Contemporary digital marketing is characterized by its flexibility and high rate of change. Certain kinds of digital marketing have already become passé (does anyone like those invasive, pop-up advertisements?). At the same time, others are just cresting the horizon, merging with current popular technologies as faster platforms and more devices allow new trends to become common and useful.
Given the speed at which digital marketing trends change, it’s important to know which current trends are emerging, which remain significant, and which have substantially changed for 2017. Alternatively, it is crucial to understand which marketing techniques have fallen out of favor, have created technical or security problems, or have produced negative experiences for today’s customers.
Even as this article explores the various trends which experts think are going to be relevant in 2017, it is essential to remember that trend prognosticators are not, in fact, psychic. There really is no way to verify what will be the most significant digital trend in the coming year, and a new and inventive mode of advertising is always ready to emerge unexpectedly, taking the media world by storm.
First and foremost, marketers, companies, and brands should seek out trends that fit their customer base and business models. What’s great for a large corporation such as Google is obviously not going to work for a small, intimate business such as an artisanal honey manufacturer that only sells to local markets. However, marketers should have a good sense of what current marketing trends are and be able to imagine how those trends can connect with businesses to develop useful and cost-effective digital marketing strategies.
These are the trends regarded as notable for 2017:
- Mobile interfaces: Mobile interfaces, which are beginning to eclipse computer desktops, will increasingly dominate the 2017 marketing landscape. Stacy DeBroff, CEO of Influence-Central, notes that as mobile devices “offer smarter, faster, and more intuitive information, they will become even more ingrained into our daily patterns…” Because mobile devices always go where customers go and are usually with customers at the moment of purchase, their advertisements should speak more readily to immediate decisions and opportunities. Mobile coupons, price checkers, and other mobile-specific content work to connect brands with customers while they are on the go.
In a similar manner, cross-device marketing optimization will help distinguish mobile from laptop users and make sure that the information fits the device. So, for example, mobile users may be looking for immediate information (what’s “near me”), while desktop users are more often looking for in-depth research. Cross-device marking optimization helps to distinguish where customers are and what goals they have when using different kinds of devices.
- Video Advertisements: Look for an increase in video advertisements, especially as networks become faster and more responsive. While larger corporations have used video aggressively for some time now, expect to see smaller businesses using digital video in their online ads. Facebook has increased profits by incorporating more video and Twitter seeks to do the same. Given the relative speed increase of both the networks and personal devices, businesses should be aware of the growing sophistication of video ads for mobile platforms.
- Live Video: As an extension to video ads, live video is emerging as the “new face” of video marketing. Live video enhances brand engagement by immediately connecting to its audiences. Primarily, live video gives brands a chance to participate instantly, and it also allows customers the satisfaction of actively contributing in a more visual and dynamic way. Currently, according to Facebook research, viewers watch live video for at least three times longer than pre-recorded videos; the sense of immediacy and interactivity grabs and holds viewers’ attention far more strongly.
- Immersive and/or 3D Video: Both Facebook and Google have been experimenting with immersive and 3D video ads recently. AT&T, for instance, shot a 360-degree video of a racecar driver taking laps and folded the video into its #StrongCan marketing campaign. Marketers should expect to see this trend continue and circulate more widely in 2017. Instead of attempting to stand out with specific content, immersive and 3D advertising attempts to catch the viewer’s attention through a unique format. The distinctive visual structure offers customers a more innovative and compelling sensory experience.
- Dedicated Apps: Of course, there are certain platforms that are already only available on mobile devices (for example, Instagram and Snap (previously Shapchat)), which allow for app-only advertising. Increasingly, however, there are also dedicated apps that allow for all the features of a mobile optimized website – but in a more convenient and accessible way. The Whole Foods App, for example, allows customers to browse for coupons, save recipes, and create integrated shopping lists.
- Unique Content: While form and format will be a crucial element in 2017 digital marketing strategies, the importance of content never goes away. The kinds of content are shifting as forms change and advertisements become more interactive. With so much content out there, brands must focus on unique content to cut through the clutter. In 2017, anticipate an emphasis on one-of-a-kind stories and images. Particularly, businesses will eschew stock photos for personal ones; even a one-person company has a sufficiently professional digital camera on a phone. Also, the increasing ubiquity of freelance professional writers and videographers will increase a brand’s ability to create personalized, highly unique marketing content.
- Niche Curation: Part of this shift toward emphasizing unique content is seen in niche curation, or the idea of focusing on very specific customer bases. Niche curation works by producing different marketing strategies for different kinds of customers. Because digital advertisements produce a wealth of information, it can be challenging for customers to separate knowledge that is useful to them from that which is not. This mode of advertisement allows for customers to focus on elements that are specifically tailored towards their needs.
- Influencer Outreach: Influencers are fundamental to brand strategies, but current trends are moving toward influencers with narrow fields that have a cache of very specific audiences. Emily Quak, for example, is a revered expert in contemporary skincare, but her sphere of influence doesn’t extend beyond her fashion and beauty expertise. In a marketing world in which influencers speak to smaller audiences, brands are working to find the influencers with the best fit for purpose heir purposes, not the largest audience.
- Increased Personalization: Companies such as Amazon and Netflicks are clear examples of how personalization can create standout marketing strategies. The Harvard Business Review notes that personalization can lift sales by 10% or more. One-to-one marketing strategies are becoming more prevalent as algorithms and data allow for easier, less expensive personalization. Companies can deliver personalized recommendations based on user information, and responses to content can be introduced into the system to create connective feedback.
- Using Big Data and Predictive Analysis: Because of increases in personalization and niche curation, markets are using data and predictive analysis to more highly target customers or consumer groups. As noted above, data is crucial for personalized marketing. But even more broadly, data analysis can predict consumer needs and examine large data sets. As digital tech writer Daniel Newman claims in Forbes magazine, data measurement is becoming more sophisticated and relevant, allowing businesses to focus on customer retention and satisfaction: “As companies aim to connect email, social media, and paid, owned, and earned marketing strategies (among others), they must incorporate technology needed to implement and support it.” Furthermore, Newman suggests that data can be used to isolate the right time to market to a specific customer, strategizing not just how but when to market.
Interactive data can also be an element of the end product. With contemporary data visualization programs becoming easier to use and more common, marketers are also using data to tell engaging stories. Drawing from data sites such as Fivethirtyeight.com, which allows the reader to interact with dynamic data visualizations, marketing strategies can appeal to content stories that are told with interactive maps, graphs, and charts.
- Search Algorithms: It’s not so much that search algorithms themselves are new but that this year should bring fairly large shifts in how search algorithms function. Because enormous amounts of information are being constantly added to the internet, search engines continue to tinker with their algorithms to decide on which content should get higher priority and rankings. Algorithms may be used more broadly, to customize creative components such as color and font. Laura Cole refers to this algorithmic style as “Darwinian advertising,” in which algorithms compile customer feedback to find best marketing aesthetics.
- Conversion Rate Optimization: In the upcoming year, Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), or tracking how many visitors are converted to customers, will be a crucial marketing practice. Many SMEs are only now beginning to use CRO to focus marketing strategies and eliminate excess materials that are either not working or draining company resources.
- Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, or Wearable Devices: Considering last year’s success of Pokémon Go, expect augmented reality and virtual reality to go even further this coming year. In fact, Pepsi has already attempted to capitalize on Pokémon Go’s popularity with its own augmented reality ad. Similarly, while wearable devices are still relatively new, their increasing popularity bodes well for their future. In particular, the pervasiveness of the FitBit and the Apple Watch illustrate how wearables converge with data collection and increased personalization to bring consumers focused marketing and information.
- The Internet of Things and Chatbots: The Internet of things received massive coverage in 2016, especially as smart objects become more available to and affordable for the average consumer. As we connect more and more of household items (from coffeemakers to heaters to vehicles) to the web, expect the IoT to assist in data collection and increase the number of marketing platforms. Similarly, chatbots are seeing a resurgence in 2017.
Instead of Clippy, Microsoft’s frustrating office assistant, contemporary chatbots are far more dynamic; Google’s Allo, for example, can understand contextual clues and interpret information. Chatbots will show customers specific products, order items, and even link to video or audio data. This chatbot from 1-800-Flowers, which lets its customers connect with a person, allows for browsing, purchasing, and shipping–all without leaving Facebook.
- (What’s not trending or needs to be adjusted) Autoplay Videos and Popups: This list wouldn’t be complete without pointing out what’s not trending. Marketing is moving away from intrusive or impersonal advertisements. Certain forms that have become ubiquitous–such as popup advertisements–lack sophistication and dynamic interaction with consumers. Autoplay, although relatively new, has also proved to be annoying for consumers but successful on other sites. Specifically, autoplay without automatic sound has quickly replaced automatic play with sound.
Addendum: the partial death (and rebirth) of social media marketing: Although not specifically a new or rising trend in digital marketing, marketers nonetheless will still have to contend with social media marketing this year. Specifically, it’s important to understand which sites are tired and/or saturated, such as Twitter, and which are still expanding their base (Instagram, for example). Additionally, new marketing techniques are strategizing social media differently. Instead of broad blasts, which are often ignored by consumers, social media marketing is trending towards more personalized and interactive messages.
Vanguard businesses are attempting to produce specific, comprehensive creative strategies that forward their brand without seeming fractured. In other words, as opposed to developing an augmented reality ad, hiring an influencer, creating a chatbot, and producing a CRO, a business’s successful marketing practice will more likely produce a focused marketing strategy that creates a holistic brand effect. From large corporations to small and medium-sized enterprises, businesses are served by knowing their brand and being consistently on point while selectively using specific digital marketing trends. Marketing consultants will likely be crucial in creating and maintaining a comprehensive strategy, and will most likely be cost effective in the long run. Because there are so many different ways to engage with digital marketing, there will be more focus on what uniquely works for a company and sells its brand, even as companies seek out new technologies and contemporary ways of messaging.