2013 was a year when the phrase ‘social media marketing’ became simply ‘marketing’. You can’t have a marketing strategy any more that isn’t social – not just the practice of sharing TV ads online, but where calls to action and engagement are central to their success.
So what’s next for social marketing? Let’s take a look forward into 2014 and see where this year’s momentum is taking us.
If last year’s Oscars, Super Bowl or the season finale of Breaking Bad have taught us anything, it’s that events have become hyper connected online and offline. Hashtags have become a central plank to a marketing strategy – and are often featured more prominently than the brand name. We can expect more ad campaigns like the Mercedes Benz #YouDrive, which aired during the UK’s X Factor commercial breaks. Viewers ‘drove’ their way around the action, which was split into three parts, each with a cliff-hanger ending, by voting using hashtags on Twitter. The scenario with the most votes aired in the next commercial break. This goes way beyond the practice of airing a high-budget commercial during prime-time TV: marketers know now that this is when viewers’ attention will turn to one of their multiple connected devices, so they need to interact across platforms, involving the viewer, to make sure their message is taken on board. This could be termed ‘real time marketing’, which is a phrase that has received mixed reaction this year, but this is RTM done right – listening to and engaging audiences in creative ways as a central part of a campaign.
Visual marketing has always been important to brands, but with the rise of Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram, visual marketing has taken on a life of its own. That’s because images drive engagement, and engagement is central to the future of online marketing. Because of the importance of Pinterest in driving web traffic, images have to stand alone – they won’t necessarily be shared with their accompanying text, so marketers will have to think of images as a complete concept to be shared organically. User-generated visuals will also be an important part of brands’ engagement of their fans, thanks to Instagram, Facebook’s incorporation of hashtags and Twitter’s visual changes: fans can tag a photo of themselves and share it across multiple platforms, giving a real 360-degree approach to marketing.
In the past, customers have been marketed to; now we will be seeing customers being consulted and engaged so that they are leading and driving the conversation. Brand advocates are becoming increasingly important to companies, in a time when the phrase “trust sells” has far outpaced the old notion that “sex sells”. Brands have woken up to the fact that women are in control of spending decisions, so many of the old marketing attitudes are being re-thought, and that online reviews influence 90% of consumers. For companies, that means cultivating customers and empowering them to speak for their favorite brands.
Bad customer service is no longer acceptable either: consumers are turning to social media to report problems – often publically – so businesses have had to align their customer service and social media departments, or else face online complaints drowning out their marketing efforts. The good news for marketers is that brands that are nurturing the relationships with their customers and especially their advocates in a meaningful way (such as Zappos, Nike or Jet Blue) are able to spark movements around their brands through cultivating and mobilizing their army of volunteer marketers.
2014 is going to be an exciting year: as the globe becomes ever more connected and communications become mobilized like never before, marketers and brands will have to respond creatively. Social media is no longer an afterthought of a marketing strategy, marketing is social, and so are customers.