Every year in January we are faced with a litany of predictions for digital marketing.
Some are interesting, some are right, and some are wrong, and the vast majority are re-stating what’s already happening. Which isn’t courageous or interesting.
In this post, I’m going to bring out my inner soothsayer and make some bold, wild predictions on good or bad things that may or may not happen in 2015.
The fence I’m sitting on comes at no extra cost.
1. Sony will admit The Interview debacle was a massive hoax gone too far
It’s almost too convenient – a silly, fictional movie about a rogue nation comes out, and lo and behold, the distributor, a massive Japanese-American conglomerate, gets hacked. A bunch of ‘sensitive’ information is released (although none of it was that sensitive…) and a scandal erupts.
Sony pulls the movie, as do most cinemas. President Obama gets involved like a soaring eagle swooping in on prone prey, and decries the stifling of free speech.
Oh, and the movie goes on to generate more in online revenues than pretty much any movie ever.
Maybe I’m a cynic… but doesn’t this all sound like some wacky ad agency’s plan… which all got a bit out of hand?
Nothing that was released was really that sensitive. Some movie executive saying Adam Sandler’s movies are awful? Or a pre-pre-pre-Bond script? Or that Seth Rogan got paid a bunch of money to star in a movie? Come on. Come on!!!
For a movie about North Korea, to be hacked by North Korea, to then be released, alongside North Korea completely denying the hack?
Surely if North Korea had perpetrated this piracy they’d be bragging about it. They’re not exactly ones to shy away from the global spotlight.
So my first prediction for 2015 is that it will be revealed that this was some agency’s big, guerrilla plan to promote The Interview… but when it got out of hand, they rolled with it.
When they get caught, it’ll be a massive scandal, an embarrassment for Sony, and will spark a nuclear standoff. Which will be a great pre-text for the next Bond movie, whether or not he’s black, gay or a woman.
Probability of coming true: 17%
2. Nerdy email marketers will get mad when people say that email is dead
Yeah, I know, 2014 was the year of email not being dead. And, as I’ve written many, many times, this whole “email is or isn’t dead” argument is boring.
The people who are embroiled in the debate should spend their time making money from email instead of trying to defend it.
Even so, this will continue to be an endless, futile, pointless debate that email nerds will continue to perpetuate through 2015.
The problem is that email marketers have entrenched themselves in a battle position, and regardless of the position of the perceived enemy, they refuse to lay down their arms.
They have their unchangeable views, and will view any non-email channel as inherently adversarial and… well, evil.
Here’s the thing. Whether or not email is a dead channel, if it’s working for you right now, then keep doing it. If it’s not working, then stop doing it.
We aren’t trying to rid the world of an evil axis here, people. We’re selling stuff online. Let’s put things in perspective. Email works for lots of people, for some it doesn’t. And that’s all we need to say about that.
3. Growth-hacking will be revealed to not actually mean anything
Does anyone really know what “Growth Hacking” is? I don’t. Wikipedia says it’s marketing that uses a combination of “creativity, analytical thinking and social metrics.” Erm… so isn’t that just… well… “marketing?”
Others define it as marketers who use split testing, landing pages, real-time bidding and whatnot. So, well, can’t we just call it ‘digital marketing?’
However, it will remain a useful phrase for people who are trying to make basic digital marketing tenets seem more complicated than they are. And I bet we’ll see a bunch of blog posts entitled, “50 growth-hacks for online marketers” or something.
So, well, likely it will continue to be a thing, even though it doesn’t really mean anything.
4. Loads of companies will start offering CRM retargeting and marketers will all get giddy
If you did any online marketing in 2014, then surely you know what CRM retargeting is (or, as Facebook calls it, Custom Audiences). Currently you can do it on a couple of social networks, but that’s about it.
Well, in 2015, expect loads more platforms to jump on board. The first to expect will be LinkedIn. While LinkedIn advertising costs more than other networks, the members self-select themselves into highly valuable segments.
If you can couple this with your customer list… and BOOM goes the dynamite.
And, LinkedIn has started offering Audience Extensions in its ad platform, AKA lookalike audiences. This will add fat to the fire. For anyone selling into B2B markets, this is huge.
But it’s not going to stop there. Expect media outlets to start offering some form of CRM retargeting.
And it won’t just be media outlets! Retailers will start jumping on board too. Picture this: you’re a clothing retailer with an email list of 200k. Walmart approaches you and says, “Hey, do you want your products to feature in one of our emails, only to your existing customers, featuring your latest offers?”
As retailers turn into publishers, it will offer brands fantastic, targeted reach to their high value retail customers.
And CRM retargeting is a cornerstone of this strategy.
5. Twitter will degenerate into a spammy, paid reach ad channel
Remember the good old days, when Twitter was the domain of individual consumers engaging with each other? Now, it’s a place to complain about brands, troll celebrities, and be subjected to paid brand messages who are trying to seem “cool.”
Here’s the problem with Twitter: generally, a brand’s twitter account is run by a skinny-jeans-wearing, kale-and-goji-berry-smoothie-drinking, shitty-indie-rock-listening hipster who has been hired as a “social media manager.”
That’s all well and good. We all saw those exchanges between said hipsters who work for big brands. Like when Tesco has a witty diatribe with Hobnobs. And we all guffaw at their wit. And then realise it’s stupid.
Thing is, when you go through a Twitter feed now, the majority of it is 1) a brand displaying a pseudo-advertising message, 2) a brand’s paid-for ad slot, or 3) someone showing a picture of their dinner.
Twitter engagement is going down – this has been a recognised fact for some time now. And, brands are simply not getting much response from their own tweets, since they get lost in the clutter that is a Twitter feed.
So, brands are now paying for promoted tweets. That’s fine, fair enough, but now in my feed, I keep getting subjected to tweets that are from brands that I simply don’t care about. And messages which are just not very good.
I like Twitter because it’s fun to troll. And the world needs to hear my thoughts in 140 characters or less.
But brand messages on Twitter, to me, are just spam. And it will continue getting worse and worse.
6. Smartwatches will cease to be a thing when people realise they’re a stupid idea
Remember 2014, when we had to reach into our pocket and look at our phones to tell what time it is? How did we live in such a backwards world?
Welcome to 2015! No longer must we reach deep into our pockets. No longer must we risk arthritis in our hands from incessant pressing of the “power” button to check the time. No longer, my friends, must we perpetuate this downright disgusting way to live.
Apple has solved this awful problem that was holding society back. Now, we can simply look at a high-tech contraption on our wrist. Huzzah!
Maybe I’m not cool enough to understand the point of the Apple Watch, or for that matter the vast majority of wearable tech.
OK, some of it is cool. My dad loves his FitBit, and now brags to me about the number of steps he took in a given day. It hasn’t made him walk more, mind you, but at least now he knows how much he walked.
And the Google Glass sure went well, right? Except that it didn’t.
Here’s the thing. There are some legitimate uses for wearable tech. For example, the treatment of diabetes has improved astronomically by automating insulin pumps.
But, aside from the hipster sets in Williamsburg and Shoreditch, and the media wankers on Madison Ave and in Soho, will anyone actually use an Apple Watch?
Mind you, the Internet of Things is everywhere and ubiquitous. I mean, I can now start a coffee machine from my phone! (Note: you could also just start the coffee machine and wait for five minutes).
I, for one, am a sceptic. There are many use cases for wearable tech, that’s for sure, especially in the fitness and medical science areas. But being able to add a song to your Spotify playlist from your watch? Come on. COME ON!
7. A bunch of big brands will have their email lists hacked, but few will do anything to prevent it
Every month or so, another brand’s email list was hacked, and consumers cried afoul. But here’s the thing.
People willingly give their email address to hundreds of websites. This is fact – email is indeed the KILLER APP. And, if you check your spam box, it’s probably full of a few hundred spam messages from the last month. But it’s in your spam box.
If your email address gets nicked by spammers, that sucks, and I’m sorry to hear that. But is it really a big deal?
It’s maybe a pain if you have an idiotic password (mine is “1234”) – but otherwise, it’s pretty much useless except to send you emails that will get quarantined upon delivery.
Regardless, that’s not the big deal here. The big deal is the PR nightmare that brands face when their lists get stolen. Consumers cry afoul about a lack of trust, about how their privacy is being violated, about how their rights have been infringed.
And brands unwaveringly apologise, while usually shifting the blame to their ESP.
So, here’s a question – why aren’t brands (and for that matter ESPs) putting better controls on their email data? These hacks are still happening… and will continue to happen…
Here’s why: the overall risk of being hacked is quite low. When compared to the cost of putting in preventive security measures, it’s simply, in most cases, not worth it. So brands don’t bother. If email addresses get hacked, well, these things happen, consumers forget, and move on.
So in 2015, more brands will be hacked, a few scandals will emerge, some consumers will get a bit more spam (which will be quarantined anyways) and the world will still turn.
8. Buzzfeed will try to transition to a mainstream media outlet but 57 cute cats you need to see NOW will prevent its success
Remember when Buzzfeed was all about the cats? Now, it’s not. Every 10th article is a serious one. Just when you thought you were about to see Australians trying Zimbabwean snacks for the first time, instead you’re given a hard news story.
I once heard a great metaphor for Buzzfeed, as follows:
“Most news outlets are like a mullet – business first, and party afterwards (think of BBC’s ‘Also in the news’ section. Buzzfeed is a reverse mullet – silly stories first that segue into seriousness.”
And the media industry took note – it’s the dawn of the first ever media product by millennials, for millennials!
Here’s the thing. Millennials aren’t idiots (Gen X were, and I’m one of them, so I can say that. I mean come on, ripped jeans, plaid and lip piercings? Man, we sucked. And, let’s face it, Reality Bits was just not a very good movie.)
Do you work with anyone under 30? Are they idiots? They’re still optimistic – the harsh realities of life haven’t beaten them down… yet.
They think that Nirvana is classic rock, and that the Fresh Prince is retro. They watch Wayne’s World ironically and won’t catch you on the flippity flip.
But one thing they’re not is idiots. In fact, they’re one of the best informed generations in history.
Remember the old 1990s activity of “Surfing the Web?” That doesn’t happen now. Most people have 6-10 websites that they frequent on a daily basis for news, and a couple more for time-wasting. Buzzfeed is the latter, not the former.
It’s a question of brand perception. For a basic introduction to a news story, sure, Buzzfeed could give people a tip that something is happening. But it’s no better than, say, Facebook or Twitter.
Then, when people want to seriously learn about said news story, they’ll go to one of their trusted news sources – be it BBC, NY Times, or whatever.
Buzzfeed will remain a fantastic source of AMAZING PICTURES OF ALIGATORS YOU NEED TO SEE NOW. But it’s not going to overtake serious news media for coverage of serious news stories.
(Note: Buzzfeed has actually hired some pretty good journalists and are producing content rivalling that of traditional media outlets. So I’m giving this one a low probability. I just felt like ranting. Oh, and if any of you were wondering, Scary Spice is the Spice Girl I’m most similar to. Thank you, Buzzfeed, thank you so much.)
9. Buzzfeed will cause me to waste a bunch of time, and I’ll hate myself for it, but I’ll still do it, and will hate myself.
You know what I really need to see right now? 29 cats doing amazing things that I need to see now. Or 17 mind-blowing images of the northern lights that can’t be real (but are.)
Or 42 body-changing workout tips for lazy people. Because, well, I’m an idiot.
Here’s the thing. Buzzfeed has turned itself into an online news market leader. And this makes some people really sad for society. But mostly, it makes me sad for myself because I keep getting sucked into its unfettered inanity.
And I never get sucked into the good bits. I get sucked into the stupid ones. Question: what 80s song am I? Answer: Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.
Before I knew this dark fact about myself, I was a young, optimistic man, enthusiastic about all the opportunities the world had for me. I was like a bunny bounding through a summer’s meadow, without a care in the world. Sure, I didn’t know 29 things that made me quintessentially Canadian. And I wasn’t quite sure what Spice Girl I was most similar to. And I hadn’t discovered that I only knew 13 out of 15 quirky facts about Seinfeld.
But I was that cute little bunny, ignorant to the harsh realities of this incessant roller coaster through hell we call life.
Now, I’m an embittered hare, with sinewy muscles, fur that’s matted with a disgusting, urban mix of chewing gum and shit, and meat not even fit for the pot au feu of a broke ass Frenchman. The tortoises have passed me by, indeed, and I remain far from the finish line.
But, at least I can find 82 cute pictures of bunnies that look like superheros. That makes it all worthwhile.
10. Cookie re-targeting will get less ROI because it’s annoying and marketers will continue to measure the return incorrectly
We’ve all been stalked around the internet, and this is no longer a new technology. It’s standard. Everyone does it. And it annoys people.
Have you ever talked to an average consumer about how they feel about these ads? 99% of people find them annoying. This is for lots of reasons (for example, the ads aren’t useful, they’re just spammy and lazy…)
But this isn’t my point.
My point is that the ROI from cookie-retargeting is measured incorrectly.
People measure it from a last-click standpoint generally – how many people clicked on the re-targeted ads and then bought something? Probably a few.
Here’s the question that no one asks, however: “How many people would have come back and bought something anyways?”
And no one really knows, because pretty much no one is testing “doing retargeting” versus “not doing retargeting.”
So of course it looks like it’s generating revenue! Because people are clicking on it and buying stuff, so that’s gotta be a good thing.
But what would it look like if you retargeted half your audience, and didn’t retarget the other half, and compared their sales rates?
Chances are, things wouldn’t look so rosy.
Maybe I’m wrong… but I’ve yet to see any statistics or research on this topic. This is likely for two reasons: 1) it’s too hard to set up a test; and 2) people are too nervous to not do more marketing.
This is another problem. So here’s some advanced mathematical equations for your reading pleasure:
More marketing doesn’t equal better marketing.
More good marketing equals better marketing.
More bad marketing equals more marketing.
11. MY BIG IDEA FOR 2015: Language-optimising software will be the next big thing in programmatic marketing
OK, you’ve made it this far, well done, and here’s my BIG IDEA for 2015.
You’ve of course heard the buzzword “Programmatic Marketing” in 2014, and it seems to mean software that gives you ways to either optimise ad spend or optimise creative.
This is all well and good – you can easily split test landing pages or email subject lines, for example. Or you can upload multiple ad creatives, set some targeting criteria, and have some machine engine magically optimise your targeting and response rates.
Fantastic! These are great uses of technology and statistics.
But, there remains a massive problem with this! People still don’t know what to test. And, they don’t know how to run good tests that teaches them something about their audience.
I’m not making this up. In December I ran a survey to find out more about how people split test email subject lines (you can download it here.) And what did we learn?
The actual functionality of split testing is easy. Pretty much every ESP has something like this. And same for landing pages – just install something like Optimizly or Unbounce and you’re off to the races.
But the fact remains that people still don’t know what to test!
And further, once a test is run, people don’t know how to learn from the results!
Doing testing is the easy part. Doing good tests, and learning from the results, is the hard part… and currently there are very few options out there aside from human intuition (which, I’m sad to say, is fallible.)
So my big idea for 2015?
Software tools that tell you what to test, how to design the experiments, and use advanced algorithms to learn from the results.
I don’t mean something basic like, “This subject line got more opens so let’s use that one.” I mean longitudinal learning.
What does longitudinal learning mean? You run a series of machine-generated tests, feed the results back into the engine, and your subsequent tests are optimised.
As technology like natural language processing becomes more and more advanced, this is a technology area that will become more and more useful.
Right now, it’s either way too hard, or way too expensive. This, in 2015, will change.
Haters gonna hate! But that’s cool – feel free to whack your own predictions, or any counter-points, into the comments below.
Here’s the thing…
Some of the above may happen, some of it may not. I’m not Nostradamus. However, now that we’re hopefully over buzzwords like “content marketing” and “big data” and “native advertising,” maybe 2015 will be the year that marketers start focusing on end results instead of keeping up with the Jones’.
Or maybe not… in which case, in closing, BIG DATA.