As Christmas creeps closer and we look to the year ahead, I cast my gaze back at some of the biggest digital trends of 2012 and those which we see remaining hot topics for 2013.

Content Marketing - More subtle marketing methods

This terminology has been banded around in the last 6 to 12 months, gaining popularity and sparking debate on whether it really constitutes its own area of marketing or simply rebrands existing techniques such as SEO marketing, positioning and the likes. Whether new or old, the success of high profile marketing campaigns in 2012 has largely been attributed to an effective content marketing strategy, i.e. the epic Red Bull Stratos skydive video. It covers a wide variety of marketing formats, involving the creation and sharing of relevant, educational and engaging content that attracts your target markets’ attention in an unobtrusive fashion. Rather than pushing products and services directly, content marketing often aims to provide useful information that will better inform consumers.

The modern consumer is more savvy and informed than ever, and therefore more resilient to traditional marketing methods. They are less willing to communicate with brands and companies unless they see a personal benefit to the transaction. As consumer expectations increase many of the big brands have opted for content marketing to bring success in 2012, reaching these markets with content that they view as valuable, useful and non-disruptive to everyday life. Therefore, it is inevitable that we will see more and more companies of all shapes and sizes opting for this approach in the next year.

Content marketing spans into a range of other key digital marketing trends, such as Facebook Edgerank (discussed further in the Facebook Advertising section below) and Pinterest.

Pinterest - The power of pretty pictures

As with Flickr and Instagram, Pinterest maximises on web users’ love for consuming imagery. Imagery is often more effective than text content, in that consumers can translate it into meaningful data quicker and the visual memory has an almost infinite capacity. What’s more, images are far more effective at evoking emotion, which drives consumer behaviour and action.

Kraft Foods provide a fantastic example of great content marketing optimising on newer platforms such as Pinterest, and integrating these efforts with cross-channel and multimedia communications. With tailored content covering different niches and promoting discussion, Kraft’s online experiences encircle users with branded content that they can use, such as recipes and ‘how to’ cooking technique guides. Because this content is congruent with consumers’ online behaviour and needs, i.e. they will actively search for recipes and therefore do not see this content as being disruptive, they are happy to connect with the brand and become part of the online community.

Responsive Design - Tailored user experiences

My blog back at the start of this year discussed the massive shift toward responsive design, a trend that has continued and amplified in months gone by. Savvy clients have realised the potential of this innovative technology to save them money in the long-term and offer tailored and relevant user experiences across platforms and devices.

With a mobile specific solution your website recognises what device a user is coming to your website from and then directs them to either the desktop version or the mobile specific website. This means that you need to develop and maintain two separate websites to accommodate all users. Responsive design however overcomes many of the misgivings of mobile specific websites. It allows you to develop one website that will adapt according to the visitor’s browser and device, ensuring an optimal user experience at all times. As well as being cheaper in the long-term a responsive web design solution safeguards your website against the rapidly changing digital landscape and technological advances.

As mobile and tablet browsing increases in popularity, responsive web design will remain pivotal to effective web development in 2013. 

Facebook Advertising - friend or foe

Facebook advertising and f-commerce caused a stir throughout 2012.

F-commerce (also referred to as Facebook commerce) refers to retailers selling directly through the Facebook network. It has evoked particular controversy, with digital marketers debating the value and effectiveness of it, especially with big brands failing to produce the normal kind of success expected of their ecommerce efforts.

Many of the failings of f-commerce so far can be attributed to hesitant consumers, who do not feel confident in the security of Facebook as a retail platform. Inevitably this barrier to entry, as with ecommerce in the past, will reduce over time, as consumers become more familiar with the platform and see others using it safely.

Facebook advertising, on the other hand, has been lauded for its ability to create highly targeted campaigns, by utilising vast amounts of freely provided consumer data to segment audiences and reach them when they are most susceptible to receive it. At a basic level marketers can easily target demographics based on age group, location and gender. These ads can support increased numbers of ‘likes’ for you company page, direct users to your company’s website or promote particular posts (i.e. selling individual products, promoting special events and competitions, etc). What’s more Facebook advertising is built with measurability in mind, making sure you can easily and efficiently monitor your ad’s reach and effectiveness.

Some of you may have never heard of Facebook Edgerank or you may have been using a different name to describe the same concept, but all digital marketers working with Facebook should understand the elements that impact what users see in their news feeds. Facebook Edgerank refers to the algorithm which determines how content is output, based on your affinity with your different connections, the perceived weight or value of any piece of updated content, and the recency of that content. Your affinity with a contact increases the more you interact with them, including viewing their profile, messages and commenting on their content. However a word to the wise marketer, this affinity is one-way, meaning that while you will see more updates from them in your news feed it does not necessarily mean they will see more from you. In addition, video, images and links are generally accepted as the three most ‘valuable’ forms of content. So, the Facebook Edgerank algorithm suggests that regularly updating your company’s profile with valuable, rich content and encouraging users to interact with you regularly (thus increasing their affinity with you and the likelihood that you will appear in their news feed) is the most efficient means of reaching as many of your target audience as possible.

Facebook shows no signs of slowing down as either a social network or a marketing tool and therefore companies must make sure they fully comprehend best practice to get the most out of it going forward.

Effective Ecommerce Strategy

Ecommerce is nothing new but the best in ecommerce strategy is constantly evolving and being refined as technologies and consumer behaviours change. Within ecommerce strategy there are several core themes for effective digital marketing that have been at the top of the discussion boards throughout 2012, including f-commerce (as aforementioned), remarketing, handling basket abandonment and m-commerce (also known as mobile commerce).

Remarketing helps you connect with users who have visited your website and left, by showing them targeted ads when they browse through other websites on the Google Display Network. It is one tactic used to effectively reduce basket abandonment rates and increase sales and repeat custom. Remarketing allows you to use specific content (product or service offerings), which the user has previously viewed to entice them back to your website and enhance the chances that they will complete the purchase process.

Basket abandonment is the bane of many ecommerce marketers’ lives, who witness consumers browsing their products online, adding them to their online shopping baskets and then failing to go through to the checkout and make the final purchase. This can often be attributed to online shopping behaviour, such as price comparison or the user simply not being at the right stage of the buying cycle. However, research also shows a significant proportion of online shoppers abandon their online baskets due to inefficient websites and ecommerce processes. Therefore, e-tailers must look to develop streamlined and effective purchase processes online, which provide clear, marked stages to show the consumer where they are in the buying process and integrate effectively with third party payment systems. You can view our top tips to reducing basket abandonment online here.

The total value of all m-commerce purchases in Europe is set to almost double in 2013 compared with the past 12 months, meanwhile mobile browsing is also predicted to overtake desktop browsing in the next two to three years. Therefore, catering to the needs of online shoppers using mobile devices will become pertinent to ongoing ecommerce success. Companies should constantly be monitoring online user behaviour and web performance through Analytics to ensure they are best meeting their consumers’ needs and catering the user experience appropriately. Those that fail to offer seamless and efficient user experiences for mobile users will rapidly lose custom and consumer confidence.

 The above digital trends will remain at the epicentre of effective digital marketing and web development as we cross into the new year. Make sure you don’t miss the boat by taking action now and ensuring you factor these issues into the development of your digital strategy for 2013.

So if you want to safeguard your website against future technological developments by implementing responsive web design, or ensure your digital strategy meets your business objectives, contact us today. Our digital experts can advise you on the best approach to take to maximise your return on investment and help you achieve your goals.