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The Coronavirus crisis currently poses challenges to many areas of business, but also creates new opportunities. In the Serviceplan Group’s first live session of the webinar titled “Acting Successfully in the Corona Crisis”, Verena Letzner, Managing Director of Plan.Net NEO, presented her analysis of the effects of the crisis on social media. In her expert article, she looks at the current situation in Germany and explains what questions brands should ask themselves now, and why it is worthwhile to take a look at the situation in China.

The use of social media platforms, from Messenger and video platforms to classic social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and others, has risen significantly. Due to the lockdown and social contact restrictions in Germany and the resulting social distancing, people increasingly use the Social Web to inform themselves, discuss and get in touch with others – including brands. This creates opportunities for brands to strengthen their market position sustainably during the crisis, however the procedure brands follow in order to do so is important. Only those brands that make a helpful contribution now will become part of the conversation and have the ability to emerge from the crisis stronger.

1. Improve people’s situation

Brands should create an offering on the Social Web that adds value to the many people who currently must stay at home. Brands can support important areas of life such as sports, health and education through their offerings, or create alternatives for activities that are restricted or completely forbidden during the lockdown phase, such as eating out together, shopping and maintaining physical social contacts.

2. Have a purpose and radiate optimism

Currently, the “Time with brands” is in a peak phase, which means that users engage more with brands on the Social Web than usual. For brands, it is important to use this time to authentically place values such as solidarity, community, care, trust and optimism at the centre of their communication, thereby increasing their brand capital in the long term.

3. Benefit from changes in media usage

Due to the withdrawal of many advertisers from the paid social sector, the advertising pressure and the competition for placements is currently decreasing. Therefore, it can be especially useful for brands to buy cheap advertising space or to get more reach for the same budget.

Five questions that brands should ask themselves now

In order to exploit the potential of social media during the Coronavirus crisis, brands now have to urgently address the question of a strong and relevant social media strategy. The following five questions provide a guideline:

  1. What role can social media play for my brand in the communication mix during the Coronavirus crisis?
  2. How do I deal with my community in times of crises?
  3. Which channels are the right ones for me?
  4. How can I establish a performance-oriented social media approach and invest my budget effectively?
  5. How do I measure my success ­– during and after the crisis?

A look towards China – Looking ahead

An interesting question is certainly what happens as soon as the lockdown in Germany eases. It is worth looking at China, where the crisis and its effects are ahead of European countries. In China, too, the social media use of various services and platforms increased significantly during the lockdown, and the personal exchange that usually takes place in shops, such as product or purchasing advice, shifted to the Social Web.

And after the lockdown phase? Social media use in China has remained high, only the daily usage time has decreased slightly again. In a survey of Chinese marketers on how they would invest budgets in the future or which fields they would use more after the crisis, most of the respondents cited the social media sector.  This shows that long-term business opportunities are seen here.

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the topic of media agencies and how they have to develop and position themselves. The answer is basically simple: The media agency of the future is a media agency – not a management consultancy, not a technology start-up and not a creative digital agency. Although all these related disciplines have been trying to penetrate the domain of media experts for years, this has not been crowned with lasting success yet.

Best examples are Blackwood Seven or SAP XM. Both providers, come from the pure technology and software side, and were hyped by many industry participants as the media agency model of the future. Algorithms and programmatic advertising instead of people should take the lead over media budgets. It was an exciting experiment, but the revolution did not happen – both companies have since withdrawn from media consulting. The all-encompassing algorithm, which can optimize everything from old clothes to cell phones, insurance, sweets and cars, simply doesn’t exist. And peta, exact or even zeta bytes of data do not change the fact that good media planning requires not only algorithms, but also experience and tools developed from this expertise.

The future naturally lies in (partial) automation. Without smart data, AI, programmatic advertising, individualized control of creation, and tools that work more or less automatically, no agency of the future, even of the present, will function. But if you want to be as creative as you are effective in media planning, you have to employ people with knowledge and experience in a wide range of disciplines in addition to your colleague computer. People who are capable of abstracting beyond the experiences made and of creating something new. Machines are still having a hard time here as well as agencies that are too focused on one discipline.

In the future, it will be essential for media consultants to look outside the box in their own discipline. There will continue to be agencies for very specific niches, such as employer branding or e-commerce. However, the media future belongs to the generalists and not to the specialists or rather: it belongs to a task force of differently positioned specialists, which can be put together individually according to the task and goal of the customer. Agency models such as the House of Communication, which combines all service providers under one roof and has been operating this type of collaboration since its inception, have an advantage here over companies that are only just starting to work in an integrated manner. And independent agencies score points over listed network bolides when it comes to the speed and flexibility with which they react to market developments.

Flexibility and speed regarding customer requirements is one thing, but the size of the company required to be able to implement these is an equally decisive factor that will separate the wheat from the chaff in the market. Investment in manpower, technical equipment and research is immense – which is why the tendency of smaller agencies to slip under the umbrella of more powerful partners, unless they have found their very special niche, will continue to increase.

The challenges that digitisation, the fragmented media landscape and the resulting individualised media use pose to planners are too diverse. The more data and information about the individual is available, the clearer it becomes: Mass communication as we know it from the past no longer works. It has been replaced by individual mass communication. Socio-demographies have had their day. The typical “man aged 14 to 49” no longer exists, nor do “householders” or the much-cited “best agers”. The stereotypes of the past are no longer applicable, for example; men are interested in cars, women in cosmetics, young people are modern and open-minded, old people are traditional and old-fashioned. If we look at people of identical age, place of residence, education and income, they tick completely different boxes.

In times of individualisation, easily accessible information and increased life expectancy and opportunities, values have become our distinguishing feature. What motivates people? What drives them? In order to describe this world of values, the so-called “value sphere”, 360-degree tools are needed that can assign specific values and people to specific media and thus create a value map of the target group. And this is where the algorithm comes into play again. The media agency can bring both aspects together: data and target group expertise to create messages tailored to each recipient.

This does not mean that mass media such as TV or OOH are obsolete per se. They only need to be supplemented by individualised messages and replaced where necessary. This can only be achieved with appropriate tools – tools like the Brand Investor, which the agency of the future does not buy, but develops itself based on its expertise and existing skills. The Brand Investor is the first AI-operated planning tool that manages the communication mix on basis of marketing goals and target groups across all media. 19 media genres are considered – from TV to advertising papers and affiliate marketing.

One thing is clear: the agency business has changed radically. New technologies are giving advertisers the opportunity to depict classic agency services themselves. In particular, with the increasing spread of programmatic advertising, digital-savvy and large companies are taking the path of anchoring media planning in-house. This development is a good thing, because this way advertisers are developing a better understanding of agency work. In practice, however, it often turns out that the strategic and, in many cases, also the operative know-how is missing to work successfully. Not to mention the experience that agencies gain from the overall view of all their clients. Technological development is quite simply progressing too rapidly for us to be able to keep up to date without any problems.

So how will media agencies earn their money in the future? What does their business model look like? Of course, purchasing power and the associated good conditions remain an important factor. And this is exactly where automation plays into the agencies’ cards, because it helps to implement more efficient media planning. But (strategic) consulting will increasingly become another mainstay beyond media. Advertising companies today need a partner who supports them in the development of a promising strategy, accompanies implementation across the entire range of communication and is also available later on for operational support if required. They need tailor-made technologies, specialist knowledge and many years of experience. You need researchers and creative and data specialists. In summary, you need an integrated (media) agency.

Thinking about buying a new TV? Ah, the excitement! Measuring the living room, looking for the right place where it could fit, or choosing the color of the bezel, the right resolution, figuring out the necessary connectivity options and brightness? And if the couch you will be sitting on watching TV has the right viewing distance, because you don’t want to watch a football game without being able to recognize the players, do you? If you are not dealing with decisions like this right now, chances are you did in the past or you are going to do it in the future. Let’s face it, it’s inevitable, just like most things that are coming our way, the future is worth talking about, so let’s focus on this concept of time right now: The Future.

In the not so distant future, you most likely won’t have to deal with decisions like this at all. Not because of the breakthrough in projection technology, not because TV will become obsolete, nor because manufacturers will die out and Apple or Netflix will take over the TV game (well, that is happening anyways); it’s because you will be able to watch TV on a screen any desired size, anywhere and anytime you want – not just on your comfy couch at home. The magic behind that is a thing called augmented (AR) or mixed (MR) or even virtual reality (VR), but only in its final form. The final form of media. The final form of consuming content. The final form of entertainment. The end game.

So let’s focus on the present for a minute: there are a couple of VR devices out there, and most of them are pretty nerdy; you probably heard of names like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR or Samsung Gear VR. Manufacturers gaining momentum in creating the device to end all other devices – no wonder, since VR hardware is supposed to earn $17.8 billion by 2020. By the way, Samsung has sold more VR headsets in 2016 than Oculus, HTC and Playstation combined, namely 4.51 million pieces. And a lot has already been achieved with them: High resolution: check. Variety of content: check. Availability of devices: check. A cure to motion sickness while using it: check. Even motion, movement and eye tracking has been conquered not so long ago, getting VR one step closer to be a realistic experience in an unrealistic, digital environment. But one crucial thing is still missing, and all of the current solutions are not even close in delivering it: ease of use. A no-fuzz device. A device for people who are not expert gamers or scientists or enthusiasts. Something you can put on your head without having to connect a cord, a battery back or a head strap. Easy as putting on your shades and unlocking your smartphone.

Some manufacturers are still trying to mimic the success story of smartphone development, because it is their field of expertise, and it worked already in the past: increase screen resolution, add a new camera, mix it with a better microprocessor, a newer software version, and a dash of some weird new experiential technology. But baby steps are for babies, in a saturated market walking slow is not an option anymore: we don’t need another device that’s slightly faster and better looking than the other one. We need a breakthrough. We need something to control our movements in a virtual world, that feels like the real world. We need a way to trick our brain into thinking we really are standing next to a lava stream or inside an imperial hangar from Star Wars, awaiting the devastating blow out of the Death Star’s Superlaser instead of knowing all the way that it’s all just a game.

So back to our initial question, adding some more amazing stuff: You want to turn your living room into a dark dungeon to hunt zombies? You got it. You want to measure your new fridge and see if it fits in this impossible slot in your kitchen? Done. You want to have a look at the interior of your new car in life-size, standing in the middle of your bedroom? Sure thing. Or you just want to watch the final episode of your favorite TV show in your garden, on a huge canvas, and next to it keep track of a hockey playoff game that happens to run at the same time, on a smaller screen – and all of this together with your friends? Yes. That is the future I’m talking about. And the end or at least a fundamental change in the field of consumer electronics.

If the rumors are true, the first company to deliver something like this is called Magic Leap. Quote: “This technology could affect every business that uses screens or computers and many that don’t. It could kill the $120 billion market for flat-panel displays and shake the $1 trillion global consumer-electronics business to its core.” Says David Erwalt from Forbes Magazine. And he is right: if this thing kicks off and has finally a release date and price, it will change everything we know about consuming digital media in an instant. So maybe you should hold off on that purchase of a new TV set for now. The future is just a (magic) leap away.

On June 27th 2017 I have given a speech at the „International Roadshow 2017: China Insights“ to German enterprises in Munich with the title „The Future is Now“. I have shared some current social and economic happenings in China that are influencing the future, including consumption upgrade, sharing economy, live stream, and cash-free lifestyle, at the same time I have unveiled some business and marketing potentials embarked behind.

I met Jørg our CFO in the lift. He raised his eye-brow, looked at me who was holding a handful of packages from Taobao, asking sarcastically “what did you buy again?”  I shamefully couldn’t answer, because I had already forgotten.

Every night before I go to sleep, I will browse on Taobao or JingDong as relaxation… and always find something inspiring or something interesting that I want to give a try. The lady’s privilege of “window-shopping” now has becoming “pad-shopping”.  One day without buying some little things makes me feel guilty. “It is almost equal to the guilt of not contributing to society” I told Jørg. As a matter of fact, shopping online has become a ritual for Chinese. It’s about buy buy buy, but not what to buy!

Compared to my German colleagues, who lived a quite reduced and settled way, our Chinese colleagues are more unsettled and adventurous. The cost of trying-out is just so low that we can easily convince ourselves “why not?”, and then adjust the risks and uncertainties into possibilities.

Since the country doesn’t have a glorious industrial background, nor any successful history regarding modern economic development before opening-up, Chinese can “travel light”, jump and leap forward just from scratch, and explore wildly. This is why you see Taobao is more popular than Amazon, WeChat is more than Whatsup, and Didi is more than Uber. A country without even a proper credit system, now is able to develop the world’s best online payment system, and makes cash-free penetrate to the most rural ends of China. It makes it accessible to peddlers and grandmas.

We Chinese learn fast, and change fast. For a country named as “the People’s Republic of Change”, change is the only thing unchanged, and change has stealthily taken us to the next “future”.

This “future” is already happening now in China! Please come to join me at the China Roadshow 2017. I would like to show you how Chinese are upgrading their life with more disposable income, and how the future way of living and doing business are embarking new marketing potentials.