The 2015 Marketing Buzz-Meter Kicks into Gear

We’re only a few weeks into 2015, and already the marketing buzz-meter is operating at full force.

amplificationThe latest marketing buzz phrases are always interesting because, while they surely relate to trends and tactics that are taking on greater importance, they can also be short-hand references that “everyone” uses but “no one” really understands.

Consider one popular buzz-phrase example from 2014:  “Big Data.”

I don’t think I’ve heard the same definition of what “big data” is from any two people.  Yet it’s a term that was bandied about throughout the entire year.

No doubt, “big data” will continue to be a popular buzz phrase in 2015 as well.  But you can be sure it’ll be joined by a number of others.  As Natasha Smith, editor of Direct Marketing News magazine reports, get ready to hear many of mentions of these buzz terms as well this year:

Dark Social:

This references online content, information or traffic that’s hard to measure because it occurs in messaging apps, chat and e-mail communications.  Purportedly first coined by Atlantic magazine, it’s a term whose very name conjures up all sorts of mysterious and vaguely sinister connotations about behaviors that are at work below the surface – thereby making it an irresistible phrase for some people to use.

Viewability:

This term is becoming increasingly popular due to people’s concerns that much of what makes up “viewed” online content turns out to be hardly that.  For instance, there’s a difference between a simple video impression (merely an open) and a “viewable” one (opened and staying open for at least a few seconds).

More than likely, over the coming year the Interactive Advertising Bureau and other “great experts” will be debating over what actually constitutes a “viewable” impression.  All the while, you can be sure that marketers will be referencing the term with abandon.

Attention Metrics:

Dovetailing “viewability” is the idea that traditional online marketing metrics such as unique visitors, clickthroughs, and page views are too shallow in that they don’t really measure the true consumption of content.

Enter the buzz term “attention metrics.”  No doubt, marketers will be all over this one in 2015 as they focus more on the time and attention people are spending with content, not merely the fact that some form of engagement happened.

The Internet of Things:

This term started appearing on the radar screen in 2014 but is really coming into its own now.  It even has its own Wikipedia page entry.  While the commercialization of data-collecting devices such as wearable sensors and sensors embedded in appliances and other electronics is an undeniably significant development, this term has to be one of the most pretentious-sounding phrases ever coined.

… Which makes it an irresistible entry in the buzz-meter lexicon, of course.

Conscious Capitalism:

Rounding out the 2015 list – at least for now – is a buzz phrase that captures the essence of what every socially aware marketer wishes his or her company to be.  “Conscious capitalism” refers to companies and brands that are purportedly socially responsible and “in sync” with the needs of the community and the world.

This is considered important because so much survey research shows that people respond positively to companies that “do well by doing good.”

what's all the buzz aboutExpect many people to embrace this approach – and the accompanying buzz phrase – because it sounds so perfect.

[Never mind that things often come crashing down to earth if and when consumers are asked to pay more for the “socially responsible” products and services, or to make unpleasant or unexpected adjustments to their routine in the event.]

Do you have any other examples of marketing buzz terms that you think are poised for stardom (or notoriety) in 2015?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

HubSpot’s Marketing Predictions: Hits and Misses

soothsayingOne of the things I like about SaaS inbound marketing firm HubSpot is the steady stream articles and white papers the company publishes on varied facets of marketing and communications. 

They’re often quite meaty and beneficial as informational resources.

Moreover, HubSpot isn’t afraid to go out on a limb and render a pretty strong “point of view” about various factors and trends in the fast-evolving marketing world.

The risk is that some of those perspectives can end up being “off” – or looking even a bit silly – in retrospect. 

But more often than not, HubSpot’s trendspotting is on the money.

Marketing Prediction Hits & Misses (HubSpot)Here’s a case in point:  HubSpot’s team of analysts made a number of marketing predictions for the year 2013.  Recently, it revisited those predictions to judge whether they’d turned out to be on the mark or not.

These are HubSpot’s 2013 marketing predictions that it feels were on target: 

  • Content and social will matter even more for search engine optimization.
  • Stop-and-start campaigns will fade, and real-time will be ‘in.’
  • E-mail will live on.
  • Inbound marketing will spread enterprise-wide.

At the same time, four other marketing predictions for 2013 didn’t pan out so well, as underscored by HubSpot’s own cheeky editorial commentary about them:

  • Mobile or bust … “Not so hot.”
  • Marketing becomes accountable for revenue generation … “Meh.”
  • ‘Big data’ becomes real for businesses … “Nope.”
  • Print is dead … “Not even close.”

HubSpot’s post-mortem discussion points on these “misses” are interesting.  Quoting from its report:

  • Mobile or bust:  “Customers pay attention to multiple screens … and smart marketers capture attention by adding value wherever a consumer pays attention  … we need to be prepared, not by targeting just [mobile] but by embracing them all according to our specific customers and data.”
  • Marketing becomes accountable for revenue generation:  “The biggest challenge … has been proving ROI.       Even more frustrating … has been the lack of sales and marketing alignment in many companies.  Tracking can also get tricky, thanks to trying to reach fragmented digital audiences against so many channels … As much as lots of us really want this prediction to be a hit, it’s still largely aspirational.”
  • ‘Big data’ becomes real:  “Big data remains mainly a buzzword to many companies and markets — and continues to be more of a prediction than a reality …”
  • Print is dead:  “Saying ‘print is dead’ has lost pretty much all of its roots in reality … nor will it die in the next few years.”

Ever intrepid, HubSpot isn’t shying aware from new forecasts for 2014.  Looking forward, what do its analysts predict for this year?

  • Podcasting will continue to grow substantially.
  • Marketing departments will become more like engineering departments.
  • Social listening tools will gain context and get smarter.
  • The economy will become highly collaborative.
  • Marketers will become more holistic and less channel-focused.

And one more HubSpot prediction that’s a particular favorite of mine:

We’ll check back again a year from now to see how well HubSpot’s prognosticators fared this time around.

Here’s a Big Book on Big Data

Big Data: A Revolution that will Transform how we Live, Work and Think by Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier“Big data” is definitely one of the more commonly heard business buzz terms these days.

But beyond the general impression that “big data” represents the ability to collect and analyze lots and lots of information in some efficient manner, most people have a difficult time explaining with any specificity what the term really means.

Moreover, for some people “big data” isn’t very far removed from “big brother” – and for that reason, there’s some real ambivalence about the concept.  Consider these recent “man on the street” comments about big data found online:

  • “Big data:  Now they can crawl all the way up your *ss.”
  • “The scary thing about big data is knowing [that] Big Brother can know every single thing you do – and realizing your life is too unimportant for Big Brother to even bother.”
  • “Big data is what you get after you take a big laxative.”

But now we have a recently-published book that attempts to demystify the concept.  It’s titled Big Data:  A Revolution that will Transform How We Live, Work and Think, and it’s authored by two leading business specialists – Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, a professor of internet governance and regulation at Oxford University and Kenneth Cukier, a data editor at The Economist magazine.

The book explores the potential for creating, mining and analyzing massive information sets while also pointing out the potential pitfalls and dangers, which the authors characterize as the “dark side of big data.”

The book also exposes the limitations of “sampling” as we’ve come understand it and work with it over the past decades.

Authors Viktor Mayer-Schonberger (l) and Kenneth Cukier (r).
Authors Viktor Mayer-Schonberger (l) and Kenneth Cukier (r).

Cukier and Mayer note that sampling works is fine for basic questions, but is far less reliable or useful for more “granular” evaluation of behavioral intent.  That’s where “big data” comes into play big-time.

The authors are quick to note that advancements in data collection tend to come along, shake things up, and then quickly become routine.

Mayer calls this “datafication,” and describes how it works in practice:

“At first, we think it is impossible to render something in data form.  Then somebody comes up with a nifty and cost-efficient idea to do so, and we are amazed by the applications that this will enable – and then we come to accept it as the ‘new normal.’  A few years ago, this happened with geo-location, and before it was with web browsing data gleaned through ‘cookies.’  It is a sign of the continuing progress of datafication.”

Causality is another aspect that may be changing how we go about treating the data we collect.

According to Cukier and Mayer, making the most of big data means “shedding some of the obsession for causality in exchange for simple correlations: not knowing why but only what.”

So then, we may have less instances when we come up with a hypothesis and then test it … but rather just use the data to determine what is important and act on whatever information is revealed in the process.

Retail DisplayOne example of this practice that’s cited in the book is how Wal-Mart determined that Kellogg’s® Pop-Tarts® should be positioned at the front of the store in selected regions of the country during hurricane season to stimulate product sales.

It wasn’t something anyone had thought about in advance and then decided to verify; it was something the retailer discovered by mining product purchase data and simply “connecting the dots.”

Author Mayer explains further:

“There is a value in having conveniently placed Pop-Tarts, and it isn’t just that Wal-Mart is making more money.  It is also that shoppers find faster what they are likely looking for.  Sometimes ‘big data’ gets badly mischaracterized as just a tool to create more targeted advertising … but UPS uses ‘big data’ to save millions of gallons of fuel – and thus improve both its bottom line and the environment.”

One area of concern covered by the authors is the potential for using “big data predictions” to single out people based on their propensity to commit certain behaviors, rather than after-the-fact.  In other words, to treat all sorts of conditions or possibilities in the same manner we treat sex offender lists today.

Author Kenneth Cukier believes that the implications of a practice like this – focusing on the use of data as much as the collection of the data – is “sadly missing from the debate.”

This book fills a yawning gap in the business literature.  And for that, we should give Dr. Mayer-Schönberger and Mr. Cukier fair dues.  If any readers have become acquainted with the book and would care to weigh in with observations, please share your thoughts here.