9 digital marketing trends to watch in 2014

Longtime readers of this column know not to expect a list of annual "predictions" so prevalent in trade publications this time of year. After all, I'm an industry analyst. Un-endowed with the psychic abilities that would enable me to read crystal balls or entrails, I must instead rely on my innate powers of observation and analysis.

That's not said casually. Observation and analysis of digital marketing and media is what I do. Based on industry movement, technology developments, and industry trends, these are the areas I'll be watching most closely in the New Year.

Enterprises organize for content

The hue and cry up to a year or so ago from content marketing evangelists was "hire a chief content officer!" The sentiment behind this exhortation was and remains correct: Content strategy is the foundation of content marketing. To create, maintain, and enforce strategy, guidelines, processes, governance, and guardrails are entirely necessary. However, not every board is disposed to create a new C-level position. That's why companies are taking seriously the need to organize for content marketing. Last spring we identified six real-world models. Expect to see companies begin to adopt these with some alacrity in 2014.

Native advertising will surge

Brands, publishers, agencies, and technology vendors -- virtually the entire digital advertising ecosystem -- have a stake in the ground when it comes to native advertising. The IAB and the FTC have chimed in with the beginnings of defining the space and the rules of engagement. Virtually all the members of the Online Publishers Association now offer some form of native advertising, and major brands are allocating budget for serious experiments. You're going to hear a lot more about this form of converged media (paid and owned) in the coming months.

Real-time marketing

Another form of converged media is real-time marketing, the strategy and practice of reacting with immediacy in digital channels. As more channels and media operate in real-time, and as real-time events such as television converge with digital channel on mobile and social media platforms, virtually all marketers will be challenged this year to define a real-time marketing strategy and to determine what real-time means for their organization and marketing efforts.

Content marketing "stacks" emerge

It's already happening. Adobe has formally announced what we've long known it would: Adobe's marketing and creative clouds will merge. Oracle bought Compendium and Eloqua. (Expect Salesforce to do something very, very similar quite soon; ExactTarget isn't quite in the content bucket). This trend indicates 2014 will usher in an important new chapter in content marketing maturity: end-to-end, cloud-based technology solutions, rather than the boutique array of much more limited solutions currently available. This matters not just as a technology play but as something that will make content a safer and more integrated enterprise investment.

Media continue to converge

Paid, earned, and owned media continue to collapse into blended forms of marketing. This trend is only accelerating with consumer trends such as cord-cutting that make platforms such as television even more digital than they formerly were. Concurrently, OOH signage and other forms of media are more digital as well, allowing owned content and forms of shared media such as tweets to circulate freely through the media ecosystem.

Breaking down silos

If this comes as a surprise, you clearly haven't read the first five trends. Media converging, a greater emphasis on content marketing, native advertising, real-time marketing, and other blended forms of marketing means teams must collaborate more than ever before. Goal alignment, resource sharing, and content portability -- none of this happens internally, much less with vendor and agency partners, unless barriers and divisions are smashed. There's no more time to wait. Silos must be abolished now.

Interoperability

Much more than a byproduct of convergence, apps, gadgets, and devices are becoming interoperable -- seamlessly interoperable. For instance, my personal fitness monitor smoothly syncs with my Android phone, laptop computer, iPad, Walgreen's loyalty card, stand-alone weight and food trackers, and (if I wanted, which I don't) with all my social media accounts. All of this is available at the flick of preference radio buttons. The days of "either/or" "Mac/Windows" customer experience are over. Customers expect -- and demand -- seamlessness from their digital life.

More mobile

Yeah, we hear this every year, but mobile really has come to the fore. More smartphones and tablets are flying off the shelves than PCs and laptops, and mobile finally commands more consumer time than the boob-tube. This means new experiences and media strategies, as well as (looping back to the top of the list) more content, real-time, and native in marketing plans. "Mobile first" is no longer a hollow mantra. It's really, actually true.

Measuring what's undefined

Is this really a genuine trend? I hope it will be. There's this unrealistic expectation in digital that everything's measurable. Everything is measurable, but not necessarily right out of the box. That's why publisher metrics are applied to native advertising campaigns (though goals are widely divergent), and way too much stuff is measured in terms of "engagement," which means something different to everyone who utters the term. A trend I'd really like to see in 2014, in addition to all kinds of good metrics such as the ability to attribute ROI and measure accountably while aligning with goals, is a readiness to admit that it's just too early to apply hard-and-fast, unalterable metrics to brand new stuff we're all still trying to figure out. Square pegs, round holes.

Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, digital advertising/media, for Altimeter Group.

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