In a competitive marketplace, companies are forced to do more with limited resources, all while intensifying their focus on outcomes and results. And, no matter how well your current communications strategy works, someone is always looking to find a better way. But don’t fret! This is a good thing because it fosters innovation and creative problem-solving in strategic communications.

We’ve identified the newest innovations in the communication space and are letting you in on easy ways you can implement these trends into your own communications strategy. Take a look!

1. Brand Transparency

From data privacy to workplace harassment, corporate scandals made huge headlines in 2018, damaging trust and credibility of giants such as Uber, Facebook and Google. We’ve seen these companies answer to their wrongdoings in court, issue apologies, and develop campaigns (from blog posts to video ads) to showcase how they are updating their policies.

Why are they going to such lengths? Because surveys show 94% of people are more likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency. More than ever, consumers want to know everything there is to know about a brand, from product details to value systems to business goals. For example, the clothing company Everlane posts detailed information and videos of each of its overseas factories to demonstrate its “no sweatshops” commitment. Being armed with this type of information allows consumers to make better decisions and fosters higher brand affinity.

With the world becoming increasingly connected, brand transparency is only becoming more imperative and will be a top trend in brand communications in the coming years.

How you can implement

Don’t wait for a scandal to share brand information with consumers. Include easily accessible areas on your website that discuss business operations and company values, and provide as much detail about your products as possible. Don’t bury controversial information in legalese. Be open and authentic when answering questions from the public. If you do encounter a crisis, apologize for your wrongdoings, listen to what consumers want and make actionable changes.

2. Political Affiliation

It’s no secret that our current political climate has resulted in a deeply divided society. But, regardless of personal beliefs, one thing we can all agree on is that the highly charged environment has ignited a new passion in political involvement across the country. An estimated 113 million people voted in the 2018 midterm elections, making it the highest voter turnout rate in 50 years.

What’s more, we know that consumers are increasingly basing their purchasing decisions on beliefs regarding self, society and planet. This means consumers seek brands that reflect similar values to their own. As consumer political interest has risen over the past few years, so has the number of brands establishing political stances. Patagonia sued the Trump Administration in 2017 for reducing the size of national monuments, endorsed two Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm elections and invested money saved from new corporate tax breaks into organizations fighting global warming. Taking a stand has resulted in massive profit gains for the company.

Patagonia isn’t alone. Many other companies have made politically-inspired decisions, including Cards Against Humanity purchasing land along the United States-Mexico border to halt construction of the border wall, Nike choosing Colin Kaepernick to front their 30th Anniversary Just Do It campaign and Airbnb running an ad campaign opposing the ban on refugees and immigrants from mostly Muslim nations.

As our society becomes more polarized, we can expect more brands to step out of the neutral zone and take strong stands on hot-button, political issues.

How you can implement

Strive to be the gold standard in corporate activism. Align your organization with issues that make sense for your brand and that your customers care about. Stick to this purpose no matter the cost — sometimes taking a risk will reap the greatest rewards.

3. Artificial Intelligence

Previously, artificial intelligence (AI) seemed like a massive undertaking only available to large companies with overflowing resources. While we still mostly hear about AI initiatives from large companies (i.e., Amazon’s Alexa and GM’s self-driving cars), AI has become digestible for almost any organization. In fact, between 27 to 40 percent of businesses will adopt AI by the end of 2019.

Now, say it with me: “AI does not have to be a robot.” AI is probably powering many of the services you use on a daily basis, including personalized offerings (i.e., Spotify’s Discover Weekly and Netflix’s personalized recommendations), price comparison tools (i.e., Kayak and Rare Carat) and predictive analytics (i.e. Philips’ CareSage and American Express’ customer attrition identification program).

More interestingly, AI is also being used to enhance the human experience and build customer and brand relationships. One application of this is chatbots, automated customer service representatives. Chatbots can provide quick 24/7 customer assistance, set appointments and send reminders, suggest products, and even find love or order pizza — all things that make a consumer’s life easier. And what do we know about making life easier? It makes people all the more likely to return to your service the next time they have a need.

So, regardless of how you use AI, know that it can bring a new level of credibility to information, improves the way information is delivered and provides better insights for decision making.

How you can implement

Don’t just leverage a technology because it is new and shiny. Instead, think about how it can impact your bottom line and utilize the technology that makes the most sense for your business. Start by identifying tasks, functions and processes that are highly repetitive and can be automated. Depending on your capabilities, you can then work to mine data, detect trends and build algorithms on your own, or utilize AI solutions by companies such as IBM or Intel.

4. Brand Collaboration

One of the most iconic and successful recent brand collaborations is GoPro and RedBull. The companies partnered to share resources for content production, distribution, cross-promotion and product innovation. While the partnership is evident in their daily communications spanning all platforms and channels, the brands have also worked together on large-scale projects, such as the Stratos project, which presented Felix Baumgartner’s 24-mile plunge from a space pod down to Earth. The partnership is a perfect match as both brands value action, adventure, fearlessness and celebrating the human experience.

So do collaborations like this actually work? According to the American Express Business Collaboration Index, these types of partnerships are highly lucrative. Because collaborations allow brands to reach new, engaged audiences with no added cost and effectively leverage multiple channels with large campaigns, collaboration marketing is up to 30 times cheaper than traditional digital advertising. Mid-sized companies that utilized this strategy achieved a profit 1.4 times their investment, equalling an average savings of more than $319,000 or an average increase in sales of $430,000.

Don’t forget that collaborations don’t have to be large, comprehensive partnerships. Uber partnered with Spotify to let passengers choose the music they hear during their rides and Best Friends Animal Society teamed up with BuzzFeed to publish an article called “We Interviewed Emma Watson While She Played with Kittens and It Was Absolutely Adorable” that raised awareness for homeless pets. Regardless of the size of the partnership or the time it takes to plan a co-marketing campaign, the key to a successful collaboration is finding an organization that mirrors yours, whether in product, value, audience or some other shared characteristic.

How you can implement

Start by brainstorming a list of organizations that would make sense collaborating with yours. Then pull together some ideas for how your partnership could create value that wouldn’t necessarily be attainable in a solo mission. Approach your target partners with an open mind and work together to develop a plan that works for both of you.

Want to further explore how your organization can strengthen its communications strategy? We’d love to talk!