If you’ve come here looking for the latest thinking on virtual reality, drones and autonomous driving—you’ve come to the wrong place. Marketers are an interesting bunch—we pride ourselves on “being in the know”, with some good reason… Part of our jobs are to stay one step ahead of the game so we are better prepared for the changes that inevitably effect the business of our industry. But in the pursuit of staying ahead of future trends—we often overlook massive shifts that need to be operationalized over the next five years, if not decade. In the pursuit of keeping our eye on the ball—I’ve identified six near term trends influencing the business of marketing:
From Media Channels To Media Ecosystem Blame Digital. Just when we were getting used to shifting efforts and dollars to reflect not only print, television, radio and the internet—the internet itself has fragmented into a million tiny little pieces which blur the lines between paid, owned, earned and even social when it comes to dollar spend—and that’s not even getting into how it all get’s measured. Case in point—in the past year, MTV has seen it’s traditional television viewership of the Video Music Awards decline 34%. However if you look closely at the numbers, digital views including Facebook Live Streaming increased 70%. The problem here? MTV has yet to monetize the ever fragmented and complex digital media ecosystem and still relies on traditional TV advertisers to make money.
Instincts vs. Insights Like many of you, I was wrong about who I thought would win the US election. But it wasn’t always that way — I had changed my opinion based on the “data” I was seeing and that’s where many of us are scratching our heads. My first gut instinct was formed around the time of both party conventions. Having followed both, sensing the momentum and enthusiasm of the unconventional GOP convention, I remember thinking to myself, Trump really has a chance — he’s going to tap millions of people displaced by a global economy. He’s speaking directly to the working class disenfranchised — people holding down multiple jobs in some cases and feeling like they can never get ahead. He’s giving a voice to those who feel like they have been ignored or are underrepresented. And above it all, I was picking up something in the air that felt like a change agent was wanted, even if that agent was more rough around the edges than many would have preferred…
I grew up in working class Long Island. I intuitively grasped how he could win and I was hesitant to rush to judgement over how or why millions of Americans were supporting him. Over the course of weeks and months, being the news addict that I am, I began to change my outlook on Trump’s chances.
Why? Because the polling data and news media sentiment.
The Limitations of Polling & Media Influence Day after day, I would pour over polls and read headlines that would point to trends making the case that while both candidates were unpopular, Hillary seemed to always come out on top. The media painted a picture of a Trump campaign in disarray and the tone of the majority of the coverage I could see from multiple media outlets was largely negative. Polls while far from perfect are data points. Media sentiment is also a set of data points. When you pour over this information, it begins to inform your opinions. And that’s what happened to me. My informed view shifted from Trump has a chance to Hillary is a definite win.
And I think there’s an important lesson in all of this. Was the data bad? I don’t think it’s that simple. Like some analysts have stated, it’s likely that the polling data was incomplete. Which means this data cannot be fully trusted. If a significant portion of voters didn’t feel comfortable polling but instead voiced their opinions with their votes, then the data is meaningless.
Sampling is an art that becomes harder and harder to deliver well against. All research methodologies for polling have inherent biases and it becomes clear that relying on a sample of people willing to speak to an interviewer or take a survey online is becoming more difficult to pull off accurately. Political polling is disrupted and old models don’t work. But they are still very valuable if cross analyzed through other intelligence methodologies that focus on “harder data”.
The lesson reminds me of similar learnings I’ve seen in marketing focus groups. People aren’t always honest or clearly articulate their beliefs and/or needs.
Reading Between The Lines You have to read between the lines. This is something that ethnographers often do. They immerse themselves in the lives of the people they seek to derive insights from. They go deep in place of skimming vast quantities of data points both quantitative and qualitative. They go heavy on empathy but also possess the right amount of analytical rigor to translate observations into insights.
And what about the media sentiment? Did I misread it? No, I read it accurately but like many others, I underestimated the impact that media sentiment would have on potential Trump supporters. In retrospect the negative media sentiment for Trump likely mobilized his base and even some who were on the fence. Edelman (my employer) has been producing data for years which shows that trust in media is on the decline and urging us to pay close attention to social signals when forming opinions and strategies.
Search & Social Signals Provide Additional Clues And let’s not forget about search. As far as data goes — Google may have presented a more accurate representation of how voters were inclined to act. Trump related searches showed dominance over Hillary inquiries in the final days of the election and higher volume in states such as Pennsylvania where polls projected Clinton to win. The search volume from Google presented signals that were largely missed by both pundits and the media — yet they aligned with voter behavior.
Insights, Instinct AND Data — But Never In Isolation
This political season more than ever demonstrated the shortcomings of looking at data and information sources in isolation, such as polling. A lesson that I’ll take away is to not only have more faith in my instincts but also to be a better student of the impact the media has on public sentiment and how that sentiment is reflected online in the forms of social and search data. For those of us who work in marketing and communications, we’re going to need a better appreciation for the balance between instinct and insights, gut and analysis, and how deep we need to go to accurately interpret signals and multiple data points so we can better inform our thoughts and actions.
Long time readers of this site know that once a year I make predictions, and revisit those I made the year before. But it’s not often I look back farther than one year to see if perhaps I was just a tad too early. It appears in the case of Google and personal data, I was.
In my predictions for 2015 I wagered that Google would “face existential competition from Facebook” forcing it to “connect its search and personal data to its Doubleclick asset.” This was a debatable prediction – Google had long prided itself on its privacy policies, and when it acquired DoubleClick, it canonized its stance with this line in its online policy: “We will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent.”
That line is now gone. In its place is this: “Depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google.”
Put another way, Google has capitulated to the power of Facebook’s online identity tsunami, and has connected all the information it has about us – our search history, usage of Google apps like Gmail, Docs, or YouTube, and our history of interaction with Google’s advertising business – so as to better target us on behalf of advertisers. Of course, this move also allows Google to better compete with Facebook, which can target Facebook users – and now even non users – across the web.
Given I predicted this would happen, I’m not that surprised it finally did – in fact, I’m surprised it took this long. To its credit, Google has made the shift by asking its customers to opt in – but the process, as described in this ProPublica piece, was pretty opaque.
Pulling back, I actually believe this represents good news for the web, and for the evolving adtech industry. For years we’ve built an open web advertising infrastructure based on anonymity, even as Facebook leveraged its native advantages based on real identity. If we can get to the point where advertisers can actually know who they are communicating with, perhaps our advertising ecosystem will evolve to a place where it adds value to consumers’ lives on a regular basis, as opposed to interrupting and annoying us all day long. When that happens, Facebook’s implicit advantage – that it knows who we are – will become commodified, and perhaps – just perhaps – the open web will once again thrive.
Before there was social media—before there was mobile and the video revolution, there was blogging. Once heralded as a revolution in communications and to a degree, marketing—self expression and direct publishing of the written word became an influential force to be dealt with.
Blogging, in written word form of has been a commodity for some time.
Even as I write this on the reality is less people are taking in the written word, opting instead for “junk food” media which comes in highly shareable and snackable bits of sticky, mobile optimized content.
Today however, it is content itself that has and will continue to become the commodity. Content in all forms—even mobile optimized and snackable content. There’s simply too much of it.Most of it is not very good and even if it is—the amount of effort it takes to make sure that content will travel far and wide makes for considerable effort. Many will do this well but more will fail.
So what is value in today’s connected marketing and media landscape?
The ability to create it, influence it, co-create it and integrate a brand so seamlessly in culture and relevant sub cultures.This is the next frontier of marketing and communicationsand while it has much to do with things like social, mobile and content—it is the cultural aspect that must lead while everything else follows. A very excellent article in Harvard Business Review reflects some of this shift, labeling it within the context of something Douglas Holt calls “Crowdculture”:
“While companies have put their faith in branded content for the past decade, brute empirical evidence is now forcing them to reconsider. In YouTube or Instagram rankings of channels by number of subscribers, corporate brands barely appear. Only three have cracked the YouTube Top 500. Instead you’ll find entertainers you’ve never heard of, appearing as if from nowhere.
YouTube’s greatest success by far is PewDiePie, a Swede who posts barely edited films with snarky voice-over commentary on the video games he plays. By January 2016 he had racked up nearly 11 billion views, and his YouTube channel had more than 41 million subscribers.”
The challenge for brands is that they often times cannot create culture by themselves.Today’s culture creators often thrive in “sub cultures”—niche groups that exist under more mainstream areas whether it be food, sports, fashion—lest you think this only applies to “consumer brands” it does not.Subcultures exist in business as well and continue to diversify as business itself becomes more specialized and niche.
Brands and Organizations Must Become Collaborators and Co-Creators of Culture
Today and tomorrow’s challenge for brands and organizations is to tweak their marketing and communications infrastructure so they can effectively collaborate with influencers of culture across the spectrum.If brands cannot create culture from scratch—they can co-create it with the right partners across the paid, owned, earned and social spectrum.But to do this at scale, they must understand the ecosystem of influence and re-structure internally to connect that ecosystem and approach peer to peer influence from all sides.
The Influencer Ecosystem
Brands and organizations who wish to influence culture and become co-creators of it, must begin to coordinate how they approach working with those who wield influence, coming at it from different directions. For example, TIME magazine featured a cover telling us that we should “eat butter”. While earned in nature, the story and the journalists behind it are playing a key role in the resurgence of butter and how Americans are re-thinking fat. It’s an example of media influencing culture—in this particular example, this kind of influence cannot be bought—it must be earned, however, increasingly cultural influencers such as “YouTubers” require paid means to collaborate with. The influencer ecosystem can be broken down as such:
Cultural Influencers These can be celebrities but increasingly, it is the influencers of subcultures—those who are building audiences via Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube etc. that are becoming today’s trusted voices. In 2015, Variety reported on a survey which displayed a trend where digital celebrities (YouTubers etc.) began eclipsing traditional celebrities in terms of popularity:
“Sehdev predicts that within five years, YouTube stars will consume the entire top-20 celebrity influencer list, and aging teens will grow into a sizable fanbase for online talent overall. But that will require YouTube stars to remain genuine and relatable as they gain in popularity.”
However despite this trend, there are significant implications for brands. As stated above, the digital stars must remain genuine and relatable which makes working with them a challenge as brands must learn to collaborate vs. dictate heavy handed marketing. Also, brands must develop repeatable ways they can work with all levels of these types of influencers. As it is an emerging space often requiring complex contracts, disclaimers and transparency—it brings new operational dynamics to the table.
Reputational Influencers These can range from employees to thought leaders to analysts and experts and while they often influence consumers or customers who are highly informed and connected themselves. The challenge here for brands is that much of what they do in this space is often times disconnected from what they do with cultural influencers—but should be more integrated. Not long ago, Edelman (my employer) announced a strategic partnership with a start up called Dynamic Signal. One of the key benefits of their platform Voicestream is the ability to harness the networks of either cultural or reputational influencers acting as amplifiers of content that a brand places in front of them. Integration and accountability in terms of performance is now becoming possible, but brands must first connect efforts here.
Media Influencers As the TIME example illustrates—media in all its forms led by journalists and the media companies they work with can often influence culture and sub cultures also appealing to informed audiences who often share their content. But it isn’t just the “professionals”—while blogging itself has become much of a commodity there is still a role for blogger networks with niche audiences who have built audience and work with brands (often requiring a financial transaction) to incorporate their products and services into their content. But here again whether earned or paid—integration opportunity exists as what all three groups have in common is getting through to peer networks who then influence each other.
“Content Marketing” came after social media and mobile and it enjoyed a good run.But it’s not enough to create content in a complex media ecosystem that makes it extremely difficult to break though and earn attention.Brands will have to learn how to influence culture and sub cultures by collaborating with those who create it externally while coordinating their fractured functions internally. And they’ll have to do it in ways that can be repeated and scaled.