Predictions can be fascinating, but let's face it. No one I know is in possession of a working crystal ball, and digital marketing and technology move way too quickly and too erratically to do much more than keep us guessing (not that that isn't half the fun).
I'm an analyst, not a psychic. So rather than play the "what's next?" guessing game, let's instead focus on "what's important?"
These are the areas I plan to keep a close eye on in 2013. What would you add -- or subtract -- from this list?
The blending of paid, owned, and earned media will continue and intensify in 2013, spawning new technological solutions and necessitating new skills, new workflow systems, and new partnerships. As the lines continue to blur between what's paid, owned, and earned in digital (and soon, traditional) media, this will be the trend that governs nearly all other major changes in the digital marketing and media landscape.
From banner blindness to the fact that display, search, and social advertising have largely moved toward programmatic buys that are much less profitable for publishers, we're seeing a number of technologies and solutions emerge to facilitate native advertising, one of many terms for plonking content (often, unbranded content) into ad units (a manifestation of media convergence). Products and solutions in this area will continue to emerge, more publishers will accommodate, and there's no doubt we'll see some interesting, large-scale media partnerships emerge as a result.
Demand for broader skills and tighter workflows intensifies
Looping back again to media convergence, the increasing overlap between paid, owned, and earned channels is creating a demand to bring in new skills and more closely integrate workflows within disciplines. Take public relations, for example. Traditionally, public relations has specialized in owned and earned (in the sense of traditional) media. Throw in native advertising and suddenly public relations agencies are faced with the prospect of media buying, a skill that's always been the exclusive domain of advertising agencies.
And with media buying come other skills such as media optimization and analysis. Put another way, digital, which has become increasingly siloed and Balkanized in recent years, will no longer be able to pull the "that's not my table" routine. All players must develop an understanding of related digital channels (search, social, email, analytics), as well as come together around a table and really, truly play as a team.
Real-time marketing and listening platforms
Real-time marketing demonstrably works -- not just in social channels, but across the marketing spectrum. A recent GolinHarris study found that real-time not only positively impacts standard marketing goals (word-of-mouth, attention, preference, likelihood to try or buy), but it also turbocharges other marketing initiatives, including paid and owned media effectiveness. Event/news-driven marketing will become increasingly vital as brands work to become more relevant. This requires sophisticated listening and monitoring platforms, and often 24/7 staffing. Teams require tools and training to respond in the brand's voice and in accordance with social media policies. They must also be permitted to work in an agile environment, free of the chain-of-approval strictures that are antithetical to real-time marketing.
Organizing for content marketing and content strategy
As brands recognize the necessity of adding content to the marketing mix, they quickly realize something else. Precious few organizations have a content division. In 2013, brands will begin to address this deficiency in earnest. They will hire, reorganize, and make room on the org chart for effective content marketing operations that work in concert with existing marketing functions from social to communications to brand, creative, and advertising.
Visual information takes precedence
Research I published in early 2012 demonstrates that when marketers are asked what kind of content they'll be investing in going forward, anything visual takes precedence over the written word. The unfettered growth of Pinterest, infographics, Instagram, and Tumblr, not to mention the always-growing popularity of online video, bears this out. Visuals capture attention. In a world in which brand messages clamor for consumer attention across screens, devices, and channels, a picture is worth the proverbial "thousand words." Keep your eyes open in 2013. It's going to be a colorful and visually arresting year.
Online and offline channels converge (i.e., everything becomes more digital)
As media become more digital, we're seeing digital messages appear in new places. Out-of-home channels such as billboards and digital signage -- as well as TV screens -- are hosting streaming and social media.
The above are my top seven, but I'll be keeping an eye on some other trends next year. Mobile is always changing rapidly, gamification is still developing, and we are continuing to wrangle and make sense of big data.
The single most interesting trend in 2013? Easy. It's the one we don't even know about yet.
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