By Katrina Olson

Last month, I judged tED magazine's Best of the Best Marketing Competition along with Shad Thomas of Chicago-based Glass Box Research, industry veteran and consultant Hank Bergson, and instructional designer and writer Jan Niehaus.

We looked at 300-plus entries across 13 categories, each with six divisions. Entries were evaluated on 15 criteria. In a nutshell, we looked for thoughtful marketing research and strategy, creative execution, and results.  

And as with every year, we saw a few trends:

  • Video remains strong. It was utilized for recruiting, facility tours, holiday greetings, company profiles, services and capabilities "brochures," acquisition announcements, product demonstrations, and installation instructions.
  • Drones are the "shiny object." Some entries capitalized on the unique perspective offered of drone videography by showing external lighting for facilities and parking lots. Others suffered from "shiny object syndrome," simply superimposing type over drone footage.
  • Corporate culture matters. Call it "fabric," "DNA," or "personality," but a company's mission, values, norms, language, beliefs, habits—plus their commitment to sustainability and diversity—matter to employees and customers, especially millennials. We saw this reflected in recruiting materials, ads and brochures.
  • Hyper-targeting works. In last year's competition, a company introduced a Spanish ordering hotline. This year, we saw a series of print ads targeting Portuguese-speaking customers. Besides addressing the communication needs of a specific audience, this campaign was probably extremely cost-effective due to its low cost of specialized media.
  • Real people tell real stories. Founders talking acquisitions, employees talking about why they love their jobs, and customers talking about why they love their distributors… sincerity is compelling.
  • Strategy is "in." From customer personas to journey mapping to content marketing plans, plus good old-fashioned strategic marketing planning—you know, goals, objectives, strategies and tactics—strategy is "in." It's always been important, but increasingly, marketers are being elevated from order-takers to key members of the management team due to their research, planning and analytical skills.
  • Diversity is commonplace. In fact, the brochures, videos, ads and websites that didn't demonstrate diversity stood out—and not in the good way. One particular entry featured a dominant photo with all white men in suits. No women, no non-Caucasians, no persons with (obvious) disabilities, nor anyone who looked over 50 or under 30. Frankly, it was weird. I'm sure they used readily available stock photography. But check this: the campaigns featuring real employees and customers were wonderfully diverse.

Where does your company rate on these trends? Are you keeping pace or falling behind? Let me know in the comments section. Or tell me what I missed, especially if it's something your company's doing. I'm always looking for a good marketing stories and case studies. And, if you're behind, get busy, because next I'll look at future trends.

Plan to attend the NAED AdVenture Marketing Conference in Chicago where tED magazine will showcase all the winners on Wednesday, August 2 at the Best of the Best Awards Ceremony.