2022 Trends in Digital Marketing

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It's here! The DMI's rundown of what you need to look out for in the coming year. Host Will Francis is joined by 8 experts and practitioners across the industry to look at where digital marketing is at in 2022 and how it is responding to societal changes post-COVID. We look at issues around recruitment and upskilling and key factors regarding the customer experience. We touch on the Metaverse, NFTs, AI, Google's ever-evolving cleverness, and how brands can plan strategically. In an ever-immersive world we look at how video is becoming so much more accessible, the importance of TikTok and YouTube, and learning to live with automation. And that's just some of what we covered!

You can view the full transcript below. 

The Ahead of the Game podcast is brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute and is available on YouTubeApple PodcastsSpotify, and all other podcast platforms.      

This episode features the future-gazing talents of:

  1. Ken Fitzpatrick, CEO of the Digital Marketing Institute
  2. Brian Corish, MD of Accenture Interactive (ASGR)
  3. Alison Battisby, Founder of Avocado Social and DMI lecturer 
  4. Mischa McInerney, CMO of the Digital Marketing Institute
  5. Cathal Melinn, eCommerce specialist and DMI lecturer
  6. Orla Stack, Director of HR, Digital Marketing Institute
  7. Brendan Almack, MD of Wolfgang Digital
  8. Kate Toon, SEO and copywriting consultant


Will: [00:00:01.345] Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by The Digital Marketing Institute. In this episode, we are once again going to gaze into the crystal ball of digital media technology and marketing to see what's emerging that we, as digital marketers, need to be aware of. To help me on this journey are a whole host of previous guests and DMI experts in various fields, from careers and commerce, to social media and SEO, and much more.

[00:00:27.161] So first of all, I spoke to a very special guest, the CEO of the Digital Marketing Institute, Ken Fitzpatrick, and I asked him what he could see on the horizon.

Ken: [00:00:37.458] Well, I think if we look at the new areas that people need to watch out for, or digital marketers need to be aware of, the first one is going to be an interesting one to watch, it's the metaverse, which is obviously Facebook, or Meta's, big bet for the future. And I think people should just watch with interest what happens there, but I think if I was going to focus on something to sort of get my arms around in that area, it would be how virtual experiences and physical experiences marry for companies, you know, both in an offline and in an online world, in terms of product demos or customer experience. I think that's, if you were to analyze a piece of the metaverse that you can kind of get your head around, it would be how does my product or brand live in a virtual experience environment. So, things like interactive content could be a very simple way of testing out the metaverse.

[00:01:34.184] And the second area I think, Will, is AI. You know, it's been around for a little while, and people are beginning to use it, but I think how it intersects with privacy is going to be really important, and something for people to watch out for in 2022. And I think that's going to be an increasingly important topic, is how do you gather data, while staying within the bounds of the requirements of privacy laws and the like. Not the most exciting, but I think that's going to be more and more important. To look at things that will continue to be important this year, that sort of started not last year, but over the recent while, I think the role of influencer marketing will become far, far more mainstream, even than it is now. I think "Forbes" estimated that the influencer market is worth just under $14 billion now, so it's not going anywhere. And I think it's something that brands who haven't used it to date will look to use on an increasing basis. Particularly again, how influencers intersect with video content, which is obviously still hugely important. And I think also b2b, as well as b2c, I think on the influencer side. So, I think that will be much more of a regular part of people's marketing mix, as a percentage of the number of companies out there promoting themselves via digital marketing than it maybe has been in the past.

[00:03:05.929] And another thing that will continue, and this, again, is a little bit more boring, but the regular stuff is just as important as ever, Will. You know, the content marketing, your SEO, paid media, mobile-first marketing, none of that is going away, all of it is becoming increasingly important.

Will: [00:03:23.765] So, we're seeing things like virtual worlds and influencer marketing coming around again, and it's quite cyclical, isn't it? I mean, as technology and strategies mature, and then they become more widely adopted, and then they become better developed, and so when they come back, they're actually useful, and then they become popular again.

Ken: [00:03:42.849] Something like QR codes, Will, as an example, have been around for years and years, and every year, they were the greatest thing, you know, 10, 15 years ago, they're going to change the world, and actually have come into their own in the last 18 months, obviously, a lot of which has got to do with COVID, and people using QR codes on an increasing basis. But that's something now that has got an application very much in the mainstream, that people talked about a long, long time ago. I remember building a WAP, a WAP mobile website many, many years ago, and it being the most difficult thing in the world to use, but of course, it was the precursor just to mobile websites and mobile marketing, which is now, again, just a fundamental part of everybody's marketing mix. So you're right, things take time. They don't always develop the way maybe they're predicted to develop at the beginning. But once customers like them and want to use them, then you've got to be right there alongside the customer, and understanding how they want to use it because otherwise, you're going to get left behind.

[00:04:50.789] I mean, last year, you and I talked about a trend around CX in the digital world, and customers, because of COVID, being much more comfortable in dealing with a company or with a brand in an online environment, and that's here to stay. That's not going anywhere. So, how's that going to develop? Well, things like conversational marketing, things like omni-channel, you know, a nice bit of jargon, but promoting your product to all the digital channels, as well as the offline channels is increasingly important because customers expect it's 2:00 am in the morning, they expect a response to their query at 2:00 am now. They won't wait until, you know, three days later to get a response in triplicate. So, you know, this sort of frictionless, conversational CX is going to keep getting increasingly important. So, that's a trend that kind of started some time back, companies were forced to develop it faster because of the fact that a lot of physical outlets, for example, were closed for a long period, but now, customers are comfortable there, and it's just going to keep developing.

Will: [00:06:05.997] Okay, so in terms of innovation and emerging trends, how do we allocate resources to identifying and testing these? There's no immediate ROI, if any at all, but there does seem to be a first-mover advantage to the brands who get to things early. So, how do you think we manage that?

Ken: [00:06:23.504] Yeah, it's a good question, Will, because you don't want to be wasting resources either on items that don't produce a great return. But doing a bit, as you say, how much the bit is, is probably the question everybody needs to work out themselves. But doing a bit is actually a good idea because as you say, one or two may transpire to be very important for your company, and in fact, don't necessarily have to be at a trend that all companies adopt, if it works for your particular company. So, I do think it's a good idea to test things, as long as you're not diverting resources away from the fundamentals that are going to make the 95% of a difference. It's that extra 5% or 10% that you can test and you can play around with, and if it doesn't work, move on, you know? And then maybe wait until the technology adjusts to suit your particular customers. But yeah, it's important to try things, but as long as it's not at the expense of the fundamentals that are actually making the biggest difference for you today in the business.

Will: [00:07:30.706] And what should marketers be doing to adapt to these changes?

Ken: [00:07:33.787] I was looking at the top in-demand marketing jobs, and they're all digital skills-based. So, let's not forget to upskill, and obviously, DMI can play a role in that. But whether it's DMI or not, the importance of upskilling is just here, here to stay, with the changes you and I have just talked about, and staying on top of not only new things, but actually ensuring that you're just up to speed on all aspects of digital marketing. It's only getting bigger, it's only getting more important as a discipline, and staying up to date is really, really important.

Will: [00:08:11.011] So, thanks to Ken, there. So, let's flesh out that overview of the landscape a bit further, and hear from Brian Corish of Accenture Interactive, who I spoke to in the January 9th, 2022 episode about digital transformation.

Brian: [00:08:25.785] I mean, at a simple kind of operational thing, what you're starting to see is customer journey orchestration and customer journey analytics. So, typically in industries, you had big players, whether it's in marketing automation, or CRM or whatever, who kind of were really good at functional things. So marketing automation, making that really good, and you've got big companies like Adobe that do that really well, and then you've got other companies that do billing, and other companies... But there's new software that kind of sits on top of all of that, and helps you use data to understand your customer journey, so you're able to see, yeah, I know you've designed this pretty customer journey on a whiteboard somewhere, but this is what your customers are actually doing. And it looks across systems, so you can sort of see, you can see...and it deploys relatively easy, so you can see, okay, well that's what our customers are actually doing, and then you can change it really quickly. You don't have to go off and spend the national debt of a small country, reengineering other systems to change it. That'd be one.

[00:09:30.222] NFTs are really interesting. Initially, I kind of went, oh, God, not another one...

Will: [00:09:36.189] Just explain what they are for our listeners.

Brian: [00:09:38.629] Non-fungible tokens. So, it's essentially, forget the technology for a second, but if you think about it as a way to prove that you own something, and then you think about how we interact with brands, brands are irrational, brands give us irrational decisioning, right? So, what NFTs do is sort of signaling. A lot of brands is around signaling, so why would you wear a Rolex watch? Well, you're kind of signaling I'm well off, or I'm whatever, I'm successful, so a lot of brands are around signaling. Where you see NFTs in media companies is where you're going to start to see huge transformation of companies. So if, for example, you saw this recently, I don't know if you...Quentin Tarantino has started to create NFTs of parts of Pulp Fiction, so you can say that specific shot with Samuel L. Jackson, and John Travolta pointing the gun, I own that. I own the original of that. Yes, there are lots of copies of it, but I own it. It's mine.

Will: [00:10:45.249] And just to be clear, the platform, the ledger on which these ownerships are recorded is blockchain, and I think it's the Ethereum blockchain.

Brian: [00:10:55.870] I mean, you're starting to see a use for it now, right? You're starting to see: I can own this, I have this one-of-one thing. And it's a digital asset, but it's very much...like, a lot of brands are around signaling, or a lot of brand is around, you know, look at me, I'm successful, or look at me, I have this thing. And then you're starting to see NFTs, and then the metaverse starting to populate. You'll see luxury brands going in there and saying, actually, you can have this one-of-one outfit for your character.

Will: [00:11:25.003] So, you think NFTs and the metaverse, there's going to be quite a bit of integration there because, yeah, we'll need ownable assets and what have you in that space?

Brian: [00:11:35.137] That's it exactly. I mean, assuming the...like, I think the metaverse is probably going to take more attraction in business scenarios first, I think. So, but as we move toward that sort of increasingly virtual world, digital assets will have value. And I will openly admit I was pretty skeptical over blockchain. I think some of the valuations have been nuts on Bitcoin for the past couple of years, and there's a lot of hype around it. But I think when that dies down, the idea of guaranteed ownership of a digital asset will become a thing. And I think it can transform particularly media industries, sports teams, those sort of...those sort of things where you've got kind of a I want the one-of-one. And that, I think is...if not 2022, definitely 2023 will become a thing. We might laugh at it now, and then we'll be like, oh, actually, yeah, I have this thing that I bought.

Will: [00:12:33.336] Yeah, no, I can see that. And I can see, actually, why the metaverse, a metaverse or metaverses would be the perfect platforms for that, you know? That does make sense to me. And yeah, I was quite excited, it was on the weekend I saw...and the Apple rumor mill got quite excited about the fact that Apple might be bringing out some AR glasses of some sort.

Brian: [00:12:57.119] Yeah, I mean that's going to be really interesting because if you look at... Like, Google and Microsoft are two companies who are really great at kind of pushing the future of where things are going, but usually a bit ahead of the market, where the market is, before the technology is ready. And I mean, if you remember Google Glass, and people used to be called, what was it, glassholes?

Will: [00:13:18.030] Yeah, I remember.

Brian: [00:13:19.447] But when Apple do it, Apple kind of have a fast follower sort of thing. They wait back a bit, they wait for the technology to mature, when they launch it'll be really interesting.

Will: [00:13:28.477] They'll get it right.

Brian: [00:13:29.233] Yeah, I think they will. The other thing is mobility, the car. I mean, when Apple's moved in there, I think you'll start to see Tesla's share price have a pretty radical change. But that'll be very interesting, if Apple move into the Apple car, because the car increasingly will become something that you will think about the amount of time you spend. That's how these brands monetize, they look at time spent in front of a platform.

Will: [00:13:56.286] So, the car as the next big platform for digital experiences. And interesting to hear Brian's take on the Metaverse there, focusing on the need for a system of ownership in digital spaces, and this is where non-fungible tokens, or NFTs could be essential.

[00:14:13.454] So, let's get into the details. What's going on in the various specialisms in digital marketing? So first of all, let's hear from Alison Battisby. She's been on the podcast a few times, and she's a contributor to DMI's member content and courses. She runs social media consultancy Avocado Social, and so I asked her what's emerging in social media?

Alison: [00:14:34.080] So, potentially not a new trend, but TikTok has been on the waiting line for a while now to become one of the biggest used apps in the world. The growth of TikTok over the last year has just been phenomenal, and they're definitely in the billions of users now. So, they are competing up against the likes of LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest. They're not quite as big as Facebook, but we know that Facebook are certainly worried about TikTok because so many of the TikTok features are beginning to filter in to Facebook products. I think definitely in 2022, more brands will be taking TikTok more seriously. It's not just a passing trend or a fad to do a quick dance routine or have a go at a challenge, it's certainly become a really interesting way of reaching a young audience very quickly, with minimal budget. Videos on TikTok are put into the algorithm in a very fair way, compared to other platforms like Instagram. TikTok doesn't look at how many followers you already have, or how long your account has been established for, it simply looks at the quality of your content. So if your video on TikTok is something that's engaging people, people are watching it through to the end, and if people are watching it over and over again, it can actually perform incredibly well, and that's how videos can go viral on the platform.

[00:16:18.834] So, we've seen quite a few examples over the last year, and I'm sure we're set to see many more in 2022 of brands and usual customers who don't really have much of a following going viral. So, they're suddenly seeing a huge amount of viewers on their videos, and then of course, those videos are being picked up by the media and press as well. So, one of the examples I love to share is the Mick Fleetwood, skateboarding down the streets, drinking some cranberry juice, which actually was a meme that was started by an influencer, who maybe, you know, only had tens of thousands of followers, but actually, that video ended up gaining millions of views, and Mick Fleetwood himself actually parodied it, and filmed his own version.

[00:17:13.740] What I've noticed, certainly, is so many brands have set up on TikTok in the last few months, so we're starting to see a lot of brands own their space, grab their username, and claim their stake in TikTok, even if they're planning on using it or not, just so that they own that area. And we're seeing a lot of brands begin to experiment. And the brands that kind of, in my mind, are quite notable to take a look at are brands like Chipotle, they're doing a very good job on TikTok, using a lot of their employees to create the content. I love following brands like Disney Land, who are doing amazing tours and exclusive behind-the-scenes content that you wouldn't normally get to see. And then there's lots of tiny niche businesses, small businesses who are creating a lot of funny, comical, just fun content that's really laid back, and doesn't take a lot of planning. Which you can see they're just having a go at TikTok, and seeing what success they can see out of the channel.

Will: [00:18:29.748] So, do you think brands are kind of less scared of TikTok, but also taking it more seriously as a channel?

Alison: [00:18:34.925] Yes, definitely. I think for a while, TikTok was sort of met with an eye roll, and oh, isn't that just for the kids? Whereas now that we see a lot of influencers like Gordon Ramsay, we also see, you know, older celebrities, even Rod Stewart is on TikTok, and doing very well on TikTok, it's suddenly being respected as a platform. And I think people are beginning to see, actually, we can reach a lot more people on TikTok than we can do here, than maybe on Instagram or Facebook. So, it actually is driving results for brands as well.

Will: [00:19:16.602] Okay, that's great, Alison. Any other trends you're seeing on the up?

Alison: [00:19:20.295] Definitely. So, one of the biggest trends that I've been very involved in is social shopping. Particularly on the build-up to Christmas this year, so many brands were looking at getting their shops online on Instagram to ensure that their customers could purchase products through the app, and also navigate and discover products that businesses are selling through the app. The big trend that we'll see this year is actually being able to purchase without leaving apps. So at the moment, you have to click on a tag on Instagram for a product, and then that will send you through to a website, whereas what we will begin to see in 2022 is the ability to save your payment information within TikTok or Instagram, and simply make that payment, without leaving the app. Incredibly powerful stuff. TikTok have just partnered with Shopify, Instagram are making huge developments with their shopping area within the app, so I think social shopping is just set to become absolutely huge this year. I know other platforms do allow it as well. So, YouTube are looking at enhancing their shoppable tags within YouTube videos, and also you can do shopping on Pinterest, as well. So, it's definitely a trend that all of the social media platforms are looking to respond to.

Will: [00:20:55.877] Right, so we can market through the funnel, driving awareness, engagement, and then the sale, all in social media.

Alison: [00:21:03.435] Absolutely. And it's the brands that are thinking smarter about how they're presenting their shop windows, so not just relying on one photo, for example, you know, having three, four, five different images per product, adding keyword-rich descriptions within your Instagram shop. There's the ability to create collections now in Instagram shops, so actually spending time to put together gift suggestions, or perhaps, you know, summer or autumn collections, so that it's far easier and a better experience for customers who are exploring your shop on Instagram. I think the other trend that, of course, everybody does seem to be talking about, and this, again, is quite Instagram-specific, but it is the enhancement of video content on the platform.

[00:21:56.527] So back in the summer of '21, Instagram's CEO made the announcement that they were actually going to kind of change their strategy slightly to lean in to more video-based content. And with that, we've seen developments in the app, including reels, we've seen the integration of IGTV and feed into just one product called Instagram Video, which now sits in a separate tab on your profile. We're seeing experiments of making stories longer, we're seeing experiments with more effects being released in reels, we're seeing more video advertising formats being available to purchase within Facebook Ads Manager. So as a whole, Instagram have noticed that their audience are responding extremely well to video content. They no longer want to be known as a photo-sharing app, they want to be seen as a big entertainment app. And with that comes the new video formats that they're experimenting with. So if you are really thinking about your Instagram strategy for 2022, I think it has to be leading with video content, and really starting to think about how you can integrate more video, more reels, more stories, more gifts into your Instagram feed.

Will: [00:23:24.897] But for marketers I talk to, I think many of them are still intimidated just by the prospect of creating video, it seems very hard or very expensive.

Alison: [00:23:34.315] Yeah, and actually, what I've definitely noticed is it's far easier to create video now. So platforms like Canva, for example, for graphic design even allow you to create video content really easily. You can animate some of your existing graphics with just slight movement and GIFs completely for free, as well. You know, it's not a difficult thing for any non-designer to do. And then, I think with that comes the increase in low-fi video. So, what we are seeing is a lot of people are getting involved in video, which is great, but they're not necessarily worried about the production values of a video. TikTok I think has led the way in how you can create a poorly lit, you know, the sound not so great video, but it can still go viral, it can still perform well. And I think, you know, during the pandemic, we saw a lot of at-home video content being made by big brands, and that has made us I think much more open to the fact that we can consume video content without it being the best quality possible.

[00:24:53.943] There is a huge digital skills gap in that every brand out there is really looking to enhance their capability in digital marketing, but a lot of people are struggling to find the talent. So, one of the things that is very much on the agenda for businesses this year is to upskill their staff. And also, many employees out there, or professional individuals are looking to enhance their own knowledge around particularly things like social media ROI, social media advertising, and content creation. Those are kind of the three areas, I think, where a lot of people feel they need to upskill, and that's where the demand is in digital marketing as well.

Will: [00:25:46.057] Thanks, Alison. I suppose it comes down to changing demands on our skills as marketers, it's just always on us to be learning and developing. So, consider how TikTok could be part of your strategy, if you haven't already, focus on video content to serve your audience, and get upskilled through certified training. And I think now would be a good time to mention that you can join the Digital Marketing Institute for free, at digitalmarketinginstitute.com, because now is always a good time to start expanding your skillset. Whether you take a course there or not, you'll have access to loads of case studies, templates, guides, resources, it's all waiting for you there.

[00:26:28.388] Anyway, talking of the DMI, my next expert in the trends hot seat is Mischa McInerney. Mischa is the CMO, the Chief Marketing Officer of the DMI, and I asked her what trends were on the horizon from her perspective.

Mischa: [00:26:44.744] First trend we're seeing is really, it's on the back of COVID, I would think, I think COVID's maybe accelerated this, but it's that me versus we dynamic. So, what I mean by that is on the me side, you've got this kind of people have a greater sense of agency, people are rising up and kind of revolting. And what I mean by that is like in the workspace, you can see a greater sense of agency with people not wanting to, or wanting to return back to work on their terms. We also saw 61 million sideline businesses set up last year in the U.S., so people are setting up these kind of small little mixers on the side, where they're earning money on the side. So, there's a little bit of a less reliance on the corporate America or the corporates, so people have their own sources of income, so they're creating their own sense of agency. And then you have this kind of juxtaposition of, like, this we dynamic, where you have we're not safe 'til we're all safe. And on COVID, you have people wearing masks as part of... they're into kind of a collective well-being. And I think that's a really interesting to see how that plays out, and you know, how do brands interact with that kind of psyche.

[00:28:06.152] You can see the emergence of supporting companies that help people with that greater sense of agency, and kind of not that kind of traditional nine-to-five job. You can see more of a gig economy, you know, the digital nomads, but you can see businesses sprouting up to support that, so you can... Obviously, you've got Patreon, you've got Substack, you also have...you've got Lili, which is a bank that supports freelancers. They assess their credit risk not in the traditional way that banks do, so they look at their income, they average it out, and it's a different credit risk model. So, you can see businesses sprouting up a little bit more to support that kind of...that me culture, that greater sense of agency. And then I suppose on the we side of things, you can see, like, Netflix have...you can watch shows at the same time on Netflix, so you can have... And then I know Apple Music, I can't remember the name of it, but you can listen to music at the same time. So technically, you could have a house party with your mates, all listening to the same music, all tuning into the same...you know, all over Zoom at the same time, or...you know? So, there's interesting things emerging from that. And you can see that kind of tension between that kind of me versus we.

Will: [00:29:37.090] Yeah, so what about the relationship between brands and consumers?

Mischa: [00:29:41.057] Years ago, you had the brand could say whatever they wanted, and people believed them because there was no... they couldn't verify what they were saying. And then you had social media, where you could verify because people could, you know, get information from, you know, reviews or ask peers, so you had this kind of leveling of the power dynamic between brands. And now you've got... Or not leveling, I suppose the power went back to the consumer. But now you have consumers very much in control, and they're choosing to interact with brands on their terms, and you can see the power dynamic shift. And I suppose, what does that mean? I think instead of brands going for the right message to the right audience, at the right time to connect with them, it's probably going to be something like the right answer to the right question, at the right time, because they're going to interact with you on their terms. They'll ask you the question for the information that they want. You don't push information at them, they'll consume the information as they need it. And I think there's a little bit of a shift at the moment, you can see that 17% of Google searches are now questions. It was 8% percent in 2018, so it's quite a jump. So, that conversational marketing, where they're asking questions, and you're helping them through a process, and you're helping them understand things, and you're giving the control back to the customer, and you're helping them, rather than talking at them or talking to them, or pushing stuff at them, I think that power dynamic of that greater sense of agency will start to play through.

Will: [00:31:19.340] Hm, okay. And what else are you seeing out there?

Mischa: [00:31:22.901] I think there's some interesting things happening in the environment space. So, I think companies have done a lot of greenwashing, and I think they're being held accountable a little bit more. And I think a few years ago, if you said to me what was going to be the biggest shift in environmental impact, I would have said government legislation, but I think differently now, and I think it's probably going to be more consumer-led. And I think it probably has to be consumer-led, but I think there's been a number of kind of periphery factors that have maybe driven that. So during COVID, there was a study by the University of Vermont, and 67% of people said that they felt more connected to nature during COVID because life became more simple, people were out and about outdoors, getting fresh air, creating headspace for themselves. So, I think there's kind of, like, more of an affinity with nature now.

And then you had on the other side of things, then you had a bit more the supply chain was cut off, semiconductor supply chain, people couldn't get workers, COVID restrictions meant that the production lines, you know, in Asia were cut short, and then you had the Suez Canal. So, people were forced to maybe not buy things that they would normally buy, or buy less of them, but they were forced to do it, and they're not the worse off because of it. Or even when they couldn't necessarily go to the shops during COVID, they weren't the worse off for it. And I think people have maybe, that hyper-consumerism, that landfill fashion, all of that kind of stuff, I think that's slowing down now, and I think the environmental momentum will start to gather from consumers, but in a real way. And you can see some brands responding in an authentic way.

[00:33:25.125] And there are audit companies now that will audit you, and give you a certificate to make sure you're not greenwashing. And I think that's good because there's been a lot of that over the years. But say, like, brands like H&M, for some of their & Other Stories, Stories, they've got a clothing line called & Other Stories, you can rent those, the clothes there now. They've set up kind of...they've teamed up with rentals. And then there's other companies like Thredup that help you...you can go through your whole wardrobe, and see what's the carbon footprint of the clothing that you buy, and things like that. So yeah, it gives the power back into the consumer to understand their impact on the environment, so I think that's really an interesting space.

Will: [00:34:11.082] We've been hearing lots about the metaverse. What's your take on that?

Mischa: [00:34:14.756] Like, if you think about it in its very, very purest way, right, it's being part of a digital community or a digital universe. Now, if you think about it, right, if you look at your phone, how long do you spend on your phone a day? That is a different...that is not reality, that is something that is happening, you know, in a different universe. How long do we spend on Zoom calls? That's kind of a virtual space. So that is, in a sense, in its purest sense, you know, the early derivative of the metaverse. And I think COVID has accelerated our acceptance to be virtual, communicate virtually, so I think that is kind of accelerating the pace at which we go towards the metaverse. But I think in the future, I think it will be a place where you can go and experience a different life, or be an extension of yourself, and explore a new universe online, make friends online, and everything will be... And I don't think it's going to be, you know, kind of a fantasy world, I think it'll be a real world, or very close to a real world, but you go into it, and you can dip in and out of it as you want. That's the kind of trajectory of it.

[00:35:39.851] And you can see with, say, the likes of Microsoft buying Fortnite, and you can see all the big players trying to let their claim of the metaverse, and then you have...you have other players, you know, Web 3.0, where they want to democratize, they want everyone to be able to own the metaverse, so there's a bit of a power play there in the background. I think...I was actually, I was thinking about the metaverse, and my daughter, Roblox usage went up by 42% last year, and my daughter plays it, right? And she asked me for money to buy clothes, and I was like...right? And she'd asked me for money to build buildings and shops and stuff like that so that...you know, but she was asking me to buy clothes, and she said, "My clothes are really ugly, mum," and I was like, "Okay," I said, "Well, do you care what you look like? And she said, "Yeah, mum, I want to look nice," you know? And I was like, wow, I was like, she really sees this character as an extension of herself walking around, going into the shops, and interacting with people, swapping stuff with people, and I think that was really interesting, that it's almost an extension of herself. And like, brands like Nike have set up Nike Town in Roblox, and they have terms patented, and things patented for the universe, or for the metaverse, so they're really setting themselves up. So I think that's a really interesting space

[00:37:11.510] I don't...like, I think there's a lot of hype around it, and definitely driven by Mark Zuckerberg's changing the name of Facebook to Meta, but I think there is a bit of interesting things going on. Like Stella Artois, obviously with horse racing canceled, physical horse racing canceled, and they were big sponsors of horse racing, it was canceled in the physical world, but they actually sponsored a virtual horse racing competition where you could train horses and exchange horses using NFTs, you know? That's kind of cool. There's a lot of brands experimenting...that's more experimental, it's not like your Burberrys doing your fashion line, and that's a bit obvious, you know? There's some interesting interactive stuff happening in that space, from a brand perspective.

Will: [00:37:55.315] Thanks to Mischa there. It's interesting to think about how our relationship with companies has changed, is changing, and how that might manifest in our parallel digital lives. Well, let's look at ecommerce now, what's going to happen there. A regular DMI contributor, Cathal Melinn, shared his thoughts with me, starting with general commerce trends, and then we got to talking about Google Ads changes, Google Analytics 4, and the effects of cookie deprecation on customer data.

Cathal: [00:38:24.306] It's really about planning, it's about that return to a sense of normality. We had...you know, previous to the COVID years, we were pretty assured what was going to happen each quarter, each month, each day, all that stuff, 2020 certainly was a total kind of anomaly. We never knew what was coming down the line, it was up, down, lockdown, this, that and the rest. 2021, we saw it kind of returned to a sense of, without being cliched, a new normality. And while I don't think 2022 will be like 2019 or previous, pre-COVID years, it'll be a blend between 2021, 2019 because, you know, there's the kind of the new COVID trends that we're seeing. The big one I saw actually in 2021 was the gap between May and July, nothing in retail happened between May and July. Because typically, people went away on holidays May, June and July, that's where all their expenses were going, and that didn't typically transfer across into retail. So, retail sales did drop in May, June, July of 2021, and I'd expect something similar in 2022 as well, because people are anxious about travel and stuff. So, we're going to see a repeat trend in that.

[00:39:51.322] But all the other predictable stuff is going to be there. So, what brands are looking to do is hook onto predictable events in the year of unpredictability, so that's what I'm kind of seeing. So, it's just we know these things are going to happen. Cyber Monday and Black Friday were cracking days last year, they were really, really good. Singles Day, always really good within the Eastern markets, but if it's starting to emerge as a purchase holiday in the Western markets, then that's something to kind of, you know, plan for. It's all about planning, the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns, you know? We know things are going to happen, let's not be as chaotic as many of the kind of campaign activities might have been in 2020. We have some sense of security from 2021, plus we've done this rodeo before, we know what it's going to be like, so let's plan for it, you know?

[00:41:19.088] That's what I'm kind of seeing. So, that'd be kind of my main kind of macro trend. And then there's a couple of things we know are also going to happen in terms of digital marketing, specifically. So outside of that kind of wider marketing sphere, we know that Google is going to sunset, or at least stop running expanded text ads in July, so we need to start planning for our responsive text ads from now because we need to get their search history up and all of that, and get them in the system. Because once July comes, like, those text ad types which were the default in Google Ads will be gone, so we need to kind of bake in these new ad formats. Well, they're not new new, but they've been around a while, but they will become the default. They’re called responsive search ads, we need to get them into our campaigns now because once July comes, the old formats are gone. That would be one specifically from digital marketing.

[00:42:25.541] The other thing is Google Analytics 4, which you've been talking about a lot. Get it onto your website, get it recording data, get it understanding the movements of your site while cookies are still around, because cookies are going to go. And that's another thing that we should kind of plan for as well, is the kind of...the sunsetting of cookies. And people are panicking, and people are thinking to themselves, how on Earth am I going to do this, and how am I going to work without cookies? But we've had the answer all along. We've had the answer all along in relation to cookies. So for me, I don't know if you've thought about it, Will, but like for me, the answer to it all has been email addresses because it is the ultimate first-party data. When you have permission to use someone's email address in an advertising campaign or in a marketing activity under GDPR, you can just upload that into Google, into Facebook, into Twitter, into LinkedIn, into all of the different ad platforms. And you can effectively use that as a de facto cookie, and then create lookalike audiences, so people who look like your customers. If your customer list - from your CRM, everyone who's bought from you - upload it to the platform, now you have people who look like the same characteristics as those who've bought from you. It is a de facto way of replacing cookies with my most favorite form of online marketing, which is email, the oldest, purest form of digital communications.

[00:44:06.141] Email hasn't changed. It's still sending an email. Whereas social media, you search all these platforms that have developed and changed, email is still email. It is the purest form of internet identification. And when we have permission to use email addresses in our marketing activity, that becomes the way to just kind of circumvent this cookie thing. So, use your email addresses. It is, and it's been there all along. And I think that's the thing that people might have missed in the, oh, cookies are gone, what's going to...what piece of technology is going to replace cookies, rather than what have we got already that's going to replace cookies? And I think a lot of that is...like, a lot of the kind of privacy issues we're going to see over the next couple of years will be changes in the more advanced kind of, you know, user monitoring technology, but let's kind of go back to basics. You don't need to monitor anyone who inputs a keyword into Google, you just need to know what they're typing into Google. You need to use your own intuition to go this is what my customers type. So you know, search isn't going to be affected by cookies, and retargeting will, but as I said, we can use first-party data or email addresses, so building email lists will become more and more important.

Will: [00:45:52.511] Thanks to Cathal there for that. Now, back to the DMI. Orla Stack is the Digital Marketing Institute's HR Director, so she's got a pretty good view on the job marketplace out there in digital marketing in general, so I asked her what changes she has seen and is seeing on the horizon.

Orla: [00:46:12.909] If we don't move fast, and if we're not meeting with candidates tomorrow, we're going to lose them to other employers because they're moving as quick as well. So, there's two parts. There's for an employer, it's going to be a huge challenge. I read yesterday that in the UK, they're forecasting that...they're saying that up to 60% of workers across the UK are considering changing their career in 2022. And for employers then, even looking at ourselves, it's retaining people. So, we've got a fantastic team in DMI, and it's all around wanting to retain that talent, so what are we going to be doing? And the candidates, on the flip side, then when they're looking at roles, and they're looking at opportunities, we're hiring actually eight new...we're adding eight new roles to the team this year, and what are they looking for is outside of, you know, the salary piece and the benefits, but flexibility, which is something that has come out of the last two years. But their career opportunities as well, and what are employers doing to help, you know, whoever comes into the business, or whoever currently is in the business, how can we help them grow? So, it's going to be very challenging year, but I think for candidates, for anybody that's looking for a change, it's...you know, they've got such a choice, I think, that's there.

[00:47:51.368] And for us as employers, then it's the competition. And it's always been a challenge for us. We've been...you know, we're competing against large organizations in Dublin, and across the country as well, now that, you know, remote working is here, and it's...yeah, it's going to be a challenge. But I think, you know, if employers are willing to look at that flexibility piece, and take a serious look at, you know, how they can develop people, I think, you know, they'll be able to compete, but 2022 is going to be interesting, definitely.

Will: [00:49:01.488] So it's a candidate's market, but getting the most desirable jobs will surely always be competitive. So, what should people be doing to give themselves the best chance of landing the job that they really want?

Orla: [00:49:13.367] I think it's, so, they have to look at...it's down to, like, what are candidates looking for? So, they actually need to take the time to sit back and think about, you know, where they see their career going, and they need to look at where the opportunities are in the market. So as I said, the likes of the digital space is huge, and that's going to keep on growing, and they need to look at where their current skillset lies. Are they looking for a change, and if they are looking for a change, then how can they get themselves upskilled? And come to the likes of ourselves, and look at the programs that we're offering, and saying, right, you know, if I'm going to invest in my time, invest in my, I suppose, development, and there are going to be so many opportunities that are there.

Will: [00:49:52.692] And from an employer perspective, obviously it sounds competitive, so how do you attract candidates when they've seen what it's like to work at companies like Google?

Orla: [00:50:02.161] And that's the one thing I've read quite a bit around this, is the employer value proposition, so you know, what is our EVP? And you are going to be challenged with the likes of unlimited leaves, and you know, all of these additional perks that are there, but they're not the main drivers at the minute. They might have been a priority two years ago, pre-pandemic, but now, having that flexibility. And people are, candidates are sitting back and they're thinking now, employees everywhere, they're looking for, okay, how can I grow and develop in this role, and they are looking for where those opportunities are. So, it's companies need to be open, they need to be flexible. The likes of the unlimited leave, that's kind of dropped down the pecking order now, and companies need to be able to paint that picture of here's your career pathway when you join the Digital Marketing Institute, and this is what it's going to look like for the next two years. And it allows a candidate to see the role that the company is going to play in their development, but also what they need to do. So it's kind of, you know, you bring your stuff to the table, and we'll bring ours, and we'll go on this journey together, and that openness and that honesty is going to be hugely important.

[00:51:13.810] And look, the world of remote working has changed the way we look at our...I suppose how candidates and how employees are viewing the market, and how employers view it as well, and it's painting that picture of what is it like to work in a remote environment, and what's available to an employee, and the supports that are there, if you have a hybrid environment, what that looks like. And look, it's been a concern for companies, and even for ourselves as well, is you know, we would have had a very people-driven culture pre-pandemic, and it was one of my big concerns, you know, being responsible for the people function. You know, what is the impact of us actually physically not seeing each other, and missing those water cooler chats where you might solve a problem in five minutes? And it's missing those, and how do we replicate that in a remote world?

[00:52:39.465] And to be fair, I think we've done a good job as a business over the last two years working on that, but we've been open and honest with the team, we've taken feedback. We've taken feedback from candidates that we've interviewed, and we've taken feedback from candidates that have been on-boarded as well, to continuously improve as well, so it's keeping that open conversation is hugely important. And that's advice I'd give any employer, any potential candidate, is candidates need to be asking those questions, and employers need to be painting that picture of what, you know, what it is like to work with this company, and you know, how often are you going to actually meet your team, and you know, being comfortable working in Zoom? And look, it's definitely changed the way we've worked.

Will: [00:53:21.303] Now, when job seeking, what tips would you have for candidates?

Orla: [00:53:25.230] There's a huge importance in LinkedIn. We use LinkedIn as our main channel for all of our recruitment, and the more information that somebody puts on their LinkedIn profile, it's of huge benefit. As I said, we've a couple of open roles at the minute, and we do genuinely go through every application. One piece of advice I would give candidates would be make sure you're reading the job description. One thing we have found is we'd ask for cover letters, and 90% of the time, we don't get a cover letter with the application, and we put it clearly there in the job spec. So, it's important to actually read the job that you're applying for, making sure that you're answering all the questions that the employer is looking for. But the profile, and having your profile up to date, and putting in as much information as possible, we'll always respond back to candidates just with a notification to say we've received their CV, and give them feedback afterwards. So again, all the information is important, CVs are hugely important. And in the membership in our platform, there is access to, you know, building out your profile, building out your CV, so it's important that, you know, people use that, and having that information, right?

[00:54:37.678] And making it relevant, actually. It's an interesting thing, and I've noticed people do it a bit more now, is making their CV relevant to the role they're applying for. So if somebody is applying for let's just say an HR role, they don't necessarily need to put in that, you know, they spent, you know, five years working in events or whatnot, they make it relevant to the role. But again, it brings it back to if we're requesting a cover letter with your CV, we're asking for a reason, so you know, I'd advise people to include that. You can get so much in in a cover letter that gives, you know, a real snapshot, or that elevator pitch of what your experience is, and the CV then backs that up.

Will: [00:55:30.861] Thanks, Orla. That's great. Now let's talk to Brendan Almack. He is the managing director of Wolfgang Digital, they're a Dublin-based digital marketing agency. And I was interested to see just from his point of view, working on client campaigns and that kind of thing, what he's seeing emerge in the digital space.

Brendan: [00:55:49.806] There's three big things on my radar for 2022, and hopefully they're on the radar for lots of digital marketers as well. The first one, probably no great surprise, it's around privacy, but a little bit different to how a lot of people are talking about privacy. I think we'll move from flapping our lips about it, to actually doing something about it, hopefully in 2022. Deloitte had a great piece of research last year, which showed that 61% of high-growth brands were planning on investing in first-party data, but then interestingly, there was another piece of research from DMEXCO, the conference in Germany, that showed that 60% of brands don't have a solution figured out yet. So, it feels like this year we need to move from talking about it, and to doing something about it. And if that's the case, if people actually do that, I think what we'll see is increase investment in things like email marketing and CRM solutions. So, that would be the number one thing that I'd see happening.

[00:56:44.205] The second thing that I'd forecast happening, and hope does happen is that the gap between marketing and finance gets even smaller. And what I mean by that is that the marketing team get a lot better at having conversations with the CFO, or the finance director. The reason that's important is there's two reasons, firstly, CPCs are going up in search and social. In social last year, they were up about 100%, and in search, they were up about 50%. So, that means it's getting more expensive. And if that's the case, you need to be crystal clear on the value that it's adding. And the best way to do that is to align really closely with the finance team to understand how your marketing activities are driving top line and bottom line growth, so really understanding that profitability metric. The second, competitiveness. It's gotten more competitive. That's the case in Google. With Facebook, its competitiveness, and it's also, I'd imagine, that the iOS update has impacted audience sizes there as well. The other reason that it's going to be important to get closer to your finance team is around reporting. So as I mentioned there, because of iOS updates, or because of cookie banners, transparency in reporting is getting a little bit more difficult. So, really understanding the actual revenue or actual sales or lifetime value added by your marketing activities is going to be crucial.

[00:58:04.055] So lastly, trend number three, I think in 2022, YouTube is going to explode in terms of investment from advertising. I still feel like it's a sleeping giant, but I think that the move away from linear TV, fragmentation with subscriptions and streaming services means that more advertising spend is going to move to YouTube. We haven't seen Alphabet’s Q4 results, but I reckon that YouTube is going to be up about 60% year-on-year, which is massive, but it's still only about 20% of linear TV advertising spend, so the scope for growth, or the headroom for growth is absolutely huge. It's still super cheap, you know, really cheap CPVs. And the big brands either aren't there, or they're not doing it really well, which means that everyone else can eke out a competitive advantage by having, you know, a really smart YouTube advertising strategy. So, I'd see investments start to flow towards YouTube in 2022.

Will: [00:59:00.512] And is that slowness to advertise on YouTube because of the perceived difficulty of producing video assets?

Brendan: [00:59:06.986] I think that that's probably part of it. You know, potentially for SMEs that don't have a large creative budget, that might be a barrier. But YouTube have actually invested quite heavily in automating some of that, there's lots of tools that Google now provide you with that allow you to really quickly build video assets that can be used as in-stream ads. I think previously, there was a theory that you almost had to have something that was almost TV-ready before you could use it on YouTube, that's just not the case. So, it opens it up to a much larger cohort of advertisers. And I'd see people starting to recognize it for that, and also for the fact that YouTube has now moved down the funnel. Like, it used to be about, you know, branding or brand awareness, but again, Google have invested really heavily in being able to help people use it to drive action, so there's now YouTube traction, and a lot of retailers have had enormous success over the last few months using YouTube to drive sales, which is a really interesting development.

Will: [01:00:07.929] And we're going to see more of the Google Ads process automated this year, right?

Brendan: [01:00:12.498] Yeah, so that's, like...yeah, that's definitely going to impact the paid search element, that won't have as much of an impact on YouTube. But like, again, that's just another signal from Google that they now feel like their machine is smarter than every advertiser out there, so for me, it's just another signal that the way the industry is moving is more towards automation. So like, your job as a digital marketer isn't spending time working out which copy is going to work best, your job is to give the machine a few options, and let the machine do the hard work, and tell us which copy is going to work best, based on all the signals they can now use.

Will: [01:00:50.387] And so, what do we do now, with less time spent creating ads?

Brendan: [01:00:55.219] Put our feet up, sit out in the sun, work on the tan. No, it's a great question. And like, the get out of jail answer is strategy, right, and then you're like, well, okay, well, what does that actually mean? For me what it means, like, in reality, as a digital marketer, is your job is to be crystal clear on the KPI, and flex that KPI according to business needs. And what I mean by that is, there could be times when your brand or your client is looking to drive top-line growth, or they might be focusing on margin and profitability, maybe they're looking at customer retention, or they need, you know, a new customer acquisition. So, aligning the strategy to the business need is going to be absolutely crucial, and then feeding the machine, right? So if you think about it, you and I are both running paid search campaigns, we're both using Google's tech, what's the advantage that we have? Well, one of the advantages that I can eke out over you is by giving the machine better information. So if I can tell them a little bit more about the value of the conversion, if I can upload some of my CRM details, then they have a better context around the customers I'm trying to target.

Will: [01:01:58.846] So, a general trend towards accountability perhaps, and a coming of age for YouTube ads, as advertisers realize their true value. Thanks to Brendan there. Well, it's time to talk to our final guest, Kate Toon. Kate joined us for the October 1st, 2021 episode of "Ahead of the Game," where we talked about copywriting and SEO. I caught up with Kate to see what she's keeping a keen eye on right now.

Kate: [01:02:25.077] Well, for me, because I'm primarily concerned with copywriting and SEO, those are my two big things, so that's the area that I kind of look to for what's changing. And as always, you know, the more things change, the more they stay the same, but there are two...kind of one big thing that's coming out with Google, and that's really all around natural language processing. So, we had an algorithm update a year or so ago called BERT, which was all about understanding how, like, what we've typed into Google, not just what we're looking for, but why we're looking for it, so really understanding the context of the words. I think I talked about this on the previous podcast. But you know, understanding the meaning of what we're saying much better than we used to. And now there's a new algorithm update called Google MUM. They come up with these strange... MUM stands for Multitask Unified Model. But again, it's about looking for patterns in language, regardless of what that language is. So, being able to understand language at structural level helps Google get a better, more sophisticated understanding of why we're searching for what we're searching for, ultimately to give us better results, and service more ads. So yeah, really just, you know, this dominance of AI, and its ability to understand language in a way that it's never been able to before has a big impact on how we write copy, what we look for in terms of keyword research, and also the possibilities for automation of copy, which I know terrifies a lot of copywriters. You know, that sophistication of the copy that AI can produce is getting better and better and better. Which is a little bit scary.

Will: [01:04:04.140] And we're seeing AI-driven copywriting tools, like Jasper, that used to be called Jarvis, grow in popularity now. So, will copywriters be leaning on automation more?

Kate: [01:04:14.100] I think...a couple of things. I think SEO types are going to use automation to generate, you know, kind of boring copy elements at bulk level, you know, title tags, meta descriptions, alt tags, that kind of thing. And I think, you know, obviously, the dream is that we can get robots to write our copy for us, and I think for many businesses, it's a more affordable option. And even for copywriters, it helps you get over the blank page. Often, the messaging isn't quite right, the order isn't quite right, the tone isn't quite right, but it can be helpful, especially with blog posts to just generate some rough content to get you started. So yeah, I think...I don't think copywriters have anything to be scared of yet because I don't think AI is particularly good at getting wit and slang and idiom and rhythm and tone just yet, but yeah, I think that's going to be a change, to move towards more automation just to save time and save money.

Will: [01:05:07.345] Yeah. And aside from content-led SEO, what other shifts are you seeing in search?

Kate: [01:05:11.990] Yeah, I mean, I think we're losing so much real estate on Google. There are more and more ads, Google's giving over more and more of the search engine results pages to its own products. You know, you search for a hotel, you get Google's accommodation engine now. So, I think it's getting harder and harder to rank organic content, so we're moving towards more branded search. From a tech point of view, you know, I think, obviously, the Core Web Vitals update last year was huge, usability is still something Google's pushing for, not just in terms of speed, but in terms of how your page loads. There's talk, which I think is great, that accessibility is going to become part of the algorithms, so things such as, you know, making your page screen-reader friendly, good contrast, font adjustability, image descriptions, and that we may see not necessarily people being de-ranked for not being accessible, but accessible sites being rewarded. So, the push for usability I think is still big.

[01:06:12.279] And then yeah, I think other than that, you know, image search is becoming a bit more of a thing for Google. Google Discover is changing the way that we use Google, and you know, sites that have really good imagery on them are starting to rank better, Google's getting better at understanding image content. So it's, again, it's the same things that we talk about each year, but they're just getting more and more sophisticated as each year passes, as Google gets better and better.

Will: [01:06:42.043] Okay, so what should our listeners be trying in their own marketing amidst all this change?

Kate: [01:06:48.000] I think most people haven't looked at Core Web Vitals, they haven't gone into their Google search console and checked out how they're performing on Core Web Vitals. So, that would be number one. I know it's not sexy. The other thing I think, as a content creator and a marketeer, is really moving towards answer-based content. So, Google is becoming less of a search engine, more of an answer engine. You know, it's harder and harder to rank in the organic space for just blank keywords, but it's still relatively easy to get a lot of real estate for question-and-answer based content, so really understanding your audience, their pain points, answering their individual questions. And there are so many different ways to phrase a question. You know, maybe, one of the things...sorry, I've given you three now, implementing FAQ schema on your sites. So FAQ schema, it's really easy to do, and then you have the opportunity to come up in the people also ask element on the search engine results pages as well. So yeah, Core Web Vitals, question-based content, and FAQ schema would be three things I would look at.

Will: [01:07:55.877] So, a fascinating glimpse at how the digital landscape is changing, from a range of perspectives there. I think what I took away from that is fundamentally, digital is becoming more immersive as we clearly have a parallel digital life, the importance and the meaning of which is growing as the technology improves and draws us in. What place brands and marketing has there is yet to be determined, but anyone with a digital remit is duty-bound to take notice, and spend some time looking for opportunities there. In social, video is driving increasing immersion, and the brands who can't produce that may get left behind. But as we heard, there are a growing number of tools that make video production very accessible. Aside from innovation, we heard repeatedly that the basics, the nuts and bolts of customer experience need to be good. Neither our customers, nor Google and other platforms are making much room for poor online brand experiences in the future. So, it's about good planning and processes internally, and customer-centricity as we put our brand out there.

[01:09:01.926] We heard about automation and AI, and perhaps the extra time that we might gain through those new efficiencies can help us deliver on all of the above. Finally, in terms of our work life in digital marketing, it's a fantastic time to start or pivot into a digital marketing career. Opportunities abound, but to get the job you really want, you'll need to present yourself well online, and a big part of this can be done through certified training to show that you have the skills and the desire to excel in your work. So, it goes without saying that you can gain globally recognized certification by taking one of the Digital Marketing Institute's courses. And for absolutely free, you can, of course, sign up to digitalmarketinginstitute.com to access a plethora of essential digital marketing resources.

Well, that’s it for this year’s trends episode – lots of insights and tips for you to try and to focus on during the year. If you’re new to our podcast, catch up with over 40 episodes covering all areas of digital marketing, and if you do like it please leave us a review. Thanks for listening, and until next time, goodbye.

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