Predictions for the Coming Year: Digital Path to Purchase

Stephen DeAngelis

January 13, 2014

“Gone are the days,” writes Deepa Krishnan, “when ‘digital’ primarily meant ‘email’ and ‘social’ was synonymous with Facebook and Twitter. A marriage of digital and social platforms has created a much more complex virtual world, which is also seeing a plethora of devices that allow consumers to tap into this virtual extravaganza. Advertisers and marketers … are leveraging this evolution to target consumers with greater success.” [“6 digital marketing trends to watch out for in 2014,” SME Mentor, 20 December 2013] As the title of his article proclaims, Krishnan offers six digital marketing trends to watch. Although Krishnan is writing specifically for the market in India, his predictions have some global application. The same holds true for Ozoda Muminova, who combines digital and marketing trends into a list of his top tend predictions that are primarily aimed at a British audience. [“Top 10 Trends for 2014,” The Guardian, 20 December 2013] I’ll discuss both men’s predictions as we proceed. Krishnan’s first prediction involves online content. He writes:

1. Targeted online content will further drive branding. Statistics suggest that 92 per cent [of] companies that blog multiple times a day gain more customers through their blogs. Companies have been increasingly engaging with consumers, gaining their trust and establishing their brands by generating valuable marketing content and disseminating it through various forms of media. This involves relevant industry information provided at regular intervals, and content that is interesting and genuinely useful or informative. This allows the company to build a strong relationship with the consumer and also ensure loyalty to the brand.”

Muminova adds, “Engaging with consumers through content creation will be [a] growing opportunity for brands in 2014. … Native advertising and close partnerships with established publishers will be cost-effective ways of content creation for brands.” I agree with Krishnan that consumers are attracted to relevant information not hype. Jessica Ann also agrees. “Sure, you’re awesome,” she writes. “But stop tooting your own horn. Your customers don’t buy your hype.” [“Create Human Buying Personas With Psychographics,” Vocus Blog, 30 July 2013] Krishnan’s next prediction deals with mobile marketing.

2. Mobile marketing on the rise. … [An] interesting statistic to consider is that 70 per cent [of] consumers use their smart phone for social networking, and most of users are under the age of 35. With so much information so readily available, it is not only essential but relatively easy to tap the market. Also, mobile marketing is far more cost-effective for the advertiser than buying television slots or other traditional forms of media. Companies should increasingly make their websites and other content platforms responsive, to enable easy reading on smart phones. Besides, it pays to remember that mobile consumer analytics is not limited to consumers who have high-end smart phones. Today, the majority of regular feature phones have GPS apps that can transmit location data.”

Muminova has a lot to write about mobile technology and its marketing impact. Three of his ten predictions involve mobile technology. His first prediction is that there will be growth in mobile revenues. He bases his prediction on the fact that e-commerce continues to grow, as does the penetration of smartphones, and ad spending for mobile devices. His second prediction is that “mobile devices will not ONLY ‘replace’ desktops’.” He explains:

“It is no secret that we are deserting desktops for tablets and smartphones, and following tablet gifting bonanza this Christmas, mobile traffic is set to overtake desktop in early 2014. … But not only [will] mobile devices … surpass desktops in terms of traffic, they will excel them in enabling people do so much more on the internet: anytime, anywhere. And marketers need to be prepared for the always-on consumer.”

Muminova’s final prediction about mobile technology is that “mobile + social + video” will combine in a powerful way. He explains:

“The combination of three biggest digital phenomena of 2013 will create another powerful trend in 2014, that of ‘visual sharing’. Success of Twitter-owned Vine, a mobile service for sharing six-second looping videos, and Facebook’s introduction of video on Instagram, mean that video will be the format of choice for people to share their moments and a go-to tactic for brands to engage with consumers.”

Krishnan’s next prediction involves location-based marketing. He writes:

3. Increase in geo-targeting and location-based services. Geo-targeting and location-based consumer services will see a rise in digital marketing in 2014. If you’re in the business of retail, this is an inexpensive result-oriented option. The simple fact that a user is within a two-mile radius of a business significantly increases click-through rates on mobile banner ads. Geo-targeting is going beyond consumer-facing apps like ‘checking-in’ through Foursquare. Advertisers can now reach a much larger audience, with much more relevant messages. They can use location patterns with existing customer data to deliver prospects custom messages at the right time by serving unique, relevant, time-targeted offers based on shopping patterns, consumer segmentations and travel patterns. Through tools like Google AdWords, the targeting data has become richer, layered and more nuanced. This is especially true in stores, where higher footfalls can be achieved through simple location targeting. Businesses can get actionable insights that help consumers make more informed brand decisions.”

I agree with Krishnan that location-based marketing is going to be a growing trend and I intend to write a more extensive post on that subject in the future. Interestingly, location-based marketing didn’t make it onto Muminova’s list. Krishnan’s next prediction involves the use of images in marketing. He writes:

4. Image-centric social media sites will dominate. Online content will go beyond Facebook and Twitter, and explore new social media sites like Google+, Pinterest and Instagram. Google+ has nearly 360 million monthly users already, and is the second-largest network after Facebook. There are video services too beyond YouTube, like Vine and Instagram Video that are ideal for short and crisp content and it is also a very inexpensive way of sharing. Images engage better, and with increasing mobile bandwidth. This will aid targeted communication.”

In other words, Krishnan agrees with Muminova that mobile + social + video is going to have a major impact on marketing in the years ahead. Krishnan’s next prediction deals with Big Data (with a twist). He writes:

5. Data will get bigger, but less is more. The amount of data brands collect from various channels including social media, email and mobile platforms is enormous. And companies can easily lose their way trying to sift through this mind-boggling amount of information and pay enormous sums to interpret the data. Most of the time, they use very little of what is deciphered to study consumer habits. While the debate about privacy invasion rages, … big data is a reality and is here to stay. As it is often said, the devil is in the detail and so sometimes it pays to keep the devil at bay. Use only what you need and disregard the rest. Less is always more.”

Any good Big Data project needs to start with the question: What am I trying to determine? That question not only tells you which of your data sets you should be analyzing, but what data sets you might be missing. Does that mean that other collected data should be tossed? I wouldn’t act hastily. Cognitive reasoning systems can help you sift through that data to find insights and connections you didn’t even know existed. If you are just getting started with Big Data analysis, Krishnan’s advice to start small should be heeded. I think that pilot projects are always a good idea. His final prediction involves hashtags. He writes:

6. Hashtags will become a leading search tool. Everybody knows what a hashtag is, and it has become a part of contemporary culture. Hashtags are an efficient way to find content relating to specific topics, as well as the people talking about those topics. Just as searches are conducted on platforms other than Google, Bing and Yahoo, search also happens on social platforms. Every day, people search on Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, YouTube and other social platforms using words and hashtags with success. As a sign of things to come, Google has increased the visibility of hashtag searches on its search engine as well.”

I believe that hashtags are part of what Muminova calls the “collaborative economy.” He predicts, “[The] open, collaborative economy will create a real disruption for businesses: The phenomenon of consumers co-creating content and products.” He further believes that the “collaborative economy, [the] rise of branded content and growing consumer empowerment will mean that brands will need to involve influencers in their marketing, that is marketing WITH influencers, rather than merely marketing AT them. By doing so, not only brands will benefit from positive word of mouth, but the power of ideas that influential consumers can generate.” Muminova completes his list of predictions with three areas not covered by Krishnan: wearable devices, well-being, and Internet coinage. He writes:

  • Wearable technology. Wristbands, like Nike+ Fuelband, smartwatches, medical devices and smartglasses will drive the market of wearables further to [an] estimated … 125m units in 2017, according to Strategy Analytics. Google Glass of course will steal attention in 2014, creating imaginative opportunities for marketers. Advertising will get even more targeted: location, content, context and mood-based ads, sponsored content cards, ‘pay-per-gaze’ payment model, integration with print, outdoor, TV. And imagine how reach content partnerships are about to become.
  • Happiness and well-being. With money not being able to buy happiness, there has been an increased focus on personal well-being. ‘Mood of the Nation’ research found that brands had a role to play in improving people’s level of happiness through being ethical, empowering people to be more active and unexpected acts of kindness. In 2014 we will see more brands differentiating themselves from competition through influencing how people feel.
  • Internet currency. In 2014 we will find out whether peer-to-peer currency Bitcoin will get traction or turn out to be as over-hyped and short-lived as Second Life.”

Whether you agree with these predictions or not, you have to admit they cover quite a bit of territory and make for interesting tabletop discussions. One thing that is difficult to deny is the fact that all of the new personal technologies, when coupled with the myriad of new media outlets, provide many more digital paths to purchase than in the past. Keeping up with all of them will be an essential activity for most businesses.