Marketers: Culture is Critical to Customer Engagement in 2015

Seven Ways Brands Can Leverage Digital Media to Tap into Culture

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It's no coincidence that in a year when "culture" was named Merriam-Webster's word of the year, the success of brands is increasingly being measured by their ability to gain cultural traction. This year, as the marketing landscape continues to evolve with the explosion of mobile and social media, so too will the conversation about how brands can leverage media to get into culture. If a product or service can participate in culture, suddenly it becomes much more interesting and relevant. Here are seven opportunities for marketers to tap into culture as it becomes increasingly critical to customer engagement and brand-building in 2015:

1. The connection economy. Of the approximately 600,000 people who traveled to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, more than 100,000 booked their lodging through Airbnb and other home-sharing sites. Uber is disrupting traditional taxi transportation everywhere. I consider both of these startups to be "media" companies. Why? Because they do not own physical assets -- they own intrinsic connections between customers and existing assets. 2015 will be the year when traditional giants recognize that their biggest threat -- and opportunity -- lies in using media differently to compete against these business models that are based on human connections and cultural nuances that are taking the world by storm.

2. Trading in trust and transparency. Consumers trust their peers more than they trust brands or companies. Corporate wrongdoing is found out and punished quickly by consumers. Hollow innovations barely launch before negative online reviews lead to their demise. 2015 will be the year that brands recognize and account for the fact that trust isn't just a "brand variable," it's actually the basis of doing business. A major focus of media agencies in the year ahead will be building trust through communications, and helping brands engage in a trusted dialog with consumers

3. The science of sharing. Advertisers are obsessed with virality and are constantly asking agencies to deliver them the next Red Bull viral video or "Dove Beauty Sketches." Sharing is a fundamental result of convergence, but as an industry, we don't fully understand the science behind it. We wonder why some things last, such as "Grumpy Cat" memes, while others die a sudden death, such as the "Ice Bucket Challenge." We've developed amazing "art" in viral and know how to deliver creative that sometimes goes viral, but we've not yet mastered the "science" behind it to ensure virality. In 2015, we will begin to truly understand sharing -- why, what, how much, to whom and, critically, the role of brands in that shared experience.

4. Shoppable media. This year, shoppable media will become a mainstream reality as consumers shop and buy while watching videos, reading editorial or simply sharing on social platforms. The real challenge for advertisers is a human one: How to make content shoppable without interrupting and deepening consumers' connection with the brand. By understanding cultural shifts, we'll be able to understand when is the right time to deliver on consumers' expectations for media that's shoppable. Retailers from H&M to Macy's have already been implementing shoppable media, and we'll see more brands experiment with it this coming year.

5. Programmatic gets strategic. 2015 will be the year when programmatic evolves from a tactical to a strategic discipline. We'll see a greater variety of inventory being managed through automation, extending to premium contextual placements and high-impact formats, in particular video. Agencies and marketers will make sense of data via programmatic and leverage that to create more personal, adaptive and valuable connections. We will aggregate and curate content in real time and distribute that content to the audiences most interested in it, thereby tying brands closer to the conversations about them -- and ultimately to culture.

6. Search gets creative. Search will be revolutionized in 2015, taking on an editorial feel -- serving rich brand content, such as reviews, video, and PR headlines. Embedded transactions will become the norm. By using data like never before, brands can optimize content on the fly. Hilton Worldwide recently tapped into technology to provide ads based on real-world flight cancellations in airports, generating increased hotel reservations and improved brand perception. Kleenex also used similar technology to target cold and flu sufferers by following the seasonal disease index.

7. Luxury gets less showy. Emerging luxury markets used to embrace their newfound glitz with glamour -- luxury was loud and showy. But as wealth permeates through socioeconomic layers, true luxury is starting to look for rare and niche brands. In 2015, luxury won't be about big; it'll be about being different. In China, the hunger for new and niche brands is growing at the expense of the luxury giants. Marketers' ability to leverage social influencers will mean the difference between luxe or loss.

These seven opportunities hold major potential for marketers in the year ahead, and the collision of data and emerging technology will help them to convert these opportunities into better business outcomes.

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