The Future of Communications 2017

In my first post from last year, I said that there has never been a more exciting time to be working in communications. Little did I know just how riveting it would get as the months went by. And if January is any kind of barometer for the year ahead, 2017 looks like we are going to be living in a very different world.

The sense of political and social upheaval across Europe and the US continues to build, and so does the need to better understand the many different factors that are driving these trends.

And so, as the world’s history is being rewritten and the far future is fast approaching, I take this opportunity to reveal my thoughts around The Future of Communications 2017.

Last year I looked at The ABCDE of Communication Trends for 2016: Audience, Business, Creativity, Data and Ethics. This encompassed not just the way in which the practice of communications is evolving but also the how and why we manage the business of communications in an era of intense public scrutiny and increased threats both to our personal safety and the survival of our businesses.

For 2017, I will be looking at the future of communications through The 5 INs: INtelligence, INtegrity, INdividualism, INnovation and INvisibility.

Throughout the year, I will publish a series of blog posts revisiting each one of these in greater detail.


We are reaching the end of a 500-year quest to make machines human, as illustrated by the Robots Exhibition now showing at the London Science Museum. It promises to deliver a truly fascinating look into the evolution of robotics as well as provide a pointer towards future trends.

With the news that emotional surveillance is being trialled in some Wall Street investment banks to monitor the physiology of traders in real time, the implications for digital communications are getting pretty hard to ignore.

Add these techniques to facial recognition technology and you have to believe that marketing’s holy grail – to gauge exactly how a target audience is feeling at any given time and present them with an appropriate option, message, thought or product – is finally within grasping distance.

Of course, there are many ethical issues around the use of artificial intelligence and the kind of surveillance outlined here about which I am very concerned. But it’s all going to be about transparency, trust and respect. Which leads me neatly to my next theme of INtegrity.


Over the course of the last 12 months, pundits and business leaders alike failed to predict two of the most seismic political changes in recent times: Brexit and the Trump Presidency.

Both of these mega events will have multiple repercussions in our lives, our work and, not least, our communications.

We are now living in a post truth era filled with fake news, and alternative facts. Where once we touted the virtues of a new age of authenticity with the advent of social media which left brands with nowhere to hide, now we see a new group of social manipulators merrily sowing the seeds of disinformation far and wide.

In such a climate of mistrust, it’s vitally important for businesses to start by listening to all their stakeholders and engage in dialogue with them. The one-way communication model just doesn’t wash anymore. And the days of spin for business leaders and politicians alike are truly – and thankfully – over. It’s time for honest and conviction-led leadership.

As industry professionals, we also need to recommit to core communications values as well as ethical business principles, such as those we all sign as employees of WPP.

And there has simply never been a greater need for companies to be purpose-driven, keeping empathy for people and planet at the heart of their strategy.


INdividualism is all about understanding exactly what makes your customers tick.

Today, with the arrival of technologies that can unlock previously impenetrable aspects of people’s lives, like their emotional responses, we have so many more ways to grasp this. This is why 75 per cent of marketers say they are currently prioritising personalisation technology.

As an example, Blippar is taking all of this a stage further with the launch of its real-time facial recognition app. It recognises faces with over 99% accuracy and generates basic information such as name and biography as well as photos, celebrity lookalike, favourite music and mood. The app uses machine learning and facial recognition to function and can be used in in real life, on screen or on printed images.

While large companies such as Facebook and Amazon have experimented with facial recognition before, Blippar offers something new with its profiling abilities. It will change the way we communicate and express ourselves. For consumers, this feature will act as a new social tool and will allow users to discover more about their contacts and different people. This is part of a wider project by Blippar to become a “visual browser,” a visual Google of sorts that will allow consumers to better understand the world around them through their devices.

Brands could harness this type of ‘augmented identity’ technology to give consumers an inside look at their spokespeople, the people featured in their campaigns or those that are most significant in their brand history.

Treating your customers as INdividuals is the greatest gift a brand can give and that includes being sensitive to the fluidity of peoples likes, dislikes, gender and more. This was rendered very powerfully in the recent Danish TV2 advert “stop putting people in a box”.


As communicators we need to understand the value of being on channels we can’t necessarily control, track or measure with ease – such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Back in 2014, data experts RadiumOne published a paper called The Light and Dark of Social Sharing which examined people’s online habits by analysing data from more than 900 million unique users.

RadiumOne’s latest figures show that, globally, 84 per cent of all sharing is happening outside of public social networks on the so-called ‘dark social’ channels of email and messaging apps. Yet, according to eMarketer, over 90 per cent of social and sharing marketing investment is going to public social networks. This makes absolutely no sense and flies in the face of hard data.

While consumers are actively ‘hiding’ some of their activities through anonymous or ephemeral social networks, such as Snap (formerly Snapchat), the counterbalance to this INvisibility is the way in which Incognito Tech (things like IoT sensors and wearables) can effectively ‘spy on’ shoppers – or even employees – all of which needs to be handled with extreme sensitivity in order to avoid a further decline in trust and intimations of Big Brother.

The key for successful brands will be coming up with an integrated social strategy that leverages messaging to provide personalised, contextualised, automated – and above all useful – services to consumers in an attention-grabbing and time efficient way.


Clearly many of the intelligent technologies I have mentioned above are going to be bringing innovation to new levels in communications, with the harnessing of behavioural data allowing previously unheard-of levels of personalisation.

Artificial intelligence is also fuelling the development of chatbots, elevating voice to a key communication channel for customer service. In fact, the voice recognition market is expected to grow from USD 440.3 Million in 2015 to USD 1.99 Billion by 2022. In the long term, speech & voice recognition abilities are expected to be integrated with other consumer devices such as refrigerators, ovens, mixers, thermostats, and so on with the growth of IoT.

The use of immersive and augmented reality is gathering pace, particularly in the retail space. Sephora recently launched a standalone mobile app that allows customers to virtually test and then purchase cosmetic items from their smartphone. In the first eight weeks since it launched, Sephora’s ‘Virtual Artist’ has seen 45 million ‘try ons’. With numbers like these, it would be crazy not to pay attention.

Everything I mentioned in my creativity blog last year still holds true for 2017. It’s still essential to be bold and to bring emotions and humour to our communications to make the biggest impact and grab attention in this crazy information over-loaded world.


As 2017 begins, the question remains whether this will be the year that technology is fully embraced by the marketing community. Will it be a transitional year with common practices being adapted to reflect new technology trends or are we going to see major developments that threaten to take marketers by surprise?

Whether positive or negative, the impact of these new technologies will rely on our ability to embrace change, learn new skills and develop new practices. It will be particularly important to show empathy and maintain a dialogue in these days of unreliable news channels. Creativity and the willingness to keep trying new ways of approaching old problems, will be key to engaging with our diverse stakeholders.

I look forward to exploring the Future of Communications 2017 with you, starting with my first in-depth review of INtelligence mid-March.

As always, I am delighted to hear your views on these and any other communication trends you are seeing via Twitter using hashtag #FUTURECOMMS2016 @GalbraithJeremy.

For those looking for communications and other trends insights, please contact Elaine Cameron, Head of the Future Perspective Trend Analysis Group, Burson-Marsteller EMEA @FUTUREPersp.

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– Posted @ by Jeremy Galbraith on 16/02/2017