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Trends I’m Watching 2014

Thursday, January 2nd, 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 Monopolies to 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 sells. Hulu 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


Anti-fragile

Monday, March 18th, 2013

It’s not about robust or even stable…

I’m trying to get my arms around this. I like the idea of benefiting from the difficulty of probability and causality. Talib winds up in the weeds a couple of times. Kahneman (why I’m watching) holds him accountable without being a jerk about it.


Social Media Stats

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

My friend Tom Webster’s excellent extract of key stats from Edison Research. Yet an other reason to follow @webby2001


Trends I’m Watching 2011

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

1. Facebook’s Temporary Web Dominance

This is the Big Trend next year as the new-new Facebook rolls out. The Olds will protest, while the kids couldn’t care less. In the middle though, a notable number of regular people will love having all their communication content in one place. This will create an enormous opportunity for marketers and hackers alike. More than half of whom will completely screw it up. That’s OK. We all learn from our mistakes. You can avoid a few by working extra hard to narrow your focus and segment your audience so that you don’t get stuck in the bottom bin. Relevancy and immediacy are your best shots at earning attention on Facebook.

Facebook will not meet disruptive competition in 2011. Ubiquity is not going to serve them in the long run, however.

2. Communication Fatigue

Facebook, Twitter, and all the other new ways of receiving communications has driven many to overload. Last year I mentioned going off-the-grid as a major trend, and it continues in earnest during 2011. We see it manifesting in a number of other trends that are worth paying attention to.

Empathy erosion
Much like our indifference to other drivers when we are wrapped in gleaming steel and chrome, our digital indifference to “the other” grows. This seems ironic in light of our own growing number of machine-mediated personal contacts and social-graph. On-line bullying will continue to shock us in 2011 as more and more people distance themselves from each other with technology. This creates a specific problem for customer service managers as human-to-human contact becomes potentially more confrontational. This is important to marketers as social customer services (SCRM) becomes more integral to the marketing process.

Location Shift
Location Services were all the rage in 2010, but now as the mobile device gets more sophisticated, location services will go into the background. Despite their best efforts, Foursquare and Gowalla and their kin will slow their uptake. Location services will work in the background as more people check in with out “checking-in”. The key to success with check-in services is meaningful reward. Until that arrives in the form of more sophisticated couponing, there is too much risk in announcing yourself.

2. A Social Media Dip ?

The global uptake of social media will continue to mask the real story in 2011.

Managing information flows and trying to teach machines what is and isn’t relevant really is fatiguing. Maintaining attention is getting tougher. The loss of efficiency is enormous but just as attention wanes from friends, it gets more and more commercialized. Social media becomes a highly effective collaborative tool (with it’s own social codes and cues) inside the enterprise as collaborative software hits mainstream adoption this year. Yes. If you want to make someone hate what they love, pay them to do it. In 2011, social media grows up and becomes work – just like in real life.

We watched this trend closely last year and see it only heating up further. In 2011 enterprise communication tools get simpler to use, more focused in their application, and more easily integrated into Business Intelligence reporting.

3. IPTV and On-Demand Programming

If you have kids, you already see this trend emerging. For those who don’t run a cable company’s head-end– or have kids– the impact of NetFlix has yet to be felt. It is very real though– even if you don’t watch TV on a PC, iPad, or other device. Heavy users of IPTV are hogging your bandwidth, ISP’s claim, and scaring the crap out of everyone in the content business. Now, there is real competition for the set top box. If you have fallen in love with all-you-can-watch programming for 7 dollars a month (plus broadband) be prepared to be frustrated as the war for on-demand TV programming heats up to uncomfortable levels for everyone.

In my eyes the most important story for 2011– that came in 2010 –was the peering dispute between Level 3 and Comcast and its implications for net neutrality. When you couple that debate with FCC and FTC approval of the Comcast’s merger with Universal, it’s clear that consumer content and marketing communication strategies must adapt in 2011. Key to adaption is finding programs that integrate content and brand. With attention at an all time premium, segregating content from advertising is more risky than ever.

4. Improved Legacy Media Advertising Revenue

The economy is turning around and advertising revenue is a great indicator that the world is not ending. While election and issue advertising over-stated revenue growth in the 3rd quarter, year-over-year things should look much better. The Recession is over and inflation is just around the corner. Meanwhile for many re-emerging businesses, investment in marketing communications will look smart again. With all the digital distractions, simple advertising will feel right– even with unmeasurable results. Still it will be hard to find an ad that isn’t somehow tied back to a digital element. That is where the value will be claimed.

5. Crowd sourced programming for radio

Jelli and Listener Driven Radio are only the beginning of this trend. Technology gives radio stations new abilities to turn programming over to the listeners in a way that makes the once-derogatory term “jukebox” an antique. These services- and those that follow- are destined to grow in popularity at a very rapid pace. Now if radio can only figure out how to monetize it, it could be a very big deal for the once-beleaguered legacy media channel

6. Print’s Migration to Digital

As tablets grow in popularity, print has an opportunity to recast itself. Corroboration is an essential part of the new media landscape and truly effective content strategies from trusted content brands will help people will find their way out of an ever more sticky echo chamber.

I think the most important thing to remember is something Fred Wilson said at the end of 2010 “Restricting access to content doesn’t work. Someone else’s content will get filtered and curated instead of yours”.

Here’s proof

It’s all about a better ad model for legacy media. Accountability is essential if print can find pricing models that help advertisers justify costs revenue will return, even if margins take a little longer.

7. Curation
With the debate over the long tail all but over the new debate centers around curation or the collection of meaningful relevant content ordered in a creative way that brings value to each element collected. Facebook will become a center of curation in 2011. Measuring that curation will have marketers awash in data that could provide astounding customer insight. Will we get that? Will we be able to afford it? Those are essential questions for 2011.

For businesses and individuals just becoming social, Curation is a useful short-cut content strategy almost anyone can use to increase attention. the keys: get good at sourcing and get narrow. “Narrow your focus and broaden your appeal” was never truer than it is in effective content curation.

8. Authority
Good curation seeks authority. Authority has become the ultimate attention economy status symbol. in 2011 people go beyond seeking just an answer or a point of view but the correct answer and the best-informed (or most similar) point of view. Authority becomes the holy grail for the search engines and content providers. Trouble is, machines still can’t understand the words and content as well as they can scan it. Not even close. This metric will improve as we roll through 2011, but it is hard to know how useful it will really be; as issues like sentiment and context elude machine-driven analysis.

Authority is the win for legacy media in 2011. It is at the center of its value proposition. To leverage, legacy media needs to crank out more content–open up the firehose all the way. Get it branded and get it out there– but avoid the temptation to seize the browser . If you can’t void using stumbleupon or ow.ly take great pains to find a new method of measurement and avoid caging your audience with frames.

9. Corroboration

With so many sources of information how do you know who to trust–particularly when all the sources you read are biased at best and partisan at worst?

A few years ago I worked on a study at the CDC to understand public perceptions of “Public Health”. Part of that research was understanding how people internalized information as true. One thing we learned was that most people need to corroborate information. They need to see the information repeated in multiple places–not just a single source–regardless of the expertise or credibility associated with first source. That’s one reason curation matters.

News– Content is tough. Speed and accuracy win. News organizations need to learn how to sell speed and authority to their sponsors. these things matter. People like to be believe they are the first to know things. but even more importantly they want to fell right about what they have learned.

Shopping– Purchase dissonance hurts everybody’s business. There is always risk associated with converting cash to goods or services. For the past 100 years branding helped reduce that risk by giving the buyer the sense that they knew the good or service though recognition of the brand. Now, in addition to branding buyers have the ability to corroborate pricing and performance to reduce purchase dissonance even further with collaborative buying.

10. Database.com

Announced at Salesforce’s dreamforce this year, this tool is going to drive small and mid-sized businesses to the cloud in ways no one could have predicted.

This is one of the more elegant and profitable use of the cloud. Salesforce stock shot up in 2010 for good reason. Getting data in a universal and easily accessed state is the goal for technology over the next 5 years at least (if not forever). That’s why Database.com was- IMO- the single biggest product launch announcement in 2010. In 2011 I think we’ll see lots of examples why.

11. Apps: The inevitable return of the fat client.

Adobe air and its spawn have been way underrated in their importance. As Facebook becomes more important to most people’s everyday lives, ways of navigating through the noise of pointless status updates and marketing incompetence become essential.

Further, enterprise IT has to recognize the threat and value of Facebook to the business. Apps to the rescue. With irreversible trend of a mobile workforce and the work / personal digital identity conflicts in full reveal the only solution in the near term is a fat (local) client. Developers rejoice: you really can commit to building for the box again. Just make sure the box can move.

If this sounds more like a 2009 forecast to you, you’re caught up in the hype. Apps have yet to really penetrate the enterprise. Legacy software is a big reason for the slow uptake. That roadblock will start to come down this year.

12 Outlawing Anonymity

What good is looking into the future without a scary part?

While the debate about wikileaks continues into 2011 the lesson for our dear leaders is clear: End Anonymity Now . In return for the ability to keep ourselves insulated and entertained we seem to gladly trust huge amounts of personal data to the providers that be (regardless of their political affiliation). This is disturbing to a few of us, but not disturbing enough to most of us.  Those with nothing to hide may have a lot to lose.

Of course we know anonymity is a thing of the past . It’s also different from privacy. But there is an important difference between anonymity being difficult and being illegal. Everyone will begin to understand that difference in 2011.

There will be clamoring for a clearer definition of journalist. For the last decade bloggers have been able to get press credentials with relative ease, that won’t be the case going forward. Consider that Universal/Comcast merger mentioned earlier, and the threat of investigative blogging and leaking to the legacy media. Conspiracy is hard, but shared interest is easy. In 2011 we’ll be asking “who benefits” a bit more often.

Fortunately, leaks will be impossible to contain and secrets tougher to keep. New sites will emerge and old ones become more well-known. My bet is that in 2011 the government will continue to embarrass itself with Assange and others who would take his place. Transparency wins. Let’s hope that’s more than rhetoric in 2011.

13. What’s Next–
If you were in early-in to social media you are a winner– if you weren’t, you’ll find the value of your social media efforts dubious at best.

Novelty wins the digital marketing ROI war– plain and simple.

Here’s the secret to burn on your frontal lobe: If you are early to adopt a communications method or channel, you win because there is less noise and less expense– even though the perceived risk is higher. Remember that when you are reviewing mobile marketing strategies or thinking about QR code promotions this year.

Trends I’m not watching in 2011: 3DTV (gamers only– bigger next year), “augmented reality”(not till 2015 at least), and the ever-escalating mobile device feature/benefit claims war (yawn).

Read more social media predictions here


Identity 2.0

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Dick Hardt explains digital identity.


Morgan Stanley’s Look At Internet Trends

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009


The Content Flood

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Whatever business you are in, you are also in the content business. There is a lot of competition in the content business.


How Entourage Comes Up With Show Ideas

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Because this is my blog I get to put up stuff that is funny sometimes. There is of course much for the mediathinker here:

First, Cracked.com may be the funniest site on the web. Well-written, interesting, smart and more than just snarky. Notice the pre-roll ad from Google. Notice the crawl ads below the content when it plays and recall this blogs last post about Simpsons being more valuable on Hulu than on Fox.

The clutter police of much to complain about of course but, in the end, this is the state of the art in video content revenue generation.

A spoon-full of sugar always helps the medicine go down. Enjoy!


How ‘Entourage’ Comes Up With Show Ideas — powered by Cracked.com


The Decision: Whose In Charge

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely’s Ted talk about the decision process


The Internet Killed The Economy

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

and that’s a good thing…