“Some of what we found should come as no surprise: Companies that are sophisticated in their use of data grow faster, for instance. Nevertheless, the research shed new light on the constellation of brand attributes required for superior marketing performance and on the nature of the organizations that achieve it.”
PNConnect’s Jesse Soleil writes:
“Judging from the experience of most marketing organizations, mining the seams is easier said than done.”
PNConnect’s Megan King writes:
The social media space evolves by leaps and bounds every year, so social media advertising is always coming up with new tricks to keep up. From “swagvertising” to chat bots to sponsored content on Buzzfeed, brands got creative with ways to connect. Yahoo sought new ways to monetize Tumblr, pushing brand microsites and vowing that Tumblr would generate over $100 million in revenue in 2015. Tumblr is just one part of Yahoo’s push towards native advertising: in June, CEO Marissa Mayer asserted that “Native experiences beat their traditional display counterparts in almost every metric.” This is in line with a general industry shift; a report at the end of last year touted that native ads were expanding at twice the rate of display ads.
In other corners of the Web, Amazon prepared to launch new ad offerings and Instagram expanded its ads to display to international users. Pinterest, which Forbes dubbed “the coming ad colossus that could dwarf Twitter and Facebook,” refined its ad targeting capabilities so advertisers could focus on a narrower subset of users.
Inevitably, the online ad proliferation has also led to some backlash. New ad-free social network Ello offers a home to users fed up with social advertising. And Google has a new scheme to make money by blocking ads, partnering with select publishers to permit users to pay a fee rather than viewing ads on certain sites.
Messaging apps exploded in popularity in 2014, whether users wanted to say a quick “Yo” or share new information on the spread of Ebola. WhatsApp is a major player in the space, especially since Facebook acquired it for $19 billion early this year. Snapchat is another potential behemoth; it had a great year with the launch of its first ads (discussed below) and innovative new features like “Our Story.” Snapchat is now the #3 social app among the coveted Millennial demographic. Chinese app WeChat looks poised to break out, too: Notably, WeChat was BuzzFeed’s venue of choice for its debut into messaging apps.
Mobile ads exploded in 2014, arriving on new platforms and improving their targeting capabilities. By the end of June, mobile ad revenues had increased by 76% year-over-year, for a total of $5.3 billion. This dovetails with accelerating growth in mobile data traffic, which increased by 81% year-over-year.
Facebook has been a leading innovator in the mobile ad space. This year the platform began targeting ads based on cell signal strength, so those with poor service see light-bandwidth versions of ads. Another new capability came in the form of hyper-local targeting, which allows brick-and-mortar businesses to place ads in the feeds of those just a few blocks away. To complement on-platform ads, Facebook launched its own mobile ad network that uses Facebook data to target ads in third-party apps.
Snapchat’s debut in advertising made a big splash. Our November case study explored the strategy behind the first-ever Snapchat ad, a promotion for the film Ouija. Snapchat continues to experiment with its ad offerings, testing out a new format during the American Music Awards. Meanwhile, Google brought advertising into the responsive design age with auto-resizing mobile ads. Google is the leader in mobile advertising, followed by Facebook and Twitter — although Yahoo is poised to take the #3 slot soon.
App install ads that point directly to an app download are particularly prominent in the mobile space, where apps that aren’t already top-ranking compete fiercely for impressions. Tumblr is the latest platform to offer app install ads, rolling them out last month.
2014 was a year of insecurity for Twitter, as the behemoth struggled with retaining users and impressing investors. The company responded with a slew of changes and experiments. Even the fundamentals were on the table. In March, the company hinted it might ditch the framework of hashtags and @ replies, though it has yet to do so. User profiles received a major overhaul, with more emphasis on rich media, new banners at the top of each page, and the capacity to “pin” a Tweet to the top of a user’s stream. Even more change came as the company brought in a new CFO: Anthony J. Noto, a former Goldman Sachs banker who had previously helped Twitter with its IPO. And the company extended an olive branch to disgruntled developers with “Twitter Fabric,” a new app development platform intended to make it easier to integrate Twitter functions into third-party apps.
Lately, the alterations have addressed Twitter’s ongoing struggle with new user attrition. Friends’ favorited tweets and other “popular” or “related” content have started appearing in timelines, a move to help onboarding users find more compelling content and people to follow before they lose interest. In November, Twitter announced more upcoming changes directed at new users. The “Instant Timeline” will fill the feeds of newly registered users before they’ve followed anyone, giving them an instant access point to join the conversation. Another new feature will show users who haven’t accessed Twitter for a while the most popular tweets that appeared in their feeds while they were away.
Twitter’s ad offerings continue to evolve, as well. Promoted accounts now get higher rankings in users’ search results. The network rolled out app install ads and “buy now” buttons attached to advertiser tweets. An “offer” button recently launched as well, which invites users to redeem a brand’s deal via a credit or debit card linked to their accounts. The efforts aren’t limited to logged-in users, either. The company is also working on ways to monetize logged-out and casual visitors, which would offer a big boost to reach.
Video was another big hit in online advertising this year, and that makes sense: A recent study found that paid campaigns on YouTube drive more sales than those on other social platforms. Similarly, other research found that consumer packaged goods are seeing better and better engagement and reach from digital video. Facebook got in on the phenomenon by introducing new autoplaying video ads, which it recently brought to mobile, too. Amazon partnered with Geico to launch a video ad business of its own, and Yahoo is poised to make a fresh play for the space with the recent acquisition of video ad-tech company BrightRoll.
PNConnect’s Chris Thilk writes:
“I keep my laptop bag loaded with the bare essentials so that I don’t have to worry about it when it comes time to pack: laptop power supply, headphones, monitor adapter, business cards, Orbit gum, and a Kind bar or two in case of emergency.” – Chris Scott
“Writing something on a to-do list that actually takes 5 minutes or less — make a quick call, send an email, talk to someone about a task — is a waste of time in itself.” – Megan King
“Before I sign off, I make sure I map out the following day… Depending on what that looks like for the next day (and looking ahead to the following days), I know whether I need to put in extra work that night, wake up early, restructure something, or (very rarely) if I’m able sleep in.” – Andy Stoltzfus
“You need head space to promote free thinking and time to liberate those hours when we become creative. We need to innovate to take advantage of our strengths in story-mining and story-making. That necessitates blank spaces away from white noise.” – Tim Walmsley
“I go to the gym at lunch time three days a week. It helps me prioritise what needs to be done in the morning (pre-gym) and in the afternoon (post-gym), so I know if I’m off target a lot earlier. In addition to the health benefits, I find that getting away from phone calls and emails allows time to think through problems or opportunities. I often have my best ideas for a campaign while running on a treadmill.” – Mandy Griffiths
“There’s a nice path that wraps around the LinkedIn office that takes 20 minutes to walk. Walking it solo or taking a walking meeting is always a good way to shake things up.”
– Doug Madey
“It’s very easy when you’re traveling for business to stay at the office really late or continue collaborating into the late evening. But you’d never let yourself act the same way at home, because it’s not healthy. You need to keep yourself on a fairly normal schedule and maintain time for yourself, especially if you’re on a longer trip.” – Christopher Barger
“Your first idea is probably something someone else would go right to, and the goal is to find a differentiating, unique approach that the campaign can own. Rarely is that an easy thing to hit upon on the first try.”
– Shelley Noeldechen
“There’s a scene in the movie The Hustler where Jackie Gleason, the old pro pool player, is getting beat. He goes into the men’s room, splashes water on his face, comes back, and completely destroys Paul Newman. That’s what I do if email is getting the better of me. I step away for a second, crack my knuckles, and get to it.” – Chris Thilk
“Unless you’re building a nuclear reactor or leading a team of brain surgeons, it’s usually a good idea to give your team the flexibility to do things their way.” – Sid Shuman
“Working at a messy desk to me is like trying to cook in a messy kitchen. Who prefers that?” – Mike Manuel
“And so, naturally enough, users are spreading themselves around, maintaining Facebook as their social spine, but investing in and loving a wide variety of other social apps. None of them seems likely to supplant Facebook on its own, but taken together, they form a pretty decent network of networks, a dispersed alternative to Facebook life.”
PNConnect’s Andy Stoltzfus writes:
“Nobody’s quitting Facebook any time soon, and Facebook’s product development and acquisition strategies will ensure that it is relevant in new spaces beyond its current strengths. But this phrase from Madrigal sums it up best: ‘Social networking is not, it turns out, winner take all. In the past, one might have imagined that switching between Facebook and ‘some other network’ would be difficult, but the smartphone interface makes it easy to be on a dozen networks.'”
Content strategy is still a fairly new concept, but it’s at the core of any well-planned online initiative. Here’s how content strategy applies to new programs, ongoing programs, and contained projects.
For more information about our team and approach, or to learn how we can help your organization with digital strategy, development and measurement, please visit the PNConnect site.
Mary Gaulke in Sarasota compiled the recap of 2014’s major stories. Andy Stoltzfus in San Francisco, Megan King in Washington, D.C., Chris Thilk in Chicago, Jesse Soleil in New York City and Christopher Barger in Detroit contributed their favorite longreads of the year. Amanda Wu in New York City provided the latest stats.
Apple published the Apple Pay photo. Stephen Woods uploaded our cover photo to Flickr and SomeDriftwood uploaded the machinery photo, some rights reserved. Some backgrounds courtesy of subtlepatterns.com.
Thanks to Jennifer Laker and Peter Schiebel from the Platforms team for providing design and development support, and to Mary Gaulke and Tom Harris for editorial oversight and proofing. Special thanks to Dave Coustan for guiding the creation and development of Digital Essentials; we wish him all the best in his Obi-Wan future.