When you advise innovators, change makers and industry leaders every day, it’s expected that you’re also keeping a finger or two on the pulse of shifting trends in business, public relations, and media. It’s our job to help client partners understand current trends, spot future trends, and make the most of them.
So, what are we ready to make the most of in 2023?
1. Immersive Storytelling and the Metaverse
Meta and Mark Zuckerberg have bet big on the Metaverse. Other companies are also investing heavily in virtual reality hardware, software, and immersive environments. They’re holding virtual meetings and gatherings, conducting onboarding and employee training, and building culture and community with virtual celebrations and shared experiences across time zones.
McKinsey reports $120 billion in venture capital, private equity, and corporate investment in the Metaverse during the first five months of 2022, and that by 2030, the consumer and enterprise value of the Metaverse may be equal to Japan’s economic output.
While immersive environments are perfectly suited for gaming and entertainment, all brands can and should stake their claim and build their brand presence in immersive environments like Horizon Worlds, The Sandbox and Decentraland. There’s an advantage to being an early adopter.
The Metaverse today reminds me of social networks in 2007. The numbers weren’t big enough for brands to dive in in large numbers, but if you parked your brand’s handle on Twitter and started experimenting with early content and conversations, you were able to grow and prosper as those platforms began to take off. Those who were late to the party had to work much harder to attract followers and build communities.
Immersive environments allow people to experience your story directly. What if you could take your ideal trade show booth, retail location, classroom, pop-up experience or other environment and untether it from time, geography, or the laws of physics? Imagine those possibilities.
While pondering what kind of out-of-this-world space you’d create, it’s worth noting that virtual experiences also lend themselves to highly serious uses.
Military medicine uses VR to counteract PTSD triggers. A museum exhibit places patrons on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to experience history first hand as Martin Luther King delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech. How could your mission or purpose be better fulfilled if time and place could be transcended through immersive storytelling?
Getting started in the Metaverse does not need to be expensive as many platforms and tools that can be adapted and customized to get your brand out there. It will not get less costly as tools improve and people’s expectations rise. (Right now, it’s okay to have avatars with no legs, for instance, but even that will soon be a thing of the past.)
Our 2022 trade show booth for XCOM Labs allowed immersive VR experiences.
Last year, (W)right On Communications designed a creative, branded trade show booth for our client partner XCOM Labs where attendees could experience a range of different simulations and trainings. The booth featured XCOM’s wireless extended reality (or XR) system which is an infrastructure solution for companies seeking the highest quality VR or mixed reality experiences. It has no wires and little to no latency in the network and supports multiple users moving through the environment. We’ve experienced the system a few times and it is always very comfortable and lifelike.
Over the past several months, I also completed the Institute for Public Relations Masterclass in Immersive Storytelling. This series features companies, creative studios and consultancies developing augmented reality, virtual reality and other extended reality experiences and solutions.
As part of (W)right On’s 25th anniversary year celebration, we’re planning an event to share some of our immersive storytelling knowledge and experience with our client partners and agency friends. Keep an eye out for details!
2. Artificial Intelligence Becomes the Writer’s Best Friend
Some readers may not want to hear this, but artificial intelligence is going mainstream in 2023. The great news is that communicators will save a ton of time this year if we task a tool like ChatGPT or Jasper.AI with our first drafts.
These tools require a very short learning curve. My best advice is to jump in and experiment. For now, you create a free ChatGPT profile that does more than chats. It can generate social posts, blog posts, news articles, press releases, web pages, emails, memos and more. It will render the content in a blink so that you can spend your time making the second draft more interesting, entertaining or informative.
It would be foolish not to use these tools to generate a passable first draft. However, they’re not yet a replacement for the human element – humor, color commentary, metaphors, tone.
ChatGPT was launched by OpenAI for free, for a limited time, on November 30 to test and get feedback from users. I asked ChatGPT to draft me a paragraph about OpenAI’s goals:
“The goal of the ChatGPT model is to provide a human-like conversational experience through the use of natural language processing (NLP) techniques. The model is based on the GPT (Generative Pre-training Transformer) architecture, which has been shown to be very effective in generating human-like text. By fine-tuning the model on conversational data, ChatGPT aims to generate responses that are contextually relevant, fluent, and appropriate for the given conversation. This can be used to power chatbots, virtual assistants, and other conversational AI applications. The overall goal is to enable more natural and efficient communication between humans and computers.”
I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
3. Uncertainty Everywhere All the Time
I learned a new word in 2022- and I think it’s here to stay: VUCA.
It stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Get used to it. It’s a VUCA world. Economically, geopolitically, medically (physical and mental health) and environmentally—no one knows what happens next. Not exactly fun, but something strategic communicators need to accept and mitigate.
How do savvy brands and their comms teams navigate a VUCA world? Back in early 2020- as the pandemic was first impacting the U.S., we wrote about applying the classic five stages of grief to crisis communications. This advice stands in a VUCA world. But let’s add to it:
• Change is coming at people faster than they can cope.
• Allow your stakeholders time to process big news or changes.
• Be a source of analysis to help bring perspective and context to big or rapid changes.
• Create feedback mechanisms so that people experiencing change can process their thoughts and feelings productively and so that you and your team can monitor your stakeholders’ thoughts and feelings and adjust messages or methods as needed.
• Manage expectations and don’t overpromise. Let people know what to realistically expect next, even if you’re unclear on what exactly happens next (like in a winter ice storm a few days before Christmas that overwhelms an airline’s scheduling software leading to unprecedented cancellations). You can at least tell stakeholders when they can expect to get the next update rather than feel you need to make a promise you can’t meet or exceed!
• Don’t use your communications to add to the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, or ambiguity.
When people are left to guess or second guess their trusted institutions, they’re no longer trusted. We all know that polarization and distrust in traditional institutions have soared. People are filling the VUCA vacuum with conspiracy theories. Which give them something to believe in and, while outlandish, people prefer to believe the conspiracy theory over the complex and ambiguous truth.
4. Enchanting Narratives: Give People Something Worth Believing In
Storytelling is a natural construct that creates characters, tension, and a suspense. Good stories are interesting- as they transport the listener, reader, or viewer. We’ve all got to get better at storytelling in 2023 and beyond and give people stories that are worth believing in.
Earlier this year, I read “The Enchanted Brand,” a book by accomplished brand strategist Jane Cavalier who makes a compelling case that people are seeking a bit of “enchantment” in this confuzzling VUCA world.
Take the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” I loved its third season. If you loved it too, you’ll understand this analysis completely. In all three seasons, the Upside Down is the malevolent world that the show’s characters get sucked into. It’s a very VUCA place. In season three, the Upside Down becomes personified in Vecna, an evil overlord who breaks and takes kids when they’re isolated and alone. He’s terrifying and powerful. I had no idea how Max would ever escape his clutches when he came for her.
As it turns out, that the way to safety in “Stranger Things” season three was enchantment. The kids just had to play Max’s favorite song to give her the strength to escape Vecna’s pull. (Cue Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.”) That song plus the love of her best friends pulls her from his clutches.
During turbulent times, strategic communicators must engage the imagination and help people transcend the VUCA world that, like Vecna in “Stranger Things,” keeps poking their flight-or-fight instinct.
So, how can your organization be enchanting?
• What’s its origin story? Is there a story arc and characters in your humble beginnings that is inspiring or relatable? Did you recently overcome a big challenge or help your employees or customers overcome one?
• How can your brand purpose enchant? Are you bringing it to life through employee or customer storytelling or are you creating magical moments that bring it to life, then capture and share those with employees and customers?
• How can your brand inspire and elevate employees, customers, and investors so they feel more emotionally connected and have a reason to believe in you that transcends their daily realities, fears, and frustrations?
I’m a fan of Alaska Airlines, and this winter they partnered with nonprofits in San Jose and San Diego to surprise some students with free flights who couldn’t afford to travel home for the holidays. The students’ heartfelt reactions were completely enchanting to me as I passed those videos on to two other people I know. This promotion is a great example of how to create and tell enchanting stories.
It also shows how storytelling starts with actions. Brands must start by walking the talk and being enchanting before talking about themselves that way. Word and deeds must always be in sync!
Going back to our number one 2023 trend, The Metaverse, it’s a perfect vehicle for enchanting your employees and customers. You can create fairy tale experiences and bring your brand to life in ways the real world won’t let you.
Speaking of the real world, our number three trend, VUCA as the new normal, also comes into play because enchanting storytelling is VUCA’s antidote. You might not want to entrust AI with formulating an enchanting story but you can task it with a solid first draft and then add your own magic.
Just remember in 2023 to bring a little enchantment into your PR, social media, and content as a clap back to the real-world Vecnas trying to bring us all down. And, if all else fails, keep running up that hill.