Put down that holiday gift basket fudge and listen up! Before we all close up shop for the rest of the calendar year, we’d like to give you just a little bit more to fit into your overstuffed brain — to help you with some fresh thinking for the new year. With that in mind, here are a few trends to watch out for in 2014.
1. Content must be easy to consume and share.
Noise-addled consumers are investing less time and brainpower in the content they consume — which means creators need to make content simple, easy, clear and visual. Using examples and analogies and distilling longer content into concise “memory darts” is essential for selling people on why they should dig in more deeply. And images, video and audio are increasingly becoming more consumable (and shareable) than the written word. One recent report found that Twitter users retweet posts with images three times more often than those without. Respecting that prospects often snack on content before they truly engage means brands must produce more tasty tidbits in addition to deeper substance.
2. Social media becomes more focused on two-way conversation.
Social has always been, in theory, about interaction. But now we’re seeing more social platforms popping up (or evolving) to foster the two-way customer conversations that brands crave. Companies are adopting private sharing tools such as Instagram Direct and SnapChat, which allow brands to reward consumers for interacting with them (for example, consumers can snap photos in a store and SnapChat them to a brand in exchange for a coupon). This kind of coveted one-to-one relationship with the consumer takes commitment, but companies that foster these conversations on social are betting on the power of the personal connection to build their brands.
3. Everybody’s focused on omnichannel.
It’s no longer just about real-world vs. online — marketing has become about tying together the customer relationship and experience across multiple devices, communication channels and physical locations. The rise of “thumb shopping” — the phenomenon of consumers researching products on their smartphones while standing in the retail aisle — and the use of mobile devices in general puts more pressure than ever for brands to integrate the customer experience across channels. Check out how Target invests in driving in-store customers back to Pinterest as an example of how a brand is building connections across all its properties.
4. Marketing gets more contextual.
The Holy Grail of “right message, right person, right time” is appearing more attainable, as devices and apps become smarter about delivering relevant content to people based on where they are and what they’re doing (Google Now, the new “intelligent personal assistant,” is a glimpse into the future of this trend). Succeeding at sequential messaging — weaving a coherent story and experience across devices to meet consumers wherever they are — will be digital marketing’s next big challenge.
5. The lines between paid and organic blur even more.
” Branded content” and “native advertising” are all the rage, and “brand journalism” is trumping traditional PR. There’s a lot of debate about whether that’s a good or bad thing. But meanwhile, the lines between paid and earned are becoming even fuzzier. Reportedly, Google is experimenting with new designs for its search engine results pages, which remove some of the design elements that previously made paid ads obvious, blending paid and organic results more. Meanwhile, some marketing experts are advocating for moving away from paid media altogether.
6. Loyalty becomes just as important as leads.
You often hear about content marketing as a cure for the common lead-gen conundrum (how do we drive more people into the funnel?). But as brands begin to master the fundamentals of content publishing for prospecting and lead nurturing, they will also discover how effective content marketing and marketing automation can be for long-term customer loyalty. (Interested in this topic? We’re giving a workshop on the power of thought leadership and content at LoyaltyExpo in March 2014!)
7. User-generated content grows in importance.
And speaking of loyalty … user-generated content gives a voice to the people who are most loyal to a brand, and is also authentic, personal and inspirational in a way that brand-created content may not always be. It also helps brands better measure their social ROI. That’s why “UGC” (as the marketing wonks term it) is one of the next big trends in online marketing and e-commerce.