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Media Predictions for 2012
Birnbach Communicates has been issuing annual predictions going back
a decade now. Our goal is to help our clients more effectively understand
and engage on topics of interest for social media.
We compile our annual list of media trends for clients, who operate across
a range of industries, including storage, security, unified communications,
financial software and services and other technology sectors, healthcare,
senior services, consumer, social networking, and nonprofit and education.
These trends help the agency's clients more effectively understand and
engage on topics of interest for social media.
We will be rolling out the trends on our blog, PR
Back Talk in Jan. It's also available as a slideshow (here).
- The desire to be connected 24/7 may change in 2012. You almost
never have downtime anymore, and people are beginning to notice that’s
not all good. Sure, if you are waiting in line at the post office or
bank (something today’s kindergarteners won’t do by the time they hit
college), you’ll be able to check email, play an app, text your friend,
or make a call. But this lack of downtime may negatively impact our
ability to concentrate and avoid distractions at work and at home. The
recognition that we actually need to disconnect, that we need downtime,
is likely to generate coverage this year. Already a handful of companies
have limited email, both during the day and after hours – and we think
more will join those ranks. We also think the concept of going on vacation
without access to email or cell will become more of a status symbol
because it now takes a lot of money to disconnect yourself from your
- We may be immersed in social media, but we’ll spend less time with
actual people. So many people use social media sites – from Facebook,
Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn, to Pinterest and Quora and more -- that
people have less time to spend with their friends and family. We’re
not sure if this will get much media coverage, but we’ve seen some books
addressing the topic (like last year’s “Alone Together” by MIT Professor
Sherry Turkle). We expect more attention will be paid as kids in schools
face a new way to feel alienated.
- Value will be king in 2012. Upscale consumers, suffering from
frugal fatigue, have started spending again. But for the 99% of us --
a phrase that will be popular throughout 2012, due to the presidential
election -- will continue to look for value. That bodes well for Groupon,
LivingSocial and other sites offering discounts. However, some companies
have complained that they’ve lost money on their promotions through
Groupon, so a question in 2012 could well be: “Do group discounts actually
generate a return for companies?” Expect two other questions this year:
“Will Groupon turn out to be a good investment since its Nov. 2011 IPO
at $20?” and “How many e-coupon sites do consumers want or need?”
- Shifting to more efficient light bulbs in 2012 will not cause
the end of the world. Last year, there were a lot of published complaints
about the fact that legislation signed by President Bush would replace
the traditional 60-watt incandescent light bulb with more efficient
compact fluorescent bulbs or LED fixtures. The New York Times and Wall
St. Journal both ran stories about consumers stockpiling traditional
60-watt incandescent bulbs. Guess what: The deadline for shifting to
more efficient bulbs came, and suddenly it became a non-story. We don’t
expect there to be much coverage this year as people realize the alternatives
do actually deliver decent white light. (Please note: we represent a
manufacturer of sustainable architectural LED-based fixtures.)
- Academic integrity will continue to be important to deal with
cheating scandals. With many Americans unemployed or underemployed
going back to school, we expect more will take online courses for convenience.
But because of competition among job seekers, people will look for programs
that ensure academic integrity of their tests – and those academic institutions
will turn to technology to monitor tests to ensure there’s no cheating.
As more school districts open up virtual academies for students K-12,
expect that academic integrity will become important even at the elementary
and junior high school levels.
- The most overused phrase in 2012 could be: lean-back/lean-forward
user experiences. Lean-back activities are those in which users
passively access content, like watching TV. Lean-forward activities
are those in which the user is actively engaged in consuming content,
as when they’re searching for content on the Internet or via an app.
Lean-back activities can last as long as it takes to watch a sitcom
or movie, while the attention span for lean-forward activities tends
to be much shorter. While useful, LB/LF leaves out one other way people
now access content: standing in line, holding their smartphone in the
position that Jerry Seinfield described as modified chipmunk: with hands
chest high and head bent to check out their screen. Of course that amounts
to the same thing: short attention spans. LB/LF is important as content
developers look at how to best present their content. Also expect to
hear a lot of about ultrabooks – PCs as sleek and thin as Macbooks.
We expect that Post-PC will be a term we’ll hear a lot in 2012, given
the exploding popularity of tablets, especially iPads.
- More viewers will cut the cable cord. Americans have complained
about the service of cable companies for decades. Now, consumers have
another reason to grumble: Cable fees are rising so much that even cable
providers are taking content providers to task over the cost of content
– specifically sports channels, (Wall St. Journal: “Cable-TV Honchos
Cry Foul Over Soaring Cost of ESPN,” Dec. 6, 2011). This year, expect
more people to reduce their monthly expenses by cancelling their cable
subscription – partly to reduce monthly expenses and partly to use new
technology that provides a flexible alternative, allowing us to watch
what we want, when we want, and on the device of our choosing. The challenge:
You need to have several apps, along with a computer connected to your
TV, and, it’s still too complicated – often requiring tech assistance
for many just to get it set up. And technology is quickly evolving,
which means what you buy today may be obsolete in 18 months, requiring
new purchases and additional tech support.
- Converging media will continue in 2012. 1) Expect more newspaper
reporters to prepare video reports for their newspapers’ website and
apps. Expect more TV and radio reporters to prepare text articles for
their websites and apps – and everyone to take more still photos that
they post onto Twitter and Google+. Lines of cooperation and competition
will continue to blur. 2) Increasingly, media will stop being defined
by the device on which we used to consume them. Instead, we’ll need
to find new terms to define what we’re doing. We’re not taping a TV
program anymore because we’re not using tape of any kind – we’re recording
it onto a DVR and perhaps watching it on a tablet. In fact, calling
HBO a pay-cable channel may not make sense as more people may access
the network via smartphone or tablet apps. They’ll listen to the radio
but not actually on a radio (there is an app for that). Or watch TV
on a TV. And they certainly won’t be watching or listening at the time
designated by the broadcasters, but on their own time. Interestingly,
American consumers, who have purchased new flat panel TVs over the past
five years, are looking to watch TV shows on devices at a time and place
that’s convenient for them. The implications for communications functions
within organizations: Because the how, when and where we consume media
is changing, they should consider developing and distributing content
across different platforms and different devices and for different mindsets.
The person using a smartphone wants short, uncluttered content whereas
a person using a laptop might be okay with more links and longer high-def
- E-books will improve their experience by providing new interactive
and multimedia content. Already some publishers are working on combining
video and other interactive features into their e-books to provide more
value. With the growing capabilities of e-readers like the Kindle Fire
and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, expect e-textbooks to include interactive
exercises, and nonfiction e-books to include more video, photos, and
audio, while fiction books will come packed with featurettes much the
way DVDs are packaged.
- Companies will use fees to offset declining revenue in 2012.
With revenue still not approaching 2007-2008 levels and with costs continuing
to increase, look for all types of companies to start adding fees for
things that had once been included in the price. Airlines and hotels
are charging for baggage, onboard food and other things, like Wi-Fi,
that used to be included in the price of a ticket or a hotel room. Banks
are charging consumers to use their debit cards or paying bills by phone
(or backing off, when there’s too much public pressure). Shipping companies
charge surtaxes to offset spikes in the price of gas, which, by the
way, has dropped from sky-high prices. And that illustrates another
aspect of fees – they won’t go away. What we saw in 2011 was that a
number of big companies did a poor job of explaining why they felt they
had to impose higher fees on their customers – which made the increase
feel like a slap in the face to many customers. In 2012, some companies
will have learned that lesson – but you can expect a number of companies
who should have known better to make a mistake in how they communicate
their fees to their customers.
- Mobile payments will increase. Spearheaded by Google Wallet,
Visa's V.me, and Verizon, 2012 looks to be a big year for mobile commerce.
Using your smartphone to make purchases will not attract most Americans
this year, but a growing part of the population will love the convenience
of not having to find an ATM or not paying fees to use another bank
system’s ATM. You can delay the day our society becomes a cashless one,
but eventually going cash free will be mainstream by the end of the
- Videoconferencing will continue to hit its stride. Consumers
are able to use video to chat not only on Skype (now owned by Microsoft)
but also on Facebook or Google+ as well as their iPhones and other smartphones.
As consumers bring their own devices to work – rather than carry two
smartphones (one for work and one for personal) – they will naturally
try to use FaceTime, Skype or other free videoconferencing software.
But what they’ll find is that while the service they get from free video
chat services is fine to talk with a long-distance friend or family
member, it’s not okay when talking with a customer. Expect more interest
in cloud-based videoconferencing.
- Converging technology, like the “paperless office,” won’t live
up to its hype. Converging technology was supposed to result in
single devices that could handle multiple functions. The problem: we
still need too many chargers and have too many devices to sync. Although
smartphones have killed the wonderful Flip camera, and damaged sales
of standalone cameras, dedicated GPS units and watches; convergence
hasn’t delivered exactly clear benefits. Instead, we own and carry more
devices: laptop or ultrabook, iPhone or Android phone (or, decreasingly,
BlackBerry), iPad, iPod, etc. What’s worse are the multiple chargers
we need to power those devices: laptop charger, phone charger, iPad
charger (at least iPhones, iPads and iPods use the same charger) --
which doesn't take into consideration the separate chargers for all
of these devices for your office, car and home.
But the real problem with multiple devices is the need to sync them
all. Every device seems to contain an address book for friends, family
and work, and those address books all need to be replicated on your
cell, your work and home phones, laptops, tablets, etc. – if only
because no one ever remembers phone numbers anymore. The same is true
with email accounts on different devices and calendars, especially
if you need to track activities for your spouse and children. The
problem is that not all devices sync well with others. So mistakes
and false information creep in, leaving users with zombie appointments
that keep updated but can't be killed, um, deleted. Multiple devices
require different syncs during the day, which increases the likelihood
of some information that you actually need getting overwritten or
misinformation getting repeated and reducing the owner's confidence
in the info.
This gets even more complicated as the workplace increasingly is
embracing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to the office. The ability
to have devices operating on different platforms sync and communicate
to each (techs call that “interoperability”) is critical in a BYOD
work environment. Some companies, like Apple, prefer their own ecosystem
so that you're not-so-subtlety pushed to buy only one platform, theirs.
B2B tech vendors have tried that before, but their corporate customers
don't like to be locked in. While there will always be Apple evangelists,
the rest of us want interoperability, and customers will be better
served if we get that. If there's truly an app for interoperability,
it needs to be simple to use and cost-effective. Otherwise, convergence
won’t live up to its promise. And for personal usage, convergence
is sometimes more important than the device itself. This point is
perhaps best made by noting that young adults love all the features
on their phones, except two: the phone (because they rarely actually
use phones to make a call) and voicemail (they prefer texts).
- Data will be bigger in 2012. At least the approach known as
“big data,” software that enables users to capture and visualize huge
amounts of data on their desktops, will be big in 2012, and will overtake
Business Intelligence (BI) as the approach large companies will take
to sift through and make sense of their data. These days, companies
gather a tremendous amount of data, and it is only getting larger and
larger. The challenge: how to visualize the data so that the business
can gain insights and not be overwhelmed. Big data is different from
BI because big data is faster (but no one wants to refer to this as
big, fast data if only because the acronym of BFD usually involves a
different f-word). Unlike BI, which often looks for trends within a
company’s data, big data enables companies to ask questions on the fly
to identify new trends and insights, and to generate real-time answers.
There’s a growing acknowledgement that big data will be a BFD in 2012.
- Ongoing Tech Trends we expect to continue from 2011:
- Cloud computing: This trend started in 2010 but continues to go
- The battle of tablets: Just because the first battle went in Apple's
direction does not mean that wannabe iPad Killers have given up
the fight. Competitors still want to get into the action and capture
some of the marketshare. From the media's perspective, it's a two-horse
race between the Kindle Fire and iPad. We expect a third option
to gain some traction, but the iPad will continue to dominate.
- The three most important tech trends will be mobile, mobile, mobile.
Unless the three most important trends are social, social, social.
For example, enterprise technology now needs not only to have an
intuitive interface, it also must be accessible on iPads.
- Gaming is not just for kids. Gaming will continue to be integrated
into business and training apps to keep people engaged and entertained.
- The press release will not die in 2012. Companies still need
press releases to communicate news about the company. Twitter is good
as a kind of short broadcast of news, but tweets get lost on the timeline
– whereas press releases can easily be posted on a corporate newsroom,
which is important from an SEO perspective and to demonstrate the company
is still alive. Additionally, reporters, who are overworked (they’re
now creating multimedia stories on a daily basis), continue to rely
on press releases for content. However, organizations must understand
that they can’t rely on a press release alone. They need to think about
new ways they can distribute their news, including infographics, data-and-graphics
mashups intended to compellingly present information.
- The role of CES will diminish next year. The Consumer Electronics
Show (CES) has been the tech industry's most important conference, having
eclipsed Comdex a decade ago. CES is a mashup of consumer gadgets and
the tech that powers those gadgets (like semiconductors), and it's been
considered so important that non-tech outlets feel compelled to cover
the latest cool gadgets launched at the show. But that is changing --
and not just because Apple has not been attending or that Microsoft
announced that it will not attend next year's show. The reason: While
CES is not "dead show walking," it is being supplanted by Austin’s South
by Southwest (SXSW), March 8-18. The change does not mean we don't love
gadgets – because we still do. But it may mean that we don't always
like the gadgets CES wants us to love. Prime example: despite last year's
CES love fest for 3-D TVs, consumers did not rush out to buy them. We
love apps and social and SXSW is the show that launches them.
- Social media will play a bigger role in the marketing mix for B2B
companies. More than eight years and nearly 900 million Facebook
users later, B2B businesses will embrace social media, following the
lead of B2C companies…though they may not focus on Facebook to reach
their customers. B2B companies will recognize the need to generate their
own multimedia content, and that there are active and engaged business
consumers even for niche sectors. We expect that more B2B companies
will consider increasing budgets to make engaging their targets through
social media, thought leadership and lead generation their top marketing
- Reporting and metrics will continue to be important for marketing
functions. For marketers, analytics will become even more important
than ever. Department store owner John Wanamaker is remembered for a
quote about metrics: "I know that half of my advertising budget is wasted,
but I'm not sure which half." That’s not acceptable anymore. There are
so many ways to measure how companies are engaging with their customers
and potential customers – that one challenge is to prevent being overwhelmed
by metrics and figuring out which ones truly matter to the organization.
More than ever, we think clients will be asking and looking for ways
to measure ROI.
Tell us what you think. Did we get it right? Are we way off base? Drop
us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.