Every January for the last few years we’ve published views on trends and predictions for marketing in the year ahead, from people whose ideas we value. We are going to put a twist on this trends post for 2017. Less crystal ball gazing, more thoughtful reflection. Some simple, helpful suggestions to help you move forward in the climate we’re all doing business in now.
Because so much changed in the world in 2016, didn’t it? With this in mind, we’ve reached out to some of our favourite thinkers and writers around the globe with this question:
Your biggest marketing idea for 2017 – what changed in 2016 and how should businesses respond now?
What should we be focusing on this year? Here’s what they have to say.
1. Be clear what you stand for,
says Chris Brogan, Owner Media
“My big idea for marketing in 2017 is that people MUST clarify and strengthen their story and convey it across a variety of platforms, like video, live video, and maybe podcasts as well.
People are consuming and learning from many different platforms. It’s time to get a consistent and clear message out to the people you serve.
With so much noise in all directions, it’s important to make it obvious what you stand for, how you can help, and how you see the world so that others might decide if they align with your vision or not.”
>> Chris Brogan is author of 9 (nearly 10) business books – inspiration and simple plans for business success. We always look forward to Chris’ Sunday emails.
2. Cut the bullshit,
says Ian Sanders
“2016 was a wake-up call. It reminded us to expect the unexpected. Seismic shifts happened in world affairs and politics that we couldn’t have predicted. Artificial intelligence and automation made its presence felt more keenly. The gig economy continued to rise, and job security declined. So who knows what’s coming in 2017?
I’m not going to pretend I have the answer. So here’s a plea instead – in 2017 let’s make the world of business and work more human. Whether we work for ourselves or in organisations, let’s cut the bullshit. Let’s be honest about who we really are and what we stand for. Let’s talk about our anxieties and vulnerabilities rather than sweep them under the carpet. Let’s share our real stories and use that to fuel our work lives. Let’s connect more openly and honestly with others, to create a sense of shared experience.
What’s that got to do with marketing? If you’re a CMO or a business leader, it’s essential in 2017 to keep sight of your essence: know what your business stands for, its story, its sense of purpose. Don’t build your marketing on falsehoods and propaganda, make sure it’s an authentic reflection of who you really are. Whether you’re Leader of The Free World, or leader of a brand, be honest with your audience.”
>> Ian Sanders is on a mission to make the world of business more human. He’s a creative consultant, coach, storyteller, and author and you can find him over at iansanders.com.
3. Connect first, sell later,
says Bernadette Jiwa, The Story of Telling
“You might have noticed a continued shift to consumers making values-based purchasing decisions. What people buy has always unconsciously reflected their beliefs and world views. This happened first and most noticeably in the organic aisle of the grocery store and in the sustainable clothing industry. Now we’re seeing people intentionally buying products and making choices that reflect their values in other areas of their lives and across all categories—from professional development to education and hobbies to entertainment. Good marketing starts with understanding the customer’s intention for buying the product (beyond its utility). What’s the story she’s telling herself about her values and how does your product align with them?
There’s been a continued shift towards connecting people with unmet needs as a way to create value for consumers. Platforms and services that connect businesses to customers and customers to each other have flourished in 2016. Services like LinkedIn, UberEATS and Airbnb Trips are examples of these. Others include The School Of Life and Career Shifters, which give like-minded people opportunities to connect with each other around shared goals, beliefs and ideas—product and service sales are often secondary value propositions. Bricks and mortar retailers are similarly facilitating customer connections and adding value with co-working spaces, tastings, book clubs, events, yoga classes and cafes in retail spaces. Connect first, sell later.”
>> Bernadette Jiwa is fascinated by the role of story in business, innovation and marketing. She’s a bestselling author and we adore her books and blogs over at The Story of Telling
4. Hand-to-hand marketing,
says Tim LeRoy, Dirt Meets The Water
“2016 was the year of the loss of trust. Last year was a kind of awakening where we finally realised how badly we had lost trust in politics, in the media and in our social networks. It really was the first time that we saw how the online world of echo-chambers, filter bubbles and fake news affected our ‘real’ world, and we didn’t like it. 2016 confirmed people’s suspicions that the system is rigged and the messages we all send and consume are now controlled by malevolent forces beyond our control.
Marketing has always been about building trust, but how do we gain our audience’s confidence if there is now such distrust of both the message and the messenger? If your marketing is going to be truly effective in 2017 it must be truly trustworthy, and all the old rules about giving real value, in a truly personal way are vital now more than ever.
What’s the big idea for 2017? I like the idea of ‘hand to hand marketing’ – meaning finding ways to reach your audience individually and as ‘in person’ as possible. People don’t want to hear from companies, they want to hear from the real people in those firms.
I think we’ll be asking our audience to meet us more in person, at events and social occasions, and we’ll see the rise of personalised newsletters and briefing materials from individuals not brands. Individual team-members will need to come to the fore, establish their individual voices and find their own individual channels to reach their individual audiences.
“We’ll be asking our audience to meet us more in person.”
Getting teams outside the marketing department to tell their own stories to their own networks, often face to face, will be the only way brands (and B2B companies in particular) can bypass the bots and algorithms. Low key, relaxed and personal interactions will be far more effective than overt and centrally controlled campaigns.
The embodiment of trust is a handshake, so ‘hand to hand marketing’ means finding ways to talk honestly, usefully and personally. Mano a mano.”
5. Use technology to enhance (not replace) a value-adding, personally-respectful approach,
says Charles H. Green, Trusted Advisor
“Besides the growth in nationalism (Brexit, Trump) – which I don’t think will have terribly much impact on how we go to market – I would say the biggest trend in 2016 has been the ever-more atomization of digital media.
By “atomization” I mean even more fragmented media tools, even shorter messaging, and even more-refined tools for contacting people in short bursts, and for refining the targeted segments or profiles we seek to find through marketing.
In short: we have more and more ways to get more and more messages in more and more nuanced ways to more people at more moments and places than ever before.
And the biggest result is the utterly foolish result that, because we CAN do all these things, we MUST do all these things. Not only don’t we have to, but they’ve gone well past their ‘sell-by’ dates. Almost all marketers are missing the point of these technologies: we are using them as marketing tools per se, rather than enhancements to marketing.
If all we do is aggregate a Facebook account, LinkedIn profile, Instagram comment and add it on to a canned email pitching our product, it doesn’t matter how accurately we have defined the target – we have destroyed the value of precise targeting by drowning the contact in impersonality.
The difference between today’s spam and the spam of ten years ago is now we can be creepier – a lot creepier – by wielding and displaying our ability to pop in on anyone at any time, and still manage to be totally impersonal in the way we force product ideas on the hapless would-be client.
The really smart companies will recognise that ten thoughtfully prepared emails, using today’s technology to enhance a value-adding, and personally respectful and risk-taking approach, is far better than a thousand impersonal zero-marginal-cost bloodless emails.
Today’s problem is not the ability of technology to help us, it’s our ability to get over the bright shiny technology and actually use it for what it was intended to be – an enabler, not a replacement tool.”
>> Charles H. Green is author of Trusted Advisor and Trust-based Selling. If you’re curious about how to build a trust-based business follow his ideas at trustedadvisor.com.
6. Strategy first,
says Tristan Lavender, Philips
“We’ve seen a lot of new buzzwords enter and dominate the marketing arena over the last few years – content marketing, inbound marketing, influencer marketing, to name a few. While there is merit in each of these tactics, too often they become goals in themselves. My hope for 2017 is that brands will become more hesitant to hop on the latest trend bandwagon, and that agencies will do a better job of explaining how certain tactics fit into a brand’s strategy, instead of proclaiming that tactic A or B is the holy grail of modern marketing.
It’s tempting to extrapolate anecdotal success stories into sweeping generalisations. But that is to ignore the importance of context. The thing with tactics is that they work for a particular brand, with a particular product, in a particular marketplace, at a particular point in time. Should we learn from these success stories? Absolutely! Should we adopt a copy-paste mindset? Please no. It’s exactly this copy-paste mindset which has led to a growing pile of rubbish.
Following the latest trends cannot serve as a substitute for strategy. The ‘old’ rules of marketing and marketing communications strategy still apply. Thoroughly research and segment your market, identify your areas of opportunity, and choose your tactics accordingly. Yes: content marketing, inbound marketing, or influencer marketing could be a potent part of your communications mix. But it may very well turn out that you’re better off advertising on TV. Even in 2017.”
>> Tristan Lavender is Senior Content Marketing Manager, Personal Health Benelux at Philips. A psychologist and journalist turned marketer, he blogs at @Marketingfacts and shares his stunning photos on Instagram.
7. Sex up your BOFU content,
says Fiona Campbell-Howes, Radix Communications
“Compared to the political upheavals, my watershed marketing moment of 2016 might seem a bit low-key. It was the Content Marketing Institute’s subtle redefinition of the term “content marketing”.
Back in the autumn, the CMI told us: “We consider content marketing to be focused on audience needs outside of a company’s products or services.” Essentially, the content itself is the product, and building an audience for it is the content marketer’s end goal.
How should businesses respond? With caution! Issues-based content will always have a role to play in raising awareness and gaining your audience’s attention and trust. But marketers are under pressure to deliver results – and that means turning readers and viewers into buyers.
And in B2B, where products are complex and decision cycles are long, buyers need useful, practical content that helps them decide which product to buy and how to use it.
“We’re banging the drum for useful, engaging bottom-of-funnel content (of all kinds) at the moment. It’s been unloved for too long!”
The good news: that content doesn’t have to be boring. We’ve learned so much about creating engaging content for the top of the funnel; now let’s apply it at the bottom. Let’s ditch the turgid PDF case studies and use video, VR, storytelling and interactive media to make wonderful, engaging product content that helps customers make the right buying decisions. I can’t wait to get stuck in.”
>> Fiona Campbell-Howes is MD of fantastic Falmouth-based B2B copywriting agency Radix Communications. Sign up for their monthly B2B copywriting tips and insights here.
8. The individual comes of age,
says Terri Lucas, Humans Buy Services
“Marketers have gone digital. Most savvy organisations have adapted their plans, up-skilled in social and formed a burgeoning (and under-used) following. And it has made marketing directors aware that the amount of content being shared globally doubles each year, the channels have more than tripled, yet the time available to buyers to engage has halved over the same period. That means businesses being enslaved by pushing out loads of content through myriad channels, with a small proportion of the effort hitting the market with the customer. Unless we chose not to be.
Instead, companies will dust off old school direct marketing techniques, modernise them for the social age and deliver small (as opposed to large) and highly targeted, relevant content proven to be valued by the individual.
The days of content being enforced upon buyers are over. Programmes will be smaller and very focused on individual need. Our followers are a vital source of understanding what they need and value, to which smart organisations will tailor to.
“In a world of so many communication channels and so much noise, those who adopt a laser-like focus on meeting the needs of individuals will have the edge.”
Taking it further, the very best organisations will consciously develop their individual ‘voice’ – an executive representing the business who builds his or her profile as a target influencer, someone who commands a following and owns a particular space. It’s a model well established in some of the consumer markets such as fashion and food. It’s only a matter of time before it takes off in B2B.”
9. Your website still matters,
says Chris Butler, Newfangled
“You can be the most unique organisation in your market, but without the right website, no one will know.
You can have the greatest products or services in the world, but without a website that introduces and explains them, no customers will buy.
You can create the most educational, expert content in your field, but without a website designed to make it discoverable and engaging, it won’t move the dial when it comes to creating real opportunity.
You can build a contact list of thousands of viable contacts and email them religiously, but without a hub to direct them to — one that not only informs and engages them but also methodically graduates them through the buy-cyle — your investment will not return much value.
The bottom line is, your website is the culmination of all your digital marketing activities. It is the platform which supports your position in the market and the execution of your content strategy, receives and directs your contacts, feeds your marketing automation program and, in the end, delivers the right opportunity to your CRM.
You see, depending upon how you design it and use it, your website is either a door or a wall — the passage through which all interest becomes opportunity for you, or, the obstacle — it’s your choice.
“Your website is either a door or a wall — the passage through which all interest becomes opportunity for you, or, the obstacle — it’s your choice.”
So what makes a marketing website great? Four things: Positioning, Structure, Expertise, and Engagement. Each of those things is made possible by something completely within your control.
- For good positioning, you need a consistent message that differentiates you from your competition.
- For the right structure, you need a strategic information architecture that corresponds directly to how your business is structured.
- Expertise? That’s the part you probably feel the best about today — your content (though I hope it’s diversified, written to specific personas and specific stages of the buy-cycle, and as accessible as it can be).
- And finally, engagement. For that, you need calls to action. Not just any form, but a deep repository of smart CTAs designed to capture all the data you need to best vet your leads over time, never asking for the same information twice and always elevating new engagement opportunities in place of old ones.
It’s a lot, I know. But every advancement and opportunity we’ve seen in the last few years — Content Strategy, SEO, Marketing Automation, CRM — comes together on your website. It needs to be designed for that, which is no small thing.
In 2017, your website still matters, and so does good design.”
10. Challenge your assumptions and slow down,
says Ann Handley, MarketingProfs
“If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s this: We need to challenge our biases and assumptions.
That isn’t just a lesson for Marketing. It’s a lesson for us all.
2016 tweaked some over-rambunctious beliefs, like a choke-chain correction delivered to a wound-up Labrador retriever getting a little too rowdy at the dog park.
That jerk comes as a surprise to the dog, as it was a bit of a surprise to more than half of the US who voted in November, too. It was a good reminder that we need to occasionally rein in our own thinking and biases.
Even in business, we need to pause from peddling whatever it is we’re peddling to look at things from different perspectives.
Your assumptions are “your windows on the world,” Alan Alda once said. “Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. ” —Alan Alda
So what does that mean for us, as marketers?
Challenge what you think you know. Poke holes in what you’ve always done and the way you’ve always done it.
Challenge yourself to think of alternatives.
Simplify your marketing by putting quality above quantity.
Say no sometimes.
Aim for sustainability over the quick-hit.
Ask What if…?
Challenging our Content Marketing assumptions starts with slowing down. I spoke and wrote about slow marketing a few times in 2016; I’ll do more in 2017. The gist is this: There is such a thing as a bad slow in marketing, but there is a critical need for a good slow, too.
In 2017, the smartest companies will slooooowwww down at the right, necessary moments.”
11. Tiny ripples,
says Henneke Duistermaat, Enchanting Marketing
“2016 feels like a crazy year. Brexit. Trump. Fake news. The realisation we’re all living in our own bubbles.
So, what’s my big idea?
Social media sharing seems to encourage us to have opinions about everything, but my honest answer is: I don’t know. I don’t really have a big idea.
Instead of big ideas, what if we all tried to make tiny ripples?
As small businesses and individuals, we can’t right all wrongs and save the world.
But we can live by our own values.
So, in 2017, I’ll keep doing what I’m good at: writing with compassion and teaching people how to write. Perhaps together we can make more ripples, foster understanding and spread compassion, too.
>> Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent writer and marketer on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook. You can find her fantastic writing courses and helpful articles at Enchanted Marketing.
12. Reach out and listen,
say Sonja and Sharon (that’s us), Valuable Content
“Our big marketing idea for 2017 might sound counterintuitive but time and time again it’s proved to make the biggest difference to our clients’ marketing approach and impact, and it’s never been more important.
Instead of going into a huddle to find the answer to your marketing woes, go on a quest. Get out there and have meaningful conversations with a selection of your best customers. Ask good questions and listen hard to the answers. See the world through their eyes and seek to understand what they value and why they buy.
“Instead of going into a huddle to find the answer to your marketing woes, go on a quest.”
We’re not talking about a tidy tick box customer service survey exercise. True customer insight is messier and more open-ended. Sometimes it can make for uncomfortable listening, but your aim is to understand your customer’s real challenges and outlook in glorious technicolour. Listen first, speak later.
Why is this so important? Customer insight is marketing gold. It will make empathy your number one focus.
When it comes to marketing, it’s easy to talk about what it is you want to sell, but it’s more difficult to get to grips with your customer’s beliefs and motivations. Listen hard to uncover the story the customer tells themselves about your value. That’s what you need to understand, and that’s the narrative you need to engage with. You’ll never hear that story unless you take the time to listen properly. Listen to your customers, and they’ll tell you which dragons to slay, which nirvana to paint and which words to use.
Listening is the most underrated tool in your marketing toolbox, and in the rest of life too. Could Brexit have been averted if Remain campaigners had really listened before crafting campaigns that fell flat? Possibly. Listening would have thrown a light on the depth of alienation and anger felt in parts of the UK, and highlighted the need for unifying message that spoke to the heart as much as the head. And don’t get us started on Trump….
Our other big idea for 2017 echoes one that many of our marketing friends have mentioned. This year we’re going to be doing far more real world face-to-face activities. Pub School has fired us up with enthusiasm for the power of groups to make change happen. If good people get together to share what we know and help each other learn, then we can achieve great things together.”
Big ideas, small steps
More channels, more buzzwords, increasing noise. This has been a theme for a while. But 2016 was a real game changer. A wake up call of a year which shook up trust, cast old certainties aside and saw us scrabbling to find our feet in a new landscape.
Whether or not the political landscape has an impact on the way we market our businesses, what we’re hearing here is a call for deeper understanding. A return to old school values – honesty, respect, trust. A concern for the individual, not smarter ways to sell to a crowd. And real connection – one-on-one, face-to-face. We like the emphasis on quality over quantity – perhaps we should all slow down!
It’s interesting to us that no one we asked suggested seizing Trump tactics. ‘Make your own truth and shout it in words of one syllable’ could have been a response to our question ‘how should businesses respond?’ but no one suggested it. And we’re thankful for that!
So what do we as business owners and leaders do? Here are a few ideas.
- Take the opportunity to step back, think hard, and challenge your marketing assumptions.
- Consider: Is content marketing/inbound the right tactic for us?
- Be bold and get more personal and honest in your communications – the truth, the real truth and nothing but that.
- Work out what you stand for.
- Reach out to your audience and seek to understand them better.
- Work out how to add real value through your marketing, how to forge connection – not just online but face-to-face. This is the year to go the extra mile.
- Take up the practical marketing suggestions in our round up – focus on your website and your case studies too.
That’s our take but we’d love to hear from you. What’s your focus for the year? If any ideas really resonate we’d be fascinated to know.
The start of 2017 seems like the perfect time to step back and look at marketing with fresh eyes.
The very best of luck in the year ahead.
Sonja and Sharon
Trends from years gone by
Here’s a reminder of what’s been said in past years. Fascinating to see how the focus has changed year on year.
- 2016 – 2016 – predictions, trends and wishes for your marketing
- 2015 – Marketing trends for 2015 – predictions from those who know
- 2014 – Marketing trends for 2014 – predictions from those who know
- 2013 – Valuable marketing predictions for 2013
* The lead photo is one of many gorgeous shots by Sharon Tanton on Instagram