In the rapidly changing marketing landscape -- where technology-enabled digital channels arise seemingly overnight -- marketers are struggling to keep up in the digital experience catch up game. Each year, we diligently examine trends that will allow us to continuously improve in order to get ahead in the New Year. As we close out 2013, the situation report suggests that a discontinuous rather than incremental approach to improvement may be the only maneuver to balance the scales.
Power has all but fully shifted to the digital consumer and marketers are scrambling to redefine their roles in facilitating conversations and contributing value to consumer-brand relationships. But over the past five years consumer expectations have increased on average of 20 percent whereas brands have kept up by only 5 percent -- a significant gap.
This groundswell is forcing a redefinition of the role of marketer: one that is increasingly digital and increasingly complex. Digital marketers must aggressively learn to manage new interaction channels and technologies while simultaneously honing best practice expertise in old school channels like email, search and Web. And to make matters graver, new service alternatives are applying market pressure, sporting uber-efficient collaborative economy business models to compete.
The dynamics of this onslaught may be perceived as threat or opportunity. Innovations in data management technology are rising to the task of surfacing insight from an unprecedented proliferation of digital data. Cross-departmental partnerships that embrace customer centric processes promise to deliver cohesive multichannel experiences. This mesmerizing tableau of actors and change agents offers more opportunities than ever for marketers to connect with individuals.
Sage wisdom for marketers in this time of chaos is to cultivate a long view that combines digital marketing prowess, true understanding of audiences, and consistent and authentic brand expression. Trends pose as anchors in the storm. The following three megatrends are sure to take center stage in 2014.
Mobile will be the center of attention in 2014 in large part because marketers are behind the eight ball. Take email as an example. Today, more email is read on mobile clients than desktops, and by 2017, 78 percent of US email users are predicted to access their emails via mobile device. In contrast, fewer than 12 percent of email newsletters use responsive design to optimize layouts for mobile devices.
By now we know that mobile is social too. Nearly 90 percent of time spent on Twitter in August 2013 was on a mobile device and fresh channels like push notifications, in-app messaging and new ad formats are surging. Mobile advertising may be the MVP next year with real-time bidding algorithms going mainstream and a push for increased Twitter client ad support.
Content marketing will more than nudge itself into the spotlight in 2014. As organizations attempt to get their content in front of the right people, content will be treated as media. Focus will be placed on adapting core content to social, mobile, tablet, web, digital and print, delivering consistency of message and optimal ROI. Responsive digital communications that work on multiple platforms are a great start making sure that content, and not the device, is the context.
Rational arguments assert that marketers should put the story first -- a story that people can care about. The channels, platforms, devices and timing of how that story is told will prescribe how they feel. Regardless, a renewed view of content that places focus on the story and embraces distributed thinking that extends beyond owned and earned properties will position marketers for best success in 2014.
Experts and posers alike find comfort slinging platitudes about the death of email. They couldn't be more wrong. Ninety-four percent of all online adults use email and the total number of email accounts is predicted to grow over 30 percent from 2.9 billion today to 3.8 billion in 2014.
Email represents a relatively small percentage of digital marketing spend and is burdened with an image of being a dumb managed service, resulting in a paucity of executive attention. But evidence exposes the fact that it is a stalwart pillar of most successful digital marketing strategies. And for good reason. Every dollar invested in email marketing delivers $43 on average -- too good to ignore.
2013 gave advent to a renaissance for email marketing. It is the preferred interaction channel by consumers for commercial communications and is the heart of our online identities. There are more reasons than ever to fund solid email marketing practices. Email will be at the top of all marketers' lists who manage digital marketing on return on marketing investment (ROMI), rather than expense. Harvard Business Review gets it right saying email is the mule of the information age -- stubborn and strong.
A paradigm shift is needed. Marketers are way finders of the digital age. Extreme ownership and aggressive learning are the currencies surrounding success. Marketers' ability to understand and accurately measure real, unarticulated expectations will provide significant advantages.
It is important to remember when observing industry trends, much will change from year to year but what will remain constant is that people are at the center of this (r)evolutionary process; they are their own system of record, and successful brands will come to understand that and engage with them appropriately.
Title image by Anatoli Styf (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: Read more predictions for marketers in 2014: The Year Agile Marketing Takes Off