The Next Big Things

Mark L. Johnson / February 2016

Marketers everywhere are trying to find ways to stand out.
    
In consumer markets, this commonly takes the form of being “bad” in order to be appealing. Getty Images calls the trend “Outsider In.” It’s putting a brand in the context of rebelliousness, garnering popularity by featuring outsiders, outcasts and oddballs. “Popular becomes more daring,” says gettyimages.com.
    
That won’t work in business-to-business marketing. What will?
    
B2B marketers, like anyone, need unconventional approaches to building their brands. Print ads may not make the impressions they once did. Many company websites remain stuck in the underwhelming designs of the late 1990s to the mid 2000s—photography treated as an afterthought, copy that’s wordy and technical.
    
Worst of all, many websites are unreadable on a smartphone—a big drawback. The average smartphone screen, 2.5 inches in 2007, was 4.9 inches by 2014, according to phonearena.com.
    
It’s time to catch up. Here is my take on this year’s hot marketing areas.
    
Mobile design. Design trends lumber along more slowly than the yearly change of the calendar. So, no grand design differences exist this year versus last. Except: Mobile is now the primary driver of website design, not the computer desktop. Your website has to look great on a phone. Users want bite-size content and simple navigation. They want websites to be app-like—succinct, clean-lined, efficient to use. Smartphone screens, I believe, have topped out in size and may even get smaller. New, higher resolution displays will allow lines to be thinner, text to be smaller, more room for better mobile design.
    
Data journalism. You want people to visit your website and follow you on social media. But you have to offer them something compelling. Why not publish actual company data?
    
“Infographics are the type of content that’s most likely to be shared on social media,” writes Alexandra Samuel in the Harvard Business Review. “Creating data visualizations that offer real value to your readers is a great way to spread your ideas and message—and to drive traffic to your site.”
    
Data visualizations have staying power, more so than typical blog posts, especially if you keyword titles so that the posts show up whenever people search for numbers about our industry. Don’t be overly guarded about it, as though revealing the production rate on a particular job, the safety record of a crew or other data sets would give away gargantuan trade secrets. The number of readers and social media forwards you’d gain would far exceed any negatives that may come with the release of a few proprietary tidbits.
    
Vintage design. If you want to stand out, then incorporate vintage design into your brand development. It remains a strong design theme. (Do a Google image search for “vintage design” and “vintage typography” to get an idea of the style.)
    
Vintage is counterintuitive—it seems old and dated, but that makes it relevant and hip. Colors mimic the printing techniques of the 1920s to 1980s. Typefaces reflect the styles of letters when they used to be pressed out of wood or metal. The look features texture, such as gritty paper stock. Best of all, vintage conveys notions of boldness, authenticity and craftsmanship—all great qualities to associate with your company.
    
Why not collect vintage company photos, scan them and post them to your website?
    
Podcasting. A recent survey by Advertiser Perceptions found that 40 percent of marketers had discussed podcasting. One in 10 said they would advertise in a podcast over the next six months, and half said they’d consider doing so. Why has podcasting become so hot?
    
“Podcast listeners have migrated to mobile in droves,” reports vox.com. “In just one year, from 2013 to 2014, the percentage of listeners who said they primarily listen on smartphones, tablets and portable audio players rather than on a computer jumped from 34 percent to 51 percent.” And, new technologies make it easier to listen to podcasts in cars.
    
There may be a learning curve here. But you’re an expert in wall and ceiling systems. You could talk about them and about construction processes endlessly. I’m sure of that. It’s just a matter of getting a microphone in your hands and pressing the record button. Use your smartphone. Record a podcast, upload it on iTunes, SoundCloud or similar service, and get started in developing a following.
    
Sure, standing out from the crowd takes work. Now it’s time to get started.

Mark L. Johnson, an industry marketing consultant, loves marketing and the challenge of good design. He tweets at @markjohnsoncomm and connects at linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.