Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

Marketing, like everything, is somewhat cyclical, and trends can help identify where we are in a cycle, so that we can get a glimpse of where we might be soon.

Trends are a paradox for me, and for many marketers. As a creative professional, my fundamental mandate is to exist outside the box, outside the derivative box which bursts as much with trends as with anything else.

My instinct, therefore, is to abhor trends – to disparage them as unpredictable, unsuited to support major business decisions, unsustainable, and well, trendy. All of which is true, yet knowing about certain market trends isn’t useful – it’s imperative. When skillfully applied, trends can often provide lucrative business and marketing opportunities.

Trends, as I said before, also give shape to “the box.” They sometimes help creatives and innovators by telling them where not to aim. And current trends, to some degree, can help us predict future market shifts.

Marketing, like everything, is somewhat cyclical, and trends can help identify where we are in a cycle, so that we can get a glimpse of where we might be soon.

No. 3 in our list of top marketing trends for 2018 is an excellent example of how a trend can foreshadow another potential market shift:

3. ONE OF THE HEARD

The trend: Consumer adoption of smart speakers (think Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple Home Pod) and voice search (now think Siri or Google Voice) has blown past critical mass and accelerates now toward becoming routine.

One-in-six people already own a smart speaker, more than 56 million smart speakers will ship to new homes in 2018 and by 2020, more than 75 percent of American homes will feature smart speaker technology.

Forty percent of adults already use voice search at least once a day and by 2020, voice will represent more than half of all searches – and nearly a third of those searches will happen through smart speakers. That means, without a screen.

And, this trend has legs: according to the research, 42 percent of U.S. adults said they deem their smart speaker "essential" to everyday life. Sixty-five percent say they would not go back to life without one.

What it means for you: This looks like a clear case of trends foreshadowing major market shifts, of today’s technology determining, at least in part, the nature of tomorrow’s marketing content.

Aside from the obvious search engine optimization implications (yes, you should start working with an SEO specialist now, if you haven’t already), the parallel rise of smart speakers and voice search could have a much more transformative impact – it could nudge us away from the visual and back toward the aural.

Since the advent of the television – our first “personal” screen – content has increasingly favored the visual. Most people would rather make a hit movie than a hit podcast. But, perhaps, not for long.

Now, I’m not suggesting in a few years families will be sitting around the Amazon Echo the way they used to sit around the old tombstone-style Addison. But, the trajectory is clear: consumers will increasingly crave more voice-optimized (read: screen-less) content, and marketers would be wise to start thinking about some audio-only solutions now.

2. FACEBOOK VERSUS INSTAGRAM, AND R.I.P. TWITTER?

The trend: Instagram has reached an all-time high of 800 million users per month. Stories, Instagram’s ephemeral video feature, surpassed Snapchat in only a year.

Instagram’s engagement numbers leave Facebook’s in the dust, while despite a “Trump Bump,” Twitter’s vital signs are flattening fast. Twitter’s popularity seems to have flattened out around a disappointing 325 million monthly users, and its advertising revenue was falling consistently, until a modest uptick just this month.

What it means for you: For awareness, continue to focus on Facebook. Instagram does have better engagement, but remember Instagram’s 800 million monthly users? Well, Facebook has 1.13 billion daily.

Use Instagram to convert consumers who are already in the understanding or consideration phase of your funnel, and to deepen the relationship with consumers who have already converted. As for Twitter, it will retain significant value as the go-to real-time barometer for news and pop culture, but unless your sales pitch is directly supported by a top, highly relevant story, your efforts are probably better spent elsewhere.

That said, I have good evidence that because of its newsy nature, Twitter is increasingly becoming an accepted and effective channel for public relations, in particular, pitching reporters.

1. IT’S ALIVE! AND REEL SHORT

The trend: Despite a likely redistribution with audio-only content in the next several years, video remains the most effective, and the most demanded by consumers today.

Seventy-eight percent of people watch online video every week, and 55 percent of those people do so every day. Given that one minute of video is worth 1.8 million words, it’s likely that some form of video – whether onscreen, virtual or holographic – is here to stay.

But, video is changing. Eighty-two percent of people would rather watch a live video than read a social post, and Facebook viewers spend eight times longer with live videos than traditional ones.

The success of six-second “bumper” videos (the ads you see and probably skip before your YouTube selection), followed by the success of six-second spots during some of TV’s most-watched content – the World Series and the Super Bowl – give a clear indication of the direction video is headed: it’s going live, and it’s going short.

What it means for you: Now, you can afford video. “Live” and “short,” generally speaking, also mean less expensive.

Sixty-five percent of consumers say video quality matters most to them, but look at the most-watched “micro-videos,” and you’ll see another trend: quality doesn’t have to mean slick and polished anymore.

Today, quality can mean a smartphone, something interesting to shoot and a good plan. I’m not saying go out and post live brand videos willy-nilly. Just take the time to think about how your brand could leverage short, ephemeral video to tell a story rich with authenticity.

Duke Greenhill is vice president of creative and strategy at J.O., a full-service marketing and PR firm. He writes about business and marketing for Fast Company, The New York Times, the Harvard Review and others. He has worked across media with clients including MasterCard, Ritz-Carlton, the Government of Monaco, Ameriprise Financial, L’Oréal, Tiffany & Co. and more. Reach him at howdy@jodesign.com.

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