Too often, businesses over-engineer their marketing efforts in an attempt to capture the attention of their audiences’ minds and wallets. But audiences are smart, and they’re immune to these efforts.
We no longer seek out information — we expect information to be seamlessly integrated into our everyday lives. Picking up on that trend, small businesses plan to increase spending on inbound marketing in 2011, according to recent reports. These efforts will include established initiatives such as Facebook campaigns and location-based advertising, but businesses will also experiment with a handful of new (and not so new) strategies. Here are five digital marketing trends to watch as the year unfolds.
1. Group Messaging
Group messaging has undoubtedly become this year’s location-based service. The clear front-runners areBeluga and GroupMe, both of which offer users a way to communicate in small, personalized groups of friends. So, how does this tie into marketing strategies?
What more can you ask for as a business than to have groups of customers already populated and organized by interest, age and location? The data that these groups provide is invaluable.
Much like location-based marketing campaigns in 2010, marketers will be anxious to find ways to integrate messaging and purchase points into groups. As Beluga co-founder Lucy Zhang explained on a SXSWi panel this past weekend, the primary use case for group messaging this winter has been to organize ski trips. Imagine the marketability of those groups looking for ski gear, lodging and restaurants.
2. Reputation Engines
Somewhere along the way, professional networks have begun to exist upon a foundation of trivial metrics. Our everyday lives have become inundated by these reputation engines: mayorships on Foursquare, the velocity of one’s HurricaneParty, number of followers on Twitter, etc.
Several recent companies such as BranchOut, Honestly.com (formerly Unvarnished) and Hashable, have attempted to bridge the gap between real-world reputation and online marks, but it is unclear whether or not these companies will successfully convey the appropriate balance.
Marketers would be wise to turn to a keen eye toward these networks because they represent the base of influence, both online and offline. Whether or not the algorithms are perfect, each social network exists to harness the power of relationships forged in real life — and serves as a prime audience for marketing.
3. QR Codes
Ok, so QR codes really aren’t new. Businesses have been generating QR codes for marketing purposes for several years now. But I have a confession to make — I simply do not understand the success of QR codes.
The technology itself is rather trivial and has been around for more than a decade, even though QR codes penetrated the mainstream market pretty recently. For example, on a recent shopping trip to Sephora, I noticed the use of QR codes to collect additional information about products around the store. Considering I am admittedly secluded within the tech industry, I was anxious to know just how successful a somewhat “nerdy” marketing gimmick could be on the average, everyday consumer. So, I quickly asked a nearby sales clerk, “How many shoppers do you generally see scanning your QR codes each day?” Her response: “What is a QR code?”
Now, it’s obviously not fair to judge an entire strategy on a single participant, but this is where my own confusion lies. QR codes are everywhere. And yet, it’s as though consumers simply decided not to question them. Has this been your experience?
Regardless of how many scans a QR code will garner, it certainly appears that we will see an increasing use of them in 2011.
4. Startups for Startups
A few months ago, a startup received more than 10,000 signups within two days, without ever disclosing what it even does. And thanks to LaunchRock, companies can now create a no-fuss landing page for their business in a matter of minutes, thus initiating the single-most meta business model I have seen this year. These companies collect user contact information, promising access to their beta if they agree to publicize their own sign-up.
Which begs the question, how much information is really necessary to market to an audience? Not much it seems.
Users are hungry to be early adopters. Even mainstream users are becoming increasingly savvy to the newest thing -– tech is sexy again, and smart marketers know this. In 2011, I expect to see similar efforts that reflect this startups for startups meme. Everyone wants a piece of the startup pie and schemes like Launchrock are certainly a great way to gain attention and gather data.
5. Q&A Sites
Quora, a Q&A site launched in 2009, has mostly attracted the attention of the technology and media industries, but it will likely inspire mainstream marketers soon. The site, along with some of its competitors, has become a useful marketing tool. The Q&A space is quickly heating up, with influential organizations likeTED and Facebook getting into the space.
Q&A sites provide a platform where users can engage in simple dialogue pertaining to any question — businesses have the ability to seed questions, interject into negative discussions, establish credibility and respond to competitor questions.
Much like a company blog that is built to drive conversation around a particular brand and industry, businesses will continue to find avenues to market to targeted audiences, such as those found within each Quora topic.