The iPhone changed everything, and organizations still haven’t caught up

Craft’s Brian Donahue on communicating in the most disruptive age in modern history.

Craft founder and CEO Brian Donahue traces the beginning of the current disruptive age of communications to one day: January 9, 2007.

That was the date Apple unveiled the iPhone, dramatically changing how people communicate with each other and brands’ relationships with individuals, the campaign trail veteran said at PRDecoded last Wednesday.

“Communications devices, tactics, tools and technology have all changed more in the past 15 years than any other time in history,” said Donahue in a session entitled Speak Your Truth: Staying True to Your Brand, calling the mobile device “as transformative as the smoke signal.”

Yet while the iPhone has placed complicated technologies at users’ fingertips in an easy-to-use device, it’s only made reaching audiences more complicated for many organizations as they’ve struggled to reach newly empowered consumers.

One overarching strategy to break through that confusion: understanding how to speak directly to people, Donahue said.

He also stressed the importance of brands’ values, a distinct change from the more buttoned up pre-smartphone era, when companies were strictly focused on the bottom line, as well as the critical nature of Washington, DC, as a center of politics, media and influence.

The alum of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign also listed examples of companies that are successful communicators, such as those that keep their business models and values in harmony and understand the broad spectrum of comms tools. Donahue also credited organizations that are built with a strong advocacy framework and those with audience empathy, understanding what motivates customers.

“In everything we do, we’re thinking about the audience first,” he said. “Before you do anything as a communicator, think about what your audience cares about. How do they shop? How do they consume news? What’s important to them socially?”

Donahue also gave communicators an example of what not to do: act without social license to embrace hot-button issues. A well-known example is Pepsi’s 2017 ad starring reality show star Kendall Jenner, which critics said made light of Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements.

“Marketing when infused with the right mission can have a powerful impact, so when communicating on behalf of an organization, it’s important to understand where they fit in the world,” Donahue explained.

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