Top five trends to let go in 2014

It’s that time of year again. The time when suddenly our e-newsletters, our favourite blogs, our Twitter timelines fill with predictions of the future.

Although I’m not averse to speculation and even idle rumour (after all, it’s nice to have a little daydream about what we might work on next year), I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I loathe trends articles. As in cartoon-level steam-out-of-the-ears loathe.

So this year, I’m doing exactly the opposite. I’m calling it Reverse Trends, the stuff I dearly hope we’ll stop hearing come January. I’m talking about them one last time, so you don’t have to.

1. Can we all move on from Big Data now please?

Perhaps the biggest buzz-term of 2013 was Big Data. It blasted onto the scene to suddenly become every executive and consultant’s watchword. Articles began springing up from every imaginable source asking, ominously, ‘Are YOU ready for Big Data?’

The only problem is that most companies don’t actually have to deal with Big Data.

Most companies don’t even have enough data to classify as ‘big’. The majority also don’t have the internal resourcing, infrastructure or business priority required to make sense of any of it anyway.

So if your brand is sending regular emails and you’re not looking at the data generated by or around those campaigns, it’s rather too early to start thinking about Big Data. How about we all deal with small data first?

2. Let go of the Grim Reaper

I know, I’ve heard. TV is dead, email is dead, Facebook is dead, blah blah blah. But come on now.

All our traditional channels are in a period of flux, they’re transforming faster than we can keep up with them and they haven’t stopped yet. Until the pace slows, it’s still  largely ebb and flow. TV, as it was in the 1980s, is dead, yes – but one look at Twitter when #Redwedding took over proved that yes, people are still loyal to their telly.

Email, as it was in 2008, is dead, yes – because brands and marketers alike have spent the past five years bombarding everyone’s inboxes until we frankly stopped listening. Not dead, just overwhelmed.

Facebook is losing its cool with the teen set, yes – but that’s because everyone’s Mum rocked up and teenagers go where their parents are not, it’s the law of the universe. (But tell me honestly, does 728m daily active users sound like death to  you? I’m pretty sure if your website was delivering that, you would not be thinking it was dead…)

You know what? Saying stuff is dead is dead. Let’s just rein in the hyperbole a little. Nothing’s dying. It’s just those sure-fire bets aren’t so sure-fire any more.

3. Please stop saying “digital” like it’s a thing

As a digital strategist, I am left a little aghast by murmurs I hear in corners of our industry. I’ve repeatedly heard a call to incorporate more “digital” thinking into our work. Do agencies and marketers really have to be asked to embrace what the world already has?

What is all too often ignored is that “digital” (a term wholly inadequate for the breadth of channels, devices and experiences it has now come to encompass) is driven by people.

Like most people, I spend all day using digital technology – laptop, smartphone, tablet. I do my shopping and banking online, I got my news online, I have apps that tell me if me if I’ve done enough exercise or eaten enough vegetables, lets me find out what that song on the radio is, or finds me a date.

If you develop ideas that actually really reflect how people interact with brands, they have to include “digital”, but they can’t be just digital, or social. One lens isn’t enough. Holistic is where it’s at.

So maybe it’s time to let “digital” go, to just accept technology in all its guises as it is, new tools in our marketing and advertising arsenal. Tools that need new skills and understanding, that demand new thinking and bring new challenges, sure, but a day-to-day part of our lives as agencies and marketers whether our job title says so or not. Maybe in 2014, we’ll finally find a better way of talking – and doing – “digital”.

4. Content is not king

The downside of being in our industry is that we’re amongst a lot of wordsmiths. A catchphrase or tagline takes off amongst marketers faster than a speeding bullet. (Do you see what I did there?)

If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard “Content is King” in the last 12 months, I would be a rich woman.

The only problem is, for a lot of brands, content really isn’t king. Unless your idea of a king is poor quality, devoid of strategy, barely measured and under-resourced.

Content is a bit of an after-thought. Just not as snappy, is it? I’m not blasting the value of content overall – handled in the right way, for the right brands, content can be quite simply good for business. However, branded content has been put forward time and time again this year as the panacea to cure all marketing ills.

Having lost too much time in 2013 to deathly boring branded video or limp content-led campaigns, I beg to differ.

5. Innovation and creativity are not tick-box exercises

The common theme with all of these is brands and agencies can still produce whatever they want, just as long as it’s good. Creativity and innovation are not reductive, they’re contextual. Breakaway successes like ‘Dumb Ways to Die’, that Oreo tweet and Dove ‘Sketches’, worked because they were strategically sound, well-crafted and most importantly, different in their market. They certainly neither followed, nor can be boiled down to, a blueprint.

Unfortunately for all of us, making stuff that’s good is hard. Try as you might if you want great work, you can’t avoid deep thinking, you can’t avoid having tough conversations with stakeholders or clients, you can’t avoid risk.

Do yourself a favour. The next time you find yourself reading an article, hearing a talk, listening to (or preparing!) an agency pitch and thinking ‘this is the answer to all my problems’, stop. Right there. Dead in your tracks. There is no silver bullet.

The good news is that there are brave brands, smart strategists and innovative agencies around, so ignore the chatter and just go back to basics. Really get under the skin of your business, listen to your customers and pick the right agency partner who wants to do those things too. Then work together to find a way to use the best tools available to you to really genuinely resonate with your audience and their needs.

There you have it. That’s my list of things to forget about as soon as the fireworks start bursting from the Opera House at midnight on December 31. What would you add to the list?


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