Consumer marketing remains, perhaps, the most fertile part of the PR world, helping to generate new ideas as technology and digital collide to redefine conventional engagement strategies. For smart consumer PR people, this often means a more central role that rewards storytelling, content creation and direct relationships with consumers, often via social media.

Against that backdrop, the Holmes Report invited consumer marketing experts from around the world to help us compile a list of five key trends that determine the consumer PR outlook for the year ahead. We also asked Electrolux social media and PR VP Mattias Radstrom to provide his perspective.

1. Personalization
Personalization is nothing new in the world of consumer marketing, but 2014 will see even people take an even more central role in brand strategies. “Brands will be listening more and more to what people have to say, responding thoughtfully to feedback and ideas, involving people in every step of the marketing process and are becoming more open and honest about how its products are made, where they come from and how they perform,” says Edelman global consumer chair Jennifer Cohan, who points to Unilever’s Project Sunlight and Heineken’s experiential approach as examples.

The trend is also highlighted in China, where Coca-Cola has emblazoned bottles with internet buzzwords and nicknames, while has created bespoke ‘Chu orange' packages. These, says Ogilvy PR China president Debby Cheung, “reflect the trend of consumers wanting to be simultaneously recognized for their community affiliations and individuality.” Similarly, adds Cheung, news readers such as Sohu News Reader 4.0 have launched customized reading functions while mobile product brands have started to offer personalised packages and privileges for various types of customers. “The knock on effect,” says Cheung, “is that big data will need to be a bigger player than ever before.” 

2. Privacy
The dark side of more personalized marketing comes from well-publicised privacy concerns that are only likely to become more prominent this year. “Ironically, the more excited we get about social sharing platforms the more concerned consumers become about privacy invasion,” says Cohan. These concerns are most evident in developed markets, according to a new Microsoft study on attitudes towards technology, with data breaches doing much to concentrate criticism. “Privacy concerns will no doubt continue to rise in 2014 as a lifestyle concern,” adds Cohan. “Crisis management teams will most likely need to prepare for privacy concern issues, while digital strategies will need to address their audiences’ concerns.”

3. Scaled down social
China’s WeChat is changing the social media game, shifting behavior towards more personal and direct interactions. “Enterprising brands,” says Cheung, “have caught on and some have already figured out how to link product sales to WeChat's ‘Moments’ function.”  Last year, meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg predicted in a Wired interview  magazine that "sharing in small groups" will rise in importance. This, explains Cheung, means that brands will need to have a deeper and better understanding of their customers than ever before. “They need to know where their customers hang out, with who and which people in the group are most influential. Brands that can convince the most influential users within social groups to be their evangelists will be more successful in their communications and their efforts will bear more fruit.”

4. Collision
Rather than words such as ‘integration’ or ‘convergence’, which risk losing all meaning as they become injudiciously applied to every symptom of marketing change, a better way to understand the evolution of engagement is to view it as a clash of previously distinct disciplines. The grey area between above and below the line continues to diminish, offering opportunities for brands that understand content, creativity and marketing. Kaper founder Chris McCafferty believes this will benefit those people who can “balance ideas that delight marketing directors as much as they spark editorial agendas.”  Elsewhere, look for a continuing collision of consumer marketing with corporate concerns such as sustainability and internal advocacy. “As brand stewards recognize the dual mandates promoting and protecting the brands, we will see an increased  collaboration between marketing and communications functions and public relations assuming an ever-increasing role in brand and product marketing,” says Cohan.

5. Quantify this
The rise of data-driven marketing offers a bewildering array of opportunities to marketers, even as they grapple with the challenges of understanding new techniques and tools. Retailers are proving more adept than most, says Cohan, as they aim to “make the shopping experience more efficient and enjoyable for customers.” Meanwhile, wearable technology garnered the biggest headlines at this year’s CES, tapping into the ‘quantified self’ movement that looks to track and analyse personal data. “Even though more companies are offering wearables, many have a long way to go in terms of it’s real-world usability,” says Cohan. “We are beginning to turn our intangible experiences into tangible expressions and wearables are a great example of this growing consumer need.” Marketers may have to start learning some new skills or become comfortable deferring to their more tech-minded colleagues. “I'd love to see more CIOs and CTOs involved in client briefs, providing data that an inspire a creative platform,” says McCafferty. 

In-house view: “Time to grow up”
Mattias Rådström, VP global social media and PR, Electrolux

“In 2014 it´s time to see social media as a natural part of the consumer marketing mix and not as something new and trendy where you are allowed to do whatever you like. CEOs will be asking for social media ROI just as they do for any other marketing channel. It´s a responsibility for the social media teams to be professional and show real business value to top management. It´s time for us to grow up, act in a responsible way and prove that we create real value to our companies.”