Merry Trendmas!

‘Tis the season…for trend stories. Yes, along with the ringing of jingle bells and the airing of grievances, nothing marks the most wonderful time of year quite like a torrent of trend stories aiming to demystify and decipher the year ahead in the world of marketing. Lucky for you, dear reader, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you – we’ve digested the best looks at marketing trends for 2019 and identified what we think are a few of the most important. It’s our gift to you, you might say.

As we look to 2019, here are a few of the trends discussed in the myriad of articles that we see as important and notable:

  • Humanization, not hubris. Or, put another way, brands will focus more on customer experience and culture – and less on promotion and persuasion. While the struggle to break through the deluge of content consumers digest on a daily basis is not new, the ability of brands breaking through by being more human and focusing more on experience will only become more important.
  • Storification of social. There’s no easier way to understand the growing and lasting popularity of Instagram Stories than to see the rush of competitors to get their own versions of the service – which enables users to post short and short-lived videos – on their platforms. What makes Stories and its ilk so attractive to brands – and positions it for big growth in 2019 – is that it enables them incorporate video more fully into their content strategy without having to, you know, invest a ton in video. It also provides an engaging and easy way for brands to embrace the humanization trend mentioned above – Stories can be used to show behind-scenes videos and snapshots that make brands more personable and approachable.
  • Savvier social ads. It’s no secret that Facebook continues to “incentivize” brands to promote their organic content through paid support. As more brands throw more budget behind paid content, it will only become more important for that content to cut through the clutter and connect with audiences. Simply put, brands will need to put the same savvy, creativity and investment behind paid ads and content that they do behind their organic output.
  • Listen up. Brand engagement on social isn’t just about talking – social listening will continue to grow in importance in 2019. Indeed, listening to audience members is just as important a part of the engagement equation as talking with them is. Further, listening – which involves analyzing specific conversations, phrases, and other details – can provide attentive brands a decisive advantage over competitors and help fuel adaptive social strategies.
  • Safety first. Data breaches and other security crises seem to crop up on an almost daily basis, making security and privacy an only bigger area of focus for brands in 2019. The debut of GDPR and the need for companies to be compliant only increases the focus on digital privacy and security. Certainly across their owned digital platforms, as well as their social ones, it’s more imperative than ever for companies to understand this aspect of their digital strategy – and communicate it clearly with customers and other key audiences.

It’s important to remember that each of these trends is already under way, meaning the need to understand and adapt to them doesn’t wait until next year.

There are many more potential trends for 2019 to unwrap under the Trendmas tree, of course; if you’re so inclined, you can read about more of them here and here.

Is the student becoming the master?

In the rather fluid world of social media marketing, there were at least a few irrefutable truths brands could count on – namely, that Facebook is king and Snapchat was on its way up in terms of relevance and reach. With Facebook mired in a seemingly endless array of scandals and Snapchat suddenly struggling to hold to its existing user base, however, social media marketers now face an interesting question: Is this Instagram’s time to shine?

Of course, Instagram’s been building some impressive growth independent of the calamities currently befalling Facebook and Snapchat. Indeed, Instagram’s revenue and user growth is far outpacing that of its parent company, Facebook, and has been for the past several quarters.

Is that growth a result of the struggles of other platforms like Facebook and Snapchat? Or is it a result of Instagram growing into its own as a stand-alone platform worthy of inclusion in an increasing number of social strategies for brands?

The answer to both questions is “yes.” What’s most important for marketers, however, is less about competitor struggles and more about the features Instagram has recently added have helped fuel its growth as a critical platform – and revenue driver – for brands as part of their social marketing mix. Some highlights and possible reasons behind Instagram’s growth as a marketing platform:

  • It drives ROI. Business Insider reported that nearly three-quarters of Instagram users have purchased a product they saw advertised through the app – an astronomical number.
  • It drives engagement. More than four times the engagement of Facebook for brands, according to a recent report.
  • It’s adding new features. Some brands are now experimenting with augmented reality through Instagram via Facebook’s Spark AR initiative. In addition, they’ve also been testing the use of geofencing to restrict posts and Stories to limited geographic areas. This feature could be of immense value to brands who want to geographically limit their spend and targeting based on their customer base.
  • It’s highly visual, which inspires high creativity. Forcing brands to think visually first inspires them to approach content from a more creative and engaging perspective. It forces them to think beyond text-photo-link.

What’s more: As smartphone adoption reaches its saturation point and older consumers continue to become more comfortable with and savvy at visually driven platforms like Instagram, its strategic value becomes greater to a broader array of brands than ever before. It’s no longer just a platform for brands wanting to engage with youth and younger consumers.

Does this mean brands should consider bailing on Facebook? Of course not – nor does it mean Instagram is a no-brainer option for all brands. As we always say, it comes down to clearly understanding audience, which helps dictate which social platforms make the most strategic sense.

What it does mean is that, for an increasing number of brands, Instagram continues to build itself into a picture of social marketing success.

Keep it simple, strategy

Strategy. A simple word that can make things very complicated very quickly. A word that can be grossly overused (and misused) in business and marketing. At its core, however, its definition is straightforward—a plan for obtaining goals. If it’s so simple, then, why do marketers tend to overcomplicate it?

As this recent article helpfully reminds us, it’s often because marketers can’t help themselves.

For one, overcomplicating strategic planning makes marketers indispensable in their own eyes—and, they hope, in the eyes of those they’re working with. The more complex and comprehensive you can make a strategic plan, the thinking goes, the more important and profound it’s perceived to be (and, they hope, the more the perceived value is).

We call this the “thud factor;” the bigger the plan, the more thunderous the thud—and the more impressed their partners or customers are. The end result of all this, of course, is a strategic plan that may look imposing and impressive on a shelf—but does little in helping marketers achieve goals and objectives.

It doesn’t have to be this way—nor should it. At Ferguson, we prefer to keep strategy simple—and as the article above helpfully reminds us, that’s when it’s most successful. Indeed, the most focused and effective strategic plans start by answering those most basic and fundamental questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

  • What is the goal?
  • Who is the audience?
  • Why will they value the product/offering?
  • Where do we reach them?
  • When do we reach them?

Answering those questions should make it easier to answer the last, and perhaps most important, question: How? How are we going to get them to take the actions we want them to?

Altogether, these answers form the foundation of a more concise, focused (and often single-page) strategic plan. A strategic plan that’s easy to digest and disseminate—and ensures that all stakeholders have a clear understanding of the objectives, as well as the strategy for achieving them.

Let’s get weird

We’ve talked plenty about the potential power humor can have on marketing – as well as its potential pitfalls. If you’ve noticed, however, that some marketing these days is blurring the line between humor and absurdity, you’re not alone.

Indeed, over the past several years, brands like KFC, Old Spice, Emerald Nuts, Axe Body Spray and Sprite have embraced and advanced the marketing trend of “oddvertising.” Although the name renders it fairly self-explanatory, oddvertising is humor-based marketing with a decidedly absurdist angle to it – focused less on selling product or making consumers laugh, and more on getting their attention and making them say, “WTF?”

The goal with oddvertising, as you might imagine, is to drive and generate buzz for a brand among audiences who may be more reflexively skeptical to what some would consider “traditional” marketing efforts. That fever-dream of a 30-second spot will serve its purpose in getting people’s attention in the moment, to be sure, but its real value comes in the brand engagement it can drive online after the fact – shares, retweets, likes, comments, “WTF?s,” etc. That’s where oddvertising can cut through the clutter and connect with consumers who may not be easy to connect with.

Of course, the potential risks we discussed with the use of humor are exponentially greater with this type of approach. For example: The common thread among the oddvertising brands listed above? Their audience – millenials and younger. That’s an audience much more predisposed to this type of approach compared with others. And that’s why – as we’ve said more than once – crystal-clear understanding of your audience is crucial at all times.

This isn’t to say this type of approach can’t work with other audiences, of course; it’s only to say that it’s important to know how your audience thinks and consider the degree of absurdity you’re conveying – and the manner and platform in which you deploy it. You wouldn’t want people thinking you’re weird, after all.

Work of art

“Part art, part science.”

It’s a common phrase within – and description of – our industry, and one that does a solid and succinct job of detailing both its possibilities and the limitations. The challenge for us and every marketer, of course, is determining how much of each ingredient any particular recipe calls for.

The trend in recent years has been decidedly in the direction of the science portion, especially as digital marketing has grown in stature and the data tools we have access to as marketers have become more sophisticated and detailed. And, after all, marketers have to make a business case – and show a return on investment – for what we do and why we do it. Science (data) helps us do that.

So it can be easy to assume the growth of “science” means a corresponding drop in “art,” right? As we place more value and importance on data, do we place less value on design? That doesn’t have to be – and shouldn’t be – the case, as this recent article happily reminded us. Through all of the disparate examples of major brands uniquely and creatively employing art in recent campaigns a common thread emerges: storytelling still matters.

Indeed, it’s as important as ever, and it reinforces the mutually dependent nature of the relationship these ingredients have. You can’t determine success without an objective way to define it. That’s science. And it’s REALLY hard to find success as a marketer without telling a creative and compelling story. That’s art.

If nothing else, the article serves as a refreshing reminder that art remains a vital ingredient to marketing success. Indeed, in our increasingly and incredibly fractured media landscape, the ability to cut through the clutter by creating some beautiful art may be more important than ever.

 

On the Go

So! Pokemon Go. If you’re not one of this runaway hit game’s increasing number of players, you’ve more than likely seen others playing it out in the wild. The augmented reality (AR) game has literally taken the world over since its release just a few weeks ago. While it may be just the next in a long and constantly evolving line of “hot” apps that take the world by storm, there are some unique characteristics of Pokemon Go that can offer some important lessons.

What helps make Pokemon Go so popular? And are they things companies can take advantage of?

  1. Simplification. The best games, the old saying goes, should be simple to learn, but difficult to master. The concept of Go is pretty simple – “Gotta catch ‘em all!” – but actually catching them all is very rare. This keeps players engaged in the game more frequently and at greater length.
  2. Gamification. Using AR technology, Go uses your phone to turn the real world into a video game, making the experience immersive – and competitive. By putting players in direct competition with those around them and in their community, it also drives stronger ongoing engagement.
  3. Physical integration. This isn’t an app or game you play sitting at your computer, or in your living room, or in the car. It forces you out into the real world, exploring – and interacting with – various locations throughout your community. And this is where the real opportunity is for retailers in particular: what can you do to draw Go users to your locations? What incentives can you provide?
  4. Social integration. This refers to your actual social network, for once. It’s not uncommon to see groups of friends, co-workers and even families out exploring and playing Go together. This makes the game much more of a shared experience than your traditional app or video game – and it creates a unique opportunity for certain companies/retailers. Again, how can you capture groups of people and lure them to your retail locations?

Pokemon Go is that rare mobile phenomenon that actually makes people more, you know, mobile. It’s also not your traditional app or social network, meaning it can be easy for companies to overlook. It’s important to remember, however, that opportunities to engage with customers and community are everywhere – gotta catch ‘em all!

The missing Link?

Most people think of LinkedIn as an individual, as opposed to organizational, marketing tool. And sure, it’s quite a potent tool for a lot of professionals – salespeople and HR teams, for example. (And aspiring motivational speakers, judging by one’s feed on certain days.)

Companies who overlook or neglect their company pages on LinkedIn, however, may be overlooking an important and undervalued weapon in their enterprise marketing arsenal.

In addition to the marketing value LinkedIn offers individuals, its company pages can be a potent tool for organizations as well. While they function most similarly to Facebook pages – content posting in a single-column, reverse-chronological feature – their features (and potential benefits) differ slightly. For almost all brands, the most important features and benefits of a well-managed LinkedIn company pages include:

  • A captive audience. People are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al, for personal experience as often as for professional reasons, if not more. Not so with LinkedIn, where users are almost exclusively focused on professional stuff.
  • Corporate communications tool. A LinkedIn company page provides an excellent secondary channel for corporate communications like press releases, product launches and links to positive media coverage.
  • Culture communications platform. Company pages can be a real asset for HR teams in their recruiting efforts, by providing a good platform for highlighting all aspects of company culture and employee experiences.
  • Industry research and intelligence source. Company pages for competitors, vendors/suppliers, trade media, etc., can be rich sources of industry trends, developments and opportunities.
  • Content marketing. Company pages are also great secondary channels for blog posts and other content you’re already generating as part of an overall content strategy.
  • Driver of website traffic. Facebook’s ultimate goal with everyone – brands included – is to keep them contained within Facebook as much as possible. LinkedIn company pages, on the other hand, can be a useful tool for driving incremental traffic to your website on a consistent basis.

It can be easy to overlook the LinkedIn company page as an important tool for brands, especially when dealing with limited time and resources. The good news? They can also be easy to integrate them into an overall social marketing plan – and almost always worth the time and resources.

Social Anxiety

Company CEOs are responsible for a lot. From setting the long-term strategic future of their companies to driving their short-term health and success, CEOs play several important roles. There seems to be one role, however, too many are avoiding.

A recent study from CEO.com shows that more than 60 percent of large-company heads have no social media presence at all – not all that surprising, actually, when you read further and find how many view an active social presence as more negative than positive, especially when it comes to their brands.

Those leaders opting to stay on the social media sideline are missing out on big – and unique – opportunities, unfortunately. While still in the minority, the list of CEOs becoming active on social continues to grow – and continues to demonstrate daily why it’s a smart marketing move for CEOs and their companies:

  • It sends a message about their brand. Perception is reality, we’re reminded all too often, and usually because of negative circumstances. On the flip side, however, savvy consumers perceive CEOs who maintain an active presence on social media very positively. And that perception often extends across the entire brand.
  • It’s where your customers are. As companies grow, so do the layers of insulation around CEOs. Sometimes, this insulation gets to the point that it’s hard for a company’s leader to truly know what’s taking place on the front lines, especially when it comes to customers and their experiences. In addition, social provides a window into what customers really think about their services, their products, and their people.
  • It helps build trust, inside and out. CEOs must consistently fight against the perception – there’s that word again – that they’re removed, insulated and out of touch. An active presence on social media can help leaders change those perceptions – and build a stronger level of trust with both employees and customers in the process.

If you’re a CEO fearful of becoming active on social media, fear not! Instead, embrace it. Employ it. Enjoy it. You, as well as your customers and employees, will be glad you did.

 

Range of emotions

Back in September, we discussed how Facebook was considering giving users additional options to react to posts beyond the thumbs up / like button. As you probably heard last week, they finally did it! And just like the new feature itself, users – especially marketers – had a range of reactions to the development.

Most importantly: The long-anticipated change wasn’t simply a “dislike” button, as many had hoped for and requested. Instead, users can now select from a range of emotions – love, anger, stress, etc. – to better convey how a post makes them feel.

This has some marketers clicking the Stressed emoji. As we explained in September, their biggest fear is that Facebook has made it that much easier for users to react negatively.

Instead – as we also mentioned back in September – marketers should be welcoming the new system. For starters, they’ll get exposure to a richer and broader data set than they could previously access.

Secondly, it creates richer and broader opportunities when it comes to content strategy. Too often, marketers turn Facebook content into fishing expeditions, looking to lure in as many likes as possible. The new system lends itself to more versatile storytelling and more opportunities to connect with audiences on an emotional level – and, in turn, strengthen the emotional connection to their brand.

Bottom line: Like most things in life, the new system is not without its challenges and potential pitfalls. This doesn’t mean it should be feared by marketers, however; it should be welcomed as an opportunity to broaden their content strategy and tell more compelling stories. And that, as we said in September, deserves a big thumb’s up.

You can read our full post on the topic from September.

Mad science

Marketing, the saying goes, is part art and part science. Good marketing, the saying also goes, is determining how much of each part a client or campaign requires. Social media, it turns out, is becoming increasingly valuable when it comes to figuring out how much science is needed for success.

Of course, amassing and mining all that data used to be a Herculean – if not impossible – task for most in the marketing world. Social media has made the process of data analysis much more accessible, efficient and effective. You just have to know how – and where to look.

After all, each like, share, comment, retweet and regram on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc., adds to the growing, valuable pile of social data attached to your cumulative social presence. Facebook Insights, for example, makes it easy to see and understand everything about your activity and presence. That includes making it easier to answer the questions most commonly asked by marketers:

  • Are we connecting with the right people? Social sites make demographic data of your followers available, which helps to ensure the people you’re talking with on social media are the people you want to be talking with – your customers and other key audiences. Further, they are getting increasingly sophisticated at providing psychographic data as well.
  • What’s generating the most interest and engagement? You can view data attached to the content you’re sharing on a post-by-post level to determine which types of content generates the most engagement among your audience. Better understanding which content is most effective – and which content isn’t – helps you answer the next question.
  • What do we need to change? The additional beauty of social data is that it enables you to make changes or refinements to your strategy in real-time. If we find content that is performing markedly better than everything else, how can we adjust our content strategy to increase its role? Conversely, how can we minimize or eliminate the content that isn’t working? This can apply to every detail and aspect – even to the days and times you post.
  • Is what we’re doing working? Answering this question is the ultimate goal when leveraging social data, and answering each of the questions above, ideally, makes it easier to answer this one. It’s important to remember that this question – and how you answer it – is fluid and ongoing. Set touchpoints on a regular basis (monthly or quarterly) to sit down, dive into the data on a deeper level and reach this conclusion.

Data plays a crucial role in understanding the science part of the marketing game. Social media has democratized the process of compiling and understanding data – and using it to positively impact your overall marketing strategy and business success. That’s where the art comes in.

 

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