Of late, there has been much discussion on change in the media and communications environment. There is a high level of attention being given to the way people relate to brands, and what technology enables or disables us from doing in this environment. The social engagement of brands, regardless of the level to which it has been harmonized in our lives, remains a part of our everyday discussions. It is the backdrop of an ongoing battle between industries on who will gain the most impressions and who will be the trendsetter.
In this new era, a certain format of spreading the news is emerging, one that brings into play every possible screen at our disposal. It is a new way of ego-validation that can only be satisfied with little blue hands or little hearts under a social media post. One way to understand this would be to treat it as an era that was born with “millennials” or “generation Z” or any of the experimental categories of people created by a hyper-branded marketing system. This is a grouping that is not necessarily bound by the same values but is large enough to shake up the way change is taking place.
Within this setting, we are often left wondering what is going on and what is next, not knowing if we have managed to understand what has been happening. Psychologists, psychiatrists, marketing experts, communication gurus, researchers, Googlers, historians, academics…we are all fighting to solve the same riddle—how do we stay relevant in this changed environment? Is a “like” on social media the best way we can approach each other? Is it a “heart” that defines marketing success?
Using psychodynamic parameters, it appears that today’s communication is constructed on the basis of the human need to live the moment of glory, a moment that is so sweet it must be celebrated. So, we gift ourselves a way to repeat the glory again and again. The blue thumbs up has become a tool to sustain the feeling.
In the same change environment, influence has become the yardstick to measure impressions. But the ability to influence the character or behavior of someone or something, has never before happened on the basis of an advantage. It was based on a narrative, an ideology, a philosophy or a thought that stimulated the human brain and organically took the form of a following. It was never considered a profession.
Today, influence has evolved into a profession of questionable lifespan. Marketers and communication professionals have already started cooling down from the influencer fever. In a recent global survey, almost 26% of respondents that used social media felt that they were influencers. Using the inherent power of social media, people are branding themselves professional influencers, assuming the privilege of power to affect purchase decisions of others, backed by a certain level of authority their followers have given them.
This phenomenon cannot be a coincidence. It is the way modern selling power has built the ability to draw attention and crowdsource buying patterns. While professional influencers feel they are assets of brands, not many realize that they are marketing tools that will be used for just as long as they are trending. As the trends change, so will the level of influence.
The question for brands to ask themselves today is how they have managed to transition within this change environment. It is critical to distinguish change and transition in communications. Because they occur in a sequence; it is a process with logical and emotional perspectives. Change is an external situation while transition is an internal psychological reorientation related to change. The term change has been used in the wrong context, while transition is almost hidden or untapped in everyday life.
In reality, we are in the era of high speed transition. So why is it such a difficult process to transition and align to the external change? Change means an ending and a new beginning. Endings can cause shock, denial and even grief, while beginnings may cause fear and skepticism. But if we were aware of the curve of transition, change would be easily accepted or embraced—or at least the preparedness for change would be a more comfortable process. It is only natural that transition will always be a place of relevant discomfort, because it is a much longer process than the change itself. Endings are fast, beginnings take time.
Unlike any other moment in human history, today we are experiencing an era of disruption that has never happened before. The introduction of technologies and the internet has been shifting the way we live, feel, socialize and exist. We can choose to embrace it at the level of transition we are prepared to manage, or make it a competitive exercise and run with the pace that others are setting.
The Era of Enlightenment, which as an intellectual and philosophical movement dominated Europe during the 18th and 19th century, is unparalleled in history. This included a range of ideas centered on reason and came to advance ideals such as progress, tolerance, fraternity and constitutional government, but most importantly freedom. This movement led us to the concept of absolute freedom, which is the foundation of the internet ideology. But the Era of Enlightenment lasted almost two centuries—the transition curve for this movement was long and took place generation after generation. On the contrary, the internet’s pace is the speed of light, leaving almost no time for humanity to realize and absorb the rationale behind it.
This is where we stand today. Until we give ourselves time for the transition curve to take place in a time frame that allows our brain and heart to understand the change, we might continue to wonder what has been happening—in the media, and in our lives.
Yiannis Vafeas is the Managing Director for Golin MENA.