2017 Digital Marketing Trends Round Up

Posted on Thu, December 07, 2017 in Digital Marketing, Content Strategy, User Experience, Digital Design, by Alicia Nagel

The year is almost at a close and this always prompts me to look back at the last 12 month period and reflect. Being a marketing strategist at GRAYBOX, this reflection for me includes mulling over the direction of the industry and what innovations seem to be trending, growing in popularity, and shifting the industry. These five main marketing innovation trends seem to be not just fleeting, but truly here to stay.

Marketing Innovation Trend #1: Influencer Marketing

What is it: The opinions of bloggers with loyal followings, and social media royalty, have usurped past sources of good taste. In the past, trusted influencers included news media, talk shows, Hollywood celebrity spokespeople, and “doctor recommended” endorsements. But these days, forget Oprah. It’s all about getting a mention by a hot blogger.

Why it’s powerful: Consumers are forging more meaningful connections with and placing more trust in the opinions of folks they see as everyday people, just like them, who put themselves out there on blogs, vlogs, and social media. This trust is a huge gatekeeper and brands celebrated by these online personalities can go from zero to hero very quickly when readerships reaches six figures and up (like the cronut for example). As Portland Business Journal put it recently, "It's cheap. It's effective."

How it’s being adopted: The number of bloggers in the world is astounding – Tumblr alone hosts 373,000 blogs and a last year HuffPost reported that 4 million folks call themselves “mommy bloggers”. A select few stick with it, discover they have a talent for it, and connect with a hungry niche of readers to develop a legitimate following. At this point brands start to take notice and seek out mentions, reviews, endorsements, or merely PPC advertising on their blogs. Just as mass media is lessening in clout, these rogue upstart cowboys are forging a brave new future for the world of media, communications and marketing. Services like Guestpost.com and JustReachOut have appeared, designed to help connect blogs, brands, and writers to feed the content hungry masses. On the social side of things, hashtags are becoming the new search queries and are fueling the creation of tools like Keyhole and Hashtagify so social media influencers can optimize their hashtag usage.

We also might include in this trend the rise of native advertising, which is similar but different from content marketing. To be honest, if feels a lot like PR or editorial content to me. Native advertising refers to presenting valuable content to users that is actually subtly interwoven with a sales pitch. The strategy is to find a third party channel whose audience you want to reach, then engage them to present your marketing content along with their content. The idea is that the UX of how your message is presented doesn’t disrupt the user’s experience like an ad might and is carefully paired with relevant content so users are more likely to be interested. In an attempt to maintain relevance in a world that (mostly) no longer reads newspapers, The New York Times has innovated in many ways including launching a whole agency called T Brand that specializes in native advertising. Native advertising typically provides entertainment value or other value in and of itself, like Deadpool 2’s hilarious teaser trailer video that was shared on the blog Cool Material. For some more examples check out this blog article on native advertising by Hootsuite.

Marketing Innovation Trend #2: The Rise of Small

What is it: What’s considered fresh and cool is a fickle thing - over the years it swings back and forth from one extreme to another. The last few years have seen an obsession with going back to origins, handmade goods, and pure ingredients – slow food, bespoke goods, hand-crafted, locally grown, artisanal, etc. It’s perhaps the reaction of consumers who have grown tired of the growing throw-away economy of goods designed to become obsolete. Think Kinfolk magazine, food carts and the farm to table movement, high design weddings in barns, make-your-own kombucha, and capsule wardrobes. Upstart brands are capitalizing on this and leveraging digital tools to compete with the big boys.

Why it’s powerful: At some point a few years ago people became oversaturated with our consumption culture and started seeking out something “authentic”. Telling a compelling brand story is often key here, and while the quality of goods is important it’s ultimately the brand story that is memorable, shareable, and captivating to today’s consumer. What we’ve been seeing for years are small brands seeing some success and taking off, getting purchased by big brands when demand either exceeds production capacity or founders like the idea of finally “making it”, then when customers slowly learn of the acquisition the brand is criticized for selling out. Consider this article on craft beers who are actually partially owned by huge brands – the horror! This concern is one that’s cropped up in the past few years, is here to stay, and is continuing to shape the industry. Big brands are definitely worried – take as evidence this Budweiser Superbowl Ad and Budweiser’s new Prohibition Beer specifically intended to compete with the craft brew market. Anheuser Busch has also purchased several craft breweries as a strategy to get some small brands in the race as well as their main Busch brand.

How it’s being adopted: This trend has existed in the business world for a handful of years now, and more and more marketing services have cropped up to cater to the phenomenon. Squarespace grew from a tiny artist portfolio platform to a SaaS platform widely used today by entrepreneurs to rapidly launch a site to sell services or their goods via Squarespace Commerce. A suite of other B2B and marketing tools have empowered the DIY’er working out of his basement to present a polished, professional, and trendy image online. Think plug-and-play customer loyalty apps like Perka or Belly, as well as Square, YouTube Preroll, and especially the recently released Google Market Finder, a tool designed to help small businesses connect with a global audience through adwords. Marketing automation tools (for example Marketo and Hubspot) are also growing more intuitive and more popular – and are starting to be affordable enough that smaller businesses can afford to use them. Big brands are struggling to remain relevant and are taking a range of approaches from purchasing craft brands (like how Hershey bought Dagoba), partnering with them (see giant Williams Sonoma and Portland local, Jacobsen Salt), or trying to start an anti-small movement like the Budweiser commercial mentioned above (which is ironic because they also own craft brew brand names and released the Prohibition Beer, but at the very least it shows they’re getting concerned about the loss in market share that’s being stolen by small brands).

Marketing Innovation Trend #3: AI Customer Service

What is it: A suite of smart automation tools offer users customer service help much in the same way that phone customer service representatives follow a script of responses to common caller questions. If this is how much customer service representatives are micromanaged, and their calls are monitored and measured for speed and effectiveness, could not much of this be outsourced to AI? At least that’s the thinking.

Why it’s powerful: Human customer service is expensive, especially if it’s 24/7 and you don’t want to outsource it (which was the typical solution until companies discovered all the pitfalls of time zone, language and cultural differences). Predictive AI algorithms are getting more and more impressive, voice recognition continues to improve, and live chat is growing in acceptance amongst consumers.

How it’s being adopted: Growing adoption of IOT is helping make us more comfortable with non-human intelligence. Cart abandonment emails, “live” chat bots and intelligent chat, proximity marketing or beacons that are a digital version of a person on the corner handing out coupons or flyers, and tablet POS systems that ask questions of customers at checkout are all part of this trend. Tools like Customer.io let marketers set specific emails to be sent when users interact in certain ways with a website. Fueling all this AI customer service is a wealth of data – something that is increasingly measured as we see more and more customer interactions taking place online where they can be tracked.

As social media platforms continue to mature and discover their potential, they’re experimenting with new ways of interacting with users as well (social commerce and “buy” buttons, livestreaming, ads triggered by post content) and are growing in importance as another avenue for businesses to offer customer service. If we look at the B2C banking industry for example, we’ve seen technology innovations take us from human bank tellers and checkbooks, to ATM machines, to online banking and PayPal, to apps like Venmo that let friends split a dinner bill in seconds and which some say can replace personal checks altogether.

Real time marketing is growing too. While real time marketing might seem like an AI marketing trend from the consumer’s perspective, it’s not exactly AI. A lot of planning and sophisticated digital tools are the engine that enable brands to respond with marketing messages in a similar way to chat bots, serving up seemingly on-the-fly content that is triggered by cues in the real world. Take Oreo’s “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet that was sent out right when the power went out during Superbowl XXVI. It made viewers feel like Oreo was experiencing this surprise right when they were which is disarming and makes the brand personable. Another example is Old Spice’s Social Media engagement campaign where fans could seemingly interact with “The man you wish your man smelled like” through Twitter and other social media channels.

Marketing Innovation Trend #4: Down-to-Earth

What is it: In a sea of marketing messaging that are designed to appeal to a mass market, what stands out? Brands that aren’t afraid to let their quirky personality shine through. There’s been a slow build around a celebration of weird that is only continuing. Perhaps this is also a natural reaction to our culture’s growing widespread adoption of social media where amusing rants, one-liners, and the unique but endearing quirks of our friends get the most likes and make us smile.

Why it’s powerful: There is a huge shift in our social consciousness happening here. For a very, very, long time, what is perfect and beautiful has been considered desirable, coveted, and celebrated – beautiful women with perfect bodies, a white picket fence lifestyle, balanced meals perfectly presented, and generally tidy lives. While this is still alive and well (see meal kit subscriptions, Scandinavian design, Spanx), there has been a movement that’s continued to grow around celebrating the imperfect. This is powerful because it topples the picture perfect ideal that marketers were previously able to tempt consumers with, and which reliably led to aspirational lifestyle purchasing patterns.

How it’s being adopted: PEMCO’s long-running “We’re a lot like you, a little different” campaign is a perfect expression of this trend – and the trend is continuing. Brands that have had recent success with the down-to-earth approach to marketing communications include the BuzzFeed’s The Try Guys and Wildfang’s #wildfeminist campaign. On a social or grassroots level, this “celebrate your imperfect self” trend can be seen manifesting in the expression “do you” or hashtags of #sorrynotsorry where people express opinions they know are going to be unpopular but are either defiantly unapologetic or they count on others connecting with the quirkiness of their commentary and so say it anyway.

A growing number of celebrities and public figures are helping this trend along (and perhaps enjoying a reprieve from the pressure to be perfect) as they share their imperfections on social media and in interviews – like struggles with depression, speaking up about abuse with #metoo, or unapologetically posting unphotoshopped images of themselves. Check out this interactive story about the singer songwriter known as “Bat for Lashes” in Pitchfork magazine. It features photos that feel more like behind-the-scenes outtakes than a professional photoshoot and highlights the pull quote: “I got really fed up with seeing women naked and feeling unempowered by it so, for the album cover, I didn’t shave my legs, or dye my moustache, or pluck my eyebrows.” Talk about a celebration of down-to-earth!

Marketing Trend #5: AR is Proving to Be Catnip for Young Consumers

What is it: Augmented reality (AR) uses devices such as headsets and smartphones to let you see the world around you as if looking through a camera lens, but with a graphic overlay.

Why it’s powerful: Marketing’s goal is to get noticed, leave an impression, and get shared. Consumers are already bombarded with an overload of marketing and advertising messages as it is, and the struggle to stand out is a constant one. AR is still new and novel, and some brands have seen wild success in using it to engage audiences. It seems to be simply too fun to ignore and people are compelled to spread the word to their network – especially Gen Y and adjacent age segments.

How it’s being adopted: Brands are starting to offer users an immersive experience on this still-new interactive media. Unless you were living under a rock, you will remember last year’s Pokemon Go augmented reality game insanity. The game’s creators, Niantic, recently released a new Pokemon Go Travel Video Series called Global Catch Challenge where players are invited to compete over the course of a week to catch as many Pokemon as possible. Recently the hit Sci Fi Netflix series, Stranger Things, released a custom Snapchat filter that let users visit the fantastical and creepy alternate universe the show calls the “Upside Down”. Another example of the AR marketing trend, Ohio’s Cedar Point Amusement Park engaged millennials with a “Cedar Point Catch-a-Ghost” game that leveraged Snapchat technology to let users try to take a screencap of a ghost that flew by during messages – with results that were out of this world.

Put These Trends to Work for Your Brand

Have you build your company's marketing plan for 2018 yet? Let's take a look at it together and see how we can put some of these trends to work for your brand. Get in touch today.

Image courtesy of Steve Johnson via Flickr - Creative Commons License.

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