they are able to connect with customers and stakeholders. Standing out from the competition in the very busy digital news and social media environment means getting creative is no longer a goal but a necessity. Creativity cuts through the noise. Creative storytelling that is emotive, empathetic and sticky, and is delivered in unique ways, is what’s going to elicit attention. We need to think differently about how we deliver brand narrative and put the creative process clearly in the centre of the marketing and PR team’s growth strategy. It will also take bravery from leadership teams to support new creative ideas and see them come to life.
– Kiri Sinclair, Sinclair
“2020: a gloomy year for most, but a banner year for the e-commerce sector leapfrogging ahead of long-term forecast adoption rates driven by COVID-19 induced necessity. The sphere of influence around purchases continues to become ever more tightly knit. New consumer journeys will continue to emerge in 2021 and many will intersect through social media at singular or multiple points. This makes social commerce an important component of a brand’s marketing strategy. Social commerce success requires best practices in measurement and analytics, influencer relations and content marketing to shorten the line from building brand value to purchase consideration and sales. In 2021 social commerce will come of age.”
– Simeon Mellalieu, Ketchum
“BCW’s growth culture has one essential element that we practice at every level: a growth mindset. To navigate the new normal brought about by COVID-19, nurturing a growth mindset is more essential than ever but it can be hard to find ways to maintain a positive and proactive outlook when faced with the unprecedented demands placed on us by a global pandemic alongside the daily work we handle for our clients. The trick is to look at the opportunities this time of challenge presents and to tweak our perspective by asking ourselves: “what can we do differently?” In a world where circumstances change by the minute, there is no better time to find ways to do things differently, to enhance efficiency, to drive value and grow our skills. So wherever you are, make practicing a growth mindset a New Year resolution for you and see the world take on a new perspective.”
– Maria Cheong, BCW
PRHK Viewpoints is an article series contributed by members of PRHK, Hong Kong’s PR & communications association.