Future of work webinar

The Future of Work: Shifting All the Paradigms

Last week, we were excited to host our first-ever panel discussion on KG Connects! Moderated by Ketner Group president, Catherine Seeds, our panel chatted about the future of work and included: Daniel Oppong, founder of OhanaHealth; Carolyn Birsky, founder of Compass Maven; and Sterling Hawkins, internationally recognized thought leader who focuses on the #NoMatterWhat approach.

As Catherine said as she opened the webinar, we couldn’t have picked a better topic for the end of the year. The working world has changed so rapidly that it has been hard for anyone to keep up.

Fortunately, our panel was able to help us make sense of it all and walk us through the changes they’ve seen companies undergo throughout 2020, as well as what that means for 2021 and beyond.

You can read the summary below or watch the webinar on-demand anytime on Zoom.

The impact of COVID-19 on hiring

Catherine: I’m curious, Daniel, are you seeing a lot of interest in the health-tech space right now?

Daniel: It’s a mixed bag, honestly. Even with the increase in hiring for the health-tech space in general, companies are still trying to figure out what they can do sustainably. Just because there is demand now doesn’t mean there will be demand over X amount of time.

Catherine: Has COVID helped or hindered companies’ recruiting efforts?

Daniel: Thinking about hiring, especially with the early-career candidates that I work with, presented a paradox. There’s a lot of opportunity, but also a lot of uncertainty as to where numbers are going to land at the end of the year. At the beginning of the pandemic, companies had to stop and see where things were going before making any hiring decisions. But as things have stabilized, companies know a little better going into 2021.

As far as creative ways to hire, look at more bespoke ways to distribute jobs. Look at more niche job boards like BuiltIn, Angel List or OhanaHealth to distribute jobs to the demographic you want to target. Additionally, get creative with who you involve in the hiring loop. Not everyone needs to be in the same physical space for an interview, so you can get more creative with who you involve in the hiring process.

Managing our teams in the COVID-19 environment

Catherine: Carolyn, you started your new managing position at the start of this pandemic, so I’d love for you to share some of the ways that you created a virtual environment to help them feel inspired, energized and innovative.

Carolyn: I joined my team fully virtually and I’ve met just one of the people that report to me in person at a distance. So, our entire experience together has been virtual. The biggest thing to focus on as a manager is being purposeful about the interactions you’re having.

Carolyn Birsky managing remote work

I’ve encouraged my team to have office hours where new members can go to them and foster a team environment. We also do cold call blocks on Zoom where everyone mutes their audio, but we can see each other making calls, and we message each other asking questions or sharing success. I’ve been looking for opportunities to do those kinds of things that we wouldn’t be able to do in office.

How remote work changes company culture

Catherine: Sterling, how are companies keeping culture fun and alive within their organizations while remote?

Sterling: Culture is this very nebulous thing, but it’s something that each of us innately knows. For example, if you travel to Dubai, Shanghai or Paris, something inside you knows you’re in a different world and that you have to operate differently.

The same thing happens in companies, and it gets reinforced from the conversations we’re having internally. But the transition to the virtual world is a chance to distinguish what that culture really is. We can start to see there are pieces of our culture that aren’t effective. Or maybe they were effective, but they aren’t anymore. How can we change some of those dynamics?

Catherine: Company culture is a big part of recruiting, and how does showing that culture translate to the current circumstance?

Daniel Oppong company culture

Daniel: COVID has separated everyone from the idea that they can come to a space and get a feel for the company culture there. How are companies showing up for the candidates that they are interviewing? The value proposition of the company, the clarity of the mission, the experience of interacting with the manager in the hiring loop all has to speak volumes.

Moving from the brick-and-mortar to the virtual

Catherine: Moving forward, what do we do with our physical office space?

Sterling: The short answer is that it depends. What part of the world are you in? What are you working on? But Synchrony Financial Services announced they are closing their main offices and turning what’s left into a shared workspace. Now they’ve taken their overhead down and created a more dynamic, interactive environment. There is now some kind of hybrid approach that will look different going forward.

Sterling Hawkins future of work

The hardships that come with the virtual workspace

Catherine: How do you deal with the isolation and depression, as well as the other mental hardships that come with working during the pandemic?

Carolyn: It starts with compassionate leadership. Even when we’re in person at an office, you need to, as a leader, start from a compassionate place. Certain people may have different home situations, you won’t know what that is, and you can’t pry into that, but you want to create a space where you say that you’re here to support them. It starts with leadership saying that your situation is OK and that you or anyone in the company is there for them.

Sterling: It’s so interesting how the pandemic has humanized all of our interactions. It’s almost expected and embraced for things to come up like crying children. Having some compassionate leadership is a piece of the puzzle, but also having some of the right support mechanisms inside companies to help people grow from these things matters. As we give our team mechanisms to help them grow, I think they’ll show up.

Daniel: I have to agree. Think about parents who don’t have changing work demands, but now have to think about their kiddos. How do we prioritize that? One of the things my company has done is focusing on employee resource groups. Like a working parents’ group, which has been a really meaningful way to support parents. To Carolyn’s point, having that empathetic view goes a long way.

missed future of work webinar

Keep the conversation going

The conversation doesn’t have to stop when KG Connects is over! Stay connected with our panelists:

Don’t forget: you can watch the entire webinar on your own time on demand.

Jan. 2021 Webinar: How Marketers Can Be Stewards To the Future

We just looked at the future of work, but the future isn’t just work. Marketers have a unique new world to conquer that requires moving beyond selling products and services. Learn how strategist, educator, and futurist Tameka Vasquez thinks we can all embed futuristic thinking into our strategies. Register here.

retail 4.0 gary hawkins webinar

Grocery’s Great Digital Revolution Through COVID-19

In November, we had the pleasure of being joined by Gary Hawkins, founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Retail Technology (CART), on KG Connects. Hosted by Ketner Group CEO, Jeff Ketner, Gary walked listeners through what the digital evolution of grocery means for retailers and shoppers alike.

CART connects retail to new innovative capabilities through programs, events and education. Additionally, Gary is a highly sought-after strategic adviser and speaker, as well as a board member of companies that bring game-changing capabilities to market. He has written three books, Retail in the Age of i being the latest.

Below you can find a full summary of the webinar. If you’d like to view it on demand, you can check it out on Zoom here.

Retail 4.0: What the future of grocery retail entails

To set the stage, Gary and Jeff first discussed Gary’s latest whitepaper, “Retail 4.0: The Age of Metamorphosis” reveals the current and future changes expected in the grocery industry. There are three key themes Gary focuses on.

The first is the blurring of reality.

As Gary explained, “The world of digital, the online world is meeting and fusing together, melding with the actual physical world. As these things come together, it’s absolutely beginning to change and transform how we shop.”

retail 4.0 key themes

The majority of people use their phones while they shop, which, according to Gary, opens the door to not only incredible amounts of information, but also augmented reality. As augmented reality technology continues to improve, the in-store experience will begin to utilize it more and more. 

The second theme is the automation of business practices.

“Instead of a physical robot, we’re talking software robots that can begin to automate the decision-making process in a growing number of areas across the retail organization.”

The third theme is the opportunity for traditional retailers. Specifically, the ability for these retailers to, “play the exponential value creation game building out their digital networks.”

Who’s spearheading the future of grocery retail?

After the closer look into Retail 4.0, Jeff asked a rather simple question, “Who is doing it right?”

Who else but Amazon?

grocery sales change

“The new Amazon Fresh Farm…They’ve brought Alexa into the store now,” Gary described, “if a shopper has a question, they don’t have to seek out a clerk, they simply go to an Alexa station and ask their question.”

Which ties right back to the first key theme in Retail 4.0.

The pandemic’s impact on retail

When asked about the role of COVID-19 on the grocery industry, Gary had one word—Accelerant.

“Before [the pandemic], online grocery was maybe somewhere around one or 2% of sales. Literally overnight, retailers experienced a doubling or triple of online sales. I’ve talked to some retailers that saw even 5x or 6x of online sales growth. Simply exploded.”

Gary continued by explaining that the growth has plateaued, allowing retailers to reassess their systems and ensure they are prepared for the foreseeable future.

He also noted that, “for an industry that has almost resisted innovation and change for the past 100 years, when they need to, retailers can move really fast.”

One area where he saw this unusual speed was employee communication. Retailers, typically through apps, were able to push out training for sanitation, coordinate messaging and rapidly changing scheduling for every associate.

Grocery innovation on the horizon

Being at the forefront of new technologies, Gary sees a lot of interesting new startups enter the retail space. One area that he is watching with a keen eye goes right back to the first theme of Retail 4.0: augmented reality.

“I saw a stat recently from Gartner that over 100 million people are using AR primarily through their smartphones. I think we are simply going to see that explode in the next 12 months as Apple introduce their smart glasses,” Gary continued, “I’m really looking to that technology to transform the shopping experience.”

Marketing to the individual shopper

Augmented reality isn’t the only cutting edge. Gary also lauded AI and machine learning’s current and future potential, as well as its ability to power key business systems such as personalization.

“It’s helping to facilitate the automation of different decisions. For example, it is more efficient for a mass retailer to go to market on an individual customer basis than it is to go to market with traditional mass promotion.”

While it would seem that meeting the individual preferences of shoppers may be harder to achieve, Gary explained that, at scale, the 1-to-1 marketing tactics will, in-fact, smooth supply chain issues by removing the spikes in unit sales caused by mass promotion.

gary hawkins grocery evolution quote

While there are challenges to implementing this method, they aren’t caused by technology, but by retailers and brands themselves. Gary stated that retailers need to move away from over a century of thinking about how they do business.

This includes brand promotions as well.

 “When you shift to a true 1-to-1 model, that changes how brands pay retailers to promote their brands to shoppers on a mass scale.”

The 2021 digital retail experience, and beyond

The fact is, in twelve months, we may find a very different retail experience in grocery stores that are on the cutting-edge of technology. Online grocery has had a major impact on the physical store, and Gary expects to see stores become hybridized between a traditional grocery store and a micro-fulfillment center.

“Every retailer is now focused on making online retail profitable, and when you’re sending people up and down the isles to fulfill those orders, it’s tough to get profitable,” Gary said.

Gary is seeing a, “stampede,” toward the automation and micro-fulfillment side of grocery retail. He expects that stores will begin to move the micro-fulfillment center to the back of the store, while the front half focuses on fresh foods and customer experience. Experience being the operative word according to Gary.

“If that store can’t provide an experience to get shoppers out of their home and into the store, they won’t be there,” and because grocery delivery is so prominent, he explained that, “the days of utility shopping are gone.”

Breaking into the grocery technology market

Gary was asked, “how do new technology companies market themselves to retailers?” While the inability to meet face-to-face makes marketing a challenge, Gary offered a bit of advice.

“Understand the space, the retailer’s challenges and needs and then work to craft that vision and story about why the retailer should be talking to you. Retailers need to focus on the vision — what’s coming — because things are moving really, really fast.”

Regional grocers can utilize technology to keep up with major retailers like Walmart. According to Gary, “it’s not about access to the technology, it’s about can that regional retailers change their culture? Can they move faster? Deploy things faster? Can they change their processes and how they think about their business?”

Missed digital grocxery webinar

Hear it direct from Gary and sign up for the next KG Connects

If you’d like to watch the whole webinar, you can watch it on demand anytime.

The last one for 2020: Where in the H*LL Does the Future of Work Go From Here?”

As we wrap up 2020, we’re looking toward 2021 and how work will change even further than it has over the past year. Join Carolyn Birsky, Daniel Oppong and Sterling Hawkins as we dive deep into how to maintain a culture, recruit talent and keep some kind of normalcy all while remote. We look forward to seeing you! Register here for free.

NY Fashion Tech Lab overview

A Peek Inside The New York Fashion Tech Lab

In our latest KG Connects webinar series, we heard from Jackie Trebilcock firsthand about the work that the New York Fashion Tech Lab (NYFTLab) is doing to empower women-led fashion-tech and retail-tech companies.

Jackie is the managing director of NYFTLab and boasts over 15 years of experience in fashion, technology and business development. She has spent much of that career working with entrepreneurs to grow their vision and companies via strategic planning and relevant industry introductions.

Elevating fashion-tech companies

For the past eight years, NYFTLab has facilitated partnerships between growing companies and big-name global brands. Founded by Springboard Enterprises, alongside key fashion retailers, NYFTLab’s mission is to support women-led companies that have developed incredible innovations merging fashion, retail and technology.

Through the connections to capital and retail partners, Jackie describes what NYFTLab does as, “a business catalyst…our whole goal with this is to provide more exposure and a platform for the companies to share what they do.”  

This is a sentiment echoed by co-founder and CEO of HaftaHave, Amanda Latifi, a 2020 Lab participant.

“The connections and relationships that Springboard and Jackie have forged with top brands and marketers in the retail industry is bar none,” Amanda said. “This is not VC’s telling retailers about emerging tech, but retailers selecting emerging technology to work with based on known needs and pain points.”

NYFTLab is empowering women and emerging tech

NYFTLab is highly focused on a particular group, recruiting women-led early and growth-stage emerging technology companies. While that description might be narrow, the areas of interest for the Lab are anything but. AR/VR, blockchain, data analytics, content marketing, supply chain and so many more technologies are welcomed into the fold.

Participants in the Lab have hailed from all over the globe. From Paris to Singapore, anyone from anywhere can apply to the NYFTLab program. The Lab also partners with brands and retailers from outside of the U.S.

“It’s becoming increasingly more global than it was when we started,” Jackie said.

Jackie Trebilcock quote

The next generation of fashion technology

The 2020 Lab featured eight companies that represent the cutting edge of fashion and retail tech: Reflaunt, Becoco, Sozie, Zoomlook, Futureproof, Change of Paradigm, Heuritech and HaftaHave.

While the participants were selected in February, the fact that they are pushing the bounds of technology means that they were well-poised to take on the unique challenges that 2020 brought.

When asked about the intersection of technology and fashion, particularly in the pandemic, Jackie said that, “everyone needs to think differently. The consumer has been really changed and challenged as to how they can shop how they used to. All of this has created a huge opportunity for new companies to come to the forefront.”

Missed the webinar?

Watch this webinar and sign up for the next KG Connects

To learn more about the NYFTLab and the 2020 Lab participants, watch the webinar on demand.

On deck: Grocery’s Digital Disruption: What’s Ahead for 2021

The world is changing at a breakneck pace, and retail is no exception. Mark Fairhurst and Sylvain Perrier, creators of the “Digital Grocer” podcast will focus on what’s ahead for grocery retailers in this fireside chat featuring special guest host Jeff Ketner. We look forward to you being there! You can register here.

Spooky and Uncertain Times: Halloween 2020

Spooky and Uncertain Times: Halloween 2020

When you rest your heavy October eyes, what do you see? Smiling jack o’ lanterns? Casper the Friendly Ghost? Bowls of delicious candy? If so, consider yourself lucky….

Those of us at the Ketner Group have been disturbed by an image of pure terror as we’ve slipped into our slumbers… skeletons filled with spiderwebs, ghouls, goblins, broken dreams, all dancing under the FULL MOON on HALLOWEEN. That’s right folks — a Halloween full moon. Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any more 2020, the moon rears its spooky glow on the 31st of October for a Q4 scare.

We’re not even talking the friendly Harvest Moon that Neil Young so lovingly crooned(?) about. This will be a Hunter’s Moon according to the Farmer’s Almanac. And while we’ll all be hunting for candy, the question we must all ask is… who will be hunting for us?

To answer that sinister question in an obvious way, it will be retailers hunting for our wallets as the holiday season approaches. But what does this Halloween’s retail landscape look like? Allow your mouse to be the planchette on this Ouija board of projections as we conjure some insights.

The boo normal

While last year was a graveyard smash, Halloween 2020 will obviously look a little different amid COVID-19.

With the CDC offering some safe trick or treating guidelines and alternatives, thankfully trick or treating is still on the table. I say that as a 26-year-old who definitely will not be trying to fill that pillowcase this year dressed as a ninja (mask included).

Still, according to the National Retail Federation, more than 75% of consumers say COVID-19 is impacting their plans to celebrate Halloween, with overall participation down to 58%. “Plans for parties, trick-or-treating, handing out candy and visiting haunted houses have all dropped, due largely to the fact that some activities do not easily adhere to social distancing.”

NRF expects this drop in participation to reduce the holiday’s spending to $8.05 billion, down from $8.78 billion in 2019. However, those who celebrating plan to spend an average of $92.12, up from $86.27 in 2019.

Ultimately, much remains uncertain for retailers this year as shoppers wait until the last minute to decide if and how they’ll celebrate. “It could either be the worst year we’ve ever had or the best year we’ve ever had,” said Tom Fallenstein, CEO of HalloweenCostumes.com, in a Marketplace interview.

Retailers and brands making a social media splash

With everyone grasping for a hero these days, a 12-foot-tall leader has emerged. One of the biggest celebrities of Halloween has been Home Depot’s “12 ft. Giant-Sized Skeleton with LifeEyes.” This hip decoration went viral on Twitter and TikTok, inspiring humerus content and selling out a month before Halloween by Oct. 1.

If you’re still interested in experiencing a life with this decoration, Home Depot uses AR to let shoppers see how their home could be haunted enhanced by this big guy. We’ve seen this capability with furniture in the past, but never has it spurred more gasps. Visit the product page on your phone to experience it for yourself (disclaimer: Ketner Group is NOT responsible for any frights or scares the user may experience).

As it goes on corporate Twitter, other brands hopped on this bandwagon as quick as they could.

NRF Quote Halloween 2020

A digital Halloween & holiday season

This clinging to an unlikely idol makes sense with America looking for new ways to celebrate Halloween this year. In fact, 17% of NRF survey respondents say they plan to celebrate virtually.

In a year of digital and e-commerce explosion, Halloween may not even be the beginning of the holiday season. Amazon Prime Day, having moved from its usual July date and taking place Oct. 13-14, is expected by many to be the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. According to Business Insider, “Amazon Prime Day 2020 will be unlike any other since its debut five years ago. Amid the backdrop of a pandemic and recessionary headwinds, this year’s event promises significant changes that will shake up the entire retail landscape heading into the holidays.”

Prime Day is expected to generate nearly $10 billion in sales worldwide, according to eMarketer.

Time goes on, but the frights remain

There are plenty of uncertainties in this world, now more than ever (to give you some spooky, early-pandemic commercial flashback). Cities are calling off Halloween events, states are putting forth guidelines for celebrating and All Hollow’s Eve retail projections are trending downward but still TBD.

Still, there will be plenty of fun to be had, whether digitally, socially distanced or alone on the couch slugging Reese’s Crunches (a sandwich consisting of two Crunch bars, with a Reese’s in the middle).

In this uncertain world, however, we can all take pleasure in knowing that, like every year, Halloween will be extremely spooky…now more than ever amid a FULL HUNTER’S MOON. 

retail evolution 2020

Retail Evolution 2020: Pandemic Edition

Like much of the U.S., non-essential retailers closed their doors in mid-March. The whispers returned and eventually reached a crescendo, “The ‘Retail Apocalypse’ has arrived!” We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the ‘Retail Apocalypse’ is not here.

One more time for the cheap seats in the back (remember those?), THE ‘RETAIL APOCALYPSE’ IS NOT HERE. In fact, the ‘Retail Apocalypse’ is never happening. So let’s remove that from our vocabulary and put the rumors to bed, once and for all. Instead, let’s talk about what’s really happening — a retail evolution.

Like everything else in 2020, the retail industry has been faced with a new normal. Retailers who have failed to evolve, have had to make difficult decisions, from closing stores to declaring bankruptcy and even all out business closures.

Meanwhile, many retailers have thrived through the pandemic. In fact, Target reported that its curbside pickup service, Drive Up, grew 700% in Q2. 700%! How? Because again and again, Target has transformed to meet the changing needs of shoppers. With that, let’s dive deeper into the 2020 retail evolution.

The essentials

While many retailers temporarily shuttered to comply with state and local mandates, essential retailers like grocers, pharmacies and convenience stores, remained open. These retailers faced new challenges, from supply chain shortages to daunting volumes of online grocery orders.

However, most adapted and emerged as heroes. With digital grocery sales reaching a an all-time high of $7.2 billion in June, grocers have accepted that many of the forced changes of 2020 are here to stay. Grocers and their solution providers alike have worked hand-in-hand to rapidly evolve and meet shoppers’ needs as we continue to stay home.

essential retailers

Amazon’s 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods ignited a fire in grocers, and many began examining and implementing much needed technologies, from AI-enabled supply chains to digital grocery solutions. No doubt, they could have done more to be prepared for 2020 but no one anticipated a pandemic.

Grocers recognize the need for AI-enabled and digital technologies now more than ever. As a result, they will continue to digitally transform to address the fundamental shift in how consumers shop for everyday essentials.

Digital realities

Across the industry, retailers who have failed to embrace digital transformation have suffered immeasurably in 2020. On the other hand, forward-thinking solution providers who have been waiting in the wings for their heyday, and the retailers adopting those solutions, are reaping the rewards. Many digital solutions, like virtual fit and live shopping, that once seemed futuristic are now necessary to retail survival.

retail tech solution future

For example, Greg Alvo, CEO and founder of Ordergroove, launched the Relationship Commerce company in 2010. At the time, Amazon Prime and the Subscribe & Save program were in their infancy. But Greg recognized an opportunity in the market and had a dream of making consumer’s lives easier through subscription retail.

Ten years later, Greg’s vision has become a necessity as consumers look for reliable ways to get household essentials. According to Ordergroove, retailers and brands with subscription programs have seen a 40% in new enrollments as a result of COVID-19.

Digital capabilities like reoccurring subscription models are a win for consumers and retailers alike. From our daily conversations with solution providers, we’ve seen that retailers are clamoring to adapt such technologies ahead of the holiday season. Furthermore, consumers are adopting these new omni-channel shopping options as part of their ongoing routines.

The retail evolution is here to stay

Call it what you will — trade, retail, digital commerce — the retail industry will continue to evolve. It’s here to stay and has been for thousands of years. Yes, it will change but so will the rest of the world, and retailers and shoppers alike will adapt.

Speaking of changes in the retail industry, be sure to register for August’s KG Connects webinar, “‘Retail Re-Emergence’ in a Post-COVID World,” with Q Division.

kg connects august 2020
the future of b2b media

The Future of B2B Media

The future of B2B media is a topic worthy of a book. It’s a huge industry with a lot of moving parts, but there are a few trends that stand out to me as defining the future of the industry more strongly than any others.

In general, beyond just B2B, the most successful media companies have the full attention and trust of their audience. Regardless of what they promise – information, entertainment, perspective – they thrive when they capture time and attention better than anyone else.

In my last blog on the future of journalism, I dug into the monetization challenges facing online publishers battling the two-headed monster of Big Tech and the COVID pandemic. While I am confident that the best publishers will benefit, emerging from this inflection point stronger than ever, others are at risk of defeat.

As PR and communications professionals, it’s important for us to consider what the future of B2B media looks like, and how the roles and powerful voices within it will evolve over time.

The short answer is, media companies are finding new ways to stay competitive, while individual experts and corporate brands are simultaneously taking on characteristics of media companies to survive and thrive in the attention economy. We see it playing out something like this:

B2B media consolidates

In a market where revenue disappears overnight, only a few players will remain strong—mirroring the media industry at large. We’ll see the most trusted names in each market consolidate their influence by bringing in the lion’s share of the reduced available revenue.

Those who were already struggling will have to close. The big players will capitalize on the opportunity by investing in new services and staff who help them further monetize their attention share. They have the time and resources to wait out the storm.

Publications monetize new services

“Successful media companies have to have two things. They have to control their own distribution and they have to have their own programming. People that don’t have both either have to rectify that or go out of business,” said Michael Bloomberg, as shared in a great Twitter thread on Bloomberg’s experience.

With big tech platforms like Facebook and Google taking a larger role in distributing the media’s content, publications must quickly build out their own distribution methods. They need to shift from relying on search and social to reaching their own audiences where they are.

We talk about it all the time with our retail tech clients – retailers must be everywhere their shoppers are. It’s no different in media.

In terms of programming, we’re already seeing the most well-respected B2B publications scale services well beyond online and print articles. They host webinars, conduct sponsored research, curate multiple regular newsletters, create video, run conferences (and will find ways to take leadership roles in virtual events), award programs, and more. Those who continue this content mix and find ways to own the distribution will come out on top.

Independent experts change the game

Adding new services that go well beyond reporting the news isn’t the only reason the definition of ‘media company’ is changing.

New content creators are entering the mix, often without affiliation to any media brand. They’re not in it to compete for ad dollars; their currency is attention. They might be company executives, consultants, investors, academics or industry analysts. As long as they have deep expertise and a platform to share thoughts, they can play the game.

These high-relevance industry experts and brands are the thought leaders and entertainers that news organizations can never be. They can take positions that exist outside of pure fact; they can challenge conventional knowledge and accumulate loyal followers.

Social platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube have given SMEs free platforms to become the go-to experts in any domain. They provide a “boots on the ground” sense of reporting objective truth.

influencers aren't truth-tellers

What’s more, these influencers don’t repute themselves as objective truth-tellers. That makes it easy for them to say what they think and use personality and entertainment to elevate their spot in the intellectual hierarchy.

These SMEs will challenge publications for the title of the most reliable and influential voices in the industry. As they do, they will continue to monetize their position. They will offer their own secondary services – selling products, services or time without the overhead or scrutiny that media companies deal with. As this proves an increasingly powerful sales tool, more players will enter the field.

Corporate brands double down on ‘content marketing’

The industry’s savviest entities won’t be left behind in this paradigm, either.

Digitally intelligent and highly engaging brand “publications” will increasingly become entertainment hubs for their industries. This will take the form of both robust blogs and brand-agnostic, semi-independent media entities.

publications become entertainment

Without the need to supplement content with advertising revenue, they will build platforms that offer cutting-edge storytelling experiences.

Funded by corporate profits, they can invest heavily in being at the forefront of every industry conversation. Eventually, corporate profits will help them be among the first to deploy new storytelling technologies such as augmented or virtual reality, or 360-degree video.

In the attention economy, pervasive brand awareness and affinity leads to sales of their core product or service offering. Their media platform can operate at a net-negative cost and still drive significant gains in corporate profit.

Communications professionals take control of audience engagement

Every company today, in some way, is (or should be) a media company. Everyone has an online presence, competes for views and attention, and wants to be a key voice in their industry.

As B2B media, corporate, and individual players compete for attention, they’ll overlap and collaborate more; we’ll continue to see the splintering of long-held industry roles.

But we can’t just wait and see how the future of B2B media affects our approach to brand building. The new market context demands that we also take control of our own content creation and distribution. We all need to be media companies now.

Do you want to propel your company’s growth by adopting a media company mindset, but don’t know where to start?

We’re offering a free 30-minute conversation to help get you started. We’d love to brainstorm with you! Just get in touch.

The New York Times Building at Night

The Future of Journalism

The future of journalism will be defined by two parallel forces: algorithms and trust.

Online media has been in constant evolution since print newspapers and periodicals first moved online.

Industry innovation since then has mainly delivered new ways to cover and share news: podcasts; webinars; video; social media.

But the non-stop battle for readers and revenue never disrupted the fundamental business model of publishing. Outlets continue to generate revenue through either subscription-based or ad-supported coverage.

More recently, powerful new forces have put this model into question – one slowly and one suddenly. The response will define who maintains their positions as the gatekeepers of information moving forward.

Big Tech is poaching ad revenues

One major financial burden for digital publishers is Big Tech. Google and Facebook, in particular, have built their own news distribution and advertising platforms that offer larger audiences and more personalization options.

Quote with image of wrinkled newspaper: It's more appealing for advertisers to circumvent the publishers

It’s a natural if not inevitable evolution. Newspapers and periodicals curated and distributed great writing to a broader audience than the writers could reach alone. Big Tech simply does the same at a greater scale. It curates the best of the best for the biggest audience.

The publishing industry model has always financially rewarded the organizations with the biggest audiences and best ROI for advertisers. Big tech now wears that crown.

In response, many of the biggest publishers are lobbying to require tech companies to pay for the news they use. This would provide some relief for content producers but doesn’t address the competitive disadvantage of the model itself. It’s a band-aid option that prevents the industry from addressing larger issues at hand.

Money flowed from inefficient print newspapers to online publications because it delivered a better user experience and better ROI for advertisers. Even if regulators force Big Tech to share revenue with publishers, the same forces will continue to disrupt the online news industry from within.

The pandemic effect

The throes of a pandemic offer a fascinating glimpse into the true state and future of media and journalism.

Decision-makers and stakeholders need answers, guidance and insight into the factors influencing their livelihoods and lifestyles. That’s why many reliable publishers are experiencing huge surges in web traffic and engagement.

Publications like RIS News have built a reputation in their industries as being the gatekeepers of great content – and are rewarded for doing so, especially in times of increased need for information.

In a vacuum, this would be a harbinger of a revenue windfall.

However, the pandemic has led many brands to cut back on their ad buys with publications. This has resulted in a slew of media layoffs and furloughs, a cruel irony at a time when public interest in consuming content is high and the need is great.

Ultimately, a protracted pandemic and its economic fallout will accelerate the trends already underway. Ownership groups will consolidate risk, stack premier writing talent within fewer publications and double down on making sure those few outlets maintain profitability – at the expense of the rest.

The industry will get more top-heavy.

A symbiotic relationship

Although the pandemic will continue inflicting pain on the publishing industry, it eventually will come to an end. Similarly, Google and Facebook aren’t in the business of putting media out of business. In fact, it’s the worst thing they could do.

These tech platforms can’t – and don’t want to – create their own content. They prefer to identify and elevate the best content for each audience. Their algorithms do just that. And that’s why they’re so successful.

In a way, big tech is bringing rigid order to the Wild West of online publishing. They are the new gatekeepers of ‘good journalism’. And for better or worse, they don’t define winners subjectively. Behavior and preference data and search ranking algorithms leave no room for those who don’t follow the rules.

The role of trust in an open internet

There is another important factor working in publishers’ favor: platforms have issues of their own when it comes to policing their pages. Facebook especially has been battered by the fake new phenomenon. 

In an unregulated and open internet, trust comes at a premium. Ethical publishers will have a monopoly on trust that advertisers and brands will gravitate towards.

This does not mean that all online publishers will recoup the revenues they pulled in before big tech stole the show. Rather, well-defined and highly loyal audiences will continue to rely on digital publishers who exemplify those characteristics.

A new playing field defines the future of journalism

The importance and role of high-value content are the same as they have ever been. In fact, with questions about fake news and overt bias running rampant, it’s more critical to media sustainability than ever.

Publishers are just operating on a new playing field where new referees have reset the rules.

This game, like any game, will have winners and losers. But the players who create the best content for their audience’s needs will forever have a key role in defining the future of journalism. And readers and advertisers will reward them for it.

Old time general store representing the basic retail model built on relationships

Coronavirus Puts the Focus Back on the Basics

Like nearly anyone offering a few words of reflection on the Coronavirus phenomenon, I’m far from an expert on the matter. I have tried for weeks to write this blog, and every two days the situation has changed so rapidly that I’ve had to essentially start over.

While I can’t offer any advice on how to assuage the public health, mental health, or economic threat this pandemic has affected, the process of learning, acknowledging, adapting and persevering that these few months have mandated from all of us is something I believe we should all take a moment to consider and to find great value in.

Like many, my first connection to Covid-19 was watching the virus take grip of China from the (physically) safe haven of Twitter, wondering along with everyone else whether what we were seeing was an authoritarian overreaction to assert political power or a global crisis exploding before our eyes.

When it burst through the border and put Italy under lockdown, I felt the emotional stress of being limited to FaceTime updates from my brother living 45 minutes from the country’s outbreak center with his wife and two kids – who as of this writing, we still understand to be healthy and safe.

When SXSW along with the City of Austin – where I live – canceled the event last minute, it felt like the most significant public acknowledgment that this crisis wasn’t just a blip on the radar or concern of only a foreign ‘other’.

Now, as we hunker down with our frozen pizzas, 1000-piece puzzles and the most organized junk drawers the world has ever seen, it’s provided the time to contextualize the moment and think about where we go from here and the lessons we should take with us.  

The benefit of being proactive

While I’m bummed that SXSW was canceled, it has proven to already be the right decision. The same goes for our clients who have had to cancel or postpone their customer events at their own expense.

Some things are just bigger than the bottom line, and I applaud the companies and executives being proactive about their broader long-term role in society even when they do so to their own short-term detriment. Their foresight and compassion had a massive effect on our ability to dampen the barrage.

It’s not always about being first to market with a new gadget or service. It’s not about being a fast follower. It’s not about taking credit as a pioneer in your field. The value comes from being quick to adapt and change to new conditions, for the betterment of all.

Flash vs substance

Having worked so closely with retail technology vendors for the past four years, it’s been very clear that most of the emphasis for building a modern retail business has been on customer engagement. When engaged, shoppers are likely to take desired actions.

We think about personalized marketing, same-day shipping, on-demand merchandise and endless aisle assortments. We talk about hyper-localization within a global economy and dynamic pricing in stores. It all sounds pretty wonderful, and it is.

But engagement doesn’t come from an innovation lab alone. It comes from personal understanding and connection to shoppers. For example, personalized marketing can only be done once you build real relationships with customers and learn enough about them to know what they want, when they want it.

If you can’t deliver on a shopper’s fundamental needs, all the work you’ve done to create new conveniences and ‘engagement’ is for naught.

Relationships and values are everything

What we’ve seen in recent weeks emphasizes this point. Families are paying more attention to grandparents than ever before. Businesses are finding ways to create more flexible, human-centric employee schedules. Dogs are getting more walks and parents are spending more playtime with their kids.

In times of crisis, we gravitate towards comfort and connection. We are drawn towards truth and fulfilling our fundamental needs. We realize more clearly what matters to us and what has been a distraction. And we see that much of our time and attention is dominated by clutter.

But who we are and what we mean to others is eternal.

When considering the future of business – all other considerations of financial management, product value, and bailouts aside – I’m sure that the companies who fare best and emerge from this with momentum will be those that have always emphasized building a brand and a culture of authenticity and responsibility, and actively cultivated customer and employee loyalty above all else.

Because when everything else gets called into question, our identity, our values – and what others know of them – are all you can rely on. It’s not only in times of stress that they matter, but it’s as good a time as any to realize the depth of their impact.

A most helpful Covid-19 legal resource:

Our client, national law firm Foley & Lardner, is offering a terrific library of support for companies navigating the complex legal ramifications of business disruption. If you’d like to get in touch with them, let us know!

Influencer Marketing Selfie

Influencer Marketing: How We Got Here and Where We’re Going

Influencer marketing is a relatively new phenomenon. Even though this trend only recently burst onto the scene, it has taken over the industry. Successful influencer marketing today is completely different from when it first started and it will continue to change as time goes on.

Early Influencer Marketing

During the early stages of influencer marketing, all the focus and investment centered on the celebrities and influencers with the largest following. Selena Gomez and Kim Kardashian were pioneers of the influencer marketing industry and continue to rake in money for it. In fact, an article from US Weekly discovered that “brands will pay up to $500,000 for a campaign on Kim Kardashian’s Instagram.” As the trend has grown everyone wants a piece of the action.

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when your lyrics are on the bottle 😛 #ad

A post shared by Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) on

Influencer marketing has exploded, and it’s not stopping soon. In a report from Influencer Marketing Hub, influencer marketing has the potential to be worth $10 billion by 2020. What’s more incredible is that the value to brands is sky-high. For every one dollar spent on influencer marketing the average company generates $5.20 in earned media coverage, and some companies are even making $18 for every $1 spent. Influencer marketing is too big to ignore.

How has influencer marketing changed?

Celebrities were the original influencers, but that has since changed. One of the biggest shifts we’ve seen is the rise of niche influencers. There are beauty influencers, fashion influencers, lifestyle influencers and many more. These niche influencers are more valuable to brands than any celebrity. The reason being, celebrities become influencers because they are famous, but niche influencers become famous because they create content their audience loves, and their audience trusts their opinion.

Trust is the key word in that last sentence. As influencer marketing has grown consumers have grown to trust niche influencers more than they trust celebrities. In fact, “70% of teenage YouTube subscribers relate to YouTube creators more than traditional celebrities and 60% of YouTube subscribers would follow advice on what to buy from their favorite [content] creator over their favorite TV or movie personality.”

Beyond the change in who influencers trust, we have also seen a massive shift how influencers do their job and push content to their audience. Instagram is the dominant app for influencer marketing, but other apps like YouTube continue to grow and foster a larger presence. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world and receives roughly 30M visits every single day. People watch almost 500 million hours of videos on YouTube each day!

We know people spend a lot of time on YouTube. And younger generations trust YouTubers more than traditional celebs. But does that mean YouTube influencers are effective? Yes, yes, it does. A study from Carat found that 86% of the top 200 beauty videos came from influencers. Across ten niche categories tested, working with a YouTube influencer increased consumers’ purchase intent.

Where are we going?

Influencer marketing as we know it could very well disappear just as quickly as it burst onto the scene. Businesses must realize that too much content isn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, the 2019 State of Influencer survey discovered that 46% of influencers have at least seven clients.

The authenticity and trust influencers enjoy can fade quickly. The influx of content has caused many consumers to ask themselves, “Is this just another advertisement or an actual opinion?” In a report from Forrester, marketing professionals expect “people will ascribe no more trust to influencers’ branded content than to brands themselves.”

Influencer marketing started with celebrities, then it became niche influencers, so where do marketers go from here? The answer, micro-influencers. Scrunch describes a micro-influencer as “someone who has an audience with a follower base of over 2,000, but less than 50,000 on a particular social media channel, usually with a focussed passion, topic or niche market.”

Just as followers are more trustworthy of niche influencers than celebrities, consumers are more trustworthy micro-influencers than larger niche influencers. Micro-influencers have personal connections with their followers. This allows consumers to have a lot of trust in them. Micro-influencers have higher engagement rates and are actively working for your brand by answering questions and responding to comments. This goes a long way towards creating greater trust between your product and their audience.

The role of influencers is all about leveraging trust and authenticity to achieve an end-goal. The big celebrities may have millions of followers and millions of likes on their posts. But for influencer marketing, that may not be the best practice. Instead, try to find people that have a strong rapport with their audience. This organic connection is what customers today want to see.

Map of the brain as a computer chip in reference to artificial intelligence

Is AI Really the New, New Thing?

Artificial intelligence is the new, new thing — or is it? While seemingly every software solution touts the wonders of AI, it’s only now starting to deliver on the promises that have been made for decades.

Consider this sentence from a Fortune 100 company lauding its power: “Artificial intelligence promises to open new dimensions in the ways that machines serve people.” Sounds current, right? However, it’s from a 1984 brochure on the Texas Instruments Explorer Computer System.

My agency worked for Texas Instruments early in my career, and AI was among the key technologies we focused on. We produced a quarterly newsletter and successfully pitched stories to the media on the topic, wrote press releases on solutions built on it and developed a case study on one of TI’s early adopters, Campbell Soup. TI and Campbell’s developed an expert system (an early AI application) to capture the knowledge of valuable engineers that were nearing retirement. Without the system, that knowledge could have vanished forever.

Unfortunately, early applications of AI were ahead of their time, and the market faded away for several decades. Why did it take so long for the technology to catch on? Here are some personal observations from someone who was captivated by the promise of AI three decades ago.

Early AI solutions were expensive and slow.

Early artificial intelligence systems used a language called LISP that required specialized, expensive computing systems. Additionally, the limitations of existing systems (slow and limited processors, as well as a lack of storage), constrained early PC versions of AI software. The computing power necessary for robust AI applications simply didn’t exist. However, as predicted by Moore’s Law, computing power doubled every two years as the cost fell — ultimately making it possible to deliver the raw computing power required for AI. But that alone couldn’t solve the problem.

The cloud didn’t exist.

Can you imagine (or remember) a time when the Internet didn’t exist? In the early-to-mid 80’s, it was still nearly a decade away from becoming a household word.

That meant there was no way to deliver AI or any other applications on the cloud, because there was no cloud! And since most such applications today are delivered on cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, which can provide thousands of processors on demand for AI applications, there was no way for it to reach its full potential.

Storage was limited.

A lack of data storage was yet another limiting factor. The first 1 GB hard drive was introduced in 1980, and the era of terabytes, petabytes and exabytes was decades away. Without immense amounts of data storage, it’s impossible to house all the data required for robust AI applications.

Thankfully, that’s all changed, and we’re entering the beginnings of the golden age of artificial intelligence. As real-world AI applications continue entering the mainstream, Ketner Group is fortunate to represent several clients delivering AI applications that solve tough business problems and deliver significant savings in time and cost.

None of this would be possible, though, without the pioneering companies that helped pave the way decades ago. So, here’s a salute to Texas Instruments, Intel and other visionaries that are finally seeing their vision come to life.