On Creating the 2017 Trends Report

It has been eight days since the release of our 2017 Brand and Design Trends Report. It may seem too soon, but I’m taking to our blog to publish a reflection on the process of creating what has become one of our favorite annual projects. As the lead copywriter on the trends report and the agency’s Digital Strategist, I have a unique imprint on the trends project. I not only contribute ideas to the report, and synthesize my colleagues’ thoughts into the voice of the report, but also strategize how the report will exist online and be shared on social channels. I’m with the report from inception to decommission, and it’s a fascinating twelve months. In spirit of this year’s report, which is entirely focused on authenticity, the following is an honest account of what it takes to make this report.

Ideas. Ideas. Ideas.

Last year, when we wrote the 2016 report, we were largely countering the work of another creative agency, that has been publishing these kinds of forecasts for a while now. Our report, which we presented in the form of a downloadable white paper, was largely a success. Its dedicated landing page saw consistent visits throughout 2016 and the report itself was steadily downloaded up until its final week.  

Ideas for the 2017 report began pouring out of us at the end of the summer, but they had more than likely been brewing for quite sometime before. 2016 has been an atypical year for many reasons. For Markon, this manifested in a sea change in both how we do business, and the inbound marketing practices we employ to generate new business. For a while we felt that certain things weren’t working, and in the wake that this still-not-over year is leaving behind, we are not entirely surprised to learn why.  

Why Everything Is Dead. 💀

Our first official meeting about the trends project was part of a day long calibration we had as a team back in late August. What started as a conversation about how to manage content strategy in 2017, quickly became a conversation about the things that we should kill in 2017. Items on our kill list included our email campaign, our blog, SEO (and all other three letter acronyms), stock photography, and probably some other items.

The truth is, people are tired of the digital noise and we decided that as an agency, and a brand, we don’t need to contribute to it. This year, UK based communications firm, Ofcom, reported that a quarter of internet users want to unplug. That’s a serious stat in my opinion. With the amount of vitriol being shared online, the increasing rapidity by which our digital lives push our physical lives, and the explosion of fake news on the internet, the last thing the web needs is another half-hearted article about why a brand’s logo needs to introduce a script font to be more Pinterest-able (I’m making up the script font bit). So, in our report and in our own practices we killed blogging, and stock photography, and over publishing for the sake of algorithms.

We Had Six Trends. We Killed One. 😟

Originally the report had six trends. A number we arbitrarily set to match the number of trends we reported last year. This was an inauthentic effort at best and thus completely contrary to our report. We scraped a trend about the inevitability that all brands - including our own - must embrace video content. This trend had little to do with the overarching theme of authenticity, or quieting digital noise, so we scraped it. However, it did have merit. Brands large and small should embrace video. Few things portray authenticity more than an in-the-moment video of something: a testimonial from a subject matter expert, product being picked up for shipment, a mechanical process - something. Video is so crucial to marketing, and so appeal as a form of content, that Cisco predicts that it will account for over 80% of the internet’s bandwidth in the coming decade. However, this is not news of any kind to our peers, or people who are in the slightest bit digitally aware. (right?)

First There Was An Email Gate. Then There Wasn’t. Now What? 🏰

4.2 days after the release we noticed an interesting trend. We didn’t have as many downloads as we had last year around the same time, but we had an increase in downloads from identifiable peers. We could tell because we had an email gate on the content. Keyword being had. The second trend worth noting was that the social media posts promoting the report were getting a lot of traction with tens of thousands of impressions per day, and a healthy number of clicks to follow. Our own site analytics confirm the high visitation rate. Yet, the report wasn’t being downloaded. Why? Well, possibly because we did one of the very things we advised against in our own trends report: created a frivolous friction in the sharing process by asking users to not only click a link in a social post, but then click 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 links on a landing page. (What were we thinking?!) It worked in 2016, but times change, people get worn down.

We removed the email gate and abandoned the download altogether. We want you to read the content, not feel like you have to forfeit anonymity, or any level of privacy by trading an email address for a document. Sorry it took a hot minute for us to get there.

Next Year Will Be Much Different

Although it’s far too early to speculate as to what we might put into a report for 2018, we are already musing about how we might package that year’s report. The web is a wonderful in that it’s a constantly unfurling blank canvas upon which to write. Just don’t write too much. Or get too fluffy. Be authentic. That’s the best we can advise you (and us) to do.