It's been an exciting six months in the digital marketing industry. But seriously, has there ever been a boring six months? You might hear the random industry grump note that marketing hasn't seen a useful new development since the dawn of Twitter...or Facebook ads...or Pinterest...or whatever somewhat-recent-but-now-mundane development that person feels like arguing. But frankly, if anyone ever claims digital marketing is stagnating, that person is probably not paying attention.
In an industry characterized by constant movement and the next big thing, it's easy to fall behind. That's why waiting to read the year-end wrap-ups and prediction articles isn't enough to stay ahead of the curve. Hell, reading these pieces every six months (i.e., this article...ahem) probably isn't sufficient either. But we have to start somewhere, right?
With that in mind, let's review the six biggest trends that have shaped our industry thus far in 2013 and evaluate where we, as marketers, need to be headed.
I could start this section off by trying to define "native advertising." But frankly, that's what's so interesting about the topic right now. No one seems to agree on exactly what we mean when we say it. Generally speaking, people are referring to paid placements of brand-generated content that's meant to look like its surroundings. But even in that simple statement, there's room to quibble.
To some, it's just another name for age-old advertorials. For others, it's the revolution that's going to save publishing as we know it.
To some, it's malicious deception whereby trusting readers are duped into consuming marketing content. To others, it's a clear-cut value-add by which both advertisers and readers benefit.
Whatever it is, it's not going away.
The lack of a cohesive definition for native advertising hasn't gone unnoticed. The IAB has formed a task force to address precisely that issue. So in the coming months, look to gain at least a little clarity on the matter -- and possibly some recommendations for best practices. Likewise, expect to see many more publishers diving deep into this realm and rolling out new advertising options that further blur the lines of content and advertising -- not to mention the line between publishers and agencies.
I can't discuss native advertising without pointing to the broader underlying trend driving it: content marketing. Content marketing (arguably like native advertising) isn't new. Not at all. But the incredible emphasis being placed on it these past six months -- not to mention the rising investment in this area -- puts it at the top of the trends list. Just as native advertising is giving publishers new hope, content marketing is giving journalists new career paths. Events, companies, institutes, departments, job titles, and technologies are springing up left and right around this area. Why? Because this year more than $118 billion is going to be spent on content marketing, social media, and video marketing (the latter two arguably being a part of content marketing). Dang.
Think about what happened with social media about six years ago. Then trade the phrase "social media" for "content marketing." In other words, look for a lot more specialized entities to spring up, with names and business models built around "content marketing" as a concept. Then, of course, down the line, these entities will try un-pigeon-hole themselves away from their niche, arguing that, "Well, hey. Everything is content marketing these days." And perhaps they'll be right.
The flip side to content? Analytics. Lots and lots of analytics. So many, in fact, that we've given the more-advanced sets of numbers a scary name on par with that of the pharmaceutical industry: big data.
That's a fancy way of saying that things have gotten too complicated for that measly little Excel spreadsheet of yours. If you want to really know what your metrics are telling you, you've got to start mashing them all together, along with some outside insights. Or you need to pay someone to do it for you.
Some folks argue that, like native advertising and content marketing, big data is nothing new. So be it. They're probably right. But you can't ignore the focus and money being thrown behind the concept in recent months.
See the section on content marketing and hit "repeat." Look to see "big data" sprinkled into more startup descriptions. Look for more established companies to roll out "big data" solutions. And then, ultimately, just keep doing what you're doing. Because you already know metrics are important and, darn it, you're doing the best you can. Right? (Right?)
The robots are taking our jobs! First manufacturing, now media buying. What next?
It's true. The robots (i.e., automation) are making many of the formerly manual functions of media buying irrelevant. Some people fear -- as people always fear with automation -- that means a loss of jobs. But the truth is it only means a loss of jobs for people who suck at their jobs to begin with. So don't shed too many tears.
Media buyers are going to spend less of their time doing the nitty-gritty baloney that drives them crazy and more time deriving actionable insights, developing strategy, and just generally getting creative (and smarter) about how they do their jobs. Doesn't that sound nice? Because, yes, robots can do many of the things that we do better than we can. But they haven't learned how to love yet. Or channel their algorithms into creative problem solving and overall strategic vision. But we're gonna keep trying until doomsday. Right? (Right?)
Digital's role in the C-suite
For years, our industry has discussed the need to break down the walls between traditional and digital marketing. And, sure, there are still some agencies with big ol' nasty silos still in place. But regardless of how we structure our teams, the walls between traditional and digital marketing are already down. They simply don't exist in reality anymore. TV? Magazine ads? Direct mail? They all have digital components, be it a social call to action or a QR code.
That's a meandering way for me to point out that even the stodgy old executive team is getting with the program. Yes, the CMO role is still important. And some of these folks might still have traditional mindsets. But that's becoming less the case. More and more, we're seeing executives with deep digital backgrounds ascending to this role. And in other cases, we're seeing the CMO joined by the new role of the chief digital officer (CDO).
The shift to more digital expertise at the C-level will accelerate. Ultimately, the title of CDO might not be where we end up. At some point, when the broader whole of humanity recognizes that there's no real distinction between the digital and tangible worlds, job functions could meld back together. But for now, the digital specialists will just delight in the new-found recognition.
"Male hand drawing a growth graph" image via Shutterstock.