It has already been a year of amazing developments. We've seen both ups and downs in digital marketing. So while we are all focused on our mid-year business reviews, we should stop and take a moment to revel in the glory that is the online ad industry.
The industry isn't slowing down anytime soon. It's becoming more complex, more confusing, and faster paced than ever.
So what trends have shaped the landscape over the last six months? Here are our top picks.
We all have said it: If we see another Pinterest guide for marketers, we are going to scream. But the reality is that Pinterest has taken us all by storm. It's another new social network to maintain on top of all of the others, with a truly new strategy behind it. It's called an image strategy. Brands are now forced to think about how they merchandise all images, whether it be product, content, or even user generated images. They all need to be optimized for sharing on Pinterest.
We've all seen the traffic potential of Pinterest when content is easily shareable and very visual, but we haven't yet seen much on the conversion front. There have been numerous studies done regarding conversion from Pinterest traffic, and we have heard everything from reports of 10 percent lift in conversions over other social networks to reports of lower conversion rates but higher average order value. The reality is everyone is still experimenting, and it varies by business type. As with everything else in marketing, the blanket statements should be ignored, and brands should test things out for themselves.
Going into the second half of the year, we suspect we'll see two areas of enhancement regarding Pinterest: conversion optimization and experimentation with monetization. We have already seen lots of companies focusing on Pinterest analytics and monitoring, as well as mashups like Pinstagram and others. We shall see how this all shakes out in the back half of 2012. Maybe Facebook will buy the company for $2 billion?
Regardless, Pinterest is not going anywhere -- and neither are the copycats. Rakuten, the company that owns LinkShare, recently invested $100 million in Pinterest.
The year of the infographic
There are more than 13 million results in Google for infographics. These visual story-tellers have been around for years now in a different form, but we have really seen them explode in popularity this year.
Infographics are a useful part of the marketing mix now and work well with all of the social networks. They can live out there on the internet for a long time to drive SEO.
So why are infographics handy for brands? Well, blogger Jeff Bullas has found that 40 percent of people respond better to visual information as opposed to plain text. Furthermore, 90 percent of the information that enters the brain is visual. Bullas also created an infographic that outlines why brands should be using them. Top reasons include:
- Showing expert status in a subject
- Press interest worldwide
- SEO benefits
- Virility and portability.
As the brand craze continues, there are a number of agencies that now focus solely on creating infographics. I have recently heard about a couple of great agencies for fast, inexpensive, and effective infographics: Column Five and Killer Infographics.
A great example of an infographic for Shutterfly can be seen here. But if you represent a brand that is working on an infographic project, I'd recommend searching Google images for the best examples and go from there.
Facebook buying Instagram (and more)
"What does this mean?" we all ask. It means that Facebook is going to continue to find new ways to monetize its service through ads, especially on mobile devices, which means more opportunities for brands to get in front of potential customers using Facebook.
There was a study released a few weeks ago that showed that Facebook mobile ads had a significant lift in performance over standard Sponsored Stories ads. This is good news, considering we are all sitting on our brand budgets and trying to figure out whether to give them to Facebook or the thousands of other brand publishers out there.
Facebook also just announced that it is in beta with FBX and working with eight launch partners to use Facebook ad inventory for retargeting. What's next for Facebook? Well, we think that this foray into real-time bidding is the first step toward Facebook tapping its potential for direct-response advertisers. It's looking to drive scale and ROI performance that can start to be competitive with a traditional data-targeted network or demand-side platform. We shall see.
Branded entertainment is (finally) becoming part of the marketing mix. Publishers and networks see the future. They know that the usage of online video for entertainment is meshing with traditional TV, and the lines are getting greyer. They have developed branded entertainment platforms and are working with A-list celebs. For example, AOL has partnered with Heidi Klum and others, and Specific Media's branded entertainment division also features top-tier talent.
This is the future for brands that have been using traditional TV or standard pre-roll. The value in integrating with entertainment on all screens has really started to shine through. But do these budgets come from incremental, from TV, or from online? That is the question yet to be answered as brands dabble in this concept.
Branded entertainment isn't a new concept. But it is new in terms of the broader role it's going to play in the marketing mix in 2012 and beyond.
Daily deal shakeout
As 500-plus Groupon copycats trudge along, many of them are shutting down or consolidating. And as we have seen, Groupon isn't doing so hot either.
Although we all jumped on the bandwagon last year with blind eyes, we think brands have finally figured out this daily deal landscape. We have learned that 50-70 percent of Groupon buyers will never redeem. We have learned that the value of the Groupon customer is a lower-value customer that repeats less often. We have learned that a lot of the daily deal sites have tremendous overlap. We have learned that Groupon is not the most flexible in structuring deals (but it's getting better). The list goes on. We have learned a lot.
As usual, you have to test an opportunity for yourself to see if the generalizations apply to you. But at least you should have a handful of people to reach out to for consultation on how to handle daily deals. After all, many of us have done them now, and we have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We expect the second half of 2012 to be just as full of surprises as the first half has been. We're going to see what Facebook looks like post-IPO. We're going to see what happens after Google buys Meebo. We're going to watch Facebook's foray into real-time bidding. We're going to see more market consolidation. And as always, we're just going to have to wait and see how it all shakes out.
Stay tuned for a review of the second half of 2012, coming in December.
And yes, we know that there are only five trends on this list, despite so many other developments over the past six months. Which do you think have had the greatest impact on our industry? Enter them in the comments!
Katelyn Watson is director of internet marketing at Shutterfly.
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