Let us start with the bombshell. There isn’t anything new on the digital marketing horizon for 2015 that excites me much in isolation. 

In previous years entire new disciplines emerged. Last year was big for content marketing, data, native advertising, programmatic.

Before that we had marketing automation, inbound marketing and going back further still social, mobile, video and so on. “Search engine marketing” was coined as a discipline back in 2001. 

Arguably some of these are just buzzwords for things that already existed. But most did feel like shifts, or changes in focus, that were new in digital marketing.

I have not yet come across anything quite the same for 2015.

Sure, we will have more personalisation, more omnichannel, more data and automation; we’ll continue to see exciting tech developments around the internet of things, 3D printing, cognitive computing, augmented reality, wearables (nearables, hearables etc.), drones, robots, iBeacons, artificial intelligence and emerging payment platforms.

But these are all either not new for 2015 or will not have a significant impact on digital marketing this year.

But there is good news. I remain very excited about digital marketing and ecommerce for 2015. Not because of all the more specific innovations and changes but because of three bigger overarching trends I predict for this year.

The first is the return of creativity and design. The second I call ‘marketing as a service’. The third I call ‘connecting the dots’.

1. The return of creativity and design

Of course creativity and design never went away. But I believe it will dawn upon marketers and business people more generally what a premium creativity and design should command and their value will come again to the fore. Why? And why now for 2015?

For at least the last decade the excitement has largely been driven by rapid technological innovation and the huge shifts in consumer behaviour brought about largely by the internet and mobile.

More recently data and automation opportunities have continued to excite. All understandably and rightly so.

But Apple’s CEO Tim Cook recently challenged us all to ask ourselves as businesses, “What comes after the internet?” My wife, right up there with Tim Cook in defining the future, recently observed “science fiction has caught up with itself”.

Of course technology will continue to evolve rapidly and no doubt there will be another internet-like breakthrough at some point.

But for where we are right now we have plenty enough tech to do amazing things. What we are lacking is good ideas and the interactive design craft needed to apply what is already possible to create transformational value.

You probably know that you can use data feeds, from the weather to share prices to trending music sales to stock availability and more, in order to real-time optimise advertising creative?

You probably know you can tap into your CRM data in real time via APIs to create custom audiences that you can lifecycle retarget with digital marketing from social to content to email to ads?

All powerful stuff. But what is the idea? What are the behavioural triggers you will use? What is the customer journey flow across channels and what are the creative and design treatments for those hundreds of dynamically served and personalised experiences?

How does this all support the brand promise? Who is responsible for the cohesive vision that is not only technically enlightened but actually engages creatively, emotionally and commercially?

The engineers have been the rock stars of digital for a long time. They deserve to be and will remain critical.

But for 2015 the real gold dust in terms of people and capabilities will be those customer experience architects, product managers and creative technologist types who have ideas, who can inspire with a vision, who can lead teams to design and deliver undeniably better customer experiences.

The fact that they understand the technology, the data, the multichannel customer experience and the commercial objectives is a given.

We need inspired hypotheses. We need good ideas and brilliant design execution.

Of course marketing ‘optimisation’ in its many performance-driven forms has a long way to run yet and is never finished. But, to paraphrase Tim Cook, ‘what comes after optimization?’

You have made your site responsive, you have copied Amazon’s checkout process, your PPC is running efficiently, you are pumping out persona-driven content mapped to the customer journey, you are actually quite good at social, and you are omnifying your channels.

But when will this run out of steam? Will it deliver a step change or only incremental improvements that barely keep up with your customers’ expectations?

Creative thinking is needed to make bigger leaps. Which is why big companies are so unsettled by the likes of AirBnB and Uber.

They are looking for their own equivalents. Incrementalism may not be enough; disruptive, creative thinking is at a premium not just in digital marketing but in the boardroom.

2. Marketing as a Service

I posited this last year as an emerging trend in marketing, particularly digital. It is starting to happen but I expect to see more over 2015 and beyond.

It's not just technology that is moving towards thinking about platforms and services.

Marketing and entire business processes and models are moving that way. Away from the static and the linear and the planned; towards the fluid, ongoing and agile.

Take IBM’s Bluemix - a cloud-based platform for building, managing, and running apps of all types.

Take Google’s Material design - a codified visual language and set of design and interaction patterns. Efforts are being made across technology and design to enable efficiencies, scale, consistency and replicability without compromising creativity and freedom of expression.

The same is happening in marketing. For example, if we can create shared content, marketing or data assets, and define unifying taxonomies and data architectures, then we can get much smarter, and more efficient, when delivering personalisation at scale. We can begin to segment and target in creative ways.

We can more rapidly deploy our marketing in reactive ways. Nike+ creating over 100,000 personalised videos based on runners’ data is a good example.

If you consider many of the tech developments – programmatic, automation, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, self-learning systems – they feed off, and are driven by data.

But most still need human expertise to be trained and tuned to work really well. Increasingly our role as marketers will be to train these systems, to infuse them and instruct them with our brand’s DNA, to help architect the data to be particularly relevant for our customers, to orchestrate the rules and triggers driving the system, to choreograph the frequency and nature of interactions with our customers and prospects.

Once we have our marketing platform our job will be more about marketing service design than doing campaigns and collateral.

3. Connecting the dots

There has been a lot of investment in digital over the last decade and it continues to grow. There has also been a realisation that customer-centricity really is a source of sustainable competitive advantage and organisations are starting to walk the talk.

Witness the rise of board-level roles with the word ‘customer’ in them.

But we are a long way yet from the seamless, omnichannel, personalised customer experiences we all talk about. To deliver on that promise we need to connect a lot of dots.

Only then will the digital and marketing engine start to purr efficiently rather than stutter as it does currently.

We have a lot of dots to connect. We need to join up data, we need to integrate technology systems, we need online and offline to become joined up.

But it goes well beyond that. We need to connect dots in our processes and operational practices to enable, for example, agile ways of working. We need to connect dots in our organisational structures to enable multi-disciplinary teams and multichannel thinking.

We need to connect dots in the skills, knowledge and capabilities of our people. We need to think of marketing as an ecosystem that is nonlinear and always on, that is more modular.

Truly delivering on customer-centricity requires us to join lots of dots. This may not be sexy but it is important and most of us will spend 2015 trying to connect more dots.

So we have a lot to do. And whilst there may not be any single trend or discipline in digital that excites me for 2015 it feels like we are at a tipping point where all the component parts are now available, as well as the will, to apply all that digital can offer in creative, engaging, even disruptive, ways to transform customer experiences and, indeed, entire business models. 

Ashley Friedlein

Published 21 January, 2015 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

Refreshingly honest.

What I'm seeing here in the trenches is that as the social platforms mature, people are starting to realize that they actually have to accomplish something on them. The social media 'new and cool' honeymoon is over.

Winners of this change are the dominant platforms: Facebook, Twitter, maybe even LinkedIn. Losers are new platforms as we simply don't have the 'new and cool' grace period to figure out how to take advantage of them.

Same with B2B / content marketing. Comments on the Digital Outlook 2015 B2B/Content post show that people are disheartened with the notion that you just keep 'romancing an audience' with content without a clear path to new customers and revenue.

Marketing automation and lead scoring, I think, keeps winning. Producing high-quality content, I fear, will be pushed to the back burner. Too costly, not enough trackable ROI.

So I think point 1 is definitely on trend. We will take the new tools, the new methods, the new habits (see the Digital Outlook 2015 mobile post) - and be spending on our time in 2015 using them to build new business.

Or as you put it:

"What we are lacking is good ideas and the interactive design craft needed to apply what is already possible to create transformational value."

Indeed!

almost 3 years ago

Rob Mettler

Rob Mettler, Director of Digital Business at PA Consulting

Ashley, I like your bold cut on the mega trends.

For me the biggie is your point 3 - it recognizes that digital marketing has to move across the customer life-cycle, across channels and across organisational silos (e.g. products) to deliver its full potential. Getting an agile working dynamic working between marketing and IT will be critical to unleash the power of areas like programmatic marketing and distributed content marketing (which will become increasingly important especially in B2B).

This will not be to the exclusion of your other points, right brained thinking, creativity and innovation will be premium skills to drive the disruptive change not just to customer marketing and engagement but also the fundamental internal changes that need to take place for that to happen.

The challenge will be getting the leaders to drive to endorse, prioritise and drive that change. PA’s Digital Barometer shows that only 26% of its respondents consider their leadership understands digital, and only 20% have restructured in line with their strong digital ambitions.

Interesting times ahead, as always.

almost 3 years ago

Jo Hill

Jo Hill, Digital Strategy and Leadership at Freelance/Interim

You’re a hard man to please, Ashley!

I agree with a lot of this, and I think what binds your themes is a shift of focus from technology to people.

As you say, we now have the tools to do almost anything we want (and next week, we’ll be able to do even more and so on) so what becomes most important is having the right people, leadership and capabilities to set clear strategic direction and figure out how to organise for and exploit the best options to get there.

The rise of technology makes the human element more important, not less. We forgot this for a while and now we’re remembering again.

almost 3 years ago

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Ben Moore, Managing Director at Positive Image

While technology is advancing at such a rapid rate, can the same be said for our creativity? Especially when it comes to marketing and advertising? I think the short answer is yes; as the number and types of media increase, marketers, digital gurus and advertisers are finding more inventive (and innovative) ways of conveying messages and engaging in two-way communications. Personalised video is most definitely a case in point. Yes, it can be personal, targeted and more appealing to customers, but ultimately it is about cutting through the clutter and getting messages to stand out. It also means that brands can take advantage of having this communication heard and engaged with to put some of their own personality into it and promote their brand.

almost 3 years ago

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Tony Edey, . at RCL Cruises Ltd

In my experience invariably the main barrier to the kind of trends you are talking about above, are the companies that can't (or won't) restructure teams and technlogy to allow rapid development and innovation. That of course is exactly where companies like Uber and AirBnB step in, just as iTunes and notable others did before them.

I think there will also be further innovation in UI/UX. It feels to me that thanks to the need for responsiveness there is a design style divergence split broadly between traditionally structured sites such as John Lewis, and (to use a site from one of your Future of Digital Marketing 2014 speakers), brilliantnoise.com. Responsiveness inhibits design freedom, but in general is necessary for most sites, and it feels like no-one's really nailed the de facto standard for responsive site design. Perhaps that is impossible but we will inch ever closer to that ever moving target in 2015.

almost 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Great snapshot and analysis.
I'm glad to see you calling for the rise (return?) of creativity and the idea.
I think the pendulum may take a while longer to swing back from the focus on operations and data -- but it must come.
In the mean time, the best will always be idea-driven.

Also a great call on dot-connecting. A lot of our clients target marketers and this theme is everywhere.

(That dot-picture... it's a fish, right? )

almost 3 years ago

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Alex Dickerson, Head of Retail at Celerity

From an agency point of view, Marketing as a Service stands out to me. The ever connected and ever changing customer means that brands need to become more agile and reactive/proactive than ever before... Of course this means agencies must increase their agility and pace to keep up. In my opinion agencies/client relationships that are more of a partnership rather than a traditional supplier/customer set up, will always result in the most successful and profitable relationships for both parties.

Also, I have heard the term, connect the dots, many times and although I understand the principle of creating a holistic view of your customers, which is imperative, what I don't like is the thought of a linear customer that has a defined path set out... I would love to get some people's thoughts on this.

Thanks
Alex

almost 3 years ago

Rob Mettler

Rob Mettler, Director of Digital Business at PA Consulting

Hi Alex, totally agree with your point re: linear, it's a very dangerous trap to fall into. One of the thing clear to me is the modern digital customers switches devices, channels, products as well as moving quickly between buying mode, critic, advocate, upgrade and downgrade all in the speed of a swipe. Organisations with silos based around products, life-cycle stages will struggle to deliver the exemplar experience that customers expect and demand. Which for me is why joining the dots is key but also a primary challenge for legacy businesses.

almost 3 years ago

Alex Kupriienko

Alex Kupriienko, PR strategist at Portmone.com

All trends in digital marketing should be coordinated with production/fabrication/manufacturing process.
Otherwise we'll see a thousands of one-day products. Really bad products. Such bad, that CX won't help
Indeed

almost 3 years ago

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Katherine Noto, Manager at Ochre Media

Increasingly to the fore. also more advanced technology. and for marketing a product is cheaper and easier to be promoted on the internet. rather than ad campaigns through print media / newspaper or on television it will cost quite expensive. and I think the audience really prefer to see ads on video rather than reading an article....

Katherine Noto

over 2 years ago

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