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.

Welcome to the search party

When it comes to search engine marketing today, the conversation almost exclusively starts (and stops) with Google, especially for brands optimizing for product searches. There’s an increasingly prominent player in the world of product search – and, given their disruption of just about every other industry on earth, who it is should come as little surprise.

It’s Amazon, of course! In fact, more than half of product searches now begin on Amazon, circumventing Google entirely – and search ad budgets are starting to reflect and react to this shift. The same goes for SEO strategy – if they weren’t already, brands need to be intentional about optimizing product copy for Amazon, who provides some insights in to how its search algorithm works. It should come as little surprise that, just like with Google, placing on the first page of product searches is the holy grail.

This doesn’t mean Google is losing its clout and value in product search, however. As the article states, while Amazon is growing as a center of product discover, Google is still being overwhelmingly used to validate purchases, as well as pricing, quality standards and brand reputation. In addition, Google still offers brands a more diverse array of ad options (like YouTube) and platforms for product search.

So, what’s it all mean? For brands dedicating ad budgets to product search, Amazon is now a growing player and part of the conversation. Those search ad budgets should take this shift into account, if they weren’t already. And, as with seemingly every other industry around, brands must account for Amazon.

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.

 

Twitter turns 10

Twitter is all grown up! If you hadn’t heard, the social media stalwart turned 10 recently. From a marketer’s perspective, milestones like this are a good chance to more closely examine a particular platform – what do we like? What don’t we like? And is it working for us?

After 10 years, Twitter has undoubtedly become an integral part of the social media landscape. Millions of users – and thousands of brands – consider it an indispensable part of their daily social lives.

As a platform, it’s far from perfect, however. Indeed, it may be the most controversial or oft-debated platform when it comes to marketers and where they allocate social marketing resources. We decided to look at the good and bad of Twitter for marketers:

The Good

  • Passionate user base. While its overall user base dwarfs in comparison to Facebook and Instagram, those who consider themselves regular Twitter users really, really like it. Brands successfully using Twitter regularly find creative ways to tap that enthusiasm.
  • Savvy user base. Regular users tend to be savvier and progressive when it comes to technology and trends. Brands can create a positive halo effect by presenting themselves as savvy and forward-thinking in the same way.
  • Improving content capabilities. Twitter’s come a long(ish) way from the days of 140 characters. While the character limit still exists, they’ve made it much easier for users to integrate multi-media assets like photos, videos and even GIFs into their content. This is particularly important for brands.
  • Potent customer service tool. Brands that really excel at Twitter leverage it as a conversational tool. Moreso than even Facebook, Twitter enables true one-on-one customer interaction, which can be of great value for companies.

The Bad

  • Labor-intensive. Utilizing Twitter well can require a lot of your time. It’s fire-hose delivery requires near-constant monitoring and observation.
  • Short content shelf life. The rapid-fire nature means your social content has a very, very short shelf life comparative to other platforms. This feeds directly into the issue with it being labor-intensive and requiring constant observation to maximize engagement.
  • Relatively small user base. It may be passionate, and it may be savvy, but it’s still relatively small comparative to the other major platforms. When so much of what determines success in social marketing is driven by data and sheer numbers, Twitter’s small audience can make it hard to justify the effort when compared with the outcomes.
  • Steep learning curve. Twitter pales in comparison to counterparts like Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat when it comes to attracting and retaining new users. This is because figuring out how to use Twitter – despite the platform’s best efforts – is still pretty much a nightmare. Those that tough it out and stick with Twitter almost invariably end up loving it. It’s just those are still a small percentage of people who actually try to do so.

As you can see, Twitter can be a dynamic and important platform for brands – but it is not without its challenges. It is certainly growing up before our eyes as a marketing tool through the continuous addition of new features and benefits – but we’re still not sure if it will ever grow up enough to truly play in the big leagues.

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.

 

Escape from Marketing Island

As marketers, it can be easy to feel like we exist on an island. To bury ourselves in our work and maintain an exclusive, almost laser-like focus on…well…our marketing. Because that’s what we do. The same can be said of salespeople – existing on their own island, maintaining their laser-like focus on…well…their sales. Because that’s what they do. But what if working together – building a bridge between those two islands – made both sides better?

Sales and marketing are often lumped together in terms of how a business operates, which makes the seas that can rise up between these two islands all the more surprising – and disappointing. Marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, after all, and neither does sales.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. Indeed, as this recent article helpfully reminds us, “by collaborating with sales reps during the content development process, marketers can create content resources that will better meet the needs of salespeople.” And, in turn, such collaboration means salespeople can help marketers more effectively create such content.

How? Well, as the same article explains, there tend to be six levels or degrees of personalization when it comes to content marketing. These cover the full spectrum, from generic (no personalization) content to lead-specific (highly personalized, one-on-one) content. Marketers can often see the most productive use of their time spent at the more generic end of the spectrum – delivering the most content to the most people – while salespeople often want to spend the majority of their time at the more personalized end of the spectrum – building and maintaining individual relationships with customers and prospects. How, then, can we bridge this divide?

For marketers, the key is to move further down the personalization spectrum. While true one-to-one content marketing isn’t always feasible or practical, making content more segment- and audience-specific can empower sales people by providing them with a marketing asset that’s more personalized and targeted.

Equally important is the ability of marketers to train, equip and support salespeople to either personalize existing content, or create individualized content for their end of the spectrum. “The conventional wisdom,” the article continues, “has been that salespeople should not be spending their time developing content.” There are certain types of content, however, that are best left for a member of the sales team to develop.

Salespeople can help marketers become more effective in developing more personalized and targeted content. And marketers can help sales people become more effective in developing content of their own in the right situations. This is where collaboration between sales and marketing – bridging those two islands – can be so valuable and profound.

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