I'm kicking off this shortlist of 2016 marketing trends with a prediction....
In the very near future, brands will rely less on traditional media to produce or distribute their marketing messages. That's because--through strategic partnerships, mergers, acquisitions, and launches--brands will actually become part of the media themselves.
Locked and loaded with their own full-service content studios, influencer networks, owned and acquired media channels, paid distribution partners, analytics platforms, and highly intelligent CRMs, brands will have every tool they need to reach and engage audiences. Perhaps even more effectively than traditional publishers and networks.
The four trends here demonstrate that this prediction is already very close to coming to fruition. My recommendation to brands: Seize this incredible, never-before-realized opportunity to make like the media and cultivate relationships directly with your audiences (and potential customers) through entertaining, relevant, and engaging content.
1. Influencer-Marketing Acquisitions
At our editorial marketing company, Masthead Media, we've seen headline after headline about major publishers and networks building out content studios in order to produce native ads and branded content.
Now, we're starting to see those same media heavyweights adding influencer-marketing capabilities. Innovative brands such as Disney are also following suit.
In just the past few months, The New York Times acquired influencer-powered HelloSociety, Hearst partnered with video influencer network Reelio, Time Inc. inked a multi-year partnership with creative influencer network StyleHaul, and Comcast partnered with social-media creator network Niche (now owned by Twitter) on a large campaign. In mid 2015, Disney acquired social-media network Instafluence.
These acquisitions and partnerships are a strong indication that influencer marketing is here to stay. For good reason, too: Marketers who implemented an influencer-marketing program in the first half of 2015 received an average of $9.60 in earned media value (EMV) for every $1.00 spent--a substantial increase from 2014, according to RhythmOne's Influencer Marketing Benchmarks Report and Guide.
2. Episodic Video Content
Forward-thinking brands are now entertaining, engaging, and building anticipation with episodic video content. Part commercials, part Web-series, these documentary and scripted shorts highlight the brand lifestyle while organically integrating product.
Kate Spade tapped actress Anna Kendrick to star in the #MissAdventure short film series, which ramped up with more frequent videos for holiday 2015. In late 2015, Gatorade launched its Win from Within campaign, a four-part YouTube series that has received more than 6.1 million video views to date. Pepsi Max launched a YouTube channel to house its successful #LiveForNow episodic content.
The internet-friendly episodic content trend is ideal for lifestyle-focused brands that have the budget for video content but not a massive ad buy.
3. Long-Form Branded Content
No more 140 character limits: We're seeing increased opportunities for long-form content on social-media and content platforms.
LinkedIn tapped into this trend early, allowing members, brands, and influencers to post long-form content beginning in 2014. Facebook launched Canvas this year--essentially Instant Articles for brands, it's a tool that enables content to be read in the Facebook platform (and it's ComScore, Google Analytics, and Omniture compatible). Medium opened the door to long-form branded content as well, and brands like Marriott, Samsung, and UpWork have already featured content on this platform.
There's even more excitement to come for long form. Up next: You may soon be able to stop abrvtng brnd twts 4 Twitter, because the social-media platform is thinking about increasing its character limit from 140 to 10,000. #Finally.
4. Independent Editorial Marketing Platforms
I always love an engaging brand blog, and we are seeing more and more brands building off of the success of these blogs to create independent editorial marketing platforms.
In late 2014, Gore-Tex launched its digital monthly adventure magazine, Experience More, in partnership with a content technology brand. Similarly, mattress and bedding company Casper launched Van Winkle's, an editorial website focused on sleep. Earlier this year, Equinox rebranded its fitness lifestyle blog "Q," and launched it as self-sustaining online magazine Furthermore.
Savvy marketers will continue to expand their editorial marketing efforts in 2016 and beyond, as the line between traditional and brand publishing blurs--and, eventually, phases out.