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What To Expect In Middle East Communications Trends In 2016 2016 will bring a lot of changes to the world of communication, and it will be the turning point for trends that used to be relevant in the past.

By Sawsan Ghanem

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Technology constantly shapes the world we live in, and the communication paradigm often changes. If we operate with one certainty as brand advocates, then it is that change is the only constant.

The target audiences and channels that we once knew so well have become fragmented; hence, it is crucial that we adjust our approach in order to stay tuned in to the market's reality.

2016 will bring a lot of changes to the world of communication, and it will be the turning point for trends that used to be relevant in the past. Communication professionals must therefore embrace new trends and act strategically in order to achieve higher competitiveness in the coming year.

The era of people buying whatever companies produce is long gone. Nowadays, companies produce what people want.

Philip Kotler brought us the concept of Marketing 3.0, which shows how consumers are choosing brands that give them the opportunity to leverage their participation, creativity, community and idealism. Thus, organizations have to inspire their target audiences and "touch their human spirit," in order to make a difference. Trust is a feeling that will rise upon this approach, and we should understand the importance of loyalty for business competitiveness.

People don't rely solely on brands' messaging any more; they run an extensive research via different channels to learn what other people think. This is where influencer endorsements will be essential, be it on traditional media platforms, blogs, vlogs or Instagram.

The rise of new trends reflects the shift of people's trust from organizations to other people. All of these changes mean that our communications can be more specific, and arguably more human. In the past, you would have to trade personalization for reach, but today, you are not required to compromise due to the targeting and engagement tools as well as the channels available. Therefore, in 2016 it is essential to understand the influence that these trends represent in the long run for communication strategies.

Platform wars

Websites aren't as important as they used to be. Since the World Wide Web was created, the goal of marketers, whether through advertising, social, SEO or PR, has been to drive digital audience to websites and then convert them into a lead or customer.

It worked for a while– but it relied on a lack of choice. It also meant marketers had to do all the heavy lifting of distribution by themselves, and then hope their content was good enough to lure audience to come to them.

The Internet of 2016 will be different. Organizations with better understanding of their marketing and communications objectives will realize that they need to bring the content to public, and not the other way around.

Most of the visual content driven social media channels allow brands to market their products and services by using a targeted approach, and it is no longer a luxury. Native advertising has also evolved from being publishing across original content sources to being placed on websites to which target audiences willingly go to. BuzzFeed, for example, now generates 52% of all its views away from its own website– through Snapchat, YouTube and Facebook video. Where BuzzFeed goes, the rest of the media industry tend to follow- albeit reluctantly. In 2016, we will see more marketers embracing the potential offered by networks that combine content creation and distribution in a one-stop shop.

Once a channel for content placement is figured out, it is very important to keep that content relevant. Messaging relevance is essential to guarantee a successful communication campaign.

The challenge for communication professionals in 2016 will thus be the creation of good content that will target different types of the audiences in accordance with their behaviors. To reach the right audience, companies need to get more engaged with whom they are trying to connect with- and not just try to push messages across.

Going live: living in the moment

Channels and content are very important, but 2016 will experience the domination of instant communication as introduced by apps like Snapchat, Periscope and Meerkat. The younger generation don't want to store their stories on hard drives and carry them through their lives- all they want is to live that moment and share it with their friends and followers. The new cultural shift in how information is being shared mimics natural communication, and it does the trick! And it's not just brands; celebrities also have started adopting this new style and are engaging with their audiences in the right place at the right time.

Twitter, Periscope and Snapchat are currently the strongest platforms in the Middle East, and they will continue growing their influence in 2016. But companies in the region should not forget about their tone of voice, scope of acceptable topics and the style while trying to look spontaneous. Hence, communication professionals must integrate the new channels' approach into their strategies for 2016 and onwards.

Virtual reality

As customers demand more experiences and less linear communication, virtual reality will become a key trend for 2016. Consumers are making purchase decisions based on more data than ever before. Equally, we crave experiences. We want to be able to get a sense of a brand or a product through a non-committal experience before we part with our cash.

VR can satisfy both the desire for data as well as brand experiences. And it's going to be the travel industry that leads the way on this, as well as cause-backed promotions. When it comes to charity, consumers need to feel a connection before committing to hand their money.

So imagine this: a pop-up stall that offers the public the opportunity to experience 10 minutes of life as a Syrian refugee. This became a reality with Amnesty International in 2015, where VR was used to give people a very real experience of the crisis situation.

The result was not only an immediate impact in the form of donations, but also enough online chatter to ensure a simple use of technology translated into an extraordinary use of social media channels.

It's crucial that as communications and marketing professionals, we understand the impact the technology can make on our strategy. We don't all have to be experts with the hardware, but we do have to be adept at knowing when it can be used and who to call upon to make it work. VR is here to stay. Get used to it.

Transmedia: the reinvention of public relations

The public relations industry is in the midst of a profound identity crisis. With the erosion of mainstream media and the surge of social media, PR experts aren't entirely sure what their profession is or should be. Some view this as an opportunity to shun the PR label and replace it with integrated marketing or integrated communications.

However, this may be the wrong response. The strength of public relations has always been the ability to engage audiences and negotiate relationships- mostly via media relations. These two skills, arguably, have never been more important than now, in a media environment where all participants are communicators and selectively choose information they engage with.

Transmedia branding is centered on the idea consumers and businesses want to engage with content that matters to them. People don't want to receive random brochures or "unsubscribe" from email lists they've never subscribed to. People tune out TV commercials by fast-forwarding their DVRs. If brands instead produce and disseminate content audiences care about, they are likely to create a conversation and engagement around a product, service or cause.

Audience participation differentiates transmedia branding from traditional one-directional marketing communications. Once people are intrigued, they gravitate toward the story and actively seek ways to participate. Completing calls to action such as liking a post, emailing a video to a friend, tweeting a signup link, commenting, submitting user-generated content or passively watching a video on a sponsored YouTube channel are forms of participation.

Transmedia branding is one of the potentially many alternatives to traditional, "media relations-centric" PR. As the media environment continues to evolve, practitioners need to embrace the expanded nature of their profession by taking ownership of the full breadth of the PESO model, where media relations, targeted advertising, multimedia content production and social media campaign execution work seamlessly hand in hand.

Sawsan Ghanem

Co-founder and Joint Managing Director, Active (Digital. Marketing. Communications.)

Sawsan Ghanem is the co-founder and Joint Managing Director of Active (Digital. Marketing. Communications).

Sawsan began her career in communications over 22 years ago, when she caught the PR and communication bug working with Emirates Aviation College (Marketing), Victor Microsystems (Marketing), and a couple other tech-focused PR agencies.

Sawsan gained a wealth of experience in the field of communications, leading on key regional campaigns and initiatives for international brand names such as Microsoft, Compaq, Western digital, SITA, Ciena, Banyan Tree Resorts, Xerox, Seachange, Sungaurd, Ruckus Wireless, Sony Broadcast, OTIS and more.

In the summer of 2003, Sawsan decided that she had more to give than what was being offered in the marketplace, and made the leap and set up Active with her partner Louay Al-Samarrai.

Sawsan has lived in the Middle East region for the greater part of her life. She lived and studied in the UK for a few years where she gained her BSc in Chemistry & Management from Kings College, London University and MA in International Business, from Webster Graduate School (London Campus).

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