Predictions can be fascinating, but let’s face it. No one I know is in possession of a working crystal ball, and digital marketing and technology move way too quickly and too erratically to do much more than keep us guessing (not that that isn’t half the fun).
I’m an analyst, not a psychic. So rather than play the “what’s next?” guessing game, let’s instead focus on “what’s important?”
These are the areas I plan to keep a close eye on in 2013. What would you add — or subtract — from this list?
1. Media Convergence The blending of paid, owned and earned media will continue and intensify in 2013 spawning new technological solutions, necessitating new skills, new workflow systems and new partnerships. As the lines continue to blur between what’s paid, owned and earned in digital (and soon, traditional) media, this will be the trend that governs nearly all other major change in the digital marketing and media landscape.
2. Native advertising Between banner blindness and the fact that display, search and social advertising has largely moved toward programmatic buys that are much less profitable for publishers, we’re seeing a number of technologies and solutions emerge to facilitate native advertising, one of many terms for plonking content (often, unbranded content) into ad units (a manifestation of media convergence). Products and solutions in this area will continue to emerge, more publishers will accommodate it, and no doubt we’ll see some interesting, large-scale media partnerships emerge as a result.
3. Demand for broader skills and tighter workflows will intensify intensifies Looping back again to media convergence, the increasing overlap between paid, owned and earned channels is creating a demand to bring in new skills and more closely integrate workflows within disciplines. Take PR, for example. Traditionally, public relations has specialized in owned (content) and earned (in the sense of traditional) media. Throw in native advertising and suddenly PR agencies are faced with the prospect of media buying, a skill that’s always been the exclusive domain of advertising agencies.
And with media buying come other skills such as media optimization and analysis. Put otherwise, digital, which has become increasingly siloed and Balkanized in recent years, will no longer be able to pull the “that’s not my table” routine. All players must develop an understanding of related digital channels (search, social, email, analytics), as well as come together around a table and really, truly play as a team.
4. Real-time marketing & listening platforms Real-time marketing demonstrably works — not just in social channels, but across the marketing spectrum. A recent GolinHarris study finds real-time not only positively impacts standard marketing goals — word-of-mouth, attention, preference, likelihood to try or buy — but it also turbocharges other marketing initiatives, including paid and owned media effectiveness. Event- and news-driven marketing will become increasingly vital as brands work to become more relevant. This requires sophisticated listening and monitoring platforms, and often 24/7 staffing. Teams require tools, and training to respond in accordance with social media policies and in the brand’s voice. They must also be permitted to work in an agile environment, free of the chain-of-approval strictures that are antithetical to real-time marketing.
5. Organizing for content marketing & content strategy As brands recognize the necessity of adding content to the marketing mix, they quickly realize something else. Precious few organizations have a Content Division. In 2013 brands will begin to address this deficiency in earnest. They will hire, reorganize and make room on the org chart for effective content marketing operations that work in concert with existing marketing functions from social to communications to brand, creative and advertising.
6. Visual information takes precedence Research I published in early 2012 demonstrates that when marketers are asked what kind of content they’ll be investing in going forward, anything visual takes precedence over the written word. The unfettered growth of Pinterest, infographics, Instagram, and Tumblr, not to mention the always-growing popularity on online video, bears this out. Visuals capture attention. In a world in which brand messages clamor for consumer attention across screens, devices and channels, a picture is worth the proverbial thousand words. Keep your eyes open in 2013. It’s going to be a colorful and visually arresting year.
7. Online/offline channels converge, i.e. everything becomes more digital As media become more digital, we’re seeing digital messages appear in new places: out-of-home channels such as billboards and digital signage, as well as TV screens, are hosting streaming and social media.
The above are my top seven, but I’ll be keeping an eye on some other trends next year. Mobile is always changing rapidly, gamification is developing and interesting, so is wrangling and making sense of big data.
The single most interesting trend in 2013? Easy. It’s the one we don’t even know about yet.