Forward Thinking: PR - Weber Shandwick - Breaker's dozen

2013 is the year when brands that fail to integrate their marketing offering to build meaningful engagement with consumers - particularly via digital and social channels - will be left behind.

James Warren (left) and Adam Mack
James Warren (left) and Adam Mack

Here we are in 2013: make or break time. At Weber Shandwick we have recently acknowledged the broadening of the marketing remit, the fusing of disciplines and the pervading influence of digital, by redefining ourselves as an engagement agency.

The shift underpins much of what we're saying to clients about the next 12 months, and all the campaigns we develop as a result.

Unprecedented re-invention lies ahead, for all of us. Here, we look at five reasons why.

For a start, we're in an era where the way in which consumers access information has never been so broad; they take their knowledge from limitless sources, with a healthy disregard for the traditional. As a result, every marketing agency - whether it be ad, PR, CRM or digital - is working to cover all bases. Some can, some can't, but the point is that now, more than ever, communications campaigns must seamlessly span every channel and discipline. Brand owners must also wrestle with this, even if it means radically restructuring their marketing function to facilitate better integration.

2013 will be the year when brands that don't follow their consumers get found out.

Most will get found out in the digital and social space. No longer a distinct discipline, digital is a mindset and skillset that must permeate everything in the marketing arena. Everyone must adapt to social-media and digital convergence, and probably throw out the customary marketing rule book in the process. Brands need to get this, and get it soon, or they are going to be in serious trouble.

Third, the nature of engagement has changed. It's more volatile and less sticky. Audience attention is so much more easily distracted by an increasing variety of devices, apps, portals and content. Engagement nowadays is easier to come by, but much harder to retain, according to Thomas Ramsoy, head of neuroscience at Copenhagen Business School, who has been working with us on our science of engagement project. Brands need to work harder at deeper relationships and spend less time on shallow stunts. If today's newspaper is tomorrow's fish-and-chip wrapper, a Facebook 'like' becomes history the minute your customer raises their finger off their mouse.

Fourth, brands will need to think differently about how they build those relationships. Several years into the global financial crisis, there's still no end in sight. This unstable climate has fostered a new consumer behaviour that we believe brands will need to be wise to in 2013: playfulness.

Against the backdrop of sex scandals, media meltdowns and political corruption, consumers across the board want to have fun. We used to be taught that play is something only children do, but grown-up play is fast becoming socially acceptable and this will be the year in which it really comes of age.

From the VW 'fun theory' experiments that started in 2009 to apps that make music out of tweets, or vending machines that dispense happiness, brands that make the most of this appetite for child-like fun will secure genuine engagement.

Finally, we believe 2013 will be the year the control freak loses out.

'We are in an era where it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission,' said Robert Polet, Gucci Group chief executive, signalling the luxury sector's initial forays into the digital arena and perfectly encapsulating the 'beta era' we now inhabit.

Experimentation is the new norm. Reacting to the impermanence of financial stabilities, people are thinking short-term and bite-size. They'll give things a go and if they don't work out, quickly move on. They're not committed to one project, one job, one philosophy. For brands, this means accepting that they are not in control, co-creating campaigns (and even products) with their customers and, where possible, embracing the spirit of experimentation.

2013 will be a year of make or break for brands still sitting on the fence dividing the traditional from the pioneering. The digital revolution has reached a stage where anyone not keeping pace will be swiftly left behind. For successful brands, 2013 will be a year of integration, experimentation, socialisation and playfulness - not sticking to the well-trodden path.

Adam Mack is chief strategy officer, Weber Shandwick EMEA and James Warren is chief digital creative officer, Weber Shandwick

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