My prediction for 2017? This will be the year of the rising importance that “Analog” — the tactile objects and real interactions with which we imbue so much meaning — becomes recognized for its importance in our digital-hyped marketing world.

Admittedly, predicting exactly what’s going to happen between now and December is a mug’s game. Hey, pollsters couldn’t predict the U.S. election, so what business do I have in predicting trends? But, it’s too tempting to resist this annual guessing game.

Here’s a tip to help with your own trendspotting: it’s called Google Trends. It’s fun and informative. You simply type in a few keywords and Google tells you how they have performed hourly, weekly and since 2004 if you like. This only tells you how popular a search term is but this is enough to tell the story in many cases.

Here’s an example.  I’ve asked for trends in the (analog) strings “direct mail”, “direct marketing” and in the (digital) strings digital marketing”, “email marketing”:

 

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I can tell you, for instance, that marketers and fundraisers who have increasingly relied on digital strategies are realizing that you get the marketing results you pay for. And just because it’s cheap to send out an email, doesn’t mean that it’s anywhere near as effective as a tactile print piece. Adblockers, spam filters, and bots that boost ad view data are all making the digital landscape more challenging.

That doesn’t mean digital is going to disappear. Clearly the search trend above shows that it won’t. Rather, what we’re seeing is a move towards a more integrated approach to marketing engagement. Specifically, marketers using analog, like print, to drive people online, where they can then complete a transaction — whether it be a sale or a donation.

Based on this trend, here’s what I see happening as the online and offline worlds start working together.  

Digital sellers will open more stores

Back in December I wrote a post about how one of our marketing guys completed all his holiday shopping online. I wonder what he thinks now that Amazon,  a company that opened its digital doors in 1994, will soon have a real bookstore in Times Square? There’s even speculation that Amazon will soon have a grocery store in Seattle! A little closer to home, Canada’s Frank and Oak has opened stores both here and in the U.S. over the past year.  

This is evidence that the physical act of shopping, the touching, seeing and meeting sales people, cannot be entirely replaced by the online experience. You’ll see more of this as online brands realize the benefits of making a physical connection with buyers.

Experiential marketing grows in importance

Have you tried Google Cardboard, Samsung’s Gear VR or any of the other headsets out there? If not, I encourage you to pick one up. VR is a really cool experience. A charity I work with showed me around their school and health facilities in Africa with a virtual tour.  It was a memorable experience and part of an open house where supporters of the charity could get a deeper understanding of the work being done.

More marketers are planning events. The real meetups with things and people, even integrating VR glasses into the mix, is growing in popularity.

Marketers are organizing more events, meetups, conferences and networking opportunities where participants continue to share and create digital content about the events as they participate.  A marriage of digital and analog with great results.

Direct mail will regain some lost ground

The fastest growing area of ad spend over the past decade has been digital marketing. It’s new. It’s sexy. It seems cheap. And it turns out it’s not quite as effective as direct mail in some cases. Just look at the 2016 presidential campaign as an example. The Trump campaign reportedly spent $29 million dollars on postage and paper alone (and still more on lists) and raised a dollar for every $0.28 spent. Not bad ROI really.**  Our clients understand the value that paper mail brings to their marketing mix. And for the first time in years, print isn’t the ugly stepsister in a digital cinderella story.

So my big prediction for 2017 is that crafty marketers are finally going to learn that Money for Nothing is just a Dire Straits song. And if it’s results they are looking for they’ll ditch digital-only and embrace a strategy that leverages best aspects of both the online and offline worlds. After all, this is not a digital world, 99% of what we do, feel, see, touch and experience every day is actually real, not virtual.  


BONUS – Digital Detox could actually become a thing

When something smells in the real world, we hold our nose.  That nifty new mobile phone or tablet we so admired has become the bearer of just too much unhappy, repetitive, and even fake news. In France legislation now untethers employees from their smartphones and emails after hours. I see this trend accelerating as more people decide to take a full digital detox by unplugging from the constant stream of media messages and email that keeps us glued to screens most of the day. There’s even a company called Digital Detox that espouses the values of some digital downtime. Just imagine a day, weekend or full week without an “emergency” email that “needs” to get an answer right away or without a digital feed full of seemingly endless crises and bombast.  

With my finger on the ‘post’ button this morning, I stumbled upon a caption in the Globe and Mail that accompanied a photo of Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister displaying all the printed books and reports he takes with him to Costa Rica. According to the Winnipeg Free Press, he’s reportedly not using email while abroad.  He might be onto something good…