Top Trends for 2020: The “Age of Anxiety”

Norman Birnbach, President, Birnbach Communications

For marketing functions, it is important to understand trends the media is covering in order to develop story angles that can keep your organization relevant. This year will see new technology through 5G, artificial intelligence deployed everywhere, the integration of voice control and virtual assistants into many more things, and more robots in some workplaces, but some of those are both obvious and not necessarily appropriate for many organizations. 

While it is important to realize the media will cover those trends, we think the following three trends will also be important in 2020, and beyond.

  1. Distrust of Big Tech and media fuels anxiety. In a divided America, where even advertising decisions can cause Twitterstorms, companies need to find ways to be credible as well as relevant. There’s no simple solution for Big Tech like Apple, Amazon and Google regarding safeguards on the data they collect on all of us — part of surveillance capitalism, in which data is collected, correlated with behavior and monetized —  or for social media because there’s no clear or consistent definition of what constitutes misinformation or how to limit it without infringing on protected free speech. There’s also no easy solution for the media, where even the “facts” may be disputed. Unfortunately, deepfakes (AI-generated fake videos and other images) will make it harder to know what’s real. This will fuel feelings of anxiety, anger, exhaustion, and isolation, regardless of political perspective. We expect many Americans will look for solutions and companies that provide joy, comfort, assurance and reliability to bolster their sense of well-being and connection.
  2. The loss of local news coverage will continue, and will erode trust. More than one in five local papers have closed since 2004, according to the UNC School of Journalism and Media, while others have become hollowed out through layoffs. This is a real problem since local news outlets are often part of the fabric that holds communities together. According to “Losing the News: The Decimation of Local Journalism,” by PEN America, “The connection between local journalists and their communities is essential… Seventy-six percent of Americans report trusting their local TV news, and 73 percent report trusting their local newspapers; by contrast, 55 percent of Americans trust national network news and 59 percent trust national newspapers.” For marketers, fewer journalists and outlets makes it harder to reach customers, partners, investors and employers with their messages.
  3. Streaming services will get a lot of media and consumer attention. HBO Max and NBC’s just-announced Peacock will battle for attention and subscribers with Netflix, Hulu, Apple+, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services in the “streaming wars.” But it’s not a zero-sum game; there’s room for a range of services that have different strategies in their content libraries, pricing and offerings. We do expect a certain amount of churn/volatility as people subscribe to binge a particular show and drop it till the next season begins. The growing number of ad-free streaming content services will make it harder for marketers to reach a mass audience. Even ad-supported services will be out of reach for local and regional organizations so they will need to look for other ways to reach local customers.

We clearly have not addressed politics and the presidential campaign, which will dominate media coverage and social media because most clients want to stay away from taking stands that could alienate customers and partners. For these and other trends, marketers need to figure out their messages and stories in order to communicate their stores.


Norman BirnbachAbout the Author: Norman Birnbach is the president of Birnbach Communications, www.birnbach.com, a Boston-based PR and social media agency that has been issuing annual predictions for nearly two decades. His blog, PR BackTalk, provides insights and attitude about PR, journalism and traditional and social media.

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