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Augmented Influence: How a Second Technology Revolution Will Change the PR Industry Once Again

Guillaume Herbette
, Wed, 10/04/2017

I have never been a fan of crystal balls. But, in the case of the PR industry, a quick peer into the future is vital because the next wave of transformation is around the corner.  The emerging vision of our rapidly-evolving industry bucking and shuttering its way through a new round of accelerated technology-driven change, in my opinion, is not as threatening as it is an opportunity – as long as planning starts now.

For more than a decade, the First Technology Revolution has taken aim at the media industry, giving rise to ‘new media’ as one of the pillars of a new digital universe.  The Revolution has taken its toll – editorial staff at venerable media outlets have dwindled, media that had survived generations have disappeared and some of those remaining have found themselves woven into the fabric of partisan echo chambers. Influencers have filled the gap and essentially transformed their social presence into selective sources of information, opinions and news.

The PR industry has countered the media upheaval with its own digital transformation, resulting in a shift in focus from media gatekeepers to digital influencers and an entirely new era of marketing communications.  Navigating through this transformation has required the attention of our industry’s most brilliant minds and untold resources.  This is our recent history.  So, is there a moment to catch a breath?

There is no rest for the weary PR leader– not when speed is a defining factor of a world in continuous change.  We have to reimagine our future once again.

Coming next is a Second Technology Revolution driven by the impact of data, analytics, artificial intelligence and automation combined with new immersive technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality.  This Second Revolution will set its sights primarily on business.  Businesses smart enough and quick enough to make creative use of the new innovations will create a storm of market disruption we’ve not seen before.  More giant standard-bearers of business and industry will fall.  New companies and brands will rise fast and change the way we live.

This is both exciting and scary.  In this brave new world of winners and losers, corporate destiny will be determined by factors not always at the forefront – foresight, dynamic flexibility, reaction speed and adaptation.  But the PR industry shouldn’t fret as it is clear to me that it has far more to gain than to lose from this Second Revolution.  The reason is entirely logical.  The First Revolution resulted in the Age of Influence where influencers – from people you know to people you follow to public experts – replaced the media as credible third-party gurus for life and business.

The sweet spot

But influence is the sweet spot for the PR industry.  And, the Second Revolution will augment influence, making it more powerful, more targeted, more experiential, and lead us to yet another new era where influence intersects with impact. For companies and brands, influence in its augmented form will become their can-do pathway for meeting their communications needs at the same time that improved business impact will become a new standard for success.  Welcome to the Age of Impact.

MSL has looked carefully at these trends in a recent publication – PR 2020, The Dawn of Augmented Influence – and has collected views from the top prognosticators in the field about the technological transformation ahead.  In PR 2020, my colleague, Pascal Beucler, the Chief Strategy Officer of MSL, suggested three key approaches that I believe will help organizations prepare for the Second Technological Revolution.  As you plan your investments and mark your strategic priorities, consider these core areas and these key questions:

Augmented Insights -- How can your organization develop augmented insights that are deeper, based on better data, and allow for quicker decision-making and faster implementation? 

According to our findings, big data is becoming easier to capture, cheaper to store, and simpler to process and act on. As InsideBIGDATA observes, “human and machine-generated data is experiencing an overall 10X faster growth rate than traditional business data, and machine data is increasing even more rapidly at 50X the growth rate.”  The opportunity is for the PR leader to help optimize how the organization manages data-driven insights and foresights, whether to elevate a customer journey, capture trends in real-time, better predict behaviors or create personalized communications.  Whether for marketing, communications e-commerce or retail, product development or activation, Augmented Insights means higher effectiveness, personalized impact and results.

Augmented Emotions -- How can your organization achieve better business results from harnessing the kind of emotional resonance that is most effective in moving people to action?   

Publicis’s Rishad Tobaccowala calls virtual, augmented or mixed reality empathy machines. These augmented experiential technologies are the new super tools used to enhance levels of engagement, delivering deep emotion that is effective in triggering actions.

These game-changing technologies are designing a future where the virtual and real worlds blur.  Google offered a glimpse of how it sees the future at its annual Developers Conference and it clearly involves a lot of blending between the real and virtual worlds.  Like other tech giants, Google is investing heavily in an emotionally-engaging customer experience.

No matter whether sensorimotor, cognitive, spatial, psychological or sensory approaches are used for a consumer marketing project, for employee engagement or for an experiential event, immersive technologies will be everywhere.  They will change “the playing field” for communicators, opening different ways to communicate, engage and share stories in order to deliver a more powerful result. They will also lead to high-impact outcomes -- whether sales, reputation lift or some valued form of engagement -- that better tie communication to the success of a business.

Augmented Intelligence -- How can you tap into one of the most important trends of all, artificial intelligence, to enhance the operations, the communications and the marketing of your organization?

Bolstered by a series of breakthroughs from neural networks to Graphic Processing Units (GPUs), the AI transformation has already begun and is at the heart of the Second Technology Revolution.  What was used for cool video games is now bringing data and algorithms to the next level at the speed of light, preparing another series of shifts in terms of customer relationship management. 

Brands and companies have already dived deep into the study of Artificial Intelligence.   Forrester, the influential research and advisory firms that works with top business and technology leaders, predicts investment in artificial intelligence will grow 300% alone in 2017.  And Forrester declares that businesses that use artificial intelligence, big data and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to uncover new business insights “will steal $1.2 trillion per annum from their less informed peers by 2020.” 

Data, immersive tech and artificial intelligence are deeply interconnected.  Bots boosted by deep machine learning and Immersive Tech are transforming the way we interact.  AI actually is what unlocks the insights from big data.  As chatbots become a key part of the conversation, not using your finger to click or touch, but interacting in your natural language will make a huge difference in terms of ease of use and speed.  Apple’s HomeKit, Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, Facebook’s Jarvis and many other digital personal assistants are opening up brand new ways of working. 

Cognitive Computing helps machines understand us and engage with us.  This understanding of natural language puts AI at the center of human interactions and communications.  What’s more, the learning curve may have no limits -- machines can generate and evaluate evidence-based hypotheses, learning more and more and getting better and better over time, all based on the information we feed it. 

Real-time feedback

Part of this Augmented Intelligence trend is a better understanding and assessment of exactly how people interact with online content.  Recent advances in neuroscience and psychology are already delivering real-time feedback on content and communications strategies.

As Pascal Beucler wrote in PR 2020, Augmented Influence stands exactly where intelligence, emotion and technology meet, and it will expand with the speed of light. 

I believe the Second Technology Revolution is the catalyst of these changes and it will set off opportunities for PR leaders, organizations, clients and communicators around the world to advance their organizations. Our industry certainly has the capacity to adapt ahead of these changes.  We have always been communicators, but in our role of interpreting and communicating the new and the next, we have also become innovators.  The first step to counselling a company or brand about how to use artificial intelligence is to understand it and use it ourselves. 

The remaining question is only who will be prepared and who will not.  That’s where the crystal ball comes in...

For more information, read what the experts from MSL, Publicis and beyond are saying in PR 2020 as they examine the importance of influence, data, human science, and machines.

This article was first published on ipra.org

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