At the end of each year, I encourage the Leapfrogg team to take some time out to review what they have learnt from the events of the last 12 months. It’s an opportunity to take a step back and think about what we have witnessed in digital marketing, retail and the luxury sector, as well as the strategies and tactics we have employed for an ever-growing portfolio of high-end retailers.
So here are a few of our main observations from another eventful year, with comments from members of the Leapfrogg team, along with what we look forward to (hopefully) seeing in 2013.
Panda’s and penguins changed the game…for the better
Google’s Panda and Penguin updates dominated the search landscape in 2012. Scores of websites found their search engine rankings negatively impacted by the updates. The techniques they had been using to unnaturally garner search rankings (or that agencies were adopting on their behalf, such as buying links) were hit hard by Google’s aggressive, and very public, attempts to clean up their search results.
As Ben Adam, Senior Natural Search Consultant, comments ‘it seems that Google has finally found a means of taking action against web spam; the kind of action that most search marketers have been asking for, for years.’
Website Optimisation Manager, Suzanne Taylor adds, ‘The search engines have got wiser and duly penalised sites that have been chasing rankings with ‘black hat’ tactics. For some businesses, this re-education has cost them time and money, however businesses that have focused, first and foremost, on creating a good experience for their customers have benefitted.’
These updates have had a significant (and in our view, positive) impact on the discipline of natural search (SEO). As Senior Content and Social Media Consultant, Emma-Jane comments, ‘the updates place greater emphasis and reward on traditional content based and PR-style marketing, making quick-win techniques, such as sharing keyword stuffed articles and mass-submitting to thousands of low quality directories, riskier than ever before. A PR-led approach to building a holistic and sustainable link profile has seen a welcome move towards creating editorially-led, consumer facing content. This not only benefits search, but becomes an important part of the customer journey.’
As natural search is now so closely entwined with other marketing activities, such as content planning and PR, Head of Search, Matt, expects to see search getting greater recognition as a strategic business operation in 2013, commenting ‘successful search engine optimisation requires a sophisticated approach to relationship building meaning companies need to work harder to engage with customers, suppliers, partners, press and commentators. This means that SEO should, for the most forward thinking companies, be at the heart of a business not on the fringes, which can only be a good thing.’
Content marketing is nothing new
What was particularly interesting to witness in 2012, as a result of the Panda update in particular, was the sudden surge in interest for ‘content marketing’ services. I’ve been amazed at the number of agencies suddenly changing tact (and in some cases their straplines) to place content marketing at the core of their offering (as if creating genuinely engaging, useful content has always been their approach to search…when quite frankly, it wasn’t.).
‘Content is king’ they said again…and again…and again…
Content marketing, even in the online world, is not a new discipline. Neither is it one that should be getting any more, or less, attention just because Google has found a way to combat the poor quality content that for so long could be used to manipulate your way to the top of the rankings.
Managing Director, Rosie, comments ‘content is not king. Instead, the customer’ is king. Regardless of the marketing activity, whether on or offline, single or multichannel, you must put the customer at the heart of it. Good customer insight is the rocket fuel for your content and wider retail strategy…and always has been. Nothing has changed other than Google getting better at separating the wheat from the chaff.’
In 2013, we hope to see the (somewhat artificially inflated) industry furore around content marketing calm down. We’ll continue to apply a back to basics attitude where content is concerned, namely that strategies are driven by a genuine understanding of the customer, as Senior Content and Social Media Consultant, Emily, explains, ‘delving deeper into our clients’ consumer demographics with detailed customer surveys and audits of each touch point in their retail journey will further develop our customer-orientated focus in 2013, which continues to be at the heart of our approach to content strategy.’
Consumer expectations are moving faster than most retailers can keep up
Driven mainly by technology (the growth in smartphones and tablets, for example), there have been significant changes in consumer behaviour in recent years and, in turn, the expectations that consumers have of the retailers they choose to shop with.
As I noted in an Econsultancy article back in November, ‘what is a ‘nice to have’ now will be the expected norm in 2013. As consumers become conditioned to in-store consoles, delivery on their own terms and a more personalised shopping experience (to give just three examples), they will more readily question those retailers not offering the same. In short, consumers won’t put up with average when exceptional becomes the norm.’
As such, we will undoubtedly see more retail casualties in 2013. However, it would be too simplistic to blame economic factors alone for these failing businesses. Instead, there will be some retailers who simply cannot evolve their business models in line with customer expectations and, as such, will disappear from our high streets.
In 2013, the successful retailers will be those who place much greater emphasis on customer insight and ‘big data’ to drive marketing decisions. Gone are the days when retailers can afford to throw money at something on a whim. The customer needs to be at the heart of every decision. As such, we expect to see customer experience become more and more of a focus during 2013 to the extent it occupies board level discussions.
Social media is evolving to become a mind-set, not just a tactic
Alongside Google’s well publicised efforts to clean up their search results, 2012 also saw social media’s influence on search results increase. As Client Services Director, Greg, comments ‘Google+ started to show real signs of traction in 2012 – especially with regards to having an impact on natural search visibility within the search results’.
We still think the jury is out when it comes to the role Google+ plays in meeting wider customer engagement objectives (simply put it hasn’t reached critical mass) but, without question, Google is making a massive push for it to a part of our everyday lives. I just hope consumers, brands and agencies invest in the platform in 2013 because it adds genuine value to their retail strategies, not just because it is a necessary vehicle to improving Google search rankings.
Aside from Google+, in 2012 we saw a definite step change in how clients’ perceive social media and the role it plays at every stage of the customer journey. As Emily notes, ‘across our client portfolio, we’ve seen an increased interest in (and understanding of), the importance of social, both for accessing and expanding their consumer bases, as well as becoming an increasingly important factor in search.’
Greg continues ‘brands have been much more willing to at least ‘have a go’ in social media even if specific objectives and KPIs are unclear at the start.’
Measurement and attribution remains a challenge
Mobile and tablet use exploded during 2012 with Matt commenting ‘adoption of mobile devices was notable last year. Customers of premium brands are more likely to own a smartphone and tablet with some of our clients seeing up to 40% of their website traffic coming from mobile devices.’
As consumers move so freely between channels and devices whilst researching, considering and making their purchase, tracking this journey and attributing revenue to the appropriate channel presented a major challenge in 2012…and it will continue to do so in 2013.
Head of Search, Matt, sees part of the solution in social media. He comments, ‘Social media offers a solution to attribution issues created by multiple devices and cookie deletion. With a billion people on Facebook and other networks such as Twitter and Pinterest growing quickly, people logged in to social media platforms and email services, especially on their mobile devices, could be the solution to the attribution conundrum’.
Watch this space!
Things get better with age
In December, we will be celebrating our tenth birthday. Quite frankly, I don’t know where the years have gone!
One thing I do know is that Leapfrogg is evolving all of the time. Each day, month and year we improve, never satisfied with our approach, processes and knowledge. For me, that is what makes a great agency; the constant desire to be better than you were yesterday.
Therefore, we look forward most to celebrating 10 years in business by continuing to work with some fantastic retail brands, constantly innovating to help them meet their commercial objectives.
Account Manager, Nick, sums this up best; ‘for me, what I’m most looking forward to in 2013 is pushing our fantastic clients to be bold, experimental and ultimately, successful. With the green shoots of an economic recovery beginning to show, 2013 will be the year when forward-thinking and innovative clients can really get the jump of their competitors. I’m looking forward to leading the way with Leapfrogg’s fully integrated approach and setting the standards.’
With that, we’d like to wish you a happy and prosperous New Year!