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2017: Trust and identity


With all the seismic political upheaval there has been in 2016, my prediction is that two issues will prove to be central to public relations and communications in 2017 – Trust and Identity.

It’s axiomatic that trust is at the heart of PR and comms. But the reason I highlight it is because of the unprecedented levels of distrust that there seem to be in so many institutions. That represents both a problem and an opportunity.

For challenger brands (be they political parties and candidates, or businesses) there is a huge opportunity to displace established players by questioning their competency.  This is the approach which political insurgents have been using to successfully take on incumbents.  For years it’s been polite not to really badmouth your opponents, but not anymore. I suspect we’ll see a resurgence of brands not simply speaking about their virtues, but pointing fingers at the perceived vices of the opposition.

However, whilst that is an opportunity for challenger brands, for established ones it does pose a conundrum – how much can you attack your competition if people do not particularly trust you in the first place? From elections to buying habits and procurement decisions, often “the market prices in” criticism of newcomers. So established players are going to need credible third party champions, not from the ranks of the “elite” or “establishment” but from grassroots advocates who appear to be part of the audience that you’re trying to reach. 

The reason I predict identity will be important for PR and comms in 2017 is because events from the Scottish independence referendum, to Brexit, Donald Trump and the ongoing ructions across Europe have illuminated quite profound differences in how chunks of the populations view themselves.

One of the most interesting pieces of analysis I’ve seen showed how Remain and Leave voters associated themselves with different brands. At first glance it could have been a parody of what the “liberal metropolitan elite” like, versus what your stereotypical UKIP voter prefers. But it’s deadly serious and brands are going to have to work out how their identity deals with this new cleavage.

In short, in 2017 PR and comms will be about whether you’re seen as more on the side of your audience than the other person is, rather than simply the inherent value of your offering.