Marketing 2022: New Horizons
As predicted, companies that didn’t already have a robust digital strategy were scrambling to find one in 2021. B2B companies that in the past relied on in-person events and networking, were seen doubling down on virtual events and experimenting with other online channels. B2C companies that hadn’t bothered to build a digital storefront prior to the pandemic, were now eager to launch them. Digital marketers who have always been high in demand grew even more so this year. And against the backdrop of so much strategic catch-up, the “always on” pace of social media became especially burdensome for those in my field. The full stack marketers with little to no team members wondered out loud how they were expected to keep up. It seemed that if there was a digital place a marketer could be, that’s where their leaders expected them to be. Many companies seemed desperate to throw as many things against the wall as they could. But at what cost, and to what gain? What, exactly, have they learned? Do they even have a clearer view of what success should look like?
While some of us experienced a degree of reprieve from dramatic political content this year, everyone’s attention button has already grown much less sensitive due to the oversaturation of sensationalized news ramping up in the years prior. I can’t tell you how many weird shock-ads I saw during 2021. It was as if companies felt the need to show more and more provocative images just to get a response. Personally, I felt the content burnout reach a new high and my brain became less patient for anything that didn’t pass the sniff test. And even what wasn’t pure crap, was likely to get lost anyway — there was so much content vying for my attention, I found myself ignoring most of it.
If you’re like me, maybe you found yourself less likely to contribute as much to an ocean of content so saturated in schlock. I’ve always found it challenging to market myself, but I didn’t worry too much about it this year. Sometimes just engaging with others in small, helpful ways can prove so much more beneficial than trying to become the next thought leader in a crowded space. As a start-up marketer, I know firsthand how important these tradeoffs can be. Where do you want to concentrate your energy? Where do you want to make your mark? It is much more impactful to concentrate your energy in one or two places than scatter ineffective drops in a thousand places.
Which brings me to 2022. What can we expect this year?
Back to Basics: It’s About Values
Digital marketers found themselves panicking mid-way through the year with Apple’s new privacy laws preventing access to precious customer behavioral data that’s become essential to optimizing their Facebook ad campaigns. Facebook had grown to become one of the primary sources of digital ad spend, because it had proven to be one of the most effective for performance marketing. But because of this loss of data and increased audience fragmentation, the social platform started to show some major cracks this year.
As companies struggle with balancing user privacy and the necessity of targeting to optimize advertising spend, they will need to focus more on the attraction part of the equation. Some companies discount the power of branding and positioning because it’s not as directly quantifiable as bottom of the funnel prospecting. And I get that most startups don’t have the luxury to invest as much budget into attracting vs. prospecting, but more and more I question the viability of dismissing this part — especially as it becomes more challenging and expensive to target the right people. Branding and positioning is more than about clearly communicating the value of your brand and product. It’s about aligning your values and purpose with the audience you wish to attract. It’s also about authentically walking your talk. It needn’t be a momentous or expensive effort. In fact, simplifying and focusing is the name of the game this year. Strategy is about what you choose NOT TO DO as much as it is about what you choose TO DO. How much energy is your team wasting on crossing items off their list rather than investing their efforts in meaningful programs. In the new year, it will only become more essential that you align your activities with the people and causes that matter to the people with whom you want to do business.
Re-imagining Content: The Meta-verse Promise
I’d like to make what might be a bold statement : Content in its current state is no longer king. There is just too much of it. It’s not that I think that people don’t crave quality content, but our collective brains are short circuiting. We are blocking more and more of it out of necessity. This means that fighting for attention span is getting harder and harder. I’m not sure how long even those shock ads are going to work. It’s like the entire internet has jumped the shark. I think people are going to look for more ways to escape and/or unplug from the majority of content this year. People are increasingly seeking ways to pare down. To weed out the junk. The content served by algorithms is beginning to resemble old-school Yahoo and AOL homepages.
Niche groups and communities are where it’s at, but even those groups cycle through members fairly quickly. The meta-verse of virtual and augmented reality is still poised to become hot once it starts gaining traction, but when will that be? I’ve noticed the recruitment of meta-verse programmers starting to ramp up at a feverish pace. But I’ve been predicting this wider adoption annually going back to when I marketed VR experiences in 2014, so forecasting anything here sounds a little repetitive. Obviously, we all hunger for something that feels more like an in-person experience when that real experience simply can’t be had. The trajectory of being able to attain those live experiences is on a downturn. Resources are dwindling and opportunities are starting to seem more and more inaccessible. Especially the experience of being in remote corners of a natural world that is rapidly disappearing. Will we be able to re-capture those experiences in VR? From what I’m hearing, yes and then some. It’s time to start thinking seriously about marketing in the meta-verse.
NFTs, Crypto, and Web3
Last year I made an early prediction regarding the decentralization of social media, but there seems to be a much broader goal to decentralize the entire web using blockchain technology. The promise is that this would democratize the internet instead of putting it in the hands of a few large companies, but as is often the case with idealistic tech trends, that idea seems to be playing out as an empty promise. According to some high-profile people, it is predicted to be owned by a few VC companies. I can see this eventually looking like a highly regulated communications network akin to cable. Whatever happens, it seems like it’s time for an evolution here. The NFT market is a hot topic, and it’s hot from a marketing and creative perspective too. If you pay enough attention, you can usually see the future through the eyes of your kids. I see how my kiddo uses NFTs to fill in all of the details of her digital life. As a parent, do I have mixed feelings about this? Yes, but as a marketer, I can’t deny the future possibilities here.
As the digital world becomes more integrative, digital avatars and environments will be essential. As paper money replaced gold, so will digital currency and objects replace physical ones. As a marketer, this circles back to content. Now that there are fewer ways to enjoy unique experiences in the literal world, people are looking for alternative ways to express themselves. Status and differentiation remain powerful drivers, especially when there are so many people starting to market themselves as solopreneurs. More and more people are opting out of the corporate world to be their own boss — and to be seen as such. The internet is full of influencers, coaches, astrologers, creative artists, and performers all looking to buy and sell content. Ecommerce platforms for digital content, like Gumroad, are betting on this new future, but it makes me wonder: Why do we continue to recycle one platform for another, yet the independence we crave never seems to materialize?
So where does that leave us? What’s actionable today? Simplifying and reimagining, it seems.. Some years you have to pull back to gauge where your energy will be most advantageous. That’s what I’m seeing about 2022. If you simplify and focus on building authentic connections while experimenting with the future possibilities, momentum will carry you forward.