The top marketing trends of the last decade
A decade is a longer time than you might think. Ten years ago, Concorde made its last commercial flight, the Iraq war began and Facebook didn’t even exist. And changes in marketing have been nothing short of astonishing.
- by Peter Labrow
We’ve just hit our tenth birthday, which got us thinking about how much marketing has changed over the last decade. Here’s our rundown of our personal top-ten marketing trends of the last ten years.
Ten years ago, the best-selling mobile phone was the Nokia 1100 (with 250 million handsets sold). Today, there’s very little difference – other than size – between a computer and a phone. Around 20%–30% of all website traffic comes from mobile devices – up by around 70% compared to the previous year. It’s predicted that mobile Internet usage may overtake fixed Internet usage in 2014.
Catering for mobile users is not just a design issue. It’s vital to rethink how you approach content, usability, navigation, structure – and more. You have to ask searching questions: what do users want from your website when they visit using a desktop or laptop, tablet or phone? Do they even want the same information? Does the relative importance of information change? (Just one example – are mobile users seeking your phone number quickly?) The answers to these questions won’t be the same for every company or type of company. Perhaps a restaurant might display its menu and location map first on a mobile site – and prioritise other content lower.
Website owners need to spend time comparing the behaviour of their mobile visitors with desktop and tablet visitors – and adjust their websites accordingly. Your website needs to ‘work on phones’, but it needs to work well on phones. It has to provide an experience that’s optimised for the device. Just resizing things isn’t enough.
Where we’re at: all of our websites are now designed to be ‘responsive’, adapting themselves automatically when viewed on desktop, tablet and mobiles. We can work with clients to adapt these views even further, based on an analysis of visitors’ behaviour.
Facebook began life in 2004. Twitter in 2006. LinkedIn in 2003. So, a decade ago, social media wasn’t even on the marketing landscape. Today, companies spend around 8% of their marketing budget on social media; a figure that’s expected to increase to almost 20% in the next 5 years.
Again, there’s a less obvious trend hidden under the undeniable growth of social media. Traditional thinking with websites is to ‘bring the customer to you’. People are spending more time on the Internet – but they’re spending much of it on social media. This means you have to go to them. But throwing advertisements in their faces isn’t the answer. That’s just more noise. What’s needed is interesting content – stuff that educates, informs and entertains. Stuff that people share.
Those companies which use social media successfully generally have one thing in common: a well-thought-out content marketing strategy. Those which fail at social media typically haven’t yet grasped what this means – and keep putting out ‘more adverts’. It’s our observation that this is where most companies get it wrong with social media: it’s not just about chatting. It should be underpinned by solid, sharable content – stuff that really interests your customers.
Where we’re at: as big advocates of social media, we help organisations to put in place social media campaigns which have a solid content marketing strategy as their foundation.
Ten years ago, the model for publicity was most typically all about putting news stories (press releases) in front of journalists and editors. They were the gatekeepers to publication, whether that was in print or on a website.
That model’s still very much in play (despite what some might say) but alongside it has risen a model that’s equally as important – one which allows you to reach customers and prospects via more direct channels. Social media is key to this, but it’s not the only route – indeed, those customers which abandon ‘traditional’ publicity channels for social media, or ignore other ways to get the announcements out, can find their circulation contracting, not expanding. Social media is great – but it’s not a panacea – and ignoring other channels is almost always a mistake.
The good news is that savvy companies today can get far more back from publicity than ever, if their strategy, distribution and content are good. The bad news is that we live in a world where there’s far more noise – so you have to work harder, creating really exceptional content, to genuinely stand out.
Where we’re at: publicity remains a core part of our business, even if the ways in which we get the message out are changing.
Now this is a big topic. Ten years ago, the accepted model was mostly about creating ‘features and benefits’ advertising-type content.
But the time to face facts was already at hand: customers don’t care about your company or your products. They care about themselves, their problems, their desires. Sales-focused content only speaks to them when they are interested in buying – which is about 1% of the time, if that. This means, most of your content, most of the time, simply gets filtered out. To make matters worse, it has an incredibly short shelf-life.
So, we’ve seen the growth of real content marketing – creating and delivering content which engages, educates and entertains, all of the time. Content that attracts people to follow a company, enabling that company to build a relationship with them – so, when the time is right for those people to buy, they already know you.
Where we’re at: creating content has been a core part of our business since day one; it’s one of the main things which sets us apart from many website designers.
The death of SEO
An entire industry has grown up around helping companies to get higher up the search engine results pages – search engine optimisation, ‘SEO’. The problem is, most of this industry is focused on rigging the game, while the people who actually ‘own’ the industry (Google, let’s face it) are focused on delivering honest results.
So, with algorithm update after algorithm update, Google’s made it progressively harder for the dishonest to win. Those who rig the results continually find themselves batted back to home base each time Google rejigs the rules.
Yet Google’s official advice has always been the same: create unique content and deliver a great user experience. Those companies following that advice haven’t been hit by Google’s changes – indeed, their search engine results have got progressively better. This success is tied to having a solid content marketing strategy and outstanding publicity processes – get those right and you honestly don’t have to fret about Google.
Where we’re at: we have always followed the advice of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. We never guarantee that a client will be ‘at the top of Google’ but all of our websites are consistently high-ranking.
The death of marketing baloney
The rise of the Internet has driven a change to a more informal vocabulary – an effect which has reached way beyond the Internet. Perhaps nowhere is this more important than in marketing, an industry long ridiculed for its posturing, inflated use of words.
In my experience, this was the influence of clients, rather than copywriters – wanting things to ‘sound more important’. Perhaps they did, but such a pretentious lexicon (see what I did there?) did little other than obscure important messages and make companies appear pompous and aloof.
With the rise of real content marketing comes a greater use of real, everyday language. Words which people immediately understand, structured in a way that neither intimidates nor patronises. Sadly, you only have to watch a few television advertisements to see that there’s still a long way to go – but we’re getting there.
Where we’re at: we’ve long spoken against ‘marketing speak’ and a core part of our content strategy is to help customers find a vocabulary that’s shared with their customers – rather than gobbledegook.
‘Word of mouth’ is hardly new and seldom underestimated. But a decade ago, that mostly meant exactly that: the words you heard directly from someone’s mouth. Today, peer reviews can make or break a business, product or service – they’re a core part of the online buying experience.
This is nothing short of a revolution. What used to be ‘advice on a decent plumber’ is now the quality check most of us use before pressing the ‘buy’ button. It’s not all upside: some companies use shills to try to rig their reviews (which is illegal under EU law) while other companies have to fend off negative comments, potentially from unscrupulous competitors. For the most part, peer review is a good thing – it’s customers’ views, based on actual experience, rather than your marketing hype. As with publicity and social media, people trust this more.
There’s no putting this genie back into the bottle, so it’s a part of the marketing landscape that’s better understood and embraced, rather than ignored. Some industries have yet to be affected by this – and perhaps can’t yet imagine where their peer reviews might be hosted. Make no mistake – this will happen.
Where we’re at: since we focus on business-to-business marketing, the peer review wave isn’t yet hitting us hard. But we are helping customers to integrate peer reviews into their websites where possible.
The death of print?
A decade ago, hard to believe though this is, many companies were still edging towards moving catalogues and the like to the Web – and many were still reliant on print. Today, those same companies are no doubt relieved that they’ve lost the cost of print and distribution and can focus their efforts on their websites.
But the death of print has, in many ways, been exaggerated. There’s undeniably a lot less print – but so far it’s pretty much like any media revolution. Radio didn’t kill books. Television didn’t kill radio. The Internet didn’t kill television. What mostly happens is that the older technology has to find a new balance, to adapt to the existence of the new.
Some companies are missing marketing opportunities – direct mail and other forms of print marketing still deliver good results, despite their costs. And it’s less visually competitive – your physical intray is a less cluttered place than your e-mail inbox.
Where we’re at: yep, we do less print than we did ten years ago; in fact, considerably so. But it’s still a part of what we do and it’s still great to work with clients who find print remains effective.
The rise of video
Here’s another website which didn't exist a decade ago: YouTube. Today, YouTube is (brace yourself) the Internet’s most popular destination. It’s not the only video sharing website, but it’s easily the most popular.
Driving this trend is something training companies have known for years: people retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see and 50% of what they see and hear.
Video is a great vehicle for content marketing – it enables a lot of information to be delivered quickly and is a terrific way to provide ‘how-to’ tutorials and other content of real user value.
If there’s a downside to video, it’s the same downside as other marketing tools – although with video the flaws are more painfully obvious. Poor presentation, amateur editing, lack of decent sound and lighting equipment are just some of the obvious flaws which can totally undermine a potentially decent video. As with all things marketing, it’s better to do less really well than it is to pump loads of rubbish into the world.
Where we’re at: we’re helping customers to add video to their websites. A good example would be our work with Wigan & Leigh Hospice, where people can ‘visit the hospice’ without going there – and watch something that’s far more emotionally engaging than words alone can ever be.
The rise of the infographic
This one is a bit of a cheat, since really, infographics have been around for hundreds of years in one form or another (as far back as 1626, Christoph Scheiner used illustrations which were really infographics to show the sun’s rotation patterns).
But in Internet terms, the infographic as we know it today didn’t really exist ten years ago. Now it’s seen as one of the most engaging ways to deliver information, especially where the core of that information is statistical. Why are they so popular? Well, 90% of the data transmitted to the brain is visual – and we process visual information far, far faster than any other kind.
As part of a strategy for social media, content marketing and publicity, infographics can play an amazing role. They’re more likely to do that most client-loved of all things (‘go viral’) and are more likely to be shared online. The key to a successful infographic is to deliver something that’s interesting and useful, rather than hijacking it as a means to pimp your brand.
Infographics are just one form of image-centric content – a trend that’s firmly on the rise. Pinterest is already the third biggest social network and has been shown to be the one which drives the fastest conversion to a sale.
Where we’re at: infographics are just one way of delivering great content. For example, we presented the key elements of a market research programme (a salary and work survey for Blue Eskimo) using infographics.
These are just our top ten. There are many trends which are at least as big (oh, say, analytics or real-time communications). Drop us a line if you need help with any of these and feel free to add your comments (or alternatives) below.