It is the end of the year, and that means every marketers’ inbox and LinkedIn feed are full of articles promising the top marketing trends for 2017. Many of the same authors, blogs, and agencies that told you that Facebook sweepstakes, QR codes, Groupon deals, Foursquare mayor offers and Google+ were sustainable can’t-miss opportunities are back with a new line of snake oil, er, I mean predictions.
Of course, predictions are an inherently risky business so we cannot fault people for getting some wrong, but we can fault them if they fail to fully test their predictions or promote them with ulterior motives. Too often, marketing trends are pitched with little understanding of the nuances and hard work required for success. They are usually hyped in the broadest of ways, as if every brand in every vertical targeting every audience has an equal opportunity to avail themselves of every hot new idea. And my greatest concern is the way so many “hot” trends are promoted with an urgency designed to infect marketers with FOMO (fear of missing out) by those who, of course, are only too happy to offer the cure.
Marketers love to be on the cutting edge, but our obsessive need to exploit the latest hype can get in the way of building strong, enduring brands if we do not strike the right balance between innovative strategies and the sensible, boring approaches that we know work. Investing in trends is sexier than relying on the tried and true, but they are also riskier bets. Snapchat may or may not be right for your brand, but email is becoming an increasingly overlooked workhorse for marketers. Social commerce may be buzzworthy, but good ol’ organic search drives 800% more e-commerce transactions. And turning your brand into a publisher may be all the rage, but marketers must never forget the customer is king and customer experience is what drives loyalty and word of mouth.
To figure out what marketing trends are right for your brand, ask three questions and be sure you know the answers before you act:
- Why will my customers and prospects care? Be brutal and honest–“because it’s fun” or “because we’ll be the first in the industry to exploit this platform” are not valid answers that result in awareness, interest, and interaction. The way to ensure customers will care and engage is to serve a need they have along their customer journey with your brand.
- How will I measure a change in actions or attitude? Again, be realistic, because “being top of mind” or “buzzworthy” is not the same as affecting improvements in customer actions and opinions. Your brand’s viral video may attract a lot of eyeballs for being funny, but if viewers’ buying behaviors or brand affinity is not altered, then that was not an effective marketing tactic. Innovative trends may lack the same easy means to measure success as do mature marketing strategies, but a pilot isn’t a pilot unless you can measure whether it produces business results.
- Is my brand prepared to do it right? Do you have the skills, resources, data and systems to mitigate risks and execute properly? Brands that fail to appropriately execute “hot” trends can do more harm than good. For example, companies that launched Facebook profiles with the intention of broadcasting information rather than engaging were shamed by customers irate that the brand talked at them rather than listening and supporting them. Doing Facebook right requires tools, processes, and staff, and the same is true of the hot marketing trends hyped for 2017.
Let’s look at two of the marketing trends appearing in many of this month’s blog posts and articles and explore these three questions.
No doubt about it, live video is a thing. Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, Twitch and others are promoting their capability to connect people and brands to audiences in real time. But while live video is good for these platforms, providing ways to retain users and earn more ad dollars, is it right for your brand?
Why will my customers and prospects care?
How much success has your brand had engaging audiences on Facebook and Twitter and do you amass views with videos on YouTube? If your brand has seen declining organic engagement and disappointing view counts, then what will your brand broadcast live that will motivate people to interrupt what they’re doing right now to watch? (Do you, yourself, imagine thinking, “I need to stop talking with my spouse because my favorite decongestant brand is broadcasting live”?)
Live video will work best for brands that have an innately high degree of customer interest (such as beauty, sports, and entertainment) and can offer a recognized benefit by being live versus pre-recorded. (Check out Facebook’s live video map, and you’re likely to find most of the top video streams are those broadcasting real-time newsworthy events.) If you cannot define why customers will care more about your video because it is live rather than pre-recorded, then you do not yet have an appropriate live video idea.
How will I measure a change in actions or attitude?
Counting video views is a good measure of interest, but that alone is not a marketing or business metric. Consider how to drive immediate and measurable response with calls to action and trackable links. Or capture changes in interest or perception with surveys or community engagement. Do not brag about accumulating a lot of video views unless you are prepared to answer the question, “And how did that impact our business?”
Am I prepared to do it right?
Live video looks easy–heck, anyone with a smartphone or laptop can be livecasting in minutes–but brands must proceed with care. Consider if you have the right topic, talent and visuals to succeed. And overprepare, because there are no edits or second takes with live video. If your brand really wants to go viral, broadcast a product demo where everything goes wrong! No, seriously, consider why three of the top four YouTube home shopping videos are this, this and this, and then reconsider the risks of live video.
What potential mistakes, problems and unexpected occurrences may transpire in your live video? Are all of the people in the video knowledgeable of brand rules and legal requirements, or will your video feature uncoached individuals? If you intend to interact live with customers, are you prepared to deal with every difficult, embarrassing or critical challenge that may be posed? How much risk is your brand willing to accept to broadcast “live,” and are the benefits of being live enough to outweigh the minimal drawbacks of recording a video and uploading it moments later?
If your brand has the right audience and the right hook, you may have an opportunity to livestream video, but if you get any of that wrong, you risk damaging reputation and causing consumers to disconnect from your brand’s social profiles. Gartner subscribers can learn more about video opportunities and risks in Chris Ross’s research report, Take a Fresh Look at Video Marketing.
Influencer marketing is not new–PR professionals have decades of experience working with and encouraging coverage by media influencers. Of course, social media has created influence (or, at least, the illusion of it) at a larger scale than was previously possible, and as brands’ organic social media reach drops and ad blockers rise, the appeal of using influencers to gain attention is apparent. But is this trend right for your brand, and if so, is it preparing the right influencer strategy?
Why will my customers and prospects care?
It is not enough to acknowledge that people tend to trust other people more than they do brands. That may explain the concept of influencer marketing, but it still doesn’t answer the question why your customers and prospects will care. Explore your customer personas, their goals and needs, and who they trust and read. Keep in mind you must plan for two levels of engagement–why influencers will care and why their subscribers will care (and the two are more related than you may realize, as we will see below.)
How will I measure a change in actions or attitude?
Simply getting an influencer to mention your brand isn’t enough, nor is counting mentions or impressions. To justify the investment required, you need to know that results are being produced. Use trackable links and promo codes to test for conversions. Monitor for correlations between influencer mentions and inbound traffic. Direct traffic to lead-capture forms. And although increases in social share of voice may be encouraging, that alone isn’t a business outcome unless you also carefully evaluate changes in sentiment and context.
Am I prepared to do it right?
I recently saw a press release for a platform that will permit brands to “bid on influencer advertising programmatically,” but paying cash to influencers may undermine your strategy and increase risks, depending upon your target customer and vertical. Per FTC guidelines, material relationships between an endorser and brand must be conspicuously disclosed, which means your influencers must acknowledge if and how they have been compensated. Ask yourself if you want your doctor to recommend the best medication for your condition or the one that won the highest bid, and you’ll get some idea of the dangers ahead when cash and influence comingle. For brands in style and beauty, paying models to wear the brand may be unlikely to trigger a negative reaction, but in many other categories, doing influencer strategies right means finding more complex ways to build relationships than simply writing a check.
Don’t forget your existing customers. Finding and activating real advocates with actual experience with your brand can be a more effective strategy than compensating an influencer with a few hundred thousand followers and no real connection to your brand. If you’re a Gartner subscriber and wish to learn more, check out my peer Jay Wilson’s report on How to Find and Engage the Right Influencers for Your Social Marketing.
The Best Marketing Trend of This Or Any Other Year: Customer Experience
Live video and influencer marketing are bets for your brand–they may pay off handsomely or leave you with nothing to show–but if you want a sure thing, focus on improving your brand’s customer experience (CX). It is never a gamble to invest in understanding your customer personas, collecting and analyzing the right CX data and metrics, and improving your customer journeys. The marketing trends promoted in all of those year-end blog posts and articles may sound more exciting, but marketers will never regret efforts to offer a better experience, create more loyal customers and foster more active brand advocacy.
A hot marketing trend may help your brand to drive some interest, but if you cannot capture, retain, and grow customers or unleash their word of mouth, there won’t be enough influencers or video strategies in the world to build your brand and sustain business results. That is why the hottest trend for the smartest marketers this year will be customer experience management. And you can take that bet to the bank.
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Great article! I appreciated your insights and the hyperlinks to more info. I think a better question to ask than “Why will my customers and prospects care?” is “What do my customers and prospects care about?” Marketing to the trendy aspect of a product when it’s clients really only care about the product for its safety or other reason will take a businesses marketing efforts often track from the start. Also while live video is all the rage, the real winner is the company who can get their customers jumping on a live video to tell how wonderful their product is.
Future Gartner Team Member
No argument there. That is a great question! The trap is the number of marketers who answer the question “What do my customers and prospects care about?” with the answer “Fun and entertainment” and end up falling down the same rabbit hole time and again (SecondLife, Advergaming, viral videos, etc.) If marketers can find out what customers REALLY care about and deliver that, that’d be a big leap forward in relationship building, customer experience and brand relevance.
Great article Ray – as always! your content and strategies are top of the heap!