Three hot PR & Branding trends for SMEs to watch out for in 2014

1. The continued rise of big data

Big data will continue to rise in importance during 2014. But with 90% of the world’s current data generated in the last 2 years (Source: IBM Business Intelligence). The key point here is that is a lot of data for businesses and industry to analyse. We will likely see two changes here I think in 2014.

The first is an increase in data analyst positions within Marketing and Corporate Communications departments. To truly add value in an enterprise big data needs to be integrated with Marketing and brand Corporate Communications activity. A strong argument can be made that locating big data analysis jobs within the Marketing and Corporate Communications department may make good business sense to achieve that deep integration between brand communications and the science of data analysis.

The second thing I believe we will likely see in 2014 is even greater closer alignment between the disciplines of Marketing, brand communications and ICT. Closer alignment between these disciplines has already happened with the rise of SEO, Digital Marketing and app and mobile web development. 2014 will just see these disciplines become even more aligned with the rise of big data in SME businesses. This is because the activities of these disciplines increasingly needs to be integrated from a brand marketing and communications perspective rather than viewed in isolation.

However, as both investment and focus on big data by SMEs increases so too will the focus on dig data measurement and evaluation, to prove its true worth and value, at board and SMT (Senior Management Team) level. That is the way social media went – first social media became trendy for SME’s to do, then it grew and now the focus in social media is very much on measurement and evaluation of its impact on the bottom line. The same will be true for Big Data – it will pass through the “trendy topic” phase into the growth and adoption phases – and once it grows the focus will then naturally move to measuring its impact on the bottom line compared to the investment put into it.

2. Mobile and video will both continue to grow in 2014. However, for high street retail in particular 2014 will be the year of mobile marketing.

Video and mobile will both continue to grow in 2014. However, I anticipate greater growth in mobile than video especially for the high street retail sector. As consumers switch increasingly to online purchases senior management in the retailing sector will start to focus more on the future role of the high street retail store. Apple iBeacon has just been released. It is expected to take off but it must be remembered I think that it is still very much in its early days. The huge opportunity of mobile marketing rests in proximity marketing technology and the trend of increased smartphone adoption. Proximity marketing technology will play a key part in the future of the in-store retail consumer experience. As consumers switch more to online purchases, retailers look more to the future of the high street retail store, and that is when they start to take an interest in and explore mobile and proximity marketing technology further. To date they have dabbled in mobile marketing technology but I would anticipate seeing greater adoption and interest in this technology in 2014.

3. We will see the growth of integrated agencies as awareness of the need for Integrated Marketing and brand communications reaches its peak.

We have social media agencies and consultants. We have advertising agencies and consultants. We have PR agencies and consultants. Each is separate and each of these agencies has its own strengths. But I believe we are moving now more and more now to what I see as the age of integrated marketing and brand communications. As social media, digital and mobile communication technologies and channels grow in number (due to communications technology constantly evolving and advancing), integrating digital, mobile and traditional media communications in a uniquely strategic mix for a brand to gain distinctive competitive advantage will become the dominate factor for smart SME brands in 2014.

Strategically in today’s global economy branding and corporate communications needs to be increasingly deeply integrated. I believe it is not sustainable in the longer term to view the disciplines of social media, traditional media relations, public affairs and lobbying, advertising and digital as being separate disciplines in their own right. All of these disciplines should be integrated together and should complement each other with the primary aim of maximising an SME brands communications to gain competitive advantage. To do this successfully and sustainably you need to take and adopt a holistic and integrated approach to communications.

I think that in 2014 this will lead to marginal growth of the integrated agency. An agency or consultancy that will not just provide social media marketing services or digital services but rather have skilled in-house staff across all PR and Marketing disciplines in order to offer a potentially fresh and attractive “one stop shop” to SME businesses seeking consultancy services. The advantage for the SME being they go to one agency instead of having a multi-agency or consultancy provider relationship to manage.

Finally, on a general note, looking to the future I believe that for an SME brand to do in-house PR and brand communications well we will see an increasingly clinical approach to communication by SMEs in an age where reputation matters more than ever. Indeed it is like planning a military operation. Detail, even the smallest detail, is important now. PR is no longer just about the Corporate Communications or Marketing team. There is a growing realisation now that it is about the communications and actions (both verbal and non-verbal) of all employees in an SME enterprise. Because collectively the reputation of the SME brand is formed on the behaviour of all those employees. I believe that only when an SME brand understands and appreciates this can it deeply embed and integrate PR thinking into all aspects of the organisation in order to build a truly effective, sustainable and competitive reputation in today’s digital age where the power balance is moving all the time more and more towards