For marketers, January is the time to reflect on last year's efforts and to consider our plans for moving forward. As an industry, we collectively analyze what worked and what didn't, and we do our best to prepare for changes -- in audience behavior, client expectations, and digital tools.
I always read forecasting pieces with interest. What will 2015 bring? But not all trends that are cutting-edge will actually impact the average marketer's strategy. I want to focus on developments that will influence our approach. Based on my experience -- discussions and collaborations with agencies, brands, publishers, and a healthy handful of tech start-ups -- here are five predictions about marketing in 2015.
You get serious about Instagram
Of course, social media will remain a pillar of marketing strategies for large and small businesses alike. Although the bulk of budgets were spent on Facebook in 2014, Instagram is the platform to watch. It just hit 300 million users and is now larger than Twitter. (Tangent: Twitter's founders claim not to "give a sh*t" about this.) Businesses are taking notice -- either expanding their existing presence or taking to the platform for the first time. This year, we'll not only see more sponsored content on Instagram, but also more sophisticated options for marketers offered by the network. Hiring managers will also look with interest to those resumes that demonstrate fluency with Instagram and other emerging platforms.
That said, what's new or hot isn't always what's best for the brand. Smart marketers will have the courage to focus on the channels that make the most sense for their business, even if that means forgoing a presence on a much buzzed-about network.
You don't just talk about mobile, you do something
Most studies report that mobile traffic accounts for about 30 percent of all web traffic. We saw a significant spike in this figure over Cyber-weekend (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday), when at one point, 50 percent of total traffic came from mobile devices. This figure will rise in 2015, as will the percentage of people making purchases through their mobile devices. What continues to surprise me is how many businesses still have not implemented responsive design. Thirty percent of people will abandon their shopping cart if the experience isn't optimized for their device. But it's not just retailers who have to take this trend seriously. Potential clients' first encounter with your brand could very well be on their phones, which they're using for research and discovery, too.
Mobile means more than responsive design. It also facilitates advertising with an unprecedented level of targeting accuracy. Brands will leverage this technology to serve viewers geographically-relevant offerings, although as an industry, we'll continue to debate and critique mobile advertising and clamor for more-effective mobile ad sizes and tactics.
You get more comfortable with native advertising
In 2013, native advertising got a lot of attention, and not all of it positive. John Oliver's critical bit on "corporate input in the media" sparked headlines and made us chuckle, but it wasn't the whole story. Journalism is a business, and it's historically relied on advertising revenue to make high-quality, unbiased reporting possible. This year, we'll reach a clearer understanding of native's guidelines and regulations, and most of us will dub it a worthy tool for our arsenal (as long as it's done right -- clearly labeled and offering valuable, relevant info).
For the most part, publishers have already embraced the practice. In 2015, they will continue to refine their native advertising programs, and to report impressive revenue growth as a result. (Take a look at how quickly The New York Times has grown its team ). Marketers of smaller-sized businesses will begin to take notice and wonder if there are cost-efficient ways to get involved. (HubSpot reported on a thorough analysis of the price of sponsored content, worth reading about here.)
You take an honest look at your company blog -- and its ROI
In 2014, I was shocked by how many small businesses, in all different industries, embraced blogging as part of an inbound marketing strategy. This trend will continue, but so will the struggles that come with it. I believe wholeheartedly in the merits of company blogging, but I also see firsthand how businesses struggle to create enough quality content to "feed the beast," an issue I call "the continuous content problem." Sure, there are cheap solutions out there, but you get what you pay for. What's the value in sharing a poorly-written piece with a potential new client? On the other hand, it doesn't always make sense for businesses to pay the price tags quality journalists expect and deserve, especially if they are trying to blog daily. I believe companies will take a step back, analyze their blogging efforts and begin to prioritize quality over quantity. They'll realize that they need a strategy, and that no matter what they do, there's an inherently manual component to blogging.
As an industry, we'll continue to improve our abilities to measure and analyze our efforts -- to understand the purchaser's journey -- while at the same time grappling with the cold, hard truth that you can't measure everything, and that investing in content marketing isn't the same thing as launching a paid search campaign. We'll also continue to see publishers experimenting with new pay models, a la the Financial Times and The Economist selling ads based on engagement time, something both started doing in 2013.
You think and talk a lot about the moral duty of marketers
The murmurings of privacy concerns have boiled over. This year, we'll talk and think about it even more, and even those outside the industry will get involved. The upside of advertisers having a more thorough understanding of consumers' preferences is the ability to deliver more personalized, useful marketing messages. But when it's taken too far, the consumer gets creeped out -- or even feels violated.
You'll recognize this one: "With great power comes great responsibility." As marketers, we have to continue to police ourselves, and to talk openly about what's OK when it comes to personal data usage. This year, our audience won't be shy about speaking up about what they are comfortable with.
Jacqueline Lisk is a journalist, editor, and consultant who specializes in content marketing.