Trends I’m Watching 2014

Trends I’m Watching 2014

Note: Every year we use this space to look at what is happening now that gives us insight into where things are going. I hope you’ll check out the great work at the other ends of these hyper-links.

Evolving Skeuomorphism

UI matters.

How do you like the look of iOS7? where are the buttons? where are the design analogs that tell me what your app does?  Those conventions are for old people. Everything is a button? Except for that text that isn’t?

Skeuomorphism is dead , except where it isn’t. Opinion abounds. UI is so important-so I’ll say boundaries help. A lot.

Mark Twain tried honorably to change the spelling of many common English words to something more elegant and logical. He failed.  Convention is often inefficient but almost always stands in the way of innovation until ease-of-use overruns it. Steve Jobs made people stop using discs and cables. We went along because is was less cluttered,  nicer to look at and easier.  But ease needs to be exponentially greater not simply incremental. I think Twain would be shocked and delighted by leet , and maybe disappointed that he didn’t take it far enough. For now -mostly because of the geometric onslaught of system complexity-UI conventions (if not Skeuomorphs)  need to be acknowledged- if not followed. I’m watching iconography and the shape of things in 2014.

New sprouts

I’m optimistic too. I’m watching for an improved economy in 2014.  It appears tapering can be managed slowly, and the stock markets will adapt. One could argue it already has. The real-estate market mess is getting cleaned up (slowly) as that paper work gets done and as bankers realize that the Volcker rule isn’t all that brutal. Will businesses see their competitors coning out of the trench and respond? If they do it could lead to unemployment in the mid 6’s by the end of the year, and maybe even a little inflation by the time I write my trends forecast for 2015. I’m looking for growth from 5-7 years of pent-up demand . Then, again, there’s always this.

Segmentation and Agility: The Niche is Back

Small is the new big.” “Local is the new global.” This is the agility trend. Analytics can help deliver agility. This  trend isn’t new.  We’ve been watching for years. It’s always worth observing because we keep learning. The efficiencies of the long tail (lower expenses associated with smaller niches and segments) will drive communication message innovation further. Niche segmentation is not new, but I’m watching for it to get very aggressive as big data becomes more adoptable. Niche marketing is affordable and useful in ways it wasn’t 10 or even 5 years ago. It allows for aggressive experimentation so essential for success going forward this year. Watching your competitors segment your market is following. Leveraging business insight by evolving and refining your segments is leading . Signs for the trend are an increase in message volume and greater precision to smaller and smaller groups .

Social proof

So many marketers (and their managers) ask a very relevant question: what is social for? We know social ads struggle to sell in last-click attribution. But social media is still relatively inexpensive (it’s not cheap and it certainly isn’t free).  There is no question that social impacts sales . Interest in social proof is growing. Watch for enterprises to validate their value using social efforts. Watch for  more specific context in different market segments. Social media engagement comes in different forms for different customers in different phases of category involvement. Customers with low involvement are probably not going to participate in a community, but they might play a sweepstakes.

In contrast, customers with high involvement want to go deep on product feedback. I’m watching for higher conversion rates driven by improved customer messaging built from segmentation insight.

Branding is what you do to reduce purchase risk .   This year I’m watching for more social media efforts that demonstrate reduced purchase risk for customers. By being on social media, people can hear your voice. Knowing your voice makes you more relevant and-by extension-less risky. Next, social allows for the expression of brand values through content-either by creating it or by curating it. Additionally, social allows you to prove you know your customer’s voice. Proof-of-listening reduces risk because the business has demonstrated someone will respond and help when needed.  In 2014, watch for more risk-reducing proof-of-performance demonstrated in public . Branding will leverage CRM to generate social proof and return on investment.

The campaigning mindset

To get the most of out the new marketing tools, marketing efforts must be parsed in the forms of campaigns.  Branding is often seen as an ongoing, accretive effort. It is. But in an effort to manage costs and measure ROI more effectively, many marketers are aggressively managing discreet campaigns- as opposed to linear and ongoing messaging evolution. Campaigning leads to a number of related changes to watch for. Among them are more contracting, more freelancing and more turnover in marketing services. In other words, people and resources will be associated with campaigns as measurement becomes more common in form and execution. Involved in a successful campaign? Congrats. Unsuccessful? Watch your back .

In 2014 I’m looking for smart marketers to run as many campaigns in parallel as possible. Failures will become data points and contribute to valuable benchmarking efforts. Those benchmarks will inform future campaigns. Greater revenue generation comes from perspective that is only achieved through multiple points of view and aggressive, effective testing. Easy to say—tougher to do. I’m watching for managers who understand the value of benchmarking and iteration.

Attack of the 1099’s

Quantity means researching and trying new methods and vendors. Graphics work is being outsourced to India.  Voiceovers are available for 50 dollars. This price compression trend is about following fast nickels instead of slow dimes. It helps you to test and experiment more. If you don’t know what works, don’t worry. Try something new. Every graphic and copy change is a new variable to test. There are a huge number of providers and just as many versions for them to realize. The trend I see is finding what works and then improving on it.

Creative in quantity and The Data Vs. Meaning debate

Indeed data itself has no meaning. Data requires interpretation to be truly meaningful. This year I’m watching for broad consensus that more ideas are better than one good one. This trend is driven from the ability to measure the performance of specific creative attributes.  This year expectation-setting skills come into play as next-generation marketing measurement gets tested. Those people who believe they “know” how consumers and prospects will react are in trouble. To quote Twain: “Figures don’t lie but liars do figure” so be careful.  Obviously you want to test good ideas. This year I’m watching for marketers who create an environment where people aren’t afraid to be wrong.

Testing rules! I’m watching for winners who create a supportive environment for large quantities of creative iterations and fast evolutions that exploit novel content channels and forms. In 2014 I’m watching for marketing intelligence to include some form of highly specialized (and extremely valuable) performance benchmarking.

This is hard too. Especially in the context of what I’ve written above about entertaining and informing.  I love great creative. Most everyone in marketing has followed this career path because of that love. It is distressing when that love isn’t returned in the form of revenue or customer engagement. But as tracking becomes more sophisticated we learn that some audiences are more interested in nuance and subtlety than others. Surprise and frequency wins. Testing and creativity becomes as much about quantity (number of ideas to test) as it does about quality (efficiency and clarity of conceptual communication). Creative elements and media channels are under scrutiny in the cold harsh light of analytics. Of course nothing will replace taste and design- it will just need to support itself with engagement.

Content- Paid Placement

This is the new advertising .  Your marketing communications must entertain or inform. It must do one of those things really well. I’m watching for a wave of new nomenclature to distract marketers from what is essentially a very old media sponsorship model.  I expect to see creative communication that informs the purchase decision and gains credibility with your prospective buyers.  This is true in both B2B marketing and B2C. Measurability and risk reductions continue to be a theme this year.

The End of Net Neutrality?

Though I’m really expecting it to be a solid year, all is not lollypops and roses in 2014.

No one can blame the big telcos for working in the best interest of their shareholders and driving as much revenue from subscribers as possible. But we can blame the FCC and our do-nothing congressional representatives for not checking these guys before they became oligarchs. Lawless capitalism becomes corporatocracy-or something. *fists shaking*

Sadly in 2014 I’m watching for the Terminating Access Monopoliesto charge premium web content providers. For many, this spells the end of neutrality. It must be said, however, that the end of net neutrality is a lot like Iranians and The Bomb. The threat has been there for a very long time, but somehow, it never quite happens. Hopefully consumers will respond with their checkbooks, with their voices, and votes to their congressmen. In 2014 FCC and Federal Court rulings will have an impact on innovation and access to information.

Comcast has NBC. Presumably the other TAMs could find content partners or properties of their own to give special access to. Can you imagine AT&T($186B) buying Time Warner ($17B)? Or Verizon ($141B) buying Viacom ($39B)? I’m not crazy about how that looks, especially for consumers and small business, but it’s very easy to imagine it happening. Those who would argue about overlap and FTC deterrence may want to consider historic promises of divestiture in past media consolidations. . Ranks speculations? Of course. I’m still looking for it, though.

In the interest of fair play, here’s Verizon’s own take on permissionless innovation .

Pay walls and the End of Free-

Content sellsHulu is selling commercials and charging subscribers. At the same time. NYTimes and WSJ are pay-walling and selling advertisements. Netflix was one of the best performing stocks of 2013 . In 2014 i’m watching for this trend to continue.

Charging people was too hard or expensive at the turn of the new century.  In the past, many of us had heated arguments about the validity of micro-payments. That battle is over. Payment is easy. Micro-payments (and subscriptions) win.  eCommerce is effecting every business category . The Lesson: charge something for everything- even if it’s in micro payments, get the money. People value what they pay for. I’m watching platforms and tools like Bitcoin Coinbase, and Google Helpouts to see online transactions get easier and applied to more goods and, more relevantly, services.

It bears repeating: Data=money.  Sometimes it’s more valuable to get an email address a name and a phone number than cash.  Data.com says each new contact set is worth 5 bucks. What is the lifetime value of your customer? How much are you paying to get one? If your competition knows and you don’t, they win. If you both know and they pay less, they win. Don’t let them. Capture value in each phase of your sales cycle.

Have a great 2014! Here’s a look back at the things that we’ll remember about 2013
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