As marketing practitioners, one of our most loved phrases is, “The only thing constant is change.” It’s a reminder of how we must constantly transform and innovate in order to stay relevant to our customers’ rapidly evolving lifestyles.
As we look ahead into the new year and immerse ourselves in new strategies and creative techniques to build the best content experiences, it’s always an opportune time to break down some of the trends we’re seeing.
And while we may reflect back on the successes of the previous year, we also know there will be a new set of unique challenges and opportunities in 2017–particularly as the worlds of paid and organic content come closer together.
Take a look at some of the most important trends we identified as we prepare to reach new levels of success in 2017:
Greater investment in social media personnel
The most valuable weapon of any brand or agency is undoubtedly its people. As the social and content landscapes shift, there is demand for a new multifaceted talent pool whose skill sets lie in a unique blend of creative, strategy, data and analytics and storytelling.
For this reason, both brands and marketing agencies will invest more resources in finding, cultivating and retaining the right talent to meet these more complex marketing objectives.
This being said, companies must focus on finding the right talent–not all millennials or “young people” are born with social media prowess simply because they grew up with Facebook and Twitter. What was once the job of a, perhaps, more green community or social media manager has since evolved into a role that requires an understanding of how social fits into the larger scheme of the customer journey and the marketing organization. It also requires enormous adaptability and integration capabilities, and knowing when the right conversations need to happen to align efforts.
Today, social media is extremely data-driven, which is something companies must keep in mind when seeking out the best talent.
Increased adoption and innovations in live video
As consumers crave authenticity and experiences that make them feel part of a brand, we will likely see increased adoption of live video formats.
Facebook has been a leader in live video innovation, and it has continually harped on the importance and opportunities of video content for advertisers and media publishers. According to Facebook, users spend three times longer watching live videos compared with prerecorded videos, which has since prompted the platform to position live videos higher in the News Feed.
With the explosion of live content across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others, consumers are more connected to their friends and their own communities, but also to brands, celebrities and other social influencers.
While the opportunities are certainly viable, brands are also hesitant to go completely live. Without a script or any real guidelines involved, companies run the risk of saying or doing something that could be perceived as off-brand.
However, this may push those companies to establish more concrete guidelines for live content, because the reality is that consumers will only continue to seek out more real-time experiences.
Experimentation with different video formats
With consumers becoming more and more disillusioned with traditional advertising experiences, their desire to form meaningful brand connections will drive marketers to invest and experiment more in innovative content formats.
Virtual reality, for instance, grew in market size throughout 2016, but it didn’t quite find its place in the hearts of consumers, and arguably not yet in the content strategies of brands. An obvious challenge in the past has been the lack of adequate content creation and distribution tools, but perhaps now that we’ve seen some compelling VR plays from companies across the spectrum, marketers will be more willing to embrace it.
For the Puppy Bowl (a play off the Super Bowl), Animal Planet and Pedigree teamed up to give fans a puppy’s-eye view of the game. Discovery Communications vice president Jason Goldberg, mentioned that the Animal Planet brand “has challenged ourselves to be more resonant and meaningful with what’s happening in the world of media,” citing VR as a strategy to reinvigorate the brand’s involvement and to give fans a more immersive experience.
Another recent play on VR and 360 video was done by Clorox for its Safe Water Project. The brand produced a video that showed the realities of third-world countries that deal with unclean water. The experience is meant to immerse the end-user in the lives of those in the Peru village, but also to inspire action–connecting Clorox to a powerful and impactful story.
Increased adoption by brands of messaging applications
While consumers today may be a bit more distracted by technology and modern-day branded experiences than in the “old days,” there is still extreme value in good customer service. More traditional call centers still exist, as well as in-person store help, but both brands and consumers have rapidly adopted online messaging apps and chat bots.
According to Oracle, 80 percent of sales and marketing leaders are using chat bots today or will be using them by 2020. In order to truly differentiate the chat-bot experience for customers, brands have evolved them to be more human, sometimes even going as far as hiring comedic writers to develop scripts for their chat bots in order to give them personality.
As artificial intelligence capabilities proliferate, chat bots will ultimately get smarter at engaging in real human conversation, taking into account the personal context and preferences of each individual end-user.
Over the holidays, there were many creative examples of bot use–Nordstrom launched its first chat bot on Facebook Messenger and the Kik messaging service to help shoppers find the perfect gifts. The Mall of America partnered with IBM’s Watson to build a “mobile concierge” bot that helped mall guests find what they were looking for throughout the mall.
Just as chat bots give brands more opportunities to have personal connections with their customers, it simultaneously creates ways to bridge the online (social) experience with offline.
Greater paid and organic social synchronization
As a common theme across many marketing channels this year, we will begin to see a stronger alignment between paid and organic social teams. In recognizing the depth and breadth of the social media platform landscape, coupled with the level of social ad techniques there are today, teams need to be working together strategically to determine the right approach.
Paid social is no longer considered a pure direct-response play; rather it serves to complement the customer journey in a really impactful way, especially when paired with organic efforts and when executed with the native experience in mind. Rand Fishkin of Moz said it well: “Paid works best on content that amplified well organically.”
And in the case of performance, paid social advertisers may need to step outside of their traditionally direct-response shoes in efforts to bring consumers real, creative, inspiring ad experiences. With organic social being a primary driver of customer and community relationship-building, paid social formats can be the place for not only conversion influence, but also important engagement points along the decision journey.
Stronger focus on lifestyle content
In many ways, particularly on visual platforms, social media gives consumers a special, inside-look at a brand. And if you look at the brands that thrive on social, it’s not because of their boring, static imagery and lack of personality–it’s because they’ve evolved a real culture and a brand lifestyle that they use to connect to customers’ everyday lives.
For this reason, we’ll see the continued proliferation of lifestyle content on social, as well as in email messaging and video and blog content.
A prime example of a strong lifestyle play might be a fitness brand that not only entices people to purchase products through amazing fabric and design, but also through content like healthy eating guides, fitness workouts and personal fitness stories.
More than anything, customers look to connect with brands beyond the product level, in addition to connecting with communities, both small and large, that share their stories.
But in building this brand lifestyle, authenticity is absolutely crucial. As influencer partnerships grow, brands must keep in mind that customers can sniff out an inauthentic partnership from miles away, and if your brand doesn’t weave seamlessly into the lifestyle of an influencer, while the reach may be there in pure audience numbers, the engagement won’t be.
Toni Box is group director of social media and content marketing for PMX Agency.
Image courtesy of honglouwawa/iStock.