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One man, a lot of BBQ and four trends from SXSW 2017


Now that the dust has settled, the delegates have returned home, and the smell of BBQ has been washed out of clothes – it’s time to reflect on some of the top trends to appear out of this year’s SXSW, the world’s largest conference for interactive and emerging technology, hosted in Austin, Texas.

Now that the dust has settled, the delegates have returned home, and the smell of BBQ has been washed out of clothes – it’s time to reflect on some of the top trends to appear out of this year’s SXSW, the world’s largest conference for interactive and emerging technology, hosted in Austin, Texas.


Once again, a packed program of over 800 official sessions and numerous unofficial sessions took place with speakers stretching from mountain climbers through to neuro-scientists by the way of rocket engineers.  Throw in trade stands peddling every possible new technology that comes to mind and you’ve got a jam-packed schedule.


Below represents just a very small number of the fascinating trends that really caught my attention over the week.

1. Autonomous Vehicles

There was no escaping autonomous vehicles this year at SXSW with flashy exhibitions from NIO, a new e-vehicle start-up to come out of China, and a fascinating discussion led by Ford CEO Bill Ford, who summised that whilst the technology was unquestionably just around the corner the challenges fundamentally lie within society.  In short, are we ready to manage the consequences of autonomising entire industries and the subsequent shift in employment needs? And are we employing the right people to make this happen?

2. VR as a communications tool

My colleague Jennifer Trou sums it up well in her recent Friday Five post: “VR and AR were seemingly on every corner and in every activation, but much of the conversation about them was still focused on the real-world applications. So while VR and AR will play a role in our future, many are still figuring out what that will be exactly.”

3. The future is bright. The future is Bots

Bots were an unescapable force this year, from Abbey, the official SXSW bot who helped you find your way to the right session and helped many a delegate find out what they’d missed, all the way through to Facebook and messenger bots transforming how consumer engage with brands through social media.  One way or another, as AI becomes more complex and sensitive, bots will inevitably take over many roles currently held by real people.  Whether they can manage the Australian sense of humor is yet to be seen…

4. Influencer Marketing – the new frontier

A huge conference track this year, a number of sessions dedicated their entire time to influencers. What I found interesting was the number of brands doing it right and the number that are still swinging and missing, with a heavy debate about the difference between Influencer Marketing and Influencer Engagement.  For a more in-depth analysis of the state of influence in Australia, I suggest you take a look at Pauline Linton’s great piece on why you should be ‘fashionably late on spending money on trends’.


Needless to say this is just four trends that immediately leapt out this year. To hear more on these topics, as well as other interesting discussions including neuroscience over-taking the traditional focus groups, the rise of National Geographic as the most exciting brand in the world and iMessenger as green space for brands, keep an eye out for an invitation to the upcoming Edelman Soundbite session that will go into much more detail.

Trust in crisis in Australia

Business and Populism, Insights, Media, Trust
2017 Edelman Trust Barometer Logo_Web_RGB-01

Australia is on the Trust precipice. Fear is driving populism and protectionism. Leadership is in crisis. Communities only listen to those who agree with them. Some politicians are advocating for closing borders and rejecting globalization. Could this signal the start of an era of Australian insularity?

As a nation, Australia prides itself on a healthy skepticism of authority, a dynamic that reflects tumultuous political play in recent years with five different leaders so far this decade.

However, despite this the disconnect between our own informed publics and the general population is stark and growing. Current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is a classic example of the success and trappings of this elite – a multi-millionaire who has risen to the most powerful seat in the country.  2016 has been marked in Australia by accusations that politicians are misusing taxpayer funds and a litany of corporate greed cases.  The responses are widely seen as mishandled by slow government response, bureaucratic commissions or inquiries with few meaningful resolutions for the voting public.

The system is broken

Set against the backdrop of recent international populist results, including Brexit and Trump, the overwhelming global sense that the system is failing is reflected in the Australian Trust findings.

When looking at the results for the general population, trust in government dropped 8 points to 37% from 45% in 2016, 10 points in the case of media (from 42% to 32%), 5 points to 52% for NGOs and 4 points to 48% for business in general.

Trust levels in Australia have also dropped among the informed public (top 25% income, university educated, actively engaged with news) and the rest of the population – a group we call the mass population – but a significant gap also remains between the two.  Although the informed public is more trusting than the rest of the population, they are becoming increasingly less trusting themselves.

Australia’s results, however, are far from anomalous. The level of trust amongst the general population globally in four key institutions – NGOs, Business, Media and Government – is at the lowest recorded level since we started collecting general population data in 2012.  The disconnect between the actions and decisions of these institutions and those affected by them is widening. Not only has trust dropped, but those surveyed have expressed a desire for greater scrutiny, regulation and taxation of business.

Fear feeds populism

Results show that of the five fears driving the embrace of populism – corruption, eroding social values, globalisation, immigration and concern over the pace of change – Australians have identified eroding social values, immigration and globalisation as key drivers for their lack of trust.

It’s no surprise that these fears have been embraced as key platforms by conservative party One Nation.  The Party, led by Senator Pauline Hanson, is becoming an increasingly visible and popular force for the disenfranchised and discontented, attracted by the Party’s commitment to anti-globalization, anti-immigration and protectionist policies.

There is a direct correlation between fear and the belief that the system is broken.  Businesses are also to blame for stoking these societal fears, simply because they appear oblivious to the context.  Automation may mean innovation to business, but to the public, it can translate to job losses and communities in decline, which exacerbates the disconnect.

News imitates fact; our echo chambers are alive and well

But a real standout this year was Australians’ loss of trust in media. Among informed publics (from a 54% trust level last year), media now sits at 40%, a whopping 14-point decline.  Among the general population, trust in media at 32% is among the lowest levels globally, 11 points below the global average of 43% and a 10 point drop from 2016.

The erosion of trust in media has been accelerated by two significant changes this year.  First is the ongoing consolidation of media in Australia, a landscape dominated by a few players (Australian media ownership, and print media in particular, is among the most concentrated in the world).  Relaxation of cross-media ownership and ongoing staffing cuts has reduced diversity in perspective, and fact checking is at the expense of speed to market.

The second is the universal proliferation of fake news on social media, compounded by the fact that many believe that results from search engines are more credible than information collated by editors or journalists….it seems algorithms are perceived to be more reliable than humans when it comes to delivering the truth.

Add to this the impact of self-referential and ‘friend-endorsed’ facts on our social media channels and we find ourselves in a perfectly formed reflective bubble where we place greater value on information from influencers (people like me) than institutions (technical experts and academics).

Leadership in crisis

Australians’ trust in business leadership, including the “c-suite”, company directors and boards, is in dramatic decline.  The credibility of CEOs as spokespeople dropped significantly, reaching a lowly 26% in 2017 (compared to 39% last year) in the case of the general population, and nine point drop to 36% in the case of the informed public.

So how do we lead from here?

When looking at the global results employees are considered the most credible spokespeople on every topic – this is the first time we have seen this result.  We are looking for spontaneous, ‘human’ spokespeople and have a thirst for information from ‘people like me’.  Business has an opportunity to embrace and empower employees to create a stronger and more authentic alignment between their brand and their corporate narrative.

Business now has a clear opportunity to rebuild trust by recognizing the need to do things differently.  We must forget the neat separation of communication and executive function.  We need a holistic approach that puts people at the center of engagement, not just as one more audience to reach.  Rebuilding trust will be driven by how authentically and effectively all institutions engage with the general population, not just the ‘target audiences’ they define as relevant to them.

Why you should be fashionably late when spending money on 'trends'

Consumer Trends & Insight, Culture, General, Innovation, Insights, Media, News, Richard Edelman, Technology, Trust

February, finally. Is it safe to assume you’ve read up on your fair share of 2017 trends and know what ‘25 Things your Marketing Strategy Needs in 2017’? Good, it’s time to focus on three things of actual importance. As my colleague, Steve Rubel – chief content strategist for Edelman, points out here, there are three major inversions taking place as we speak, that all marketers and communications professionals need to be aware of (or probably already know and need to take seriously). Over the next few hundred words, I’ll attempt to add a useful, local filter on influence, attention and distribution.

February, finally. Is it safe to assume you’ve read up on your fair share of 2017 trends and know what ‘25 Things your Marketing Strategy Needs in 2017’? Good, it’s time to focus on three things of actual importance. As my colleague, Steve Rubel – chief content strategist for Edelman, points out here, there are three major inversions taking place as we speak, that all marketers and communications professionals need to be aware of (or probably already know and need to take seriously). Over the next few hundred words, I’ll attempt to add a useful, local filter on influence, attention and distribution.


On Influence

I probably heard the word influence more times last year than I have in my entire life, albeit mostly in the context of how much ‘influence’ some influencer had. Influence, as defined by Google is, “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself”. This definition is important to keep in mind as you develop plans and / or briefs to influence your consumers in 2017. Most important to note is that influence no longer simply comes from above, but predominantly through our peers. Although this is something that most of us haven’t questioned, we’ve never understood the value or impact of peer-to-peer communications in the same way we do now.

For the purpose of keeping this article under 700 pages, I’ll spare you my entire POV on influence and focus specifically on why it’s important for influencer marketing.

  • Own your program: So, you have a list of ‘influencers’, they all have big followings, and you want to do something with them. Stop. Wrong way. Go back. This happened and failed way too many times in 2016. This year, please start with the end in mind. Think about what you’re trying to achieve, what your consumers want, what they’re talking about and with who, understand the forces (today and tomorrow) that are impacting them and your brand and design a program accordingly. Then and only then should you consider casting it with the right people. Most importantly, make it measurable – maybe even throw in an old-school feedback loop. For more information, feel free to email me:
  • Understand the rise of micro-influencers: and know that ‘peer-to-peer’ influence is not a justification to pay a fitness blogger with 1 million followers on Instagram your entire campaign budget to post an image you have no say over. Micro-influencers are classified as social personalities with 1,000 to approx. 10,000 (100,000 in the US) followers and more often than not, have deeper engagement and therefore actual influence over their communities than ‘mass influencers’ do. Their audiences generally act with more passion as they feel a greater sense of relatability and connection to the influencer.
  • Don’t forget that ‘influencers’ are practically their own people: with their own thoughts, opinions, pens and cameras. Don’t simply think of influencers as amplifiers of your brand’s message, but don’t go letting their ‘brand’ outshine yours. Respect their creative process and relinquish some control, align on outcomes and go forth and partner with them, you may even influence someone along the way.

Finally, I’ve listened to and read quite a few interesting perspectives on influence and influencer marketing, but none more so than this Digiday Podcast where Brian Morrissey talks with Digiday managing editor, Shareen Pathak and senior reporter, Sahil Patel on the ‘influencer bubble’ and the prediction that it just might burst this year. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for brands to work with independent third parties that genuinely impact the decisions their consumers make, just that in 2017, some things need to change. Give it a listen.


On Attention

Today, consumers are paying more attention to their limited attention and don’t just want to give it up to any ol’ brand, for any ol’ reason. Here are some things to think about if you want my attention:

  • We’re over gimmicks: Whether you’re a Pokemon GO fan or not, you can’t deny that in 2016, augmented reality was brought to the masses. In the same way, there were also great developments in VR, livestreaming and other immersive technology that made ‘shiny new gadgets’ more accessible than ever. I could sit here and throw out a load of stats and info about video consumption and all the coolest tech that we can expect, but what’s more important is what that means for consumers – access. Not only do they have access to great content that is being produced by all the biggest and best brands, but they have access to the equipment to make content (almost as good, if not better) themselves. And it’s this access in 2017 that means you need to start to think more practically about the application of new tech and the opportunity it offers to connect and interact with your consumers in new and useful ways. Think purpose and story first and make them some content they just can’t refuse; that either adds value to their lives or at the very least, their newsfeeds.
  • A good story isn’t told by robots and algorithms: Last year, there seemed to be a growing focus – almost obsession – with using the latest tech and tools rather than achieving business or marketing objectives. This year, it’s important to be careful not to focus too much on the tools, and think story / purpose / objective first. A bot might be an important component to a campaign, but it shouldn’t dictate it. We’re communications professionals, professional tellers of great stories, let’s not forget that every time some new technology is released or Facebook and Google get creative with math.
  • Respect access to their attention. They expect you to: Consider that your consumers expect brands to respect their attention, so don’t get too caught up in playing with tech for tech’s sake. It’s not so much that attention spans are getting shorter, but consumers are getting less forgiving of brands or waste their time and exploit their attention. Don’t be that brand.


On Distribution

Like anything, content doesn’t exist in a build-it-and-they-will-come type scenario. Almost more important than the story you must tell is how and where it’s found; and with the collision of technology and media, we see greater importance and power in the hands of platforms. Here’s what’s important to know when thinking about distribution:

  • Even the media is on social: Trust in media is at an all-time low, as it struggles to create the agenda. Here, Richard Edelman sums up the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer findings and impact well:

“the media, the vaunted Fourth Estate in global governance, plunged in trust this year, distrusted in more than 80 percent of the countries we survey, to a level near government. Media is now seen to be politicized, unable to meet its reporting obligations due to economic pressures, and following social media rather than creating the agenda. Donald Trump circumvents mainstream media with his Twitter account, in this way seeming more genuine, approachable and responsive. Technology has allowed the creation of media echo chambers, so that a person can reinforce, rather than debate, viewpoints. In fact, 59 percent of respondents would believe a search engine over a human editor. It is a world of self-reference, as respondents are nearly four times more likely to ignore information that supports a position that they do not believe in.”

  • Community matters: What’s important to note about the above is that as trust in media declines, trust in community and actual ‘people like me’ continues to rise. And as marketers, it’s important to consider your consumers and their community in every interaction. Remember that social networks are open to institutions of all shapes and sizes but fundamentally exist to connect people. For this reason, when thinking about distribution, it’s critical to consider how your community may respond to any brand communication and whether there is (or should be) an opportunity for them to interact (or react).
  • Distribution is not amplification, it’s about planning: As easy as it can be, it’s important not to treat distribution as an afterthought, but start to consider it at the very outset of campaign planning. Thinking about distribution from the very beginning is critical for delivering good and effective ideas. Note: this is not a trend, it’s best practice.

If you only remember three things in 2017, remember these:

  • Want to create good content that is both entertaining and useful? Think a little differently and make use of the tech available to you – but don’t let the tech lead your story, it should play the supporting role – your consumers expect it if you want their attention.
  • Got a good story? Think about how and where your audience will hear it – and who they’ll hear it from. They trust their peers (and maybe even your staff) more than they trust the media, so think people and channel when thinking through distribution.
  • People are no longer influenced from above. So consider micro-influencers and don’t get caught up in the mass-influencer bubble.

Finally, I’ve been writing this article for longer than I really should’ve been. Every time I read an article or listened to a podcast that mentioned marketing and / or media, I’d change my mind or tweak my point of view on something. In 2017 (and every year) I encourage you to do the same. This is the year of greater access to tech, greater strength in community and the greatest decline of trust in media. Brands, marketers, agency people, anyone who reads this, this year, be curious and keep an open mind, but always keep your eyes on the prize.

Mike Baird does a "John Key” and quits politics

News, Public Affairs

Despite his success in running Australia’s biggest state, outgoing New South Wales Premier Mike Baird, who announced his resignation today after nine years in Parliament, was never going to be a career politician.

Despite his success in running Australia’s biggest state, outgoing New South Wales Premier Mike Baird, who announced his resignation today after nine years in Parliament, was never going to be a career politician.

Baird, a former Sydney investment banker, carefully considered his future over the recent long Christmas break. He reflected on the highs and lows of his Government and also on the health challenges being faced by three members of his family.

Then he acted, putting his personal situation as a priority and announced his departure from State politics altogether from next week.

Baird leaves behind a government and state in strong financial shape. New South Wales is the leading economy in Australia with low unemployment, a significant budget surplus, a building and construction boom creating thousands of jobs and government infrastructure projects that will continue for two decades.

Baird took over the Premier’s job in 2014 from his friend Barry O’Farrell who resigned over not declaring a $3,000 bottle of Grange Hermitage given to him by a party donor.

Baird’s main competitor for the leadership at the time was Gladys Berejiklian, the ex-banker who did not stand in the end to preserve party unity and became Treasurer and a loyal Deputy-Leader.

A political moderate, Berejiklian has worked hard managing the financial fortunes of the state including overseeing a multi-billion dollar privatization program including the sale of New South Wales’ power assets. As a result, much of the money is being spent on roads, rail and other major projects to transform the state’s transport system.

A hard-working Minister, Berejiklian has the numbers to assume the leadership (she has already declared her candidacy) but there may be conservative candidates considering nominating for the job. The lay Party in New South Wales is factionally very divided between moderates and the hard and centre right groups so competition for all key positions can be expected. We will know the outcome next week.

Despite economic success, the Baird Government has had its problems, most of them self-inflicted.

Responding to public concerns about alcohol-related violence, it put in place regulations to limit late night trading hours for hotels, bars and entertainment venues in the Sydney area around the City of Sydney and Kings Cross. This effectively ruined many smaller businesses and upset people who would traditionally have been Liberal Party supporters. Only a growing wave of protests against the “Nanny State” saw the Government back down in late 2016, loosening the laws.

And in an almost dictatorial move, Baird personally moved to shut down the state’s greyhound racing industry that had been plagued for many years with bad practices including incidences of cruelty to dogs. Without warning many smaller trainers and owners in rural areas (again traditionally conservative voters) were contemplating financial losses including the closure of their businesses and livelihood. Once again, after much hand-wringing (and appalling opinion polls) the government softened its position.

Whoever wins the leadership contest next week the new Premier and government faces electoral challenges. Change will bring new faces into Cabinet and new approaches although the private-enterprise friendly complexion of the government won’t change. The next election is not due until March 2019.

What Baird’s surprise announcement today says that (like the recent departure of John Key as Prime Minister of New Zealand) good political leaders in the 21st century are not focused on longevity but doing what they set out to do then handing over to someone else to take over.

Just as in the corporate sector (with the shelf life of a CEO three years), politics is probably following that trend.

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