October 18, 2016

4 Digital Trends and How to Make Them Work for Your Brand

Written by
Alexis Church
Digital Trends for Your Brand

How did Snapchat go from a platform for teens to share images that vanish to a digital marketing destination for big brands like Vogue and the Wall Street Journal?

Digital trends can seem fleeting; however, with the right insight, you can leverage them as opportunities to make an impact. Some trends seem “high-risk” for brands looking to maintain their professional sheen. It is tricky to stay apprised of digital trends, let alone decipher which will remain in use — and, most importantly, which you should incorporate into your organization’s long-term strategy.

In this blog post we will:

  • Walk you through four digital trends that are here to stay.

  • Provide suggestions for approaching trends methodically.

  • Suggest how to maintain brand integrity as you begin to leverage these trends.

  • Recommend tips for leading your team during the implementation process.

Let’s dive in.

Trend #1: Mobile

You know how you’re on your phone a lot? Your customers and clients are, too.

According to a Pew survey on U.S. technology device ownership grew by nearly 200% among US adults between 2015 and 2011.

In addition to growth in mobile usage, traditional digital marketing is also going mobile. It is becoming increasingly more important to have mobile optimization for your marketing efforts.

In fact, 54% of emails are being opened on mobile devices, demonstrating the need for mobile friendly email campaigns. With clients and customers accessing your content via their mobile phones, you need to be sure your content works on these devices.

The Mobile App Pitfall: Too Many Options Could Mean Less ROI

If the only option you see for moving to mobile is making an application or participating in one of the social media apps that already exist for both Android and IOS, think again.

Making your own application can be high risk and require substantial capital investments to do the job right.

Though in some cases, these applications can be logical additions to your business, other times they provide little ROI. Putting your business on popular apps like Snapchat or Instagram can also be a risk to your brand if the social media channel is not synergetic with your values, goals, or purpose.

Mobile Browser Optimization: Respond to the Trend with Responsive Design

Instead of making an app or delving into a new social media platform your team is unfamiliar with, consider responsive web design (RWD) that allows your website to habituate a myriad of mobile devices — and desktop for that matter. RWD shows web pages “in response” to the size of the screen of the device from which the page is viewed. This responsive design is integral with 68% of U.S. adults having smartphones and another 45% having tablets, whose shapes and sizes may vary according to brand and model.

Communicating with your consumers via third-party social media apps on mobile can be effective, depending on your goals. However, social media like SnapChat proves a challenging fit for many industries. Instead, consider turning to email as a traditional digital channel for reaching your audience.

Many have claimed that email would die; however in 2015, 205.6 billion emails were sent daily. This figure has grown so far in 2016 and is expected to continue to do so in the coming years. Email remains a highly effective tool for sharing content and converting consumers without taking large risks for your brand. With 54% of emails opened on mobile devices, it is important to optimize emails for different device types and stay on top of this mobile trend.

Trend #2: Graphics, and Videos, and Live- stream…OH MY!

It seems like new type visual media are sprouting up every day. How does your business use visuals? Is it limited to the photos and logos on your website? Or do you create blog posts, rich with infographics and photographs? Perhaps you have even created videos, or if you are adventurous, tried live-streaming.

As digital media has popularized, research has been done to test the efficacy of using images or videos along with text-based marketing. It has become common knowledge that visuals increase engagement with content, but did you know that the use of imagery with your digital marketing efforts can help consumers better understand your product and retain information for longer? Comprehensive visuals, whether static or video, will help your consumers understand and remember your product or service.

Overcome the Stock Photo Rut without Stooping to Gimmicks

Creative visual content is indispensable! You don’t have to stoop to memes or other internet gimmicks when trying to get visual and participate in this trend. Protect the integrity and professionalism of your brand by using high quality and relevant images when posting content to your website, social channels, or blog. 

It is easy to get caught in a visual rut when trying to maintain brand consistency. Keep it fresh by avoiding overused stock photos or learn how to create new graphics using this post. Whenever possible, use photographs that provide insight into your brand and humanize you.

Video Content: Choosing the Right Medium for your Message

Video is a growing medium for providing visual content. In 2015, over an hour of all online time was spent watching video. This time represents an immense opportunity to provide engaging content to consumers via a medium that they are interacting with more frequently.

When considering your video content, determine the format and medium that are best for your brand. Retail stores might flock towards the short SnapChat and Instagram videos, but if you are a professional association or B2B SaaS provider, maybe YouTube is a better medium for your video. Whichever route you take, be sure to evaluate the fit for your brand as to avoid risking your values and brand image.

The Live-Stream Video Frontier

You may have heard about the live-stream marketing trend. Live-stream video is a relatively new phenomenon where live coverage of an event or chat is shared in real time on the internet. Perhaps you noticed that the last presidential debates were available for live-stream on Twitter. Maybe you missed this one, but Callaway Golf did a Facebook live tour of the late golf Legend, Arnold Palmer’s house.

While, at first glance, live-stream seems like a risky trend, you can mitigate risk through with proper preparation and creative concepts. Live-stream provides a unique opportunity to interact with customers in real-time and produce low-cost content.  If your brand is planning to do a live stream, consider starting with a format that is not interactive with the audience and planning what you will say in advance. Once you get the hang of this format move towards integrating audience interaction. Creative live-streams garner the most attention so take logical, calculated risks that fit with your brand - like the Callaway Golf tour of Arnold Palmer’s house.

Trend #3: Omni-Channel Marketing

Omni-Channel Marketing: What’s the Buzz?

Omni-channel marketing is the new buzz word in the digital space but what does it look like when operationalized effectively? To begin, let’s look at a definition of Omni-Channel from John Bowden, Senior VP of Customer Care at Time Warner Cable,

“Multi-channel is an operational view – how you allow the customer to complete transactions in each channel. Omni-channel, however, is viewing the experience through the eyes of your customer, orchestrating the customer experience across all channels so that it is seamless, integrated, and consistent.”

Omni-Channel Does Not Mean You Have to Be Everything to Everyone

Some people hear the phrase “omni-channel” and drop everything to create accounts and strategies for every media channel. Sure, owning your branded name on a variety of channels is effective brand protection, but you cannot maintain all of these channels without first considering if they fit into your branding strategy and where you will get the resources for doing so.

Omni-channel strategies do not advocate going on every marketing channel. Trying to be everything to everyone is a high-risk strategy for any brand. A robust omni-channel strategy supports a marketing plan that chooses the channels that best fit your brand, its values, and buyer personas. Once these channels are identified, work on iterating content that creates a seamless user experience across channels.

What Does a Good Omni-Channel Strategy Look Like?

A robust omni-channel strategy is a bit like a unicorn startup, difficult to find, but elegant and seamless when done correctly. One business that has done this in a big way is Starbucks (see other examples in this article). Starbucks seamlessly transitioned once brick-and-mortar experiences to its mobile app. The Starbucks reward system includes an app and gold star rewards that mimic the old coffee house experience of a punch card from back in the 1990’s. Their app integrates maps, digital gift cards, and coupons to create an exceptional user experience. You can send gift cards digitally, or enter physical card numbers to upload their balance to your app. The brand experience within the app not only mimics the in-store branding and user experience but also makes users feel like VIPs, allowing them to order in advance and skip the line in-stores. This sort of synergetic transition from digital to brick-and-mortar is unrivaled - although big box e-commerce sites like Amazon are trying to mimic it with their new lockers and pick up locations.

You certainly don’t have to be Starbucks, but it is important to identify opportunities to create omni-channel user experiences (like the Starbucks reward system) that fit with your brand will help you stand out. Starbucks doesn’t try to integrate every channel into their user experience, but chooses two main channels (their app and their store) and creates synergies. This should be the goal for your company as you consider omni-channel marketing experiences.

Trend #4: Humanization

Brand Humanization: Buzzword or Time-Tested Marketing Strategy?

Another buzz word in digital marketing is “humanization” of brands. The humanization of brands is not a new phenomena - marketers have sought to relate to their audience since the days of “Mad Men” style advertising firms. Digital marketing has simply changed the way we go about humanizing brands. The transformation of media to digital platforms has given consumers the opportunity to interact one on one with brands. This is both an opportunity and a threat.

Dehumanization: Branding Failures on Social Media

When brands attempt to make themselves accessible via social media, they must be acutely aware of their image and the public nature of customer service via public digital channels. United Airlines saw first hand what happens in the age of social media when customer service falls short of expectations. When they broke one customer’s Taylor Made Guitar and refused to pay for its repair, the musician took to social media to be heard and recorded a YouTube video called “United Breaks Guitars.” This video became viral and blew up into a PR disaster for United Airlines.

Sharing Your Brand’s Values

A recent and positive foray into brand humanization leveraging digital media is Land O'Lakes’ recent campaign, “Delete to Feed.” The company offered donate eleven meals for every picture of food that you delete off of your Instagram (look no further than this article on ‘Six Tips for Taking Perfect Instagram Food Photos’ to get a sense of the obsession with “food bragging” on the popular social media platform).

The campaign humanizes Land O’Lakes because it shows they understand the ubiquity of this popular fad of sharing photos on Instagram; and, they used that understanding to remind Instagram users of an important social cause. While it may be counterintuitive to take a stance against a popular activity, it resonated with users for that very reason. And, it allowed Land O’Lakes to align their brand with a philanthropic message.

From these two examples, we see that humanizing brands can be abstract and multifaceted. To avoid risks on the scale of United Airlines, monitor social media and address problems as they arise. Additionally, when creating controlled campaigns to humanize your brand and share your values make sure that the idea is synergistic with your brand the way the Land O’ Lakes campaign was.

Key Takeaways

Overall, there are ways to look at and understand overarching trends in marketing that can be deployed without sacrificing your brand through high-risk trends. When examining the efficacy of trends in the marketing world, consider the following:

Ask the right questions.

Talk to your marketing team and ask them about the trends and how to approach them. Use the norms of the trend, leveraging each of your chosen channels without deviating from brand values.

Keep longevity & sustainability in mind.

Think of the long-term sustainability of your brand when entering a new platform or trying out a new trend. Approach each movement with your digital strategy in mind and don’t be afraid to pivot or adjust your plan when necessary.  

Have a strategy to keep your brand intact.

Try out new trends as you and your marketing team see fit, but make sure that you test the trend first. Collect performance data and analyze the marketing trend’s fit for your brand. Evaluate and hedge some of the risks the way that we did with the trends we outlined above. If something goes array,  have an exit strategy available to maintain your brand image.


Look for Part II of the series next week to learn to Contextualize Marketing Trends Within your Brand Framework.

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