It’s the end of the year and every pundit, yours truly included, has an open opportunity to predict the future. So here’s my best guess at four critical factors that will be driving innovations, insights and interactions for brands, advertisers and marketers in 2014.
Mobile Matters Most. A majority of searches, email opens and Internet access either is, or will soon, be via mobile devices. On-the-go is the new normal. Brands need to create assets that are easily rendered, clear and easy to use on smartphones, phablets and tablets. Consumers have zero tolerance for broken images or links or microscopic unreadable copy. UX design of brand assets for mobile devices is mandatory. So is design that synchs with all the mobile operating systems.
Different devices are used for different tasks. Tablets are dominant for shopping and entertainment, often used at home on the couch while channel surfing or multi-tasking. It will become increasingly important to develop variations of campaigns aimed at different devices and different mindsets, since each segment uses devices with different intentions, at different times and with different agility. Hand-eye coordination is a big differentiator. Teenagers and old ladies won’t share the same expectations or the same content.
Follow-Me Media. We now have the technology to track behavior across channels. We know when you open and click on an email and this data triggers the banners you see as you surf the web or scroll through your Facebook timeline. This works in reverse and in several other novel variations, which will get increasingly granular, personal and sophisticated.
Some consumers find this intrusive and creepy. But as a marketing tool this version of pixel tracking allows us to efficiently follow up on the slightest expression of interest. It also allows products you looked at or clicked on to follow you around until you take a desired action. For the most part the high conversion rates that result from this re-targeting outweigh the small numbers of opt-outs.
Social Goes DM. Social networks are artificially limiting viral reach in favor of pay-for-play. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and everybody else are splitting platform functionality between editorial posts and paid advertising. Increasingly, the networks are manipulating the algorithms to favor paid advertising and monetize their huge audiences. They are becoming hardcore direct marketers.
Social networks are developing and evolving ad units and targeting channels designed expressly to collect opt-ins, generate leads and eventually sell products and services directly. They are positioning themselves against online publishers and are becoming savvy database marketers and eager collaborators with high spending brands. They have a direct financial interest, large segment-able audiences and considerable technical resources to easily trump sites selling both classic banners and rich media units.
Expect lots of content, cadence and contextual experimentation and significant shifts in spending from online display ads to social network ads. This will dramatically alter editorial social strategies for building audiences, generating likes and using content to engage followers and fans. Brands will have to finesse network greed to reach and interact with audiences they’ve already paid to aggregate. Native reach or virility for posts and tweets will fall significantly.
Engagement Gets Real. Bombarded by commercial messages, busy multi-tasking, anxious about money and either empowered or distracted by technology, consumers are skeptical, demanding and not easily manipulated. Changing behavior is almost impossible. So brands and marketers are working harder to develop segments, understand natural behaviors and find credible ways to intersect and intercept customers and prospects doing what they normally do.
This requires a keen understanding of how brands are perceived and what standing brands have to enter the conversation. What we’ve learned about gaming, channel selection, devices and preferences is being fit into patterns of creature behavior and attitudes. Moms, caregivers, gamers or college students have distinct routines, behavior patterns and common perspectives, which can be identified and mapped to communications goals and activities.
This emerging science of engagement strategy is being married to traditional insights about brand awareness, positioning and preference. The creative executions or campaigns that result will be measured and monitored with an eye toward validating the assumptions or models and/or optimizing consumer interaction and response. Grasping the motivations, the mental and the mechanical aspects of consumer behavior will separate the successful brands from the also-rans.