Full text of article by Merlot Marketing CEO Debi Hammond, published May 1st, 2015 in the Sacramento Business Journal 

Adweek recently listed 15 design trends that are garnering the most buzz on the web. The trends were identified by Bell Pottinger Digital, which used a unique “listening tool” to monitor online conversations about brands.

While this monitoring technology is itself very exciting, the results of the study are fascinating and insightful. When interpreted correctly, they can help businesses of all sizes prepare for what the future consumer will want, need and expect.

So, what do you need to know? Here are five ways to help your business or brand stay relevant.

 It’s time to get connected

According to the study, the “Internet of things” rose in popularity by 283 percent last year. From smart-home technology to remotely connected medical offices, this trend is driving strategy and product development for big brands.

Brands such as appliance manufacturer Dacor, which introduced the first professional style cooking range with Wifi connectivity, are capitalizing on that by incorporating technology into designs. Other brands are increasing connectivity with near-field communication. This trend enables devices that are close to one another to instantaneously share information via radio signal.

 Even small businesses must act

This trend towards connectivity doesn’t just apply to the big guys. According to the study, half of mobile device users will prefer to use a mobile wallet over cash or credit cards by 2017. This means even small retailers must be prepared to accept digital payment. Don’t be afraid; much of the technology out there is inexpensive and simple to use.

Think big by thinking small

This constant connection between the consumer and the greater world means that a microscope will now be on your business or brand. In some ways, social media makes the world a smaller place because there’s nowhere for your brand or business to hide. Conversations about products and service are going to occur, and they are going to occur in very public forums.

That is why it is crucial to have a regular, ongoing and real-time presence on social media platforms. The correct person or agency will help you craft an online presence that reflects your brand’s unique personality and will ensure that you are engaging with consumers in a timely and relevant way.

Rethink advertising

Traditional advertising is on its way out. The future consumer is savvy and wary of the hard sell. So, business owners and brands must be creative with their advertising. The trend towards content marketing — weaving products or services seamlessly into editorial content — increased by 41 percent during the length of this study, and advertising through storytelling increased in popularity by 145 percent.

This is where good PR can make or break your marketing strategy. The best people or agency to drive your public relations and marketing departments will be able to creatively weave your brand messaging into the pitch so that it feels like a story. Your publicity strategy should include creative pitching that gets your brand and business mentioned in editorial content.

Consider branded content

Since the trend is moving away from the traditional hard sell, another way to market your business is through branded content, which increased in popularity by 73 percent. When written correctly, branded content is smart and strategic for two key reasons.

First, it is content that people want to read, which organically increases the number of potential impressions. The best branded content includes information that is useful to your audience — tips, statistics or guidelines, for example. Second, it establishes your brand or business as an influencer — an expert in the field. Without realizing it, your target audience elevates your status.

If these trends are any indication, the world of marketing is going through a digital revolution. Embrace the digital and social space strategically, and your business will continue to thrive.

Debi Hammond is president and CEO of Merlot Marketing Inc., a Sacramento-based branding, advertising, social media and PR agency. Contact her at debi@merlotmarketing.com.

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