As 2017 starts winding down, we can begin to look back at a year that, while perhaps not as turbulent and unpredictable as 2016, has been an exciting one for digital marketing. An emphasis on UX has improved customer experience across different channels, native advertising has come a long way from its clunky beginnings, live content has proliferated and improved, and better data use has meant further improvements in targeted advertising.
Looking ahead to 2018, we should consider trends that have been building momentum for some time to get a good idea of what the year will bring. There is some consensus among commentators that influencer marketing, for example, is due huge growth in the following 12 months, with the foundations having been laid in the previous couple of years. Video will continue to be a favourite of marketers, chatbots may develop to a point at which they're actually useful, and augmented reality should finally see implementation in marketing campaigns. So, as we edge closer to 2018, we took a look at the trends every digital marketer should have a close eye on.
Influencers to gain further importance
According to Smart Insights, 84% of marketers planned at least one influencer marketing campaign in 2017, and this number will only rise for 2018 as the technique becomes more established as an antidote for the decline in programmatic and banner advertising. Influencers offer brands a way of communicating with targeted audiences at scale, coming from an 'authentic' voice that the audience already have an established relationship with. It's celebrity (and minor celebrity) endorsement for the digital age. Just as content marketing has established itself as a way for brands to connect with audiences on a level deeper than display ads, influencer marketing is set for a similar trajectory.
There are a number of emerging problems for influencer marketing to overcome as it grows in popularity, though. The most important of these problems threatens the key benefit of influencer marketing altogether - the 'authentic voice' only carries weight when the influencers themselves are authentic. A growing number of 'fake' influencers with bought followers are landing themselves endorsement deals from less thorough agencies, and it's something brands will have to watch out for going forward. On top of this, the FTC are cracking down on branded content on social channels that doesn't feature explicit disclosure, another reason for brands to be more careful with their choices in the future.
Emphasis on quality over quantity
As digital marketing has developed and content marketing has emerged as a leading element of it, the world has unfortunately become awash with second-rate content. Today, any digitally savvy brand is aware that it should be putting out content for its audiences to engage with, but far too many forget that this content should offer legitimate value to those viewing it. Anyone can consistently put out 500-word articles repeating everything their competitors are saying, just to be part of the conversation. Ask any marketer if they plan on producing more content in the coming year and the answer is likely to be a resounding yes.
2018 should see a shift in the mindset of content marketers. Yes, brands should be creating content that engages and inspires their audiences, but the mentality of 'more is always more' needs to change. Instead, organization's should focus on putting out quality, relevant content, even if this comes at the expense of volume. It might be an idealistic cry from commentators in an attempt to slow down the huge tide of unnecessary content but, as poor content will undoubtedly perform badly, 2018 should be the year that brands realize the power of 'less is more'.
Video to continue its dominance
Sometimes radical change isn't necessary for something to dominate a year. The demand for video marketing content shows absolutely no signs of slowing and in 2018 video will continue its dominance as the marketers' favorite medium. 52% of marketing professionals surveyed by Hubspot consider video to be the medium with the best ROI, while 43% of consumers said that they wanted to see more video content from marketers.
This year, Facebook rolled out 6-second ads, which encouraged brands to tell stories within extremely limited time constraints as a way of getting a message across to the user more quickly. The rise of video consumption on mobile means that, while scrolling through a feed, users' attention spans are minimal. YouTube has been promoting its own 6-second stories to show what can be achieved in that time, and expect to see brands experimenting with playful storytelling in 2018. Video is as ubiquitous as it is effective - 2018 should see brands working hard to stand out among the noise.
Chatbots will finally become useful
Touted as a game-changer for some time now, chatbots have divided opinion as to their potential impact. While some suggest that we will be communicating with brands and performing tasks primarily through chatbots in the near future, others question how comfortable consumers will be with machines that can often be frustrating in their lack of flexibility. This is where advancements in AI are changing the conversation. 2018 will see chatbots develop to a point where they will become genuinely useful for both brands and consumers alike. In fact, by 2025, the global chatbot market is expected to reach $1.23 billion.
The rise of chatbots is part of the effort to exploit 'dark' social - the platforms on which your interactions and information aren't public. People are spending more and more time in messaging apps (Facebook Messenger, iMessage, WhatsApp, etc), actually eclipsing the time spent in social media apps, which makes them a huge area for brands to be getting involved in. The old cliché of 'go where your customers are' extends to digital and, if they're on messaging platforms, a chatbot can be the best way of reaching them. Over the course of 2018, AI in chatbots will develop to the point at which they become genuinely useable. 80% of businesses already use (or plan to use) chatbots by 2020, and next year will see big steps taken towards that end.
After years of speculation about its impact on marketing, 2018 should see augmented reality's (AR) potential really take shape. Most people will still only have properly engaged with AR through games like Pokemon Go or dancing hot dogs on Snapchat, but it is about to become much more commonplace and varied in its uses.
And the number of use cases for AR is potentially staggering. Users could place virtual furniture in their homes before they buy to see how well it fits within the actual space (which IKEA have already done). Augmented glasses could highlight only gluten free items to the user when walking around a supermarket, saving people time picking out suitable products. And, more generally, overlaying more information about products as customers walk round physical stores or look at the product in public spaces could prove to be a powerful conversion tool. How much of an impact AR will have to the average brand going forward remains to be seen but, at the end of 2018, we should have a much better idea.