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How Audiences Will Illuminate the Future for Brands

Today’s marketing landscape is constantly evolving and more complicated than ever before. With the rise of new channels like Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and Facebook Live, and shifting consumer preferences, it can be difficult for brands to adapt quickly enough to keep pace with competition.

Still, new technology also offers an opportunity for brands to better connect with and engage their consumers. With the proliferation of user-generated, or earned, content, brands are now able to better track consumers’ lifestyles and product usage. Earlier this year, we wrote about five visual marketing predictions that we believe should guide brand strategy in 2017 and beyond.  One overarching theme from our prediction set is the growing importance of an audience-first (rather than channel-first) approach to marketing.

Read on to review the five predictions we believe will drive the near-future of visual marketing.

1. Consumer-led marketing will reach full-maturity

At Olapic, authenticity in marketing has always been a prevailing trend, but has recently gained in prominence as brands react to lower consumer trust in brands and an increase in consumer-generated content.

These consumers have much stronger preferences than ever before, rallying against heavily-edited imagery in advertisements that represent unrealistic expectations of individuals. This reality was abundantly clear in our recent research report, Consumer Trust: Usage & Attitudes Towards User-Generated Visual Content, where respondents revealed they trusted images posted by other consumers on social media seven times as much as they trusted advertising.

For brands, this means that earned content is not only a more affordable and efficient asset, but potentially a more powerful one, especially given customers’ affinity towards more realistic imagery. While brand-owned content will always have a valuable place in marketing strategy, we expect brands to more readily adopt earned content as a way to increase honesty and authenticity in campaigns. 

2. Brands will develop proactive methods to engage visual content creators

Traditionally, the consumer-brand relationship has been largely transactional – a company provides a product or experience and the customer pays for it, in today’s economy, customers expect much more from brands.

For many consumers, it’s no longer about a brand simply providing a functional product, but also about how that brand aligns with a customer’s personality, social and world views, and unique perspectives. Nielsen proves this point in an online study, where three-out-of-four millennial respondents said they were willing to pay more for sustainable products.

We know at Olapic that to drive loyalty, customers must feel understood by a brand. With the emergence of highly visual social media channels like Instagram and Snapchat, there are countless ways customers can express their connection to a brand. And, as these audiences continue to develop better user-generated content (UGC), brands can lean in and encourage the creation of on-brand content through contests, promotions, giveaways, and more.

The reality is that a new type of working relationship between brands and consumers has emerged and will only continue to strengthen as brands feed into customers wanting to be part of their story.

3. Personalization is a mandate

For brands that are hoping to remain relevant and capture audience loyalty, thoughtful personalization in marketing is required. Now, with intelligent analytics, consistent messaging, and more sophisticated social technology, brands are in a great place to create more personalized experiences for their audiences at all tiers.

According to Accenture, 75% of consumers are more likely to buy from a retailer that recognizes them by name, recommends options based on past purchases, or understands their purchase history. While at one time this level of personalization may have been creepy to customers; today, they expect brands to have a unique understanding of their lifestyles to provide more appropriate experiences, rather than being treated like everyone else.

Still, creating truly personalized experiences that treat customers as individuals and not as segments is nuanced and complex. Earned content is one way that brands can generate more impactful experiences – by allowing consumers to dictate how they are portrayed alongside various products and experiences. Leveraging UGC in marketing also helps brands supplement brand-owned content with cost-efficient assets, at scale.

4. Brands Will Prioritize Quality Over Quantity + Distribution & Measurement

Every day, it seems that more channels emerge representing new potential touchpoints with customers. We’ve spoken a lot before about the “content crunch,” the gap between how much content is needed for brands to succeed and how much they actually have at their disposal.

Still, it’s not only important that brands have a high volume of content to fill these channels, but also that the content is high-quality and distributed effectively.

With ephemeral social networks like Snapchat and Instagram Stories swiftly gaining popularity, it’s an imperative for brands to experiment with various content formats (one size does not fit all) and focus their efforts on ensuring that the quality of content is consistent.

Earned content can help to guide distribution activities by matching the consumers’ desired aesthetic and encouraging community engagement, providing a consistent narrative across disparate channels, and surfacing the highest-performing content.

5. Brands will consolidate their tech stacks

For marketers, there will never be a shortage of shiny objects to glean their attention. Whether it’s automation tools, new audience-targeting strategies, or advances in digital analytics platforms, brands are constantly trying to keep up with the changes.

As marketing has gained a meaningful seat at the table, pressure has escalated to constantly prove return and integrate too much technology to keep pace with competition, rather than optimizing against an organizational vision.

We expect that with all the technology that has been adopted over the past couple years, marketers will begin to consolidate their tech stacks and focus their efforts on areas that are most important to their organizations.

Our advice is to be considerate about the technology you choose – evaluating the business value before investing in something new. There will always be “the next big thing.” So, whether it’s virtual reality, augmented reality, Facebook’s new story feature, or something that’s not on the market yet, take the time to create a strategy and understand if it fits with your brand.

These are just a handful of trends we believe will be important this year and beyond. Above all else, creating customer-first, authentic experiences will continue to separate successful brands from the rest of the pack.

Click here to download the full visual marketing predictions guide.

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