Marketing trends in 2014 – predictions from the people who know

Sonja Jefferson

As 2014 gets underway we’re taking a moment to pause and think about what the coming year has in store for businesses and marketers. Last year’s Valuable Content marketing predictions were pretty spot on, so we’ve rounded up another sweep of our favourite people and asked them what they see unfolding over the next 12 months. Oh, and Sharon and I have added our two pennies’ worth too.

So, from taking inspiration from the past to shrinking our networks, here’s a round up of what 2014 has in store.

1. A more meaningful few

Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan

“One of the big trends in 2014 is the shift from big networking to tighter networking. We don’t want everyone. We want to connect with a smaller and more meaningful few. Also one bite networking. We want Instagram to be for pictures and we want Spotify to like each other’s playlists, etc. Small bites.”

Chris Brogan runs Human Business Works and has written many valuable books including The Impact Equation.



2. A rush for new websites and fresh content

Bryony Thomas

“As businesses start to poke their heads up from behind the barricades of recession, I think we’ll see people starting to invest in marketing again. There will a number of brand refreshes as people dust themselves off and make ready for an economic upturn (albeit modest).

My number one prediction is that websites will be refreshed left, right and centre. The ubiquity of smart phones and tablets will see lots of investments made in making websites truly responsive in their design. The acceptance of content marketing will see valuable materials replace sales pages, and social platforms become more embedded in a company’s digital infrastructure. And, yes, I know our website needs sorting… it’s on the 2014 list!”

Bryony Thomas is author and founder of Watertight Marketing.

3. Looking back to move forward

David Meerman Scott

“2014 is a year where we look to the past for inspiration. We will be energized and spark ideas based on what forward thinking marketers did decades ago. We will realize that while the tools of marketing have changed dramatically in our ongoing communications revolution, strategies for success are rooted in human nature and understanding an audience and those realities haven’t changed.”

David Meerman Scott is author of the New Rules of Marketing and PR (and in September the New Rules of Sales and Service).

4. The rise and rise of the human-preneur

Terri Lucas

“This year we’ll see the rise and rise of the human-preneur. Let’s hope business entrepreneurs blend their skills this year – using the entrepreneurial nose for sniffing out an opportunity or fresh angle on a product or service; and combine it with a genuine interest in the customer and doing the right thing for them, not just in the moment but over time.

Treating people as human beings, ones we enjoy doing business with has to be the best way to create lasting, profitable relationships. Marketers will do well to guide their efforts away from corporate short-termism toward showing boards how to add value over a term.”

Terri Lucas is Director of Marketing at Hymans Robertson LLP, and writes the excellent Humans Buy Services blog.

5. Marketing possibilities, not stuff

Tim LeRoy

“This year we are not going to be focusing on the stuff, or beautiful people using the stuff, but just on the things real people are doing with the stuff.

We’ll see a lot more companies telling other people’s stories and they’ll be truer, richer and more natural. The kicker is that they might not even feature that company’s product; they’ll just share the same values or style.

Case studies and endorsements have always been compelling marketing tools, but they are becoming more artful, more beautifully opaque and even a bit more obscure. They’ll be whatever the opposite of ‘in your face’ is: subtle and sophisticated. Quite often they won’t even feature a product; they’ll just show the possibilities. Most products aren’t actually very exciting but the things people do with boring saucepans, cameras, shoes and computers never cease to amaze us, to delight us and to inspire us.

You won’t be sold to, you’ll be nudged: “This is what someone just like you is doing. You could do that too. You don’t even need our stuff; you just need our attitude.” Content marketing will work best this year when it’s subtly gone beyond valuable to be inspiring (see Coldwater Surfing People Finisterr and BeerBods).”

Tim LeRoy is head of marketing at Novatech and writes the insightful Dirt Met the Water blog.

6. Video marketing finally comes of age

Chris Thurling

“YouTube has been with us since 2005, but many marketers have yet to realise the full potential of video. Brand owned YouTube channels are often nothing more than an archive of TV ads. Savvy advertisers know that a different approach is required online. The best “made for Web” video is more often than not simple, useful and informative – the mirror image in fact of many TV commercials.

Meanwhile, the analytics behind online video is getting more powerful. When integrated with CRM and marketing automation platforms marketers have the opportunity to know which prospects have engaged with the content and to follow up accordingly.

So I predict that 2014 will see more brands work out how to produce web appropriate video and the really smart brands hook up their content to technology that drives sales and customer loyalty.”

Chris Thurling is our much respected chairman here at Valuable Content and board member at Bristol Media.

7. The growing personalisation of business

Charles H Green

“Last year I wrote about the personalisation of business. It’s still happening, it’s far from done, and it’s still important – so I’m going to double down and repeat it:

Business is outsourcing, modularising and compartmentalising – more and more. That means business is moving from hierarchical, intra-company relationships to horizontal, external commercial relationships. That means there will be far more buyers, sellers, and transactions between equals. And that means: the most valuable coin of the business realm will be the ability to collaborate, trust, and play together nicely in the sandbox with other human beings.”

Charles H. Green is author and founder of Trusted Advisor.

8. Design will be valued like never before

Lizzie Everard

Lizzie Everard

“I notice a shift in the way businesses—and particularly people launching brilliant new ventures—are bringing great design into all aspects of their messaging. So, I think this year we will see a growth in the value being put on expert design and visual communication, delivered by really clever individuals teaming up in unique collaborations.

Why do I say this? Firstly, we’re all tired of the slick, flashy sell. What we want is the truth, told in ways that speak with heartfelt personality, so we can make good choices and stop trashing the planet and each other. Design is absolutely at the heart of this, with massive power to convey your messages in all your / your business’ barefaced, beautiful character.

Secondly, effective business today is driven by real relationships based on trust. Good design can powerfully open and sustain these relationships, with integrity and with consistency, over the long haul.

And thirdly, about these expert collaborations – as technology speeds up, solo experts are better placed to swiftly pair up with other experts as and when it’s right. People connect with people; small is beautiful.

Lizzie Everard is a visual communicator, helping people shape their ideas into great designs, that tell their business stories with heart and soul. She’s also our invaluable and award winning designer here at VC.

9. Brands will buy media companies

Joe Pulizzi

“My number one prediction is that large, enterprise brands will start to buy established media companies.  Instead of just starting content centers of excellence from the ground up, larger brands will look at the “build it vs. buy it” scenario, and look for media properties that have a number of existing subscribers to draw from.  Google and Microsoft will definitely be in the mix.”

Joe Pulizzi is founder of the Content Marketing Institute and author of new book Epic Content Marketing.

10. Businesses wake up to the changed face of sales

Neil J Fletcher

Neil J. Fletcher

“The final emergence of the UK economy from the global financial crisis heralds a challenging year for many companies. They will no longer be able to use ‘the recession’ as an excuse for their inability to win new business.

Instead of spending the last 5 years looking, listening and learning about the changing face of buying, they turned inwards, pulled down the shutters and waited for the storm to pass.

As they look up and out that dot they see is their smarter competitor: the one who has taken the time to remodel their sales processes to match their customers’ buying processes; the one who has developed and implemented a valuable content marketing plan; the one who positively encourages their salespeople to blog and tweet, trains them how to to do it right and trusts them to get on with it.

If you start running now, you just might catch up with them.”

Neil J. Fletcher is Owner of Arrosam – a new sales consultancy for Science, Engineering and Technology companies.

11. More noise and shorter attention spans

Henneke Duistermaat

“2014 will see activity and noise on the web exploding, while attention span will continue to get shorter. It has been suggested that the average attention span has shortened from 12 seconds in 2010 to only 8 seconds in 2012 (which is even less than the 9-second attention span of a goldfish!).

In 2014 you might just have 6 or 7 seconds to grab someone’s attention. How can you stand out in such a distracted world? It’s becoming ever more important to know exactly who your target audience is, to build up a trusting relationship with them, and to provide valuable content. Your content needs to be incredibly helpful, entertaining, or inspirational. That’s how you win the battle for attention in a distracted world.”

Henneke Duistermaat is Managing Director at Enchanting Marketing.

12. We’ll focus on the ‘why’ not the ‘what’

Ian Sanders

Ian Sanders

“When we think of trends we tend to think of *new* ideas. But for 2014 I’m going to pick something that isn’t that new – the idea that brands and business focus on selling ‘the why’ rather than their product features and benefits. This was the subject of Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED talk which is worth watching. Instead of selling your product or service, sell your ‘why’. Why did you start your business? Why are you driven to do what you do? Why do you want to make a difference to your customer’s lives. In a crowded market, your why will help you stand out.

Ian Sanders is an adviser and business storyteller. He tells stories about, and for, business; he also helps businesses find their ‘why’.

13. We will stop talking about content!

Sonja Jefferson

Sonja Jefferson

“2014 is the year we stop talking about content…in isolation. With so many firms now waking up to the power of content, having a blog, being on Twitter or producing an ebook is no longer a differentiator, in itself. I’ve noticed that the companies who are winning are those that are valuable to the core. Their desire to put clients/customers first goes way beyond their content: their leadership team, their marketing, messaging and sales people, their delivery and customer service experts – all align to do what’s right for the people they serve. Valuable content is the catalyst, the frontrunner in a bigger drive for better business – outward proof you give a shit about your clients’ and customers’ needs. So in 2014 I predict we’ll see businesses producing some fabulously useful, inspiring content as part of a wider drive to add genuine value, from the inside out.”

Sonja Jefferson – that’s me! I run Valuable Content and wrote the Valuable Content Marketing book with Sharon – that’s her↓

14. Joining the dots

Sharon Tanton

Sharon Tanton

“The content landscape is built on shifting sands. Facebook is being deserted by teenagers, they’ve all moved to Snapchat where it’s all about the instant hit and no one else is watching them.

Businesses need to take note.  My view is that we are going to all have to work much harder to get attention and keep it. Even great ideas lose their sparkle quickly these days.  We respond instantly to things and move on, searching for the next hit of new and brilliant.

For businesses this means listening harder and getting even more creative with their marketing and communications.

But creating something fantastic is just the start. The real effort needs to go into converting that fleeting spark of interest into something longer lasting.  The winners in 2014 will be the businesses with a meaningful and brilliant story to tell that join it all up – who combine agility, creativity and a deep understanding of their customers in everything they say and do.”

Sharon Tanton is the co-author of the Valuable Content Marketing book, and creative director here at VC Towers. This year she really needs to get a new photo taken.

We’ve showed you ours. How about yours?

Some clear themes here aren’t there, but what do you think? When you gaze into your crystal ball for 2014 do these predicted trends hit home? What’s on the cards for 2014 in the marketing and business development world? Go on, leave a comment. We’d love to hear your musings.

Huge thanks to all those who took time to contribute.

Wait, there’s more! A couple of late but important entries:

15. Beyond content to a clearer articulation of what we are selling

Chris Butler

Chris Butler

“Over the past few years, service companies have gotten much better at syncing marketing and sales efforts by creating platforms that support content marketing and lead development. We’ve seen truly meaningful progress! On the content side, that has been made possible by not just creating good content, but content that speaks to our prospects at specific stages of the buying cycle. The next stage of sophistication is to more clearly articulate what we are selling. It’s one thing to be able to anticipate the needs of a prospective buyer — as each step closer to parting with their money will prompt certain kinds of questions and concerns — but it’s another to truly differentiate the things our prospects may buy. Just as a refined positioning supports your content strategy, diversified revenue streams support client retention, long-term growth and stability.”

Christ Butler is COO of web development specialists Newfangled and author of The Strategic Web Designer

16. Showcasing your why through moving pictures

Ernie Capbert

Ernie Capbert

“Rich media/film/video, this is the playing field in 2014. The good news is, not many brands are doing it well. The bad news, you’ve got to figure out your why and this requires some hard time in the war room. So here’s the 1 minute plan:

1) Figure out your why – why do you do what you do, why did you start what you did and don’t just describe your what – get emotive.

2) Once you figure out your why, begin to dissect it from a sensory point of view i.e. what does your why sound like, feel like, taste like, look like, smell like and then make sure you incorporate this throughout the short film.

3) Budget is not a problem – there’s a gifted second year in a university near you who’s hungry for an opportunity to get some first hand experience. He or she’s got to be studying film, media, something that requires them to carry a camera and with a tight brief and a tight why, you could be punting out short films faster than pixar and if they’re good, people will talk, share etc. PS. Don’t make it longer than 2mins.

Three good examples, devoid of the what: Mr Lewis; Mr Apple; and Mr Audi. You can barely see product and in doing so, they avoid the hard sell. In 2014, people just don’t want to be sold to.”

Ernie Capbert is marketing director for Cold Water surf brand Finisterre, and our latest Valuable Content Award winner.

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    Reading this post, the thing I’m hit with from the outset is an over-all feeling of people wanting to be more warmer, friendlier and more approachable in the way they do business and of course, marketing.

    Whether it’s more meaningful networking, gentle approaches to post-recession re-branding, or inspiring stories of how people can help each other rather than a ‘buy this now’ attitude, I’m loving the sound of the more human-natured aproach. I especially love the sound of the ‘human-preneur’ from Terri – genuine interest and help.

    This seems to fit with the way (I hope!) I’ve always worked, so here’s to 2014 and something a bit more ‘touchy-feely’ on the marketing front. Here’s hoping for some great collaborations too.

  2. Sonja Jefferson

    Thanks very much Chris.

    There’s a very clear thread woven through these responses isn’t there? It was there last year too but this year that call for real humanity in our approach to business is so strong.

    I don’t think this is just wishful thinking from us marketers, salespeople, & designers either (although I have long wished for a more human approach to commerce). As people who buy stuff we increasingly want to do business with companies that we like, as Terri says. It’s becoming the only approach that works. How cool is that!

    Here’s to a great year and PLENTY of good collaborations. Have a good one.


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    Excellent post – love the mix in this compilation of views. I concur with most but in particular Chris’s tighter (more relevant) networking and Charles’ ever more personalisation.

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    Morning Mark. Thanks for the comment. I feel the tighter networking shift that Chris Brogan mentions too – that really hit home for me.

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    I’d agree with the themes of
    Action above noise: people doing useful things, and
    People above corporates: businesses humanising, websites humanising.

    Social media makes the latter inevitable, and makes finding the former easier.

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    Unfortunately I wanted to stop reading at: “we’ll see the rise and rise of the human-preneur”. Why some marketers insist on making-up totally non-sensical words? “Human-preneur”? What does it mean? Is there such a thing as a “robot-preneur”? We saw the stupid rise of the “mumpreneurs” and “oldpreneurs” in 2013…Stop, please. Any Entrepreneur on this planet are human beings and should treat others as such.

    I agree with Brogan: meaningful should be the substance of networking…but then people are still attracted by the +100000 linkedin concept.
    I beg to differ on Briony’s views: there will be no rush to re-design website – people will do care about their websites the same way they did care in 2013 or in 2009 (for some).
    Tim LeRoy and Chris Thurling’s previsions are very accurate for 2014 in my humble opinion.
    I am not sure Ian Sanders and Ernie Capbert are right about selling the “Why”, end users generally do not care about why so and so started a business selling products or activities. Only peers, buddies and a very small fraction of customers are interested in the “Why”… not relevant enough to focus on this.
    My two pences really.

  7. Avatar

    Thanks for the critique Antonie. Sorry, Antoine.

    Crystal ball gazing is a tough one. None of us really knows, do we? My prediction is based on the conversations and enquiries I’ve had from small business owners in the last weeks and months. They’ve been cutting back on spending for a few years now, and now find their digital infrastructure in need of some TLC. Then, as they look to ‘refresh’ their site, they find so much unpicking and re-skinning needed to make it work elegantly on devices that are now commonplace that it’s essentially a rebuild. Naturally, this could just be what I am seeing in the market I operate within. The world is a big place, in which I’m sure there are people who’ve tended and spent on their sites all the way through the downturn. But, for the small, but ambitious and growing, businesses I work with – the ‘make-do-and-mend’ spirit that’s dominated the last few years now seems to lifting (a little).

  8. Sharon Tanton

    Thanks Antoine – glad the article gave you so much to think about!!!
    Our experience at Valuable Content is that Bryony is right so far – we’re getting a lot of new website enquiries right now. Maybe that’s just New Year enthusiasm, and only time will tell.
    Good that Tim and Chris hit the spot for you.
    I think the ‘why’ point that Ian and Ernie make is a really strong one. It’s not just ‘why’ you set up in business, rather what your business stands for. Here’s something I wrote on that last year.‘what’-but-‘why’-5-reasons-your-website-needs-a-story/

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    Thanks for the comment Su – no longer can companies hide behind a corporate facade. Show us your people!

    Terri’s human-preneur theme is evidently anything but vanilla! Chris loves it, Antoine not so much. I think the thinking behind her ideas is totally sound. In our experience the companies that do best today are those that do business with humanity and heart, those that genuinely care about their customers. Terri’s firm Hymans Robertson is exemplary in that respect and is doing extremely well.

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    As the Executive Director of a non profit Professional Theatre, (The New Paradigm Theatre) I am constantly harping on “new” meaning mixed mediums. Not just traditional theatre. Also creating online content and partnering with companies that produce this. Even though artists are thought to be forward thinking…this particular industry is hanging on by a thread.

    That is our “why” as a regional non profit, professional theatre. We don’t want “theatre” to go away…but pushing the old paradigm doesn’t work. I have cut and pasted much of the advice here for our next board meeting even though everyone is primarily “for profit” in this article.

    On the upside, who’s better at one- to- one relationships and inspirational stories than an arts group?

    Kristin Huffman, Broadway performer and Exec. Director

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    Antoine – I can relate to your dislike of my term ‘human-preneur’, as buzz phrases sometimes irritate me. When they do, it is because they come across to me (admittedly only a sample of one) like an overused cliche, rather than a thoughtful articulation of a point that someone wants to make. Yet I also see a place for creating and using buzz phrases from time to time, as a means of cutting through content and getting someone’s attention or as a way of showing that you do something completely different. That doesn’t mean I advocate sloppy expression or prolific use of buzz words, but sometimes the technique has a place. After all, not so long ago a made up word came along that we didn’t understand initially – until the team at Google gave this odd word some meaning.

    Do made up words have a place or should they be binned in room 101?

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    I completely agree about the rush for new websites, especially as Matt Cutts has now said that older sites can’t expect to remain in the rankings if their site and usability hasn’t been updated.

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    Interesting comment Amrish. Do you mean creating content around events that are happening in the world and will have meaning to their customers, or organising their own events that customers can benefit from, as content? I see both of these trends occurring. Well pointed out.



  1. Marketing trends in 2014 – predictions from the people who know | Content is Bling! - [...] trends in 2014 together with creative director Sharon Tanton and 12 other experts in the know! Read it here!!…

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