As we settle into the new year, communication specialists traditionally take the time to evaluate the biggest trends that affected the profession in 2015. From a marketing and communications perspective, indicators of profound social change, both globally and in South Africa, are often visible markers of shifting customer behaviour and, if correctly identified and anticipated, can present both opportunities and challenges for marketing and brand decision-makers.

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This is according to Gavin Etheridge, Director at Epic MSLGROUP, who has identified the following six trends that are likely to shape the South African marketing and communications space in 2016:  


1. The Internet of Things

Created by a network of digital devices, an increasing interconnected world makes the Internet of Things (IoT) the big technology mega-trend. Joined by millions of everyday devices, ranging from fitness bracelets to smartphones each gathering and exchanging data, the IoT is literally the merger of the physical and digital worlds.

Workplace productivity, social interaction and customer buying behaviour will all change. Apart from managing the shifting communication landscape and growing expectations created by this rapidly unfolding phenomenon, marketing and communication professionals will also get access to Big Data that will help them gain greater insights into customer buying behaviour.


By distilling this data, generated by thousands of transactions, website clicks and other social interactions, communication professionals will be in the ideal position to create more focused and smarter campaigns that are highly targeted at niche customer segments.


2. The digital migration of TV

Following a revised launch deadline from June 2015 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), television broadcasting in South Africa now appears to be set to switch from analogue to digital in 2016.

By doing so the South African government will be in a position to ‘free up’ valuable frequency spectrum, allowing for exponential growth in the number of television channels, as well as facilitate the rapid roll out of mobile broadband across the country.


Over time it’s hoped that new players will enter the market offering viewers an exciting array of TV channels and entertainment, including the introduction of streaming services locally (such as the recently-launched Netflix), while radio listeners will no longer experience the geographical limitations of archaic analogue radio spectrum.

The ‘digital dividend’ as its referred to by industry experts will not only generate much-needed revenue, but also bring about exciting opportunities for communication professionals in the region, as content producers become thirsty for relevant, timeous and newsworthy content to meet the demand for interesting quality programming.


3. Content is king

Communication professionals will need to develop even stronger content marketing strategies as they realise that SEO and social media channels alone are unable to drive engagement.


Content is also evolving, as it moves from a text dominated format to audio, visual and video material. Second only to the United States, South Africa increased its video consumption by 42% in July of 2015. Cheapening smart phones and affordable data saw 36% of consumers in 2015 watch videos of five minutes (or longer) on their smartphones.

Another strong trend towards visual communication is the movement towards the use of emoticons and emojis in a variety of marketing communications.


In 2016 the focus will be on creating content that connects to people, not robots, by generating magnetic communications that people enjoy reading and wanting to share.


4. The empowered consumer

With improvements in access to mobile broadband and cheapening of smart devices, the voices of South African consumers are being heard louder than ever.

Similar to the use of BBM (Black Berry Messenger) in the Arab Spring of 2011, the use of powerful hashtags such as #FeesMustFall in 2015 was evidence of a continued trend towards the use of social media to mobilise consumers. 


Marketing and communications professionals know that social media, rather than being used only as a hard sales tool, is a place for engagement and relationship building. Businesses now enter the social arena by invitation only, which means that it is important to have a good content strategy that drives meaningful engagement. It is also equally important to have a solid Online Relation Management (ORM) system in place, which is managed by a team of specialists with the skills to manage any potential reputational risks.


5. Safeguarding brand reputation

A brand is a promise. Today in the digital age, human brand experience extends this promise to include a sense of legitimacy and trust that differentiates products and services from one another. In a world of short product life cycles, a brand is the most important thing that separates a product from a commodity.

Good news travels fast, but unfortunately bad news spreads even faster. Results from a recent global study by MSLGROUP suggests that on average 28% of reputational crises will hit international news within one hour.


The study also found that 53% of companies impacted by a reputation disaster after one year will not have recovered to their pre-crisis share price. This statistic supports why 85% of companies profiled in the study agree or strongly agree that the reputational consequences of their mistakes have become more serious.

Against the stealth of the ever-increasing empowered and knowable customer, the year will bring an even greater demand for brand reputation management and crisis communications services from specialised PR and communications agencies, as companies look to protect hard fought brand equity from possible reputational risks.


6. Integrated thinking

Integrated Marketing Communication is essentially the bridge between marketing and branding. Continuing in the direction of the global trend towards true integration, Guillaume Herbette CEO of Publicis Communications Solution Hub believes that ‘siloing and soloing’ ended in 2015.


By carefully integrating and coordinating the company’s communication channels, marketing professionals promise to deliver a clear, consistent and compelling message about brands and their offerings.

With brands demanding an integrated approach to all marketing efforts, communication professionals from all disciplines will have to learn how to maximise efforts between various disciplines and across all platforms.


The global market is continuing to evolve at a rapid pace, with both technology and consumer behaviour at the forefront of this evolution. It is therefore imperative that communication and brand specialists adapt their strategies to this change in order to remain relevant.