It’s a natural time of the year to create plans and to take a broader look at the factors that are likely to affect our businesses in the coming year. In this piece, we set out some of the likely marketing trends in 2018 that either will or could – and in many cases, should – fundamentally change how marketing is delivered. To this end, we have trawled the internet to see what a wide variety of marketing experts across the globe are predicting to be the most disruptive influences in the coming year.
A word of warning. Not all of the following activities are going to suit every business, and we are of course looking at some game-changing opportunities that come with a high cost attached, as well as perhaps only providing marginal gains for some organisations. The most important thing to bear in mind is to look at where you are in terms of your marketing plan and to invest in the right strategies for your business. For instance, before you do anything else, you might need to focus on your brand proposition, or on making sure your website and essential sales support tools (such as your corporate presentation, brochures, videos etc.) are up to spec. That being said, whilst this “first things first” approach is important to bear in mind, it never hurts to have an overview of the broader picture, perhaps as part of – say – a three-year marketing vision whose aim is to transform your business into a key market player by 2020.
Technological developments in marketing
As in so many fields, the overriding trend in technological developments in marketing is the increasing use of software tools to automate tasks and processes that were previously handled by people (or which never existed in the first place because it was too complex and time-consuming to do so). Thanks to the internet and its numerous digital spin-offs, marketing is now going through its own version of the mechanisation previously experienced in manufacturing. And because of the nature of the world of IT, change is happening at a much greater speed. This year, words like ‘dynamic’ and ‘agile’ are key front-of-mind motivators for forward-thinking marketers. In short, developments in marketing technology have led to a significant move forward in the holy grail of marketing – one-to-one relationships with customers at every stage in the sales cycle, from ‘target suspect’ to ‘loyal ambassador’.
Therefore, it is no exaggeration to suggest that the digital revolution has led to a transformative revolution in thinking. Not long ago, mass marketing was undertaken on the rough principle that if you broadcast a message often enough to as wide an audience as possible, some people, sometimes, were bound to respond. Marketing can now be far more targeted and personal, with a far greater chance of receiving a positive outcome – assuming that your customer/prospect data has sufficient depth and quality and that you have the processes in place to communicate appropriately at every step in the cycle (think AIDA – create awareness, establish interest, emote desire, provoke action). Rather than the aim being the completion of a successful transaction – moving customers from the top to the bottom of a notional sales funnel – the approach now for a growing number of businesses is to examine the relationship between seller and customer at every stage in the process. The first sale is merely one point on a continuum (with the sales funnel re-rendered by what we refer to as the bow-tie marketing model) where, having been converted from prospects to customers, deeper relationships are built, with some customers becoming advocates and influencers over a period of time. 2018 will see more companies adopting Customer Lifetime Value as the key benchmark by which the success of their marketing is measured, and Customer Experience Marketing (which 68% of marketers say is the basis of their current marketing plans) as the strategy for maximising it.
This is true for B2B marketing too, where Account-Based Marketing works on a company-by-company basis. As well as creating marketing collateral specific to key accounts, a growth in Hyperlocal Focus is anticipated. Thanks to the democratising effect of the web, small companies can now compete with the big boys on a more level playing field. Expect the big boys to fight back, though – data-crunching and marketing automation gives them the ability to target customers by micro-region as much as by any other parameter.
This is perhaps a moment to consider the value of data. You may well have heard about Big Data. Well, the truth is that many businesses can benefit their bottom line or corporate value simply by putting systems in place that enable them to capture raw data today so that they can build highly successful marketing automation platforms in future. In fact, the value of data-rich organisations can be so significant that it is definitely worth bearing in mind if you have an exit strategy in place for a few years from now.
Implicit within the concept of creating long-term relationships with customers is the delivery of a service genuinely attuned to the customers’ needs, along with the establishment of trust. This, in turn, requires sellers to be transparent, which in any event makes sense in a world where customers soon raise red flags on social media in response to poor service or insincere practice. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos puts it “It used to be that if you made a customer happy, they would tell five friends. Now with the megaphone of the internet, whether online customer reviews or social media, they can tell 5,000 friends.” In fact, it is just as realistic to suggest that it will be seen by 5,000,000 people in certain circumstances. Whatever the number, the inference is obvious. Like it or not, everyone has an opinion these days, no matter how ill-informed it might be, and there are many channels by which people can and will express it (often emotionally rather than rationally). To this end, a strategic brand proposition may be required that is understood, admired and adhered to by all members of staff. We cannot emphasise highly enough how much competitive advantage can be gained by forward-thinking organisations that are driven by a genuine philosophy of wishing to deliver an ethical proposition based upon a vision and values of real merit and worth. Just as negative feedback can hurt a company, so can positive commentary help it.
Mobile First is fast becoming an established principle, which more and more companies will adopt as an essential part of the website development process in the coming year. Increasingly, mobile devices are becoming the main route to access information online, and mobile apps far exceed websites in delivering that access, accounting for an astonishing 89% of mobile media time. It makes sense that businesses plan their communications with this trend firmly in mind. Web designers are now using Progressive Web Apps that are optimised for viewing with any browser and on any device – but first and foremost on mobiles. Push Notifications and Chatbots – automated online assistants which assist website visitors through audio or text dialogues – are also set to become more familiar as developments in Artificial Intelligence increasingly move out of the world of science and into the commercial arena. (If you’ve yet to come across a chatbot, check out Skyscanner’s, which helps visitors find live flight prices and destination ideas.)
Augmented Reality (AR), where virtual information is merged with the real world, is also tipped to grow. While some early examples enjoyed limited success (e.g. Google Glass), the speed with which the Pokemon Go craze took off showed how quickly people can engage with it. In a more traditional commercial setting, Ikea Place is an AR app that allows users to see how furniture will look in their own homes. Expect many more companies to develop their own equivalents in 2018.
Voice Command is also growing fast – it’s predicted that, in just a few years, the majority of online searches will be carried out using voice, aimed at personal virtual assistants (Amazon’s Alexa is selling fast) as well as Google and other search engines. In fact, savvy companies are already developing Alexa-specific apps, collectively known as Alexa Skills, including Ask Purina, which helps consumers discover which dog breed best fits their lifestyle.
Content marketing strategy
Besides being technically innovative, Ask Purina illustrates another vital element of successful marketing strategies, which isn’t new but which will become ever more important: content marketing strategy. Consumers want useful information that helps them to make better-informed decisions, and they show strong loyalty to brands that supply it consistently and engagingly through storytelling – building a coherent narrative around a brand and its purpose. Apple walked off with the accolade of top storytelling brand in the UK for the fifth year in a row because of its consistent narrative, which projects core values of simplicity, creativity and ease of use. Apple builds excitement in their storytelling by continually launching new products, keeping the brand front of mind and encouraging anticipation amongst their fans.
If storytelling is the principle, the fastest-growing means for delivering it is video – five billion videos are watched on YouTube every day. Not only can we expect to see quality and invention to rise across the board in 2018, we also strongly suspect that more videos will be delivered live. Research suggests consumers prefer live streaming to any other form of receiving information about products, and there seems to us to be genuine substance to this claim. Land Rover staked an early position in the field by being the first UK car manufacturer to stream live test drives (and its One Life page also has great storytelling going on). Live video is of course not just about the video itself. Social media can be used to build up real anticipation beforehand, and to spread the messages conveyed in the video afterwards. This also provides long-term SEO benefits too.
Even with all the new options available, email is still cited by many marketers as the most productive component of their content marketing strategies. Thanks to data becoming ever more granular, and with the growth of marketing automation, we already have the ability to create different messages to engage with different recipients, and automatically generate responses when recipients engage with your business. Don’t forget, though, that GDPR comes into being in May 2018 and applies new rigour to how data is obtained and handled. We will be talking more about GDPR in one of our upcoming blogs, as it is crucial to every business to understand their obligations when it comes to collecting data from about now onwards…
Content marketing is huge – research by the Content Marketing Institute found 8 out of 10 marketers believe it is key to success. Yet the same research found that only 3 out of 10 of them have a content marketing strategy in place. The conclusion is clear – having a content marketing strategy in place will give any company a significant advantage over many of its competitors. Perhaps a reason for some organisations not having a content marketing strategy in place is that they lack the resources to produce a steady flow of great content internally. This is no excuse. Companies in this situation should consider outsourcing and automation (it’s estimated around 20% of business content in 2018 will be machine-generated). Whatever way content is produced, it should be relevant and interesting, informative as opposed to salesy, and provoke the appropriate emotional response (laughter, empathy, sadness, happiness, security, etc.).
Social media marketing
It’s still a big thing of course, but the nature of social media marketing has been shifting. That being said, talk of Twitter’s impending demise is a ridiculous distortion of the truth. And Facebook, in conjunction with Instagram, is going to remain a key player in 2018. We will also see LinkedIn grow. Content repositories like YouTube, SlideShare and Google + are also going to remain important social media tools, with huge SEO benefits for those businesses that use them effectively.
Ever improving information about how people engage with businesses’ social media activity also means better metrics. Vanity metrics – likes, followers, etc. – are distorted by the number of accounts actually operated as bots, and the old maxim ‘All publicity is good publicity’ doesn’t necessarily apply in the social media world. Marketers will use more sophisticated metrics that indicate overall sentiment based on reviews, click-throughs to the website, time spent on site, newsletter sign-ups, sales conversions, and so on.
The rise of Social Influencers will continue – consumers trust their independent reviews and advocacy of favourite brands. While interacting with influencers can lead to some of the most powerful marketing a business can get, it only works if the influencers themselves continue to be genuinely independent. We’ve all seen news stories reporting how quickly an influencer loses credibility if they are perceived by their followers to be in the pockets of the brands they recommend – it’s back to trust and transparency again. And it isn’t only those influencers that have huge numbers of followers who are useful – micro-bloggers can carry significant sway in specialist niches. Influencer marketing is going to be huge in 2018. One thing that nobody talks about is that business owners and senior managers can also become influencers. In fact, anyone can. If you are knowledgeable and passionate about what you do, then you are better placed than anyone to become an influencer. We see forward-thinking individuals who wish to improve their Klout score proving this prediction in 2018. Klout is a measure of your personal influence in the online space, with the lovely strapline, “Be known for what you love”.
For B2B marketers, LinkedIn’s importance looks likely to grow substantially this year. LinkedIn has developed features (e.g. InMail Analytics) with the deliberate aim of making it the clear platform of choice for engaging with other companies.
Whether B2B or B2C, the companies that enjoy the greatest success with social media will be those where its use is embedded across their organisation. Its reach will be wider and deeper the more touchpoints there are between employees and customers.
Other marketing media
Do not forget that many other forms of marketing media will, of course, continue to play their part in 2018 – SEO and paid search, in particular, come to mind. But so will traditional forms of media, such as advertising, events, sales promotion, PR and channel incentives. Trends indicate change opportunities and disruptive growth, but they may not be right for your organisation, so it is important to take a rational view across the board when creating your sales and marketing plans for the year ahead
However, we believe the areas discussed in this article will unquestionably see the fastest evolution and most disruptive game-changing activity during 2018. In other words, this is potentially where more planning and strategic resource need to be allocated to ensure that you are making the best use of the range of tools and techniques available.
Here is a glossary explaining some of the key items mentioned in this article in a bit more detail. If you would like to know more, just copy and paste each phrase into a search engine like Google.
Account-Based Marketing: a strategic approach to business marketing in which an organisation considers and communicates with individual prospect or customer accounts as markets of one.
Artificial Intelligence: where a device perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success at some goal, mimicking human intelligence.
Augmented Reality: superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.
Big Data: extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.
Chatbots: an automated program designed to simulate a conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.
Customer Experience Marketing: puts the customer at the centre of marketing. Information the customer wants is provided – not sales talk.
Customer Lifetime Value: a prediction of the net profit attributed to the entire future relationship with a customer.
Hyperlocal Focus: marketing targeted at a certain region, such as shoppers in a certain city or within a certain distance from a business.
Mobile First: where designing a website for smartphones, tablets and mobile devices takes priority over desktop web design.
Progressive Web Apps: regular web pages or websites that can appear to the user like traditional mobile apps. They combine features offered by most browsers with the benefits of mobile experience.
Push Notifications: a message that pops up on a mobile device at any time; users don’t have to be in the app or using their devices to receive them.
Social Influencers: a user on social media with established credibility in a specific field, has access to a large audience, and can persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach.
Voice Command: where devices are controlled by means of the human voice, as opposed to buttons, dials and switches.