Happy new year! It’s that time of the year again where we round up the key marketing trends the industry is talking about and can help your business win customers and make money this year. We’ve scoured the likes of Forbes, Social Media Today, Marketing Week, Smart InsightsEntrepreneur and many more to bring you the highlights, and as always added our own top tips from our experience on how these can best work for you.

1. Automation & bots take over?

Many reviewers emphasise the importance of bots and AI led by big data within marketing, advertising and customer service, which of course has potential benefits in terms of scalability, automation and mass communication.

Twitter card-Mel-Carson

Our advice

The importance is to realise the limitations of such automation and the channel which is being used. There is quite a difference between automation pulling in live personalised content into an email, and a complex customer service conversation with a chat bot. Although the use of technology and rules can be incredibly useful, always consider the context and relevancy of the message and wider implications.

2. Hyper-personalisation & customer experience marketing

At the other end of the scale, one-to-one communications are all over the trend reports for this year, with many companies citing the benefits close communications with customers can bring. The growth in social media and continued merging of the customer service and marketing functions are allowing the opportunity for brands to deliver a highly personalised and reactive customer service experience, which is truly customer centric.

Buffer recently tweeted that social media is moving from a ‘1 to many’ to ‘1 to few’ or ‘1:1′ channel. Salesforce also recently released research that emphasised the importance of customer experience. This is a trend that is being reflected offline too, with 1/5 transactions being generated online. Retail Week recently reported that retailers are turning to store staff to retain the human side of retail. At Realise, we have seen the benefits of this in 2017 at all levels, from the small local business to marketing within a global brand.

Our advice

The trick here is to combine the best of both of the first two worlds and apply what works best for your business. Most businesses will fall somewhere in between 1 and 2 – for example, set up the rules and automation, make the maximum use of bots, but be sure to bring in the human personalisation element where it matters more – usually further down the funnel. Trend 1 offers scalability but trend 2 offers customer centricity.

Mari Smith refers to this mix as “conversational commerce.”

Twitter card-Mari-Smith

3. Content marketing as the core strategy

Content marketingAs Neil Patel reports, content marketing is becoming more effective over time. Smart Insights also found that ‘content marketing’ was the top answer to the question ‘Select the single marketing activity you think will make the largest commercial impact in 2018 for your business (or clients)‘. It will be no surprise then that content marketing is again amongst the key trends, but we are increasingly seeing a shift from the need for brands to have a content strategy and create content like a publisher, to content being the centre of the marketing strategy. As inbound marketing seeks to take over from website SEO, and social media seeks to take over traditional communication, for both B2B and B2C businesses, (the right) content is still king.

Our advice

Don’t fall into the trap of just producing content for content’s sake. Focus on quality, not quantity. The most successful content strategies are derived from having the right research in place to understand who your customers are and what is truly useful to them. It is about being repeatedly useful until you are indispensable. In a B2B context this might be content offers that answer a burning question. In B2C it might look like a series of videos that address customers’ motivation, aspirations or lifestyle. In creating your 2018 content plan, consider how your content fits with your customers’ channels and the wider business context. Content really is the backbone of your marketing strategy!

Start with reading ‘10 tips for great content‘ and ‘The right content is king‘.

4. Retention trumps acquisition

Customer retentionAs Marketing Week points out, the uncertain economy will mean marketers will become increasingly accountable. For some commentators, the global (and local) political and economic situation has turned attentions to customer retention over acquisition into 2018. With reduced timelines and average cost per transaction, it is easy to see why this is a core focus for many this year.

 

 

 

 

Our advice

This could be a scary prospect for companies whose business model relies heavily on acquisition. Now is time to dig deep into the core of the business and question what can be done to boost repeat business as well as keeping an eye on audiences for acquisition. This is a problem that involves the whole company and not just the marketing department. If the type of business makes retaining customers difficult, consider options such as memberships and monthly subscriptions (another area tipped to be big this year), events and special offers unique to VIP customers. Ask “can the business develop another product or service that better meets the needs of repeat customers”?

5. Better integration of influencers

Social media influencersEveryone knows that the correct use of influencers within social media marketing can create huge uplift for a brand. Trend watchers looking into 2018 are predicting that we go one step further than working in partnership on a blog or sponsored video, and think about the wider context. Just as brands see success from being featured by a key influencer relevant to the audience, this success should be better integrated within the channels and company. It is important to ensure that sponsored influencer content is natural and authentic to avoid feeling too staged and credited to stay in keeping with ASA / CAP rules.

 

Our advice

Successful campaigns can often be limited too easily to the platform and space they originated on, but there is so much more that can be done to grow the reach of these messages. For example, a successful influencer campaign on Facebook could be popular with a certain group, but have limited reach. Expanding this with targeted Facebook ads to new audiences, across other social and marketing channels, adapting the message as necessary is key. Repurposing content is still one of the main areas missed by many brands, and including social proof from relevant influencers can only improve cut-through.

6. Increasing awareness of customer privacy

The new European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is due to come into force this year, and customers are becoming more and more in tune with their data and their rights. Marketers will need to respond and be more transparent than ever, as well as meticulous about record keeping.

Our advice

As above, consider the whole customer journey and how prospect and customer data could be obtained and stored, and ensure you are compliant ahead of the new rules coming into play. Check the latest updates on the ICO website and implement as necessary.

7. Video as lead content

Facebook liveAs we predicted in last years marketing trend report and discussed in the post Facebook Live vs YouTube Live, 2017 was the year we saw live video come to the fore, as brands became increasingly aware of its’ ability to reach customers and create a stronger connection than other content types. This succeeded thanks to both social media prominence in the newsfeed and richer content generating increased authenticity.

Into 2018, live video is still top of the engagement and interaction charts, so still has a key place within most marketing strategies. As Smart Insights points out, video as a medium on the whole, has an even bigger role to play in the customer journey. And, as YouTube’s popularity overtakes Google search amongst Google products, video cannot be overlooked.

 

Our advice

Many businesses struggle to get to grips with video and live video, for varying reasons. Live video can be scary, and it can feel like you need to have a professional setup, full studio quality sound and lighting to communicate the right message. But it’s not necessary, especially for social media, live and ‘behind the scenes’ videos. As Neil Patel points out, coming across as nervous will show you are human and help increase authenticity! Check out Stuart James’ story on how experimenting with video is helping to grow his audience and business.

What’s coming next?

In the pipeline are areas including voice-activated search (thanks to the likes of Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa / Echo, etc), and a growing focus on AR (augmented reality)… watch this space!

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