Is it possible to condense this report into just 280 characters? In other words, into the form of communication used to interact with digital natives, namely the Millennials and, more importantly, the post-Millennials, the generation raised in the digital age. If it is possible, then what are the new rules of communication?
This was the topic chosen for the 2017 edition of the IAB Forum. This is the leading Italian event for the digital sector and the fourth largest in Europe. It attracted more than 12 thousand participants. The event was held in Milan on the 29 and 30 November and the title chosen was, appropriately enough, Born Digital.
Two days of meetings, over 50 workshops and an intense plenary session focussed on the younger generations. In his opening address, IAB Italia president Carlo Noseda described this demographic as “difficult people to reach; they surf the Internet, making their purchases largely via mobile devices. The web is their main source of information and, precisely for this reason, they are enormously susceptible to the threat of fake news. This is an issue that is as much a topic of discussion in our country as football and one that represents a genuine threat to the security and reputation of brands.”
Reputations are shaped in a world that is virtual but also entirely real as it is creating rapid economic growth and boosting employment. The digital sector in Italy is worth 58 billion euros (with an annual growth of 9%) and employs roughly 253 thousand people (an increase of 15% over the past year). Those working in the sector, emphasised Noseda, have “extremely high levels of creativity and a natural propensity to get involved, producing innovation that can really help the country to change and become more competitive.”
“In this sector,” explained Constantine Kamaras, Chairman of the Board of Directors of IAB Europe, “innovation and disruptive technologies are moving so fast that as soon as your company has managed to get in step with the times, things have already moved on, and the current technology has become obsolete. Though this generates stress, it also offers enormous opportunities.” According to Kamaras, the key elements required to bring the digital transformation to a company “are almost always within reach: the data, the technologies and the people with the right skills. But when a company wants to act quickly to break the mould without breaking the bank, the key factors for success are leadership and courage.”
This is why IAB invited Ryan O’Keeffe, Enel’s Director of Communications, to speak at the Forum. He told the story of a company that, according to Noseda, has revolutionised its communications in an extraordinarily fast, effective and courageous way. Noseda added: “Communicating also means educating people and Enel is doing that extremely well, raising awareness among the public about issues of great relevance, such as sustainability.”
“I am convinced that the Internet has been the most disruptive factor in the world of business in the last twenty years,” said O’Keeffe. “In 1999 a book was written: The Cluetrain Manifesto. It contained a number of very powerful and insightful pieces of guidance for us as communications professionals. When it was published, the first iPhone was still eight years away. However, the lessons contained in that book, designed for those who wanted to do business in an interconnected world, are still valid today. As we were progressing on our digital journey at Enel, they were to prove extremely valuable. And they still are.”
Of the 95 lessons included in The Cluetrain Manifesto, O’Keeffe cited five. The first is ‘Markets are conversations’. “It means we have to establish a dialogue with the most important stakeholders for our management team: the customers, the employees, but most of all, the shareholders, to whom we must guarantee a satisfactory economic return. As communicators, our task is also to create demand, the lever that moves the economy and generates profits. How do we convince the money to come to us? Storytelling. This is our job as communicators: to tell stories. Enel has a great story to tell about innovation, and we’re telling it through many channels. We started with the rebranding of our Group around the world. We rolled out a new digital communication strategy. We’re spending more than 5 billion euros over the next three years in the digitisation of our assets. And this communication strategy is working: since we launched the new brand in January 2016, Enel has delivered a total shareholder return of over 56 per cent.”
The second lesson is ‘Companies need to come down from their ivory tower and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships’. “When I arrived at Enel,” O’Keeffe explained, “I found a total of 197 digital touchpoints, websites, social media channels, and five different intranets. This is not the way you talk to people. We’ve worked extremely hard over the last two years to create simplicity. For instance, we launched a new single intranet for our 63 thousand employees around the world and our new websites are much more open, much more friendly, and much more dynamic. More digital, actually. And, they’re all mobile first. And we’re moving towards what we call a One Hub, a single point of digital contact for all of our stakeholders.”
The third lesson is ‘Your product broke. We’d like to have a chat with your CEO. What do you mean she’s not in?’ For O’Keeffe, such an attitude is unthinkable for a corporation, especially in the digital world. “It’s unacceptable for a company not to be engaged in a dialogue with the stakeholders. Social media have completely disrupted the rules of communication. They have empowered the audience in a way that back in the 1980s was not even imaginable, and we need to deal with that. Engaging in a dialogue with our stakeholders is paramount. And we have to do it in real time and make sure we are active participants in that conversation. That’s why, for instance, we have launched our Chabot and we have developed a new real time communications team.”
The fourth lesson is ‘Companies need to realise that their markets are often laughing... at them!’ “That’s why we, as communications professionals, also have the job of listening. We are the antennae for the organisation. Think about the word reputation: we all need to take a much more sophisticated approach to understand, manage and enhance our reputation.”
Finally, the fifth lesson is 'if you communicate to those outside the company, you must also communicate to those within it'. This means to all employees, in order to enable their participation as much as possible in the evolution and changes occurring in the company. “It is for this reason that when we talk about the digitisation of the Group we also mean the people who work at Enel, with whom we want to communicate in a much faster and more direct way. We want to instil a digital mindset and a digital approach throughout our organisation.”
O’Keeffe concluded that these five lessons could be summarised in just one sentence: “Markets are not made up of demographic segments but of human beings, and it is with them that we must communicate.” And this sentence, which says it all, fits easily within the 280-character limit.