In these last few weeks of 2009, one of the things that nearly everyone is doing is getting ready for what is to come in 2010. Like many bloggers, I have already started reading some "predictions" for 2010 – which often take lessons learned for 2009 and project them into the next year. For my own part, I have done these sorts of blog posts before and the tough thing is to highlight things which will be relevant not just on the first of the year, but throughout. It's not about observations of things that are hot right now – but about what people can and should be thinking about throughout the year.

To that end, here are five trends that I haven't yet seen discussed elsewhere, but which I believe will be top of mind for marketers in 2010 if they aren't already. As with any "predictions" like these – I would love to hear your thoughts about the five I have chosen, or any others I might have missed. I'll add the best to this post as additions …

  1. The Importance Of When. The popularity of Twitter has helped marketers to focus on one element of social media communications that might have been easy to otherwise forget – the importance of when. In a flood of communications and messages, sometimes what you say matters less than when you say it. Consider the significance of this for a moment. So much of our focus as marketers tends to be on the messaging, but how much attention do you pay to things like time of day that your messages run, or concepts like dayparting for any paid media spends? As real time communications begin to happen on many more platforms than just Twitter through tools like status updates on Facebook and LinkedIn and mobile messaging – the question of when is one that marketers will finally start devoting more time and energy towards. This will help marketers to be more relevant to the moment, create new opportunities for publishers to sell media space at premiums based on time, and adversely affect media which has no understanding of time.
  2. Rebirth Of Usability. There was a time in web development near the end of the nineties and early 2000s when usability was hot. Jakob Nielsen was on every marketer's must read list and usability testing was something marketers paid a lot of attention to. Then somehow usability started taking a backseat to many other hot trends online, from interactivity online, to widgets, to social media. Usability became "old school." The real business benefits of usability, however, are undeniable and in 2010 I believe many brands will start to rediscover this fact and add usability back onto their list of priorities for online efforts. More broadly, I think this will signal resurgence in the attention marketers are paying to their entire interface and mean that in addition to adding the latest social features to a site (which will continue to be popular), they will also focus on how the interface is actually used.  
  3. Marketing With Customer Service. Some of the biggest social media success stories for brands in 2009 are those where social media has been completely linked with customer service (Dell, Comcast and Zappos are all examples of this). So much so, in fact, that the transformative power of social media within an enterpise may not even be a marketing function at all. That's a big admission for a marketer to make, but sometimes the best marketing you can have is great customer service that delights your customers and gets them sharing their experience with everyone they know. That's critical to word of mouth marketing, and requires coordination from within an organization beyond just the marketing people. In 2010, I expect to see the walls between these two continue to break down, as marketers realize that the moment when their messages either come to life or fall flat hinges directly on the quality of the customer experience.
  4. The Rise Of Voluntary Ambassadors. Marketers today are throwing around terms like "brand ambassadors" all the time, with many marketing budgets for 2010 including a line item to foster these ambassadors. The problem is, in 2009 this term was often another way of referring to the practice of getting bloggers to write about your product or service. Amazon Top Reviewers and Power Twitter users are just two examples of big influencers who are not bloggers. A true ambassador program is about unlocking the passion of people who actually have some affinity for your product or service. These ambassadors may not be bloggers – but they do have a passion for your product or service and more importantly, they want to share their opinions. These voluntary hand-raisers are your real ambassadors, and the brands that can find and unlock these voices are going to be the ones who are truly successful with their ambassador programs.
  5. More Businesses Find Their Personality. Clearly this is a passion point for me – talking about how companies need to have a personality. After all, I wrote an entire book on it. But as self serving as this fifth trend may seem, the reason why I include it here (and have in previous years as well) is that each month that passes I see new companies uncovering this importance for themselves. In 2009, I saw three large brand RFPs all asking for counsel on (among other things) how to have a stronger personality. Brands like Ally Bank in the financial sector and Intel* in the technology sector demonstrate the real power of personality in terms of making your brand more human and believable … and at industry events the topic of personality (or authenticity or humanity or some related concept) is still a frequently discussed topic. The longevity of this trend is the reason I wrote my book, and also the reason why I keep it on my list of trends to watch for 2010 even though many of you have heard it from me before.

* Disclosure – Intel is a client of Ogilvy PR and a current client I work with.