Which Marketing Channels Will Pack the Biggest Punch in 2014?

With just days left before we bid farewell to 2013, 1to1 Media looks at the marketing channels that will have the most impact and where marketers should be focusing their investment in the coming year.

As happens every year, December brings a retrospective look at what happened over the past months and what the future year will bring. Organizations take a look back at the practices and strategies that worked over the past year and should be iterated, as well as the ones that need to be scrapped.

With the growing number of customer channels, marketers especially must decide where to concentrate their investments and determine which channels will most likely have an impact with customers and contribute to the brand's bottom line.

According to Craig Fitzgerald, editorial director at IMN, 2013 was a transitional year for many marketers. This was underlined by the fact that Google changed the way it provided information about the search words that directed customers to an organization's website by cutting off keyword data. This change threw many marketers for a loop since they had come to depend on that information, and required focus to overcome these challenges, with many having no option but to shift to paid search.

Changes in the Gmail inbox also provided a new wave of challenges, Fitzgerald continues. Suddenly, it became much easier for customers to delete promotional messages without having to go through them one by one. Instead, customers can simply delete all messages in the Promotions tab, meaning that many messages were getting completely lost.

This means that marketers are no longer receiving for free important data that can help them deliver relevant content to their customers, and unless they do hit the nail on the head, risk having their messages deleted without a second thought, many times without a second glance. This new reality is seeing marketers try to find alternate means to understand their customers and prospects and interacting with them and this means going where customers are, leading to increased traction by social and mobile. "Social is everyone's favorite topic," notes Jay Henderson, global strategy director for IBM Smarter Commerce. At the same time, the number of mobile devices continued to increase, leading to a higher degree of confidence in this channel for marketing means, Henderson points out. Joe Rogness, CEO of Jingit, agrees, saying the past year has seen a greater emphasis on digital and mobile. "The challenge is how to effectively transition traditional channels into digital and mobile," he notes.

Experts believe that email, mobile, social, and inbound marketing will be the most popular channels in 2014. Here's why:

You've got mail

The past years have seen marketers focus on emerging channels, but according to Graeme Grant, president and chief operations officer at CQuotient, there has been a reignited interest in email. There's recognition that it's a great channel and we're seeing increased interest in email marketing programs," he notes.

While email is a well-established marketing channel, Grant believes that a shift will start taking place in 2014. He notes that right now most marketers are focusing on clicks and open rates, but in the next year marketers will start taking a more customer-centric approach and looking at how a whole campaign impacts an individual customer. For example, rather than focus on whether a customer opened a particular email, marketers will also be looking at that individual customer's interaction with the brand over multiple channels to determine whether a particular email acted as a trigger for other activity, for example opening the company's mobile app.

Going beyond the mobile screen

Most organizations have recognized that mobile is an essential marketing tool that needs to be leveraged to the max. However, there is still work to be done to really integrate smartphones and tablets into the overall marketing strategy. "In 2014 the adoption of mobile communications will cross the threshold of being the most popular means of communication," explains Judy Berlin, director of worldwide marketing at XMPie.

Further, mobile is becoming an essential tool to market to customers when they're in brick-and-mortar stores, leveraging information from their entire journey, including online interactions, notes IBM's Henderson. Smart retailers are using tools like QR codes to drive more engagement in their stores.

However, organizations need to make sure their content is optimized for mobile or they risk alienating customers. This was a reality for accounting firm McGladrey. According to Ken Foster, director of digital media, the company was experiencing limited engagement even though a number of customers were actually accessing their websites from mobile phones. "Mobile traffic was leaving pretty quickly." He notes. When the brand launched mobile-optimized sites in 2012, it noticed an increase in engagement.

Leveraging social media

Social media has evolved since its inception and today provides a great way for brands to interact with their customers and prospects. IMN's Fitzgerald believes that social spend will continue to increase in 2014, with greater focus on newer channels, for example Instagram. But Fitzgerald believes that the biggest change that will take place next year will be more focus on the ROI of social media campaigns. "Companies need to be looking at what's working and doubling down on that," he says.

However, Jingit's Rogness believes that social remains the most underserved channel. "Marketers have been paying attention to social but they haven't learned how to leverage it to create these personalized one-to-one conversations that bridge to a customer's actual shopping experience seamlessly and at scale," he notes.

Investing in quality content

According to Leadspace's Mishor, inbound marketing "will continue to hog the spotlight" in 2014. This will partly be because organizations will focus more on the importance of making the investment of time, talent, and funds to provide the content that will capture and retain customers' attention. "Quality content doesn't just happen. It requires specific and focused effort to keep it fresh and relevant for the audience," he notes. This might be a challenge, especially for smaller organizations that are cash-strapped, but business leaders must be aware that unless content is relevant to the audience they're trying to reach, it might do more harm than good.

Finally, as Amnon Mishor, founder of Leadspace, stresses, irrespective of the channels used, the crucial element is for marketers to personalize their messages and not fall into the trap of one-size-fits-all content. "We'll see an increase in personalized content with the added ability to predict the likelihood that each customer will buy," he notes. Mishor believes 2014 will be the year of persona-based marketing through predictive analytics. "Marketers will be able to dive deep into recent and real-time customer behavior, both on their own sites and across social channels."