This last year was a big one. Here in Canada we ousted Prime Minister Stephen Harper—who served as our leader for nearly a decade—in a long federal election that almost paralleled the drama of the US primaries and saw the third place party soar to first. Donald Trump was given a megaphone. Caitlyn Jenner got a million Twitter followers in less than four hours. Amy Schumer got more famous. Ronda Rousey went down barely swinging. Drake blinged the hotline. Bernie Sanders made monotone political waves. Starbucks contentiously tried red cups. Adele said hello. Adults started colouring. Star Wars and its paraphernalia became unavoidable. And someone won the Super Bowl.
More importantly though (er, I guess that’s debatable), what did 2015 mean for digital marketers? Here are four of the most prevalent digital marketing trends from 2015.
1. Content marketing
Companies are now publishers. This has been the water cooler chatter for a few years now, but it’s unavoidable to mention in this list of digital marketing trends. The rise of content marketing comes from customers’ demand for actionable content and Google’s push to have us create useful, tactical content. More than 80% of B2B marketers have a content marketing strategy (Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs). This increased adoption means that now there’s so much content on the web that it’s hard to break through the clutter.
Customers have changed and they’re in charge. What they’re looking for is useful content. We all know it’s important. CMOs at the largest technology companies report that building out content marketing as an organizational competency is the second most important initiative, only behind measuring ROI (Curata). And while “everyone” is doing it, 70% of marketers lack a consistent or integrated content strategy (Curata). That number is sure to go up this year, as companies delegate someone to curate a vision in this department. By late 2016, 60% of companies will have an executive in their organization who is directly responsible for an overall content marketing strategy, like a VP or Director of Content (Curata).
Tip for 2016
Curate a cohesive content strategy and don’t skimp. Make it somebody’s job and hold them accountable by tracking analytics. For us, we’re amping up our blog big time and it’s my feet to the fire, eyes to the analytics. We’re tracking traffic, increase in subscriptions, bounce rate, content downloads, conversions, etc. So when you download content, not only are you helping yourself by getting some implementable tactics, you’re helping me keep my job. Thank you.
Of course, you won’t be the only ones upping your content game, so make sure your content is better than anything else on the web. It needs soul, data and ideas that your readers can put into action. Consumers are much more discerning with content now, as you can tell from the data in this chart. More than half of US consumers agree that, compared to five years ago, there is too much content out there (Adobe). While everyone wants more data and more content, people have become very skeptical of what they read. It’s essential to make your content honest and genuine rather than promotional and boring.
2. Content crowd sourcing
Along the same lines as content marketing, crowdsourcing content is something I’ve seen grow this year. It’s definitely more than a digital marketing trend. If you’re not familiar with the term, content crowdsourcing means soliciting ideas from others in the space to create content.
There are a ton of benefits to crowdsourcing content, one obvious one is the amount of time you can save by not generating all the ideas yourself. One of the biggest perks is that the content will be relevant to those in your industry, as it is those voices creating it. This also helps eliminate some of your personal bias in creating the piece. For example, in my world, marketing automation is super successful and generates a ton of results. But, that experience is limited to our system, which is very niche and created for those who use it to drive results. So when I hear insights from others in the industry that decry automation as a sore spot that needs ample massaging, it’s an eye opener for me.
Another advantage is that once you pull all those insights together and create a good piece of content, you have an amplification machine built in. Send the piece to those who have contributed right at launch time, and they will be inclined to share amongst their network.
Tip for 2016
Try crowdsourcing some content and reaching back out through the same list to amplify that content. A list is an easy thing to crowdsource, as it doesn’t need to be written in the same voice, necessarily. It’s also something people can quickly add to without taking a lot of time out of their own day or needing a ton of context.
3. Online Reviews
Reviews are even bigger in 2015 than they were any year prior. We didn’t even know they could get bigger! They’re bigger than Drake, The Donald and the Kardashians combined. Customer experience is the new marketing. Well maybe not new, but a return to grassroots in the form of digital. The importance of responding to customers could not be more prevalent. On the Marketing Over Coffee podcast, I heard Jeffrey Cohen quote Jay Baer saying that “the goal is to respond to every customer, in every channel, every single time,” and that sentiment (though odd and somewhat convoluted to quote a quote) could not be more accurate. These stats from the Contextual Marketing Imperative illustrate that reviews are on the minds of all consumers:
- 88% have read reviews to determine the quality of a local business (vs. 85% in 2013)
- 39% read reviews on a regular basis (vs. 32% in 2013)
- Only 12% do not read reviews (vs. 15% in 2013)
Google has given us yet another reason to put our reviews where our mouths are. In Google’s markup of a company or product in search, reviews and ratings can now be included. “When Google finds valid reviews or ratings markup, we may show a rich snippet that includes stars and other summary info from reviews or ratings” (Google Developers). This is huge news, and one more reason to maintain your online profile.
Tip for 2016
Get more reviews for yourself and for your clients, and don’t worry if some of them are bad. Sometimes a bad review can be good for business if through a thoughtful response you illustrate that this isn’t business as usual and you want to make it right. You can generate reviews through automated software, word of mouth or even by asking customers to review you online. Getting reviews is essential to increasing sales, boosting SEO, establishing customer trust and understanding your audience.
4. Email marketing
Email marketing got big. Maybe too big. People started using it to blast out mass emails, and Christmas was the time to be reminded of how many lists you’ve subscribed to throughout the year. The twelve days of Christmas became the more-than-a-month-of-unfiltered-marketing-messages-and-promotional-selling-emails-days. I know Nordstrom, you’ve got a sale, I get it. No need to remind me every hour.
Business users send and receive, on average, 121 emails a day in 2014, and this is expected to grow to 140 emails a day by 2018 (Radicati Group). While 91% of the most successful users agree that marketing automation is very important to the overall success of their marketing, the barrage of non-personalized emails suggests many marketers aren’t targeting audiences well enough just yet (Marketo & Ascend). In 2016, super-targeted messages will become the standard. Marketing automation enables businesses to send highly personalized messages to the right people at the optimal time, which can dramatically improve email open rates, click-through rates and conversions.
The “hey, can you point me to the right contact?” emails started early in the year. Now, I see multiple of the same kind in my inbox every single day. I first read of these emails and their success in May through the Predictable Revenue blog, where Aaron Ross claimed that his response rate for these kind of cold “call” emails was 10%, compared to the 0% he was experiencing with a more salesy approach. We experimented with the same approach and did get a good response rate as well. We tested two email campaigns with our outbound sales team. One was this approach, what we call short and sweet—a quick how are you and a qualifying question to determine if we’ve sought out the correct contact —while the other was a longer email, full of content. The response rate on the long emails was about 5.97%, while the short and sweet saw a response rate of 42.11%. Bye bye verbosity! That being said, we’ve seen varied results with different test demographics and various levels of qualified leads. As we always say, practice makes progress, and testing makes perfect.
Tip for 2016
I know you’ve been hearing this for awhile, but with marketing automation, make sure you put mobile first. Mobile email opens have grown with 180% in three years (email Monday), and even the most conservative of analysts will flap their jaws to say that this number can only increase. It’s time to start shifting the focus, if you haven’t already. In 2016, optimizing emails for mobile devices will become top-of-mind for all marketers, so much that it’ll actually be common sense. Without going into too much detail, this means:
- Responsive, minimalist design
- Concise content
- Finger-friendly buttons
- Readable font sizes.
Determine the most popular email clients used by your recipients (using an email testing tool like Litmus), then review your renders for those clients to ensure they’re in tip-top shape.
Happy New Year!
What other digital marketing trends did you notice on the rise in 2015? Others to note are the rise of lightboxes, an impetus on hard data, gated content and enhanced video marketing, but I’ve already kept you here too long. One of our top-notch content creators, Blair, wrote the top five email marketing predictions for 2016, so take a read and see if you agree. If not, send him lots of email.
Happy new year!