If you want to know the trends responsible for driving the digital marketing industry in any given year, you'd get pretty close by creating a word cloud from top industry publication headlines of the previous 12 months. Then pick the 10 largest fonts. Some words would remain consistent from year to year: Google, Facebook, social media, viral video, etc. But other terms enjoy much briefer moments in the spotlight. So let's take a look at those that saw their rise in marketing significance in 2015.
I couldn't resist including a couple of words that rightfully carried over from last year's list. We'll start with those. But as you'll see, their story lines within our industry have evolved significantly this past year. What words would you add to this year's list?
Programmatic was at the top of this list last year, and it sits at the top again this year. Yes, I've partially included it here to avoid having to answer the "where is 'programmatic'?" questions in the comments section. But also because the topic has rightfully held its place in industry headlines. Last year, most of the news centered around expected growth in programmatic spending, and those headlines persist. But in 2015, people stopped ending programmatic headlines with question marks and started ending them with exclamation points.
Sure, programmatic backlash has ramped up, as to be expected with any maturing discipline. Issues revolving around fraud and transparency are debated passionately on both sides, and your viewpoint depends largely on who signs your paycheck.
Regardless: It's here. Don't sneer. Get used to it.
I suppose I could copy and paste what I said about programmatic and just substitute "native," which would be close but not exactly correct. Yes, native advertising remains a popular topic in industry headlines. But its many (and often blurry) manifestations make it a harder concept to track and quantify. Like the term "natural" or "organic" in the food space, "native" has been too widely adopted for comfort and is on the verge of losing whatever meaning it might have had over the past five years.
With certain "native" ads being powered by software and, thus, arguably subject to the same ad blocking concerns facing other display units (see later in this article), it's hard to lump such buys in with the custom content relationships being forged by some advertisers and publishers (e.g., BuzzFeed and The New York Times). Yet the "native" moniker persists across both, and the entire spectrum in between. Here's hoping that "native" falls off this list next year, more due to the lack transparency of its own name than the concept itself.
Snapchat was to 2015 what Instagram was to 2014. This past year was the ever-familiar "marketers need to start taking this seriously" turning point. And some brands, like McDonald's, have done so. Others still need a little prodding.
But one thing is clear: No one is mocking the now-estimated $16 billion company for turning down Facebook's $3 billion pocket-change offer back in 2014 anymore.
Or Meerkat, if you prefer. We're still in the phase where you're completely forgiven if you don't know one from the other. But the point is that in 2015, we started to give some serious consideration to the value and use of live-streaming video apps at the personal level. And that's an arena where marketers need to stay connected.
Meerkat's dominance at SXSW this past year even reminded us that SXSW might still be worth watching. (But not enough to make this list.)
Let me clarify: The Uber car service didn't define marketing this year. Rather, it was the fact that virtually every tech startup this year has pitched itself as "the Uber of ____." In other words, it's sharing economy aka the "democratization of services." But if I put the word "democratization" on this list, I'd sound like an arrogant, out-of-touch ass. Because we don't toss around that word willy-nilly. But we do throw around "the Uber of ____" with reckless abandon.
If Uber came along a decade earlier, we would have referred to social media as "the Uber of publishing." Thankfully, we don't.
Last year, "wearables" would suffice. This year, Google Glass be damned, a category of wearables actually achieved some legit traction among consumers. The marketing play on people's wrists is still in its infancy, but it's finally worth serious consideration.
You could argue that this term has deserved a spot on the list for the past handful of years. No one will argue that user experience has become the name of the game when it comes to any technology-driven experience. But this term -- and the jobs built around it -- are increasingly bleeding out of design and development departments to encompass a broader scope. It's not just about the user experience one has with a company's technology; it's the user's entire experience with a brand.
I wish I didn't have to include this here, but I do. I've publicly railed against the foolishness of tying your marketing plans to an oversimplified notion of generations. But no one really listens, and thus, every marketer crafting a proposal in 2015 felt the need to specifically spell out the "unique" characteristics and opportunities tied to Millennials and their fattening wallets.
OK, it's a phrase, not a word. But it's the "blocking" part that had the industry in a snit all year, particularly in the second half. And it's a real issue. With a flood of ad-blocking software (particularly in the mobile space) hitting the marketing, and Google Chrome's move to block Adobe Flash ads, if your ad strategy -- and overall marketing strategy -- hasn't evolved yet to recognize this new reality, you're already a step behind.
I considered the addition of words such as "transgender" or "LGBTQ" to this list, as few can deny the impact that 2015's political and cultural strides (and struggles) in equality have had on marketing and brands. But I realized that stopped short of the overarching trend that spans so many issues across sexual preference and identity, gender, race, reproductive rights, and more. Where it all shakes out on the marketing side of things is in the value of the concept of pride. Brands are stepping forward to show their support for marginalized groups and their disagreement with the policies and people that hold them down. From Always' ongoing #LikeAGirl campaign to Honey Maid's touching gay-inclusive "Love" commercial, many brands have made being a human feel better this past year.
Drew Hubbard is a social media and content marketing specialist.
"Marketing" image via iStock.