This is the time of year when we reflect on the past, and look to the future. Through the end of January 2013 (2013!) we'll be sharing guest blog posts for the annual Predictions & Reflections series. We asked some of our smartest guest writers to reflect on the past year and look to the upcoming year. This post is by Michael Flint. Michael founded the creative agency Metropolis Creative in 1999. He is currently an instructor at Northeastern University and has also taught at Bentley College. Speaking engagements include The Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Mass Health Data Consortium, and The Enterprise Center. Michael holds a BFA in Graphic Design from Rochester Institute of Technology and has won numerous design awards. Michael serves on the Board of directors for SEMPO Boston, Newton Girls Softball, and is the President of the Angier After School Program Board. He actively supports the entrepreneurial and startup community by participating as a mentor with MITX-Up and is an active Connector with Boston World Partnerships. He also runs the annual Extreme Website Makeover event which supports local startups and non-profit organizations. When not at work, Michael enjoys painting, brewing beer, and playing hockey.
As technology makes it easier to send more messages out faster, it will also be needed to clear the path for relevant and meaningful stories. Marketing messages may be getting filtered out, but conversations are growing.
Listen and learn
We need to understand who we are talking to by learning what they like, what they have experienced in the past, and what their real needs are.
Social media listening tools (like Meltwater Buzz) are primarily used by the bigger companies. As the demand for them grows, they will become more prolific, cheaper, and easier for all businesses to use.
A/B Testing tools will be implemented more in CMS's like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. This will allow companies to plan and implement different strategic approaches with not only their marketing campaigns but their entire websites.
Show them you care
Social media should be used more as a conversational tool and less as a broadcast medium. Its not that we don't know this, we're just not practicing it enough. Smaller companies will be expected to respond quickly to public outcries just as the big brands are starting to do (see Domino's recent campaign.) Its like an extended focus group that never ends.
Your customers are going to be talking about you anyway. If you want to have an influence in the conversation or help guide it, you need to be a part of those conversations. (Yelp, Twitter, Facebook) When a customer cares enough to talk about your brand (either positively or negatively), take advantage of that passion and respond to them. Everyone wants to be acknowledged.
Think about how you can address their needs before they tell you what they are. If you're listening, you can anticipate and offer solutions to key pain points. By understanding your customers, you'll know where they hang out. What else are they interested in? Are they on a particular blog or do they belong to a particular community or user group? Strike up interesting and relevant conversations there, and then mention your product or service if and when the time is right.
Job roles will shift as more value is placed on understanding, and converting the consumer. Community management will be more prevalent and hopefully more integrated with the marketing team. Content creation is still important, but the same writers may evolve into correspondence and relationship nurturing. And data analysis will be huge.
While technology can severely influence marketing trends, basic communications skills still apply. Step back to when you were five years old and you wanted a parent's attention. "Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom." - didn't work. And yelling only made things worse. Fulfilling her requests and needs got her attention. Doing something completely unexpected like bringing her flowers, or making your bed made a lasting impression. She may even talk to her friends about it.