‘The purpose of communication in an age of change and uncertainty’

We live in a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, so much so that any discussion of the future seems premature, let alone one about the current media landscape (which seems to change with the wind). It seems glib to talk about the pace of change in such a highly-connected world, but it’s still important to restate how fast everything moves nowadays – not least the news agenda. We’re now almost two months into the year, could I give you a solid overview of the big news stories that have happened so far? Not with any confidence, I must say. This forgetfulness seems to bring up an interesting question: how, as communications professionals, do we leave a lasting impression on our audience when stories seemingly disappear into the ether? In other words, what’s the purpose of communication in an age of change and uncertainty? It’s this question that brought me to the PRCA’s ‘18 for 2018’ morning seminar, which took place late last month in Westminster. Here’s what I found out…


Stability? What stability!

You could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve had our fill of destabilising moments, especially after Trump and Brexit. This is not a political point on my part; for better or worse, it’s fair to say these have been fundamental challenges to the general order of things. Unfortunately, there is more disruption on the way – at least according to a futurologist who opened the morning’s proceedings. Uncertainty abounds and it’s only going to get worse as we press further ahead into the century.

Just some of the global drivers that are expected to fuel further disruption includes: massive expansion in urban living (66 per cent of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050); the unstoppable march of globalisation, where communities, economies, and cultures will continue to become less distinguishable from one another; changing demographics, whereby new groups and cohorts refuse to identify in the ways in which other generations have done previously; increased prevalence of misinformation, otherwise known as ‘fake news’; institution-less consumers, i.e. people that do not feel any particular devotion or emotional bond with one brand and understand their worth to companies; decentralised currencies and institutions, as seen with the emergence of cryptocurrencies and ‘non-physical’ – yet truly global – entities that exert massive economic influence. In short, we’re entering a ‘new world disorder’ where very little will remain unchanged – tighten your seatbelts.


Generation ‘Z’ are truly different 

Baby boomers, Generation X, Millennials… they all share commonalities, mostly due to the fact they remember (or at least recall) the twentieth century and were born before the internet existed, let alone smart phones and social media. But now we have a truly different cohort to contend with: Generation ‘Z’ – generally understood as those born post-millennium. As Marketing Week points out, the eldest of this generation are now beginning to enter the workforce, and the youngest already influence billions of annual spend in the UK through their parents.

Some describe this new cohort as the ‘I’ generation, due to their devout and unabated use of technology to do, well, anything and everything. But some have argued this is misleading, as it alludes to the Apple brand, a brand which Generation Z is seemingly shunning. Yes, Apple’s marketing department assumed Generation Z would fall for its products in the same way millennials did and now it’s scrambling to find the solution (it’s definitely not Bono, or a preloaded U2 album).

Generation Z are the main group fuelling the global shift in behaviour that was listed in the previous paragraph – they identify and consume in fundamentally different ways. As some pointed out in the seminar, this is likely to do with the fact that young people today have been born into an age of accelerated globalisation, as such the pace of change seems natural to them. Visual thinking, a preference for free content, a greater environmental and social conscience, and collective mentality are just some of the unique ‘Z’ identifiers that organisations are scrambling to grapple with and market to. This new generation really knows how important holding their attention is and they fully understand their value as consumers – brands and employers are desperate to decipher them.


Where does this leave communication?

So-called ‘new world disorder’ and an incredibly shrewd generation – it’s evident that organisations have their work cut out if they are to prosper in this century. Clearly good communication is going to become mission-critical as the pace of change increases. Why? Because no matter the format, platform, age, or even global situation, people still want to be informed, persuaded, and motivated – they’re natural human impulses. Curiosity is king, be it this century or last, or even next. Communication will change with the times, because it has to, but it’s function will ultimately remain the same. Getting the message ‘right’, however, is another matter…


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Ben Keeley