Turning communications upside down

The changes we face in a new era of communications



We have entered an era when every company is a media company and everyone who posts online is a journalist.

This fundamentally changes the nature of corporate communications.

At the core of this are two irreversible factors.

1. Contextual Technologies. Five technological forces: mobile, social media, data, the Internet of Things and location technologies are rapidly converging into a single a superstorm of change. These contextual technologies have begun to understand us as individuals and even anticipate what we want to do before we know ourselves. Context has changed our relationships with our devices and these devices know us better than our loved ones do.

This changes all aspects of the relationships between enterprises and stakeholders. It also impacts the nature of influence, which in turn alters how corporate communications must operate: Instead of communicators building trust and telling people what they should want, people now trust each other and tell enterprises what they actually do want.

2. Millennials. Sometime in 2015, Millennials became the largest segment of the global marketplace according to Pew. Because this emergent generation is having fewer babies than earlier generations, they will likely dominate the commerce for 50 years. If your organisation wants to endure beyond the next five years or so, it must adjust course to accommodate them.

While earlier generations harbour concerns about privacy and other issues related to the relentless advance of contextual technology, Millennials are “all in.” They are the first digital natives making them more trusting of their digital devices, which are the constant companions, helping in virtually every aspect of life.

In addition, they trust each other and people they encounter online who share their personal interests. They trust leaders and official business, political and religious leaders less. This means that what your previous and current customers have to say is more influential than the messages forged, polished and delivered by professional communicators and marketers. Increasingly, they shape brand more than you do.

It’s not just as customers that Millennials matter. They are also your next generation of employees and the most devastating competitors your organisation is likely to face moving forward.

What’s a modern marketer to do? Who do you try to influence when everybody is an influencer? How do you control messages when conversations impacting your brand do not include anyone from your team?

Change with the generation

In my view, the way to beat these changes is to change along with them.

  • Join social conversations started by others that impact your markets, but don’t do it to push corporate agendas, so much as to listen and learn. Instead of just trying to get corporate messages out, listen and respond to customers, partners and competitors on in way that demonstrate you are really hearing their concerns.
  • Use the new technologies to make every touchpoint an easy and successful experience for every stakeholder and prospect.
  • Hang out where Millennials hang out or—better yet—employ Millennials to do it for you.

All this change is disruptive. It requires adjustments to corporate cultures and perhaps values, but ultimately, they will allow the most forward-thinking organisations to enjoy increased loyalty, lower marketing costs and higher profits.


Let’s look at one of the five contextual technologies: data. You already understand its value as the oxygen of the Contextual Era. Millennials don’t mind brands taking some of their data, provided they get something back. Let’s walk through a scenario: retailers know when loyalty programme customers are near a store and they have that customer’s data including credit card, purchase history and patterns.

A sensor in a loyalty card can alert the store when the participant enters the store. The data tells the store what the customers is likely to purchase and can predict the route that person will take through the store. It can send text messages offering customised deals as the shopper passes an item on a shelf.

That same data can let customers pickup their goods and just walk out of the store without going through checkout bottlenecks, as payments become contactless in stores as they are in Uber cars.

The store gains a great deal in such scenarios, but so do customers. They get what they want with greater ease. They get offers only on items they may actually want and they get out of the store—the restaurant—or into a sporting event with less hassle because of data and sensors.

Customer to customer

Frictionless experiences don’t often sound like a communications issue, but they are becoming exactly that. Customers tell others what their experiences are. Customers are becoming an actual marketing channel and what they communicate shapes brand and sales. They acquire new customers, partners and even investors more effectively than many current so-called best practices do.

While word-of-mouth has always been a valuable asset, the relentless advance of contextual technologies converging with this emergent generation of digital natives indicates a superstorm of change is coming.

This article is the first in a three-part series I have written about communicators in the digital era. The next article unpacks the use of external data sources to provide pinpoint and personalised communications. The final part of the series focusses on the changing nature of corporate communications.

You can explore the case studies and concepts discussed in this series in my latest book Lethal Generosity.

Image: Thinkstock

Shel Israel

Shel Israel is an author and speaker with a focus on technology’s impact on business and life. He has released a number of acclaimed books, most recently Lethal Generosity. His best-known works are Naked Conversations and Age of Context with Robert Scoble. He began his career in the 1960s as a journalist before turning to public relations in the Silicon Valley, eventually starting his own agency in the 1980s.