The Year in Advance: Blue Sky Trends for 2014By Joe Walsh
December 10, 2013
Is this thing on?
As we reflect on 2013 and begin to see and read all the clippings about this year’s newsmakers and trends, we’ve assembled a collection of forward-looking B2B and professional services marketing thoughts to consider for the year ahead.
Brand championship. In the post-great recession era, green—the color of money—became the new black. We saw a pendulum swing away from brand and towards the hard metrics of business development. Nothing makes a stronger case for cuts in branding investments and the immediacy of bottom-line BD results more than an economic swoon. But at what cost? For starters, we’ve seen differentiation, core awareness and communication quality responsibilities sacrificed. We feel that once-pioneering branding campaigns have given way to safer, less expensive efforts that suffer from sameness and lack the critical power of memorability. It’s our view that in the last couple of years, both the quantity and quality of branding efforts have regressed. Now, from our perch, we see the pendulum swinging back to center. There’s an uptick in interest and inquiries on brand makeovers, ad campaigns, groundbreaking websites and other air cover for the business development troops. Brand championship is back. Which is nice.
The tipping point for responsive websites. Since web design and development are central to everything our clients are doing with their brands, we’ve seen responsive design become a trending topic for the past 24 months. Now it appears responsive design has fully arrived. For those still weighing their options, mobile optimized vs. responsive is still a choice. Responsive design is neither the right nor the wrong path, nor is it necessarily more or less expensive or easier to maintain. It is simply one smart way to go. To oversimplify, responsive design is device-independent, meaning that the user experience will be more or less optimized for whatever size device a user has in hand. That is, the site responds to the device (demanding that the design and coding does the same). With mobile optimization, the content is made optimal for the device by definition. It presumes that the user might want to do different things with different priorities while they are mobile—and don’t wish to be encumbered by the entire site. Things like finding a phone number or directions, for example.
From the site owner’s point of view, all you want, really, is a comfortable, streamlined user experience across platforms and easy maintenance. Mobile-optimized or responsive can accomplish the task with different costs and advantages. For now, however, it looks like responsive sites are on the cusp of being a preferred path—at least among our clients.
More persuasive pitch books. In recent years, including 2013, printed firm brochures have given way to flexible firm brochure systems that are often emailed in PDF form. These new distribution systems are good for the environment and easier to assemble, but that doesn’t make them more valuable or persuasive. The problem is that most literature on professional services collateral is unimpressive, uninspired and unread. Why does no one read service or industry descriptions? Because they look hard to read, they are hard to read, they deliver more useless than useful information and, in all likelihood, are firm-centered, not client-centered. Taking a page from the investment banking or venture capital worlds, we’re advocating a trend towards more compelling pitch books. These replace the text-heavy brochures of yore. Instead of relying principally on words to tell a story or make the pitch, the best deliver substantive information about the firm or the offering graphically, via charts, lists, graphs, diagrams, pictures, tables and maps. We call this Practice Made Perfect.
Richer resource centers. News and events pages on sites are being transformed from long narrative lists of publications and speaking engagements into McKinsey-like thought leadership centers. They are the rich, searchable, timely and valuable content-marketing engines that many professional service marketers have long yearned to build. Many are now getting the budgets and other resources they need to raise their thought leadership profiles online. The best new resource centers combine an editor’s mindset, a magazine designer’s style and a technologist’s craft for delivering fresh content to pages with ease. Considering a new center? Here’s a hint: save the press releases and the news about your people for the About Us section of your site. Clients are less interested in the comings and goings of your people—unless of course, your parents are also your best clients.
Attention-earning video. If video killed the radio star, online video will eventually beat down the slumbering mix of text and photos on most modern professional service websites. Thank goodness. Video holds so much promise for the delivery of bios, practice pages, industry pages, firm overviews and expert views. However, there's a catch. The wide majority of B2B videos we’ve seen are uncannily similar. They are long video narratives with low production value, almost always featuring firm talking heads on collaborative environments, challenging work and “people making the difference.” Yawn.
In other words, most professional service videos look and sound oddly similar. So beyond simply adopting the new media on our sites, how can we use it to make our firms unique and memorable? Two tips if more video lies in your marketing future:
- Seek talented professionals who know video, people and good creative. While your brother-in-law may be an excellent wedding videographer, that does not mean he’s a big idea person. Make sure he/she also has a keen creative point of view and an ability to drive it from thought to finish. Also, be sure this is someone that can coax a performance out of your people. Capturing the open-bar-fueled personality of your uncle at the reception is different than putting your managing partner at ease under the bright lights of your reception area.
- Brevity is a common courtesy. Many online videos play like feature-length documentaries, minus Ken Burns' gift for the craft. Our rough rule—five minutes of online video is probably four minutes too long. See you on YouTube!
Happy, merry. As the year rushes to an end, thank you for your continued interest in our big ideas and the other brand thoughts we think. Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous new year from all of us at Greenfield/Belser.