3 Marketing Trends You WON’T See in 2017—But Totally Should
Overconfident professionals sincerely believe they have expertise, act as experts, and look like experts. You will have to struggle to remind yourself that they may be in the grip of an illusion.
Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize Winner in Economics
Around this time of year, every year, “trend articles" sprout like weeds across the Internet’s backyard. In an attempt to establish themselves as leading minds, professionals in every industry predict which new practices, products, or philosophies will take root over the coming 12 months. (I’m guilty of it myself.)
But 99% of trend articles either (a) play it so safe that they can’t possibly be wrong, or (b) predict developments that, while interesting and newsworthy, are still many years away.
So I’m taking a stand.
Instead of picking trends, I’m going to tell you three things I think won’t be appearing in the Web, creative, branding, and digital zeitgeists in 2017—but which totally should.
1. Less, But Better, Content
We’ve said it so often around the TradeMark Media offices, it’s become a mini-mantra: "Content is the only reason the Internet exists." The Web is simply a content-delivery device—as are televisions, radios, and printing presses.
Humans need and want stuff to fill their days. The Internet provides an unfathomable amount of stuff. But much like the old canard that to the person holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail, the Internet’s pervasiveness creates a hungry content vacuum: "There’s all that white space on the Web! We gotta fill it, now!"
Along with the advent of trends like content marketing (which is really just a fancified way of saying of “provide value to your customers”) and user experience (which is really just a fancified way of saying “empathize”), organizations suddenly feel pressure to feed the content beast.
They get a blog.
They open accounts on a bunch of social media platforms.
They set up their Campaign Monitor or MailChimp accounts.
They hire a “communications specialist” or “social media intern,” and they begin cranking out stuff.
But here’s the thing: Bad content is everywhere online. And users—of which I’m one, of which you’re one—are beginning to take note. Users can sniff out ordinary, assembly-line content within milliseconds. And while some folks (i.e., the truly devoted) will consume your content no matter how dull, hard-to-read, or unoriginal it is, those aren’t the people you should focus on. Instead, focus on the margins of your prospective audience—the people who are desperate for an organization to solve their problem in a bold, authentic manner. Those are the people the Internet can give you access to.
Stop shoveling your staff time and resources into the bottomless digital pit without (a) a strategy and (b) a commitment to quality. Rise above the muck.
If you want to differentiate yourself—and if you want to lodge yourself in your audience’s consciousness—you need to spend more time crafting insightful, beautiful, helpful, concrete content.
Sure, you have to promote it. And yes, it’s important to identify and support the channels that’ll place your content in front of the right eyeballs. But in those precious few moments you have with your ideal users, wow them. Wiggle your way into their minds and hearts. Show them respect by delivering the best, most practically useful (or just downright gorgeous) help you possibly can.
Hire the best writer you can find. Hire a designer. And, if your budget allows, hire a videographer. Give them a simple dictate: Create the highest quality stuff that our customers would care about. Then set them loose to turn their talents into work that works.
My other recommendation:
Hire a great digital agency to do it with you. (Subtle link, eh?)
2. Organizations Hiring Digital Agencies More Often
Since the beginning of the discipline, Web designers have been decrying how businesses—i.e., their clients—don’t value great design.
Eventually, their pleas took hold, and for the last few years, more and more organizations (of all stripes) have been hiring their own internal Web and design teams, thus lessening their reliance on outside agencies to help.
There are obvious benefits to this new approach to marketing.
For starters, bringing digital and design in-house means that businesses can work more efficiently. When your Web Designer and Communications Strategist are just down the hall, it’s quick and easy to collaborate. And it means you can following any instinct or whimsy you have. At a moment’s notice, you can completely change the direction of your upcoming project launch or fundraising drive.
An obvious second benefit is that an in-house team can develop the kind of deep-level understanding of a company’s industry and market that can only come from daily immersion.
But that immersion can also be a drawback, especially when it comes to large-scale marketing initiatives, website redesigns, and general branding guidelines.
I’m reminded of this video, in which author David Foster Wallace shares a story of two fish swimming through the water and how, because they’re in the water, don’t realize they’re surrounded by the stuff.
Wallace wasn’t talking specifically about marketing, of course, but the lesson remains: When you’re submerged in your workaday routine, it’s nearly impossible not to lose your perspective on your customers. It seems paradoxical that spending every day marketing the same services or products can disconnect you from your audience. But I see it all. The. Time.
A creative agency—assuming they’re seasoned experts—can provide the critical macro view your organization needs if it’s going to gain additional traction in the market.
What separates a mediocre agency from a superb one is, more often than not, their experience level. Because with experience comes the ability to ask the right questions. Great agencies have great taste and ask the right questions to uncover your organization’s hidden edge.
But let’s cut to the chase: Bringing all digital marketing and branding resources in-house is more expensive than partnering with an agency. Even the most pricey agencies still produce more work for less money than an in-house team can.
Why? Because we’re experts. This is what we do every day. And it’s what, in the case of TradeMark Media, we’ve been doing since the very earliest days of the Internet. (We were founded in 1999.) So when a client arrives at our door, seeking a new, more effective online presence, we know how to quickly (read: inexpensively) get to the heart of the matter.
Those insights form the basis of a long-term, (hopefully) data-driven strategy—not to mention a beautiful website, higher Google rankings, and a targeted experience for your users.
You need an internal marketing team. Of course you do. But when it comes to certain, larger-scale projects—for example, reimagining your online brand or building a new interactive website or conducting unbiased user research—only an agency can provide the sort of efficient, process-driven results you deserve.
HX stands for “human experience.” In the last couple of years, the term “UX” (user experience) has moved from designers to the general populace, but I’m counting the minutes until it’s replaced with HX.
And the difference between HX and UX isn’t just a semantic one; it’s a fundamentally different way of thinking about the marketing work you do.
UX design is a beautiful discipline because it marries data with (ideally) good taste. But at its core, UX remains fixated on the hypothetical “user.” But we who surf the Internet aren’t simply using it, we are interacting with it, we are giving to it, we are participating in it.
We are never users. We are always humans. And humans, for better are worse, are complex, mood-shifting, un-pin-downable creatures. Our digital experiences should, at a minimum, consider that.
What’s the difference between USER and HUMAN experience?
To me, it goes back to our first trend, content. User experience, as a way of thinking and designing, attempts to strip Internet surfers of their complexity—aiming, instead, to please the greatest number of ideal users possible. Human experience design would incorporate the finest thinking of UX, while also acknowledging that because humans are complex—and because UX can’t “please all the users all the time”—some UX principles can (and should) be sacrificed if it means being able to offer multiple ways of experiencing the Web.
To put it simply: HX design means accepting the ever-shifting complexity of your users. It doesn’t idealize them. It gets to know them.
As always, get to know your users deeply. Spend money to get to know them, if you can. The more depth your carve out when building your user personas, the more likely you will be to identify ways of connecting with them and offering them value. Try not to get trapped into thinking of your customers/supporters as merely one-directional users, but instead, your 50/50 partners.
The Final Word
Many of these trends are in use right now, across the Web and our mobile screens. But they aren’t being used often enough or by enough people. I’m convinced that these trends’ day in the sun is coming, but until we re-frame how we think of our work—marketing—we’ll continue to chase uncatchable goals.