As technology becomes more prolific and embedded in our lives, it provides for newfound ways in which we connect with each other and the brands we love.
It also has a disruptive effect on old business models, causing waves of business consolidation and innovation. This holds truer than ever for the marketing industry as brands have a plethora of options to authentically connect with their customers in the digital space.
The clear lines between media, marketing and technology have blurred as brands mix them together to create authentic customer experiences through creative campaigns. Here are some of my predictions for 2014.
Big data, bigger insights
The exponential rise of data being collected about everything we do online can be unsettling, but is a powerful source of insight for companies. While big data is not yet the Holy Grail it's been touted to be, brands are now investing in technology and resources that can glean better insights from this data.
This data will lead the way into an era of hyper-personalisation, where each consumer's experience of the brand is tailored to their interests and behaviour. We are already seeing this in the form of online advertising and content tailored to our interests and location, but this is simply the beginning.
Branded video on the rise
Cited as a high priority gap for brands to capitalise on in 2014 in the 2014 Social Landscape study, engaging video content should be part of any large brand's marketing arsenal. With data costs plummeting and mobile video usage on the rise, a gap exists for brands to create original video content amidst a large local deficit.
Currently, the best performing local video content produced by brands is related to experiences that customers care about, such as music festivals, cooking and celebrity content. One trend is certain - brands are going to create much more branded video content in 2014, and they will allocate larger budgets to ensure the content is professionally storyboarded, produced and edited.
Continuing from the strong trend in 2013 of branded mobile and social apps, brands will keep creating immersive mobile experiences around highly niche topics and events. DSTV's Remote app, FNB's Find Steve Facebook App, or Castle Lager's Braai Nation app are some interesting examples -- apps that provide a niche utility value or entertaining experience.
A solid 67% of brands surveyed in the SA social landscape report are planning to create mobile apps in 2014. The key to unlocking an app's success will lie in not only its utility or entertainment value, but how well the brand connects the app back to its fundamental business proposition. As opposed to a bolt-on strategy, true integration is the key.
Content and advertising plays nicely
Online advertising budgets will continue to increase, with a larger portion being allocated to social media advertising and content marketing. This follows the international trend, where social media advertising is the largest growing digital ad-spend category - 47% of US brands plan on increasing social advertising budgets in 2014.
Consumers are content rich, but time poor as thousands of brands vie for their attention. The brands that do it right are those that create engaging content and digital brand experiences that stick with consumers long after they've seen the content. This trend includes brands investing in social data analytics to understand what content their consumers want, training their staff to become brand ambassadors and even to the point of hiring journalists and content experts in-house.
The lines between digital content and advertising will blur as both supplement each other to drive brand affinity and calls to action.
With over 11 million active Whatsapp users in South Africa, instant messaging has surpassed even social network usage. This is due to people wanting a simple, cost effective and quick way of connecting with their friends, but also because of people wanting greater control over their privacy and who sees their content.
Instant messaging platforms and social networks will blur together in the future, but for now there is a fairly clear separation of functionality between the WhatsApps, 2gos and WeChats and the Twitters and Facebooks of the world.
Brands will seek to engage more effectively on these IM platforms - as is evidenced by several brands owning portals on MXit, and connecting with consumers on the Naspers owned IM platform WeChat. Whether consumers will accept brands into this private space remains to be seen.
As consumers' lives become more intertwined in the digital space, exponentially more data will be collected about their personalities, whereabouts, connections, interests, discussions, transactions and virtually everything in between. This data can paint incredibly detailed pictures for brands about who their customers are and what they want. It also allows marketers to connect and engage with consumers in optimal ways.
However, collection, retention and use of consumer data often operates in a large grey area amidst protective laws such as POPI and the CPA.
These grey areas will almost definitely be challenged at some point as consumers become more educated about the need for consumer privacy and start pushing back against certain data usage practices. Brands that don't follow suit and comply with the law will not only be penalised, but may have their reputations significantly impacted.
Mike is technologist, entrepreneur and MD of Fuseware (www.fuseware.net, @fuseware), a company specializing in social media analytics and digital research. Mike's experience involves working with technology in its various forms to enhance the way businesses operate and disrupt the way brands connect with customers. Contact Mike at or follow @mikewronski on Twitter.
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