Digital marketing evolves every day, forcing all leaders to keep up or fall behind. Once well-known and popular brands like Sears, Sports Authority, and Blockbuster (remember them?) fizzled out because they either couldn’t or didn’t want to keep up with changes in marketing. No one expects to become one of those brands, but the truth is, if you don't know what trends are coming around the corner, you could put yourself at risk.
This year's Digital Ascendant Conference brought together a highly curated group of leaders from some of the biggest brands in the world to talk about digital. My team was invited to attend, and we caught up with speakers and attendees to get more insights into the future of digital marketing. To help you avoid the same fate, here are six trends industry leaders need you to pay attention to.
1. Creating content for content’s sake will get you nowhere.
I think most companies know by now that they should be creating content. What they forget sometimes is that creating content just for the sake of creating content isn't going to do much. That content should be guided by a documented content strategy and connected to your company's goals. According to Kaydee Bridges, VP of digital and social media strategy at Goldman Sachs, there has to be a meaningful value exchange with everything you put out. The same applies to your content.
One of the best ways to get the most out of your content is to tap into your intellectual capital: your internal experts and thought leaders. Use their insights and turn them into consistent sources for content creation. Their unique insights and points of view add authenticity to your marketing and help your audience feel more connected to your brand.
2. Influencer outreach needs to be seen as an owned asset, not just paid media.
Influencer marketing continues to be a growing trend, in major part because it can be so effective. However, Socialtyze CEO John Bohan says most brands aren't approaching influencer marketing correctly. They're coming to it with a very campaign-centric mindset, thinking mostly in the short term and hoping they see a quick bump in sales as a result — and that's not true influencer marketing.
Companies are doing what Bohan calls "superficial influencer identification," selecting influencers mostly by their personas. But effective partnerships start with identifying influencers who already love your brand or have engaged social followings that align with your company and offering them some data-driven creative guidance.
The most exciting part of influencer marketing is the long-term potential and the opportunity to create a powerful marketing database of influencers that your brand can control. CMOs should view influencer marketing as more of an owned asset and long-term partnership to take advantage of those opportunities.
3. The days of the generalist agency are numbered.
It's no secret that marketing is evolving. The number of channels marketers need to incorporate into their plans is becoming more complex at a faster and faster pace, and agencies are becoming more specialized out of necessity. Their expertise will be increasingly deep, not wide.
To keep up with this evolution, marketing leaders can't just rely on sheer spend through a few simple channels anymore. Kepler Group CEO Rick Greenberg recommends hiring at least one true digital specialist who is comfortable with code, data, and all things tech who can be the go-between for your brand and your specialist agency partners. Your specialist and the agency need to work side by side, making transparent decisions in real time around how every penny is spent.
4. The shift to customer-centric business means the CMO has a more powerful seat in the boardroom.
Successful brands focus on the customer, and that requires all departments to be on the same page: The customer comes first. According to Deloitte Digital CMO Alicia Hatch, because companies are becoming more consumer-centric and marketing is closest to the consumer, this shift puts CMOs in a new position of power and responsibility for the way their companies connect with customers.
As the customer gatekeeper and experience shaper, the CMO has insights that can affect the entire business and help the whole company improve by learning directly from the customer. Brand experience is formed by every single touchpoint your customer has with your company, so the vision — communicated by the CMO — needs to be executed across more than just your website: Every part of the company should be on board.
5. Big data means there are no excuses for poor marketing decisions.
In the past, it wasn't uncommon for a CMO to allocate a solid chunk of his marketing budget without being asked to prove exactly what each dollar achieved.
Kerry Bianchi, president and CEO at Collective, pointed out how much things have changed since then, particularly in terms of accountability. CMOs today have to get a lot more transparency into data and analytics because that's how their executive teams hold them accountable and how they're able to measure their efforts.
Tech has even developed to help leaders connect the dots between online and offline worlds, too. Dean Vegliante, president of Netmining, mentioned that brick-and-mortar businesses can even use data to figure out store visitation rates and connect their online campaigns to driving in-store traffic.
Because data can show you which decisions lead to which outcomes, marketers are better able to attribute their budgets to results. Everyone and his mother has an opinion on creative; data means CMOs can come to the table with the facts to make better decisions.
6. Brands must start paying attention to their digital-native competitors.
Plenty of recent upstarts, like Dollar Shave Club, are coming from a new generation of digital natives, and when leaders dismiss them or don't take them seriously as competitors, they're making a mistake.
Samir Bhavnani, area vice president for 1010data, explained that the brands that didn't invest in digital earlier are getting crushed by these digital natives because they were slow to understand the importance of evolving. They're only just now starting to put some spend behind innovation and technology and digital communication. They're testing a lot of options pretty quickly and cheaply, and in many cases, it's too little too late.