Marketers will put their money where their trust is.
As 2017 comes to a close, all eyes are on platforms like Facebook and Twitter to answer whether they could have done more to stop the viral spread of fake news, and if they played a part in a Russian attempt to sway the 2016 presidential election. As a result, in 2018, people and organizations alike will be paying much closer attention to how and why content is being promoted to them. The internet empowering anyone and everyone with a microphone to voice their support or disapproval of a marketing campaign is not new. (Just ask Dove.) But in a world where congressional investigators are paying much closer attention, marketers will have to adapt. Standards will have to rise. Being called “spam” isn’t as bad as it gets, anymore. Not even close.
Marketing strategies will have to incorporate artificial intelligence and voice search.
There’s no denying that with the huge success of Amazon’s Echo and other voice-search-powered devices, the AI revolution is here. The way people and businesses search has fundamentally changed. And yet, few marketers have built strategies around voice technology, even with such accelerated adoption. In 2018, this will change. Brands that don’t embrace voice and local search will lose customers to those that do. The bar for search relevance has never been higher – brands will be expected to deliver optimized results that cater to location, device, and even speed, to power conversions. If you’re a marketer, “What’s the Alexa strategy?” will be a question you’ll be expected to answer.
Amazon will take over the (marketing) world.
It’s no longer just a Facebook and Google world. As the world’s best source of purchase intent and actual purchase data, Amazon will be a formidable competitor in the digital marketing space. During the past few years, it’s quietly built up a billion dollar advertising business. Brands will not only continue increasing their investment in Amazon advertising; they’ll also ramp up their demand for other Amazon-related services (Amazon page optimization, Amazon content development, Amazon search optimization, the creation of Alexa skills, Amazon data crunching). Possible, a WPP agency, bought an Amazon-focused agency. Expect to see more consolidation as agencies will have to up their Amazon skills.
Influencer regulation will force maturation in this powerful category.
Influencer marketing has been one of the most buzzed-about industry concepts over the past five years, but tracking ROI has been notoriously challenging – and not just for the brands. In 2017, the FTC cracked down on influencer marketing, updating its endorsement guide to clarify what brands can and can’t do. With the government demanding more accountability, new tools will surface to intelligently predict and track the true impact of this marketing category. Beyond that, though, in 2018, we’ll see influencer marketing move away from the Kendall Jenner cohort and into the realm of everyday people. Microinfluencers, with smaller but highly engaged fanbases, give brands an opportunity to connect with their most passionate audience members. More “regular” consumers will share product experiences across their networks in ways that inspire trust, especially from Gen Z. This user-generated content will continue to augment brand-generated content, evolving the role of brands to incorporate curation on top of creation.
Personalization will deliver on its promises.
Last year, I wrote that in 2017, personalization would expand far beyond using a customer’s first name. This was certainly the case, with recommendation engines popping up as brands tried to compete with the robust personalized information graphs of Netflix and Amazon. In 2018, the online experience will actually feel personal – pick up your friend’s phone and visit your favorite website and what you experience will feel foreign. Individual online experiences will be both curated and custom. What you see when you visit a company’s website will look different if you are visiting from a hotel in Dallas after just seeing a new movie, versus an airport in Miami while waiting for a delayed connection to Argentina. For the smartest marketers, this will create a massive competitive opportunity.
Original content creation will continue to move in-house.
Amazon, Apple, and Netflix have continued to make headlines for investing heavily in original content on their missions to compete with Hollywood. But the trend isn’t just for Emmy-hungry production studios. In 2018, we’ll see more brands investing in original content development. This will impact the marketing landscape in two big ways. First, brands will have to think of content as its own department with a corresponding P&L, which will make measuring ROI even more important. Secondly, agencies will have to continue to create – and accelerate – differentiated offerings. Legacy relationships built on execution alone may give way to more strategic relationships or even a power shift where the brand can demand only the a la carte support it needs.
Brand > Growth.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a trend where companies, especially startups, abandoned brand development for a growth-at-all-costs strategy. Among many other factors, this spawned “growth hacking,” when a company hacks its way to more users rather than thoughtfully acquiring them. In 2018, the pendulum will shift back to prioritizing brand development. More marketers are spending time thoughtfully creating a brand voice that speaks to customers, which develops relationships rooted in trust. In order to keep that trust, in 2018, brand-building efforts will become less interruptive. We’ll see brands take advantage of what people are already interested in – and embody it – rather than try to decide what’s interesting for them. A great example is Nike’s Breaking2 effort. Nike didn’t do it to just sell more shoes. It did it to bring the brand to life, encouraging everyone to break down barriers thought to be impossible – in this case, running a marathon in less than two hours. This way of thinking will allow brands to actually become part of the communities they created in the first place. Affinity and retention will soar. Growth hacking will be outed for the broken quick-fix that it is, negatively impacting a company’s bottom line over the long-term.
To succeed in a saturated landscape, marketers will have to invest wisely.
I realize that as a marketing leader, it’s sacrilege to admit this. But we’re reaching a saturation point. There are too many marketing tech companies out there. Scott Brinker’s MarTech Landscape is now a “supergraphic” of more than 5,000 vendors! Content, too, is reaching an all-time high. We’re in a period of “Content Shock,” to quote BuzzSumo’s Steve Rayson. The amount of content being produced far outweighs humans’ abilities to digest it all. And the data shows that engagement is going down. This means that marketers need to become laser-focused on their end goals and ensure that each investment – whether a piece of content or marketing technology – will pay off. We are firmly in the performance era of content marketing, and everything we do must drive business results. Not just simply exist.
“Big brands” will continue to struggle.
There is a change underway that will continue to challenge traditional big brands — the P&Gs of the world. Consumer preference is fragmenting, with more choosing small and niche. Our parents’ generation trusted the big brands. But today we seek out small brands that are often purpose-driven. And given how much we buy products online, owning physical shelf space at major retailers is not as important a marketing vehicle. This means digital marketing evens the playing field more than ever, and allows smaller brands to compete with the mass brands of yesteryear. Take a look at many brands that are disrupting their respective industries – Glossier and Chobani, to name a few – and you’ll see that storytelling is at the center of their strategies. And they’re not afraid to lead with their core beliefs and values.
Positivity will (hopefully) reign.
If 2017 proved anything, the world can be a scary place. But we’re also seeing companies thrive through optimism and positivity. That’s a good thing. We’re seeing negative advertising give way to inclusive messages – Sephora and the Gap, for example, both recently launched campaigns emphasizing diversity and featuring real people (i.e. non-models or celebrities) from all backgrounds. As an industry, we’re banding together in the face of national leadership that is working to divide us. I’ve never been more proud of storytellers and the leadership coming from our industry and entrepreneurs. There are days when it can feel impossible and exhausting, but we’re here to lift each other up in those moments and continue to bring awesome and inspiring stories to the world.
Shafqat Islam is NewsCred’s CEO and Co-founder.