This article is by Colin Nagy, an executive director of The Barbarian Group.
Every year there are bold proclamations about the future of media, technology, etc. While fun to read, sometimes the approach is with a rose-tinted lens and commentators seem to ignore some of the growing pains that come with quick tech and cultural developments. This year we’ve compiled a few of the key undercurrents shaping marketing and media in 2013, warts and all.
Apps As The New Microsite
In the early to mid-2000s every brand wanted a microsite, and soon the internet began getting clogged with campaign sites that quickly lost relevance. It wasn’t enough to make something interesting, you had to have a bunch of people come see it and share. Now, with every brand wanting to build an iOS or Android app, there is a very similar dilemma. It is partly a numbers issue: The Apple App Store now has more than 650,000 apps, the Google Play Store has more than 600,000 apps and according to GigaOm, about 25 percent are opened once and never again. So the million-dollar question is: How does a brand drive downloads at scale, make it to the coveted home screen, remind people to use your app, and do all of this while also being respectful of UX and not going wild with push and email notifications?
With the launch of the Fuelband and the subsequent Cannes Lion win, product development was seen as a must-add specialty at agencies, and every brand now clamors to get something into market. With enough time, we will see what shakes out. There are things to be aware of: One, successful product development requires a certain risk profile that many brand managers don’t have. It also often requires a different approach to budgeting, as things aren’t super concrete from the outset and can also require new approaches in terms of team structures (both internal and agency). Brands should look to partners that have a lot of demonstrated building under their belt, and also experiment with new pricing models based on fixed-cost sprints and prototyping that differ from the hourly billings and standard deliverables of traditional campaigns.
Coming Soon: More Awkward Native Ads
With the rise of native ads, in 2013 we’re going to see brands that are used to buying attention and broadcasting what they want to say making an awkward transition into the world of editorial content. Native ads require a more authentic — and interesting — approach to content and messaging. Far more in the spirit of journalism than push advertising. The first awkward integration of 2013 comes with the Atlantic’s Scientology ads, causing the Atlantic to retract the campaign and say in a statement, “We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge—sheepishly—that that we got ahead of ourselves…” Look to publishers to really build and refine strong guidelines on this type of content and for this conflict with advertisers’ agendas.
Zombie Audiences Coming Back to Haunt Brands and Apps Alike
One of the buzz stories in 2012 was the meteoric rise of social video startup SocialCam, acquired byAutodesk for $60 million. But when you peek behind the TechCrunch headlines, the app played every shady game in the book to build an audience. Spammy newsfeed games? Check. Autofollowing? Check. Pumping popular YouTube videos into the app as if they originated there? Check. One can look at the mortgage-backed securities debacle to see what happens when you build something on top of sand. The same sentiment goes for brands that have been buying cheap followers and fans on Facebookand Twitter. The numbers may look great but if you’re trying to drive measurable business results, one must consider the quality at all costs.
A New Metabolism
Great storytelling is a craft and doing it on behalf of a brand requires diligent brand marketing expertise to get just right. At the same time, the best social content reacts quickly to culture, evidenced by things like Oreo’s “Daily Twist” — one of advertising’s most recognized examples last year. This push/pull is still sorting itself out. At present this new type of rapid-response content doesn’t jibe with the way a lot of agencies produce content, so expect brand and agency internal structures evolve to reflect this in 2013. Also watch for the emerging partnerships of technology companies, such as social SaaS service Percolate, with the creative, brand storytelling and production chops of agencies.
Briefs Based on Social Data
This year, we will see more creative briefs that are based on social data. Instead of just research from the planning department, expect social, analytics and even technology departments to be heavily involved. By leveraging all of the engagement data coming from social channels, agencies can now build content and experiences that are closer to what the audiences are strongly reacting to. This, combined with the underlying business goals, will make for more impactful work in the market.
The Platform Wars
Lots of highly valued companies have been built based on a symbiotic relationship to other platforms. But now, as the hunt for monetization continues, we’ll continue to see more power plays where people close off API access and batten down the hatches. Twitter cut off a syndication deal with LinkedIn in June 2012, and also recently shut down a “find your friends” feature with Tumblr and Instagram. Though the idea of subscription-based, real-time social feed APP.net is somewhat interesting as an intellectual reaction to this platform wars trend, it remains to be seen if it will ever reach meaniful scale beyond the Scobles and other early adopters.
The Professional Blogosphere
In the early days of the blogosphere, much of the content came from passionate novices writing regularly on their niche interests. There used to be interplay between top-down media and bottom-up media, with one seeking inspiration or interpretation from the other. Now, over the past few years we’ve seen the rise of the professional blogging class, which has actually become part of the media establishment. Sites like Gizmodo and Engadget drive as much traffic and hold as much interest as The New York Times. Many people who would have started blogs a year ago now are finding other ways to express themselves, notably Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. The latter just surpassed “blog” as one of the most searched terms on Google. Another factor at play is lighter-touch consumer reviews such as Amazon, Yelp and increasingly, Foursquare.
We’ve also noticed that the professional blogging class, particularly in technology, can be prone to herd thinking that doesn’t necessarily reflect consumer sentiment. For example when Samsung launched the Galaxy Note, it was largely ridiculed by everyone yet went on to smash any and all sales projections. Now the Note 2 is doing the same and many of the early detractors have been steadily changing their tune (Disclosure: TBG works with Samsung but did not work on this campaign). Another recent example was the tempest in a teapot about the Instagram Terms of Service. I’d venture to say that, despite the flurry of influential tweets and blog posts, their internal analytics indicated no downturn in engagement or rush for the door. The key takeaway here is sometimes the influencer bubble can be deceiving and does not reflect what is going on in reality.
Community Managers: The Next Generation
The community manager used to be the kid that has some sort of fluency with social channels. The early days of brands on social networks was a bit of a free-for-all, with internal resources, PR firms, ad agencies and others all trying to figure things out. Content was published through a static content calendar, and had to be vetted and approved long in advance. Today, brands have built audiences at substantial scale, have started to figure out what sorts of goals/metrics to apply to their channels, and have been experimenting with new types of content and paid social media to build audience and disseminate their message. This, in addition to countless other roles such as customer service responses, CRM, and recruiting, has forced community managers to grow up quickly. More often than not, the new community manager will be in-house, relying on an agency for creative ideas, content, and best practices. They will also increasingly have a paid social budget to experiment with, propelling popular content higher. The new community manager will also play a role in helping to form creative briefs by taking all of the engagement data from the key social platforms and figuring out what content to make based on community validation and interest.
Overall, we’re still in transitional, often confusing times for marketers and agencies alike. There’s lots of shiny new objects, platforms and “future of” proclamations to distract. But for those with strong core brand values, a willingness to experiment and take new risks, and honest creative and technology partnerships, there are completely new and compelling ways to interact with audiences and build business.
Content Provider: Forbes