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3 Ways to Tell 5G Stories that Resonate

1/23/2020
— Joanna Lee & Steve Kerns 

Creating space for your company’s voice in the current 5G conversation is no small task. The volume of 5G coverage is staggering. One of our favorite tools indicated that 5G was mentioned more than 42,000 in the last six months of 2019. In addition, a range of technology-adjacent discussions (government resistance to Huawei, potential 5G health impacts, inadequate rural broadband, etc.) carry heavy meaning that brands can’t ignore.

And, the paradigm-shifting importance of 5G technology is a hard story to tell. Clarity and inspiration are difficult to achieve as brands vie to be the technology leaders on complex topics ranging from mmWave, sub-6, low band, reduced latency and machine learning to network slicing, network functions virtualization, IoT, IIoT, NB-IoT, LPWAN, SDWAN, RAN, LTE-M and smart cities.

To inform our counsel on how brands can create 5G messages that stand out in 2020, we’ve studied a wide collection of 5G earned media coverage by authors who addressed the topic in specific, unique or insightful ways. Based on that analysis, three insights have emerged that we think any company seeking to be associated with 5G in 2020 should consider.

 

 1. Show 5G, don’t tell

The tone, assessments, assertions, judgements and attitudes expressed in the coverage we evaluated reveal that the newsworthiness threshold for 5G storytelling is high.

Paired with the insights we’ve gained from our Brands in Motion global study, we’re sold on the idea that standing out in 5G will require brands to drop the hype, understand that the 5G story is more than speeds and feeds, and prioritize transparency in storytelling to both consumer and enterprise audiences.

 

 2. 5G requires a new vision

Recent earned media coverage reinforces that faster movie downloads and the idea that cars might drive themselves are only table stakes in a 5G-powered world. What happens beyond those capabilities remains to be conceptualized.

The brands that will resonate with consumers are the ones that can connect today’s realities to reasonable and demonstrable technological growth in order to craft fresh visions for the future 5G-powered world.

 

 3. Reporters are over 5G hype

The. Patience. With. 5G. Hype. Is. Over.

Muster your best storytelling skills. Press your spokespersons for authenticity. Create a higher standard for your story’s proof points. Promise only when you’re sure. Don’t forget to work on media relationships; they’re people (who are also figuring out this 5G thing) too.

5G stories that stand out

Interested in a deeper dive into the 5G earned media coverage that inspired our recommendations? Here are a handful of stories that stood out to us and thoughts on why we think they provided good direction on 5G communications opportunities and risks.

Silicon Valley wisdom calls for caution

Back in June, esteemed San Jose Mercury News reporter Larry Magid delivered what we’re calling a not-his-first-time-to-the-innovation-rodeo dispatch to the industry designed to keep 5G excitement grounded in the challenges it can pose (ex. regulatory hurdles, health concerns and net neutrality).

Be sure to check out the comments included from veteran internet industry professional Bob Frankston and the discussion on network slicing for reality checks on how some of the most experienced technology pundits expect things to play out. Companies that can create messages that deliver valuable data or perspective on these sensitive topics have an opportunity to step into the spotlight.

The 5G latency discussion is just getting started

Several paragraphs at the end of Sascha Segan’s (PC Magazine) coverage of a major telco’s most recent 5G market roll out examined the technical hurdles of manifesting reduced latency.

It also reinforced a WE observation that even consumer/enthusiast-focused media outlets will require companies claiming 5G capabilities to demonstrate how they are overcoming the complex technological challenges that stand in the way of the 5G promise. These stories need less embellishment and more tangible data, examples and real-world anecdotes.

Don’t sleep on 5G infrastructure

While the consumer-facing aspects of new telecommunications innovations often get the lion’s share of attention, Gabriel Brown (Heavy Reading) delivered an insightful listicle that demonstrated how 5G infrastructure discussions — both the hardware/software that deliver new capabilities and the cross-vendor collaborations that stitch the pieces together — are fertile ground for 5G storytelling.

Companies that can express new thinking or share boots-on-the-ground examples on topics like dynamic spectrum sharing, backhaul connections, 3GPP Releases 16 and 17, how the cloud and edge will work together and ultra-reliable low-latency communication have an opportunity to earn leadership in discussions on what actually brings 5G to life.

Consumers need clarity on devices and plans

VentureBeat’s Jeremy Horwitz published a 2020 5G preview that expressed an optimistic point of view on 2019’s 5G progress (they sky is not falling for all media outlets that cover 5G) and provided a simple construct for rolling out 5G to consumers: make it easy to understand the devices and plans.

Horwitz also provided a snapshot on how consumers across the globe are digesting the new world of 5G devices and plans and outlined several discussions — 5G chipmakers, wearables, home broadband, 6G — that can serve as inspiration for PR professionals seeking good pitch angles. Horwitz’s CES coverage also explored how the 5G discussion shifted at this year’s consumer electronics mega-event.

Influencers are over the 5G hype

In December, another major telco launched 5G service in the U.S. and generated a response from key outlets that advised consumers not to buy 5G phones and/or so firmly critiqued the network and devices that it is reasonable to presume the coverage dissuaded potential holiday sales.

For 5G communications professionals, this wave of coverage provided a solid reminder of what can happen when highly informed influencers become exhausted by a technology hype cycle and publish stories at a time that could significantly impact consumer buying decisions.

Traditional earned media is not the only way to tell the story

An honorable mention goes to YouTube influencer (and the only non-traditional earned media professional on our list) Marques Brownlee for parts 1 and 2 of a series of videos that deciphered 5G claims for a mainstream audience and demonstrated a man-on-the-street level of clarity on today’s 5G devices and service levels.

In this new world of storytelling, we thought this series provided a glimpse into the future of creating transparent consumer expectations.

These stories reinforced our observations that the newsworthiness requirements for 5G storytelling have intensified, that opportunities still exist to define a more complete vision for a future 5G-powered world and that 5G earned media targets are ready to hear less talk and see more action. As communicators, the 5G story is poised to test our expertise and teach us new tricks at the same time. Good luck out there, communicators. We wish you a great 2020.

Read more from WE’s tech team, or learn more about Steve Kerns or the WE San Francisco office.