2014 is winding down. It’s been a good year for marketers, full of technology we’d never seen implemented in ways we couldn’t have imagined.
Let’s take a look at the five online marketing trends in 2014 which framed what we did and where we’re going.
1. Facebook Gets Questioned
The fall in Facebook’s popularity was arguably the biggest trend to hit online marketers in 2014. It shook the social media foundation we’ve been standing on for years now, and many brands held meetings to discuss their future on the platform.
For many of us it was when a brand actually left the platform that we took notice. Famously, and in a “ Letter to Facebook” that went viral this spring, online food delivery service EAT24 departed Facebook after spending over a million dollars on the social media giant.
A fun excerpt from their letter sums up the feelings of more than one brand in 2014:
When we first met, you made us feel special. We’d tell you a super funny joke about Sriracha and you’d tell all our friends and then everyone would laugh together. But now? Now you want us to give you money if we want to talk to our friends. Now when we show you a photo of a taco wrapped with bacon, you’re all like “PROMOTE THIS POST! GET MORE FRIENDS!” instead of just liking us for who we are. That’s hella messed up.
Facebook’s director of communications responded:
Hey Eat24, this is Brandon over at Facebook. I was bummed to read your letter. The world is so much more complicated than when we first met – it has changed. And we used to love your jokes about tacquitos and 420 but now they don’t seem so funny. There is some serious stuff happening in the world and one of my best friends just had a baby and another one just took the best photo of his homemade cupcakes and what we have come to realize is people care about those things more than sushi porn….
And the difficulty of this whole conversation is this:
Is it possible to agree with one point of view while equally agreeing with the opposite?
So let’s look at the issue from a more scientific perspective…
In an October article from our friends at Groove, they announced that they, too, were deleting their Facebook page. Rather than a relationship breakup though, they cite their proven ROI from blogging (and lack of ROI from Facebook) as the primary cause of their Facebook abandonment:
Every hour that we spend managing the Facebook page is an hour that we could spend building the blog. An hour each week may seem insignificant, but that’s 52 hours in a year.
The amount of traffic and signups we could get by spending 52 more hours on the blog is significant.
And yet, we were robbing the blog of 52 hours of added time because of our blind, knee-jerk tendency to do what we were “supposed” to.
So what was our Conclusion on Facebook in 2014?
In order to deliver the content that its users say they want (after exhaustive polling and surveying), Facebook has to limit the Reach of brands on the platform. This is something that Facebook has said time and again and it’s unlikely to change. Brands need to deal with that or experiment with other platforms and forms of brand communication.
Luckily it’s not all bad. Facebook gave us something in recompense when they took away organic reach: Facebook Ads. Facebook’s ad platform allows for more targeted communication than any other option. Facebook Ads gives brands the opportunity to engage with users who are genuinely interested in their content and promote exactly what they want without limitation. They also elicit real engagement, clicks to a website that result in real-world sales (not largely meaningless Likes of your Page).
Yes, it’s pay to play. But with many businesses finding their Cost-Per-Click floating between 50 cents and 2 bucks and an ROI of 500%, we’re happy to be off the bench.
2. Email Does Yoga
Email Marketing Automation used to describe an inflexible series of emails which required hours of testing, tweaking and optimization. It was exhausting and in need of constant maintenance.
Hubspot’s Ellie Mirman described it like this in her 2014 article:
The inherent flaw in [the traditional email automation strategy] is that it starts with the marketer’s timeline rather than the prospect’s. The marketer sits down and defines what information the prospect will consume next, what actions the prospect will take next, and the path the prospect will take from becoming a lead to becoming a customer.
But what if a prospect doesn’t follow the pattern you’ve designed for them? What if they start a free trial and then attend your webinar? Or what if they engage intensely for two days and then lose interest, only to spontaneously become a customer in three month’s time?
2014 was the year when we really started to integrate triggered email workflows into our marketing efforts, and they started to work for businesses everywhere.
A lead is so much more likely to convert if you deliver timely, intelligent content when and how they want it – content based not just on time within your sales funnel, but who they are and what actions they’ve taken.
Here’s a quick example of how triggered emails differ from traditional automation workflows:
Triggered emails, or automated marketing communications based on a lead’s behavior, are the best thing since sliced bread not necessarily because they make it easier on digital marketers, but because they’re timely (not timed) and relevant.
An optimized email campaign needs three things: timeliness, relevance, and value. Triggered emails deliver two of those necessities, and value depends on your content and marketing teams.
Imagine an email marketing campaign which delivers personalized content (see Trend #3 below) at the moment proven to elicit a conversion. Imagine a lead coming to download your ebook and then receiving a thank you email prompting a free demo (standard). But imagine a follow-up email if they don’t schedule a demo and a different one if they do. Imagine emails based on the time they’ve been in your sales funnel or their lead score, their sector or the pages within your site that they’ve visited but not converted on. The list (and potential) goes on and on.
3. Websites Get Personal
2014 saw innovations in website and lead tracking, enabling online marketers to personalize the way they interact with leads and prospects automatically.
Imagine a landing page that knows your prospects name; a pricing page that knows their marketing budget; a marketing email that knows (to the Nth degree) the next piece of content likely to convert them as an individual.
It’s already started, and will continue to develop in the coming months.
There are two primary ways we saw it implemented in 2014 (and remember, we’re only in the baby stage here).
Personalized email and content blocks:
Merge tags generated from your form fields or UTM codes added to your site’s URLs allow you to drop leads and site visitors into different lead streams within your CRM or lead database. This means that not only can you send your marketing emails to individuals with personalized content, but that your website’s content will actually change based on the segment a visitor is in.
For instance, let’s say you run the marketing strategy for an ecommerce company which sells ski and snowboard gear. Someone arrives on your website and buys a pair of men’s gloves. Not only does this action trigger a relevant email targeting your male demographic but with personalized content blocks the next time they arrive on your website it will feature men’s products.
The same would work for a B2B company offering different products for different sectors.
As soon as your lead enters their email address into your landing page’s form, they start down a nurturing stream optimized more than we’ve ever seen.
For instance, the first landing page a prospect sees might ask for a name and email address…
The second time they’re prompted to fill out their business’ sector and size.
The third time they’re asked for their biggest frustration with online marketing.
The fourth time (now that you have all the information you need to convert them) the landing page they arrive on will simply welcome them (by name) and give them a CTA button to download the guide directly.
And the best part of personalized websites is that this technology is developing as we speak.
Literally. There’s a dev about 25 feet from me right now who’s working night and day to get this off the ground for our customers as soon as possible.
4. Website Popups Win the Debate
I think it’s safe to say that website popups have been one of the most controversial topics of 2014 (they incited Danny Brown to comment on my article “ The Controversy Over Popups and Why I Love Them” with the following: “Personally, I loathe them with a vengeance and will never share content from any blog that uses them. And, probably never go back to visit myself.”
Yet 2014 was the year that popups were implemented everywhere, and they continue to show up more and more frequently:
We found success with them on our own blog and continue to do so. And we’re not alone. Some of the biggest, most-read blogs and websites in the world implemented and found success with popups this year.
Who implemented a popup in 2014?
- The Wishpond Blog
- Etc. etc. etc
Why are these huge and successful publications messing around with something Danny Brown loathes with a vengeance?
Simple answer is that they work. In 2014 marketers everywhere recognized that, when implemented carefully, tested intensively, and designed well, they work damn well.
And as they become more and more ubiquitous (and implemented with the relevant best practices) they’ll only become more and more commonplace, accepted, and engaged-with.
5. The Rise of Instagram
On December 11th, Instagram announced its 300 millionth user, surpassing Twitter’s user base of 284 million.
Another fun tidbit is that, as Instagram is owned by Facebook, it means that Facebook’s overall social footprint has reached two billion seven hundred fifty million when you combine the Facebook platform, Messenger, Whatsapp and Instagram.
Instagram’s growth is unprecedented. Let’s take a look:
Yet (as this is a marketing-focused article), we have to examine the potential and effectiveness of Instagram for marketers, not just its popularity among users. Let’s take a look at the top 10 retail brands on Instagram vs the top 10 on Twitter.
What we’re seeing here:
We’re seeing that the average post for the top 10 brands on Twitter receives engagement of around 53.2. For Instagram, that number jumps to more than 30,000. Even if we take the least engaged brand in the top 10 we are still seeing a post:engagement ratio of around 1:10,800.
Visual content, people.
Steve Jobs said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
The dots which defined online marketing in 2014 are, more than ever before, the dots which will define our future. Marketing automation, site personalization and triggered emails are both where we are and where we’re going. They’re both our present and our future.
The trends of 2014 also raise the questions of 2015: Will more businesses leave Facebook in 2015, led by revolutionaries like Eat24 and GrooveHQ? Or will Facebook change their algorithm to cater more to brands? And will Instagram continue to outstrip our expectations? Will the platform put time and energy into delivering a concrete ROI for businesses as Pinterest has done?
I guess we’ll find out.
Written by James Scherer
James is a content creator at Wishpond and author of The Complete Guide to Landing Pages (among others). When he’s not writing or designing for Wishpond he’s enjoying Vancouver breweries, ultimate frisbee and risking his life biking around the city.