The Great Re-Think: How 2020 is shaking up communications and marketing

Veteran marketing and communications executive Jon Iwata was the keynote guest speaker for the W2O Center for Social Commerce‘s 2020 Social Commerce Days.

As the events of this unforgettable year continue to unfold, people everywhere are attempting to come to grips with a new and different reality.

Businesses, too, need to consider the near-, mid-, and long-term implications of the significant shifts that have been intensified by the pandemic, social justice movements and a tumultuous political and economic landscape.

Honoring the tenth year of the W2O Center for Social Commerce at Newhouse, keynote guest speaker Jon Iwata—executive fellow at Yale School of Management and veteran marketing and communications executive at IBM—shared with Syracuse University students his perspective on how organizations and business leaders must adapt to succeed in a post-2020 world.

Jon Iwata
Jon Iwata

Here are three key lessons from Iwata on what marketing and communications leaders and the next generation of professionals need to accept in order to navigate “The Great Re-Think.” 

1. Purpose: from shareholders to stakeholders

Gone are the days when a business’ sole priority was maximizing returns for shareholders. In our new reality, successful organizations are those who align their business with their social purpose, increasing their impact by harnessing their “why.”

This shift is largely driven by new expectations from Millennials and Gen X’ers as they enter the workforce and move into leadership positions, and is also reflected in increasing demands from investors that companies create sustainable value for society.

Going forward, Iwata asserts, “brands have to be stewarded and managed to serve multiple stakeholders,”—from customers, to employees, investors, the communities in which they operate and the public at large.

Organizations that are successful in creating value for all of these stakeholders will demonstrate a consistent and genuine commitment to taking a stand and embracing their purpose, which can be much more relevant and meaningful than a myopic focus on near-term profits.

2. Stakeholders: from segments to individuals

Data and AI are enabling incredible advances in how organizations reach and interact with their stakeholders. While the use of digital technology is not new, it is how organizations use these tools that is changing. Specially, those who can engage their customers as unique individuals instead of broad, anonymous and impersonal “segments” will outsmart their competition and create stronger relationships with those they serve.

Historically, organizations have used traditional methods of segmentation, categorizing their stakeholders by zip code, political affiliation, hobbies, gender, age and more. But as tools like smart home devices (i.e., Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa) and wearable technology join the ranks of social media in terms of popularity and adoption, organizations have more data than ever before and are able to understand their audiences even better.

Whether it is with patients, students, voters, reporters or customers, organizations can now capture the digital signals that people are providing and engage with them in ways that appeal to their unique needs, preferences and behaviors. Those that do so responsibly and thoughtfully will be better adapted to succeed in an increasingly digital world.

3. Trust: from table stakes to differentiator

“The net effect of social media and the Internet is radical transparency,” says Iwata. Rarely anything happens today that is not captured and broadcast. This is true not only for celebrities but also for businesses, leaders, employees and people everywhere.

The upshot? Today, your brand is much more than just the sum total of your ads, your mission statement, your logo or your social media content. Instead, your brand is experienced by what your company does, how it behaves, and your stakeholders’ perceptions.

According to Iwata, this means that trust is invaluable, especially today. Trust is earned when an organization’s actions match its words, and when it consistently treats customers, employees and other stakeholders with honesty, respect and empathy.

Authenticity is a key ingredient to earning trust as well, as people become even more perceptive and quick to call out any individual or organization who fails to uphold the values they espouse. 

“People who are in the field of communications, public relations, public affairs and marketing have to take on a whole new level of skill, awareness and responsibility to ensure brands are truly trusted, and the way we earn that is by being authentic,” says Iwata.

The W2O Center for Social Commerce at Newhouse was established by SU graduates, Jim Weiss (’87) and Audra Weiss (’89) to educate, inform, and accelerate student understanding and confidence of the digital world. We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Jon Iwata for sharing his expertise with Syracuse University students, ensuring the W2O Center for Social Commerce can continue to connect students with industry leaders and prepare them to be “day one” ready for their careers, even in a virtual environment.

To see tweets from the event, follow @SocCommSU and check out the hashtag #SocCommDays.