Image courtesy of The Old Farmer's Almanac.

Image courtesy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

I almost had a psychic girlfriend but she left me before we met…

– Steven Wright

We all know that unless you own a crystal ball or the Grays Sports Almanac, predicting the future is about as reliable as a British weather forecast.

So while we won’t pretend to make any predictions, we will give you a rundown of the important themes to look out for in the world of content, media and marketing in 2014.

Editorial homepages mean editorial expertise

During the past year we’ve seen various retailers, such as Topshop, Joseph and Browns, use their homepages to push integrated editorial content and it’s certainly a trend we are likely to see carrying into 2014.

A recent Nielsen survey showed consumers found personal recommendations and editorial far more trustworthy than online or mobile ads.

Editorial content is now leading campaigns as opposed to sustaining or supplementing them, and with this push we should expect to see more content marketing agencies popping up, platform-led agencies putting content at the heart of their strategy and brands taking control by bringing content experts into the c-suite.

If you still need convincing, take a glance at the Content Marketing Association’s growing and diversifying membership or check out this list of magazine editors that have been poached by brands in 2013.

Fashion brand Joseph features editorial content next to products on its homepage.

Fashion brand Joseph features editorial content next to products on its homepage.

Digital is optimistic about print

Judging by the number of digital-first publications that have launched print magazines in 2013, people clearly still enjoy the tangibility of print. Online architecture and design magazine Dezeen, for example, made its first foray into print media with Print Shift, a beautiful magazine exploring the world of 3-D printing.

Even digital publishers that were already translating content into print have stepped up their reach this year. The taste-making site Protein re-launched and completely transformed its newsprint journal into a quarterly international newsstand magazine aimed at thought leaders.

Brands outside of the publishing industry are also finding ways to combine digital and physical products (and none involve a QR code!). FiftyThree, the makers of the popular Paper iPad app, recently collaborated with Moleskine to create a printable notebook service from within the app. On the other end of the scale, the Anonymous-Press zine generator – although not brand-based – is a fun example of a digital project that only works in the context of print.

Image via www.prote.in.

Image via www.prote.in.

The rise of new media platforms

Be aware of the possibilities that new platforms will offer next year. Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One aren’t just games consoles – both are developer-friendly, always-connected content-delivery platforms.

We already know that the PS3 is Netflix’s largest TV platform, and we know the Xbox One has a strong branded entertainment app lineup. Examples are thin on the ground for the current generation, but all the tools are there for brands to get in on the gaming industry.

A few years ago Doritos ran a competition to design a video game, which was released for free on Xbox Live. Although the winning entry, Dash of Destruction, wasn’t a masterpiece, it was successful enough to produce additional downloadable content and a sequel. The average console game takes two years from concept to release, so it’s worth keeping an eye on developments into 2015.

First Xbox One consoles being delivered to Best Buy via armoured car in Times Square. Image by Major Nelson via Flickr.

First Xbox One consoles being delivered to Best Buy via armoured car in Times Square. Image by Major Nelson via Flickr.

Is private messaging the new social media?

WhatsApp is a new private messaging app with over 190 million monthly active users.

WhatsApp is a new private messaging app with over 350 million monthly active users.

Brands and content agencies alike are obsessed with getting content on the right social network – even if they sometimes get it wrong. But what if your audience is no longer using that network? Or any network?

This year has seen an explosion in the mobile messaging app world and it only stands to grow in 2014: WhatsApp has more than 350 million monthly active users (that’s more than Twitter), WeChat boasts 200 million and Snapchat users are sending over 400 million images each day – that’s more than Facebook and Instagram.

These private mobile messaging services are where 18-24 year-olds are spending a large chunk of online time and Facebook’s rumoured $3 billion bid for Snapchat suggests the traditional social media giants are more than a little worried.

It remains to be seen whether brands will be able to enter into what is essentially a private space, though it’s worth remembering that twenty years ago marketers successfully muscled their way into email. Taco Bell, MTV and Karmaloop have already dabbled with Snapchat by launching products and by offering exclusive content and customer offers.

The social aspects of email in its earlier days somewhat parallel what’s happening in the emerging private messaging space. Perhaps trends in the digital world, then, are actually cyclical. In which case, if we really want to know what’s going to happen next year we should be looking back to what was popular in, say, 1996… umm, animated GIFs, anyone?