The only thing that remains constant about digital marketing is that it’s always changing.
You might have perfected a detailed marketing strategy 18 months ago, but sticking to a plan that fails to consider recent trends could mean the difference between ending the year in the black or the red.
So how should you be spending your marketing budget in 2017?
Today on the RotaCloud blog, we’re taking a look at five marketing trends that you’ll be seeing much more of in 2017 — as well as offering some practical advice on how, even as a smaller business, you can take advantage of them.
Rise of the Robots
Far removed from the soulless, automated programs that haunted Internet chatrooms in the ‘90s trying to steal your credit card information, today’s chatbots use their powers for good rather than evil.
Pop-up windows asking if we’d like any help have become commonplace on today’s commercial websites. More often than not, should we accept the invitation to talk, we’re passed on to a real person who attempts to answer our questions or steer us towards making a booking or purchase.
But with advances in technology, our chatty robot friends are becoming increasingly able to do this in our stead.
That may sound a bit impersonal, like something you’d want to avoid in order to provide more intimate customer service, even, but intelligent use of chatbots is already helping businesses streamline their operations and make better use of their budgets.
Today’s chatbots, already available to trial and buy from a variety of web-based companies, blend machine learning and language processing techniques to respond to visitors with informed, naturally flowing conversation.
Wish you could offer your website visitors round-the-clock help placing orders? Regret not being able to have someone on-hand to answer questions about the services you offer? Chatbots can already do these things for us.
Hotel groups like Edwardian Hotels London have even started using their own custom-built assistant, Edward, to communicate with guests via text message, asking what time they expect to check in and even offering advice on things like places to eat.
The process comes completely naturally to guests, who are able to communicate with Edward just like they would anyone else in their phonebook.
The hotel, on the other hand, gets to ensure that their guests’ needs are met, without having to keep a member of staff on standby 24/7.
Chatbot technology is still in its relative infancy, so smaller business owners might be reluctant to embrace the trend. But the good news is that these talkative bots are becoming more affordable every day.
Check out Matthew Barby's article, Life Beyond Email: Chatbot Marketing, to learn more about adding a virtual assistant to your business.
There are many different types of influencer marketing out there, but trust is always at their core.
The basic thinking behind it is that, just like how we’re more likely to try a product or service based on the recommendation of a friend or family member, if a celebrity or figure that we look up to shows an affinity for something, then we’ll consider giving it a try.
Before we go into more detail, take a quick look at this video:
No, you didn’t miss something. That really is just 45 minutes of a bearded man sipping whisky by a fireplace. But it’s also a great example of how to creatively pair a brand with an influential figure.
By having actor Nick Offerman — known for his portrayal of a number of brusk but strangely suave characters — nurse a glass of their finest single malt in the above video, scotch whisky maker Lagavulin was able to reach brand new potential customers, without ever saying a word.
After all, if it’s good enough for Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson, then it’s good enough for us!
But influencer marketing doesn’t have to involve big names to work. Smaller businesses can turn to popular Instagrammers, bloggers, YouTubers who hold a degree sway in their sector, or even trusted local businesses to increase awareness.
By getting your product or service into the hands of an influencer — a local restaurant using your organic produce, for example, or inviting an up-and-coming travel blogger to visit your guesthouse — then you can create dialogues about your business and reach new audiences.
There is of course one minor — make that major — caveat.
As mentioned above, influencer marketing is all about trust. People are smart. They know when they’re being sold to and can spot a sell-out from a mile off.
Your brand and chosen influencer need to share an organic connection and have similar values. A YouTuber known for their love of fast food, for example, clearly won’t share your passion for organic veg, and both your followers and theirs will call foul the second they see it.
- Make sure your brand and your influencer are a good match.
- Let your influencer use their own voice. This isn’t an advert.
- Consider your budget. It might be worth working with 10 smaller influencers rather than one big one.
If you keep the above in mind, and a close eye on your website traffic to measure the effects of working with different people, then influencer marketing could be an enormous boon for your business in year ahead.
For more examples of effective influencer marketing, check out this post from Adobe.
This one’s not so much a trend as an alarm bell for businesses that have dragged their heels when it comes to optimising content for mobile platforms.
Mobile users consumed more than 65% of all digital media in 2016, and mobile looks set to dominate again this year as more and more businesses, keen to keep up with Google’s algorithms and climb to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs), focus their efforts on the platform.
“But I already have a responsive website,” you might be thinking. That’s a great start, but it’s not enough to have a site that also offers a mobile view anymore. It’s essential that your content, ads and even email templates both look good and are easy to consume on the move — because that’s where people are most likely to come across it.
Data from Adobe suggests that conversion rates from mobile platforms were actually 10% lower than those from desktop sites in 2016, with just 16% of smartphone users’ shopping carts turning into actual sales.
This could indicate that some users still prefer to sign up or make their final purchases at home (and it would be a mistake to neglect your desktop site for this exact reason).
But it also suggests that a startling number of conversion opportunities are being missed every single day.
Things like whole screen-hogging ads and web pages that aren’t properly optimised for smartphones frustrate mobile users to the point that they abandon what they were doing and go elsewhere.
Businesses will be chasing this untapped potential in a big way in 2017. Make sure yours is one of them by keeping mobile at the forefront of your digital marketing strategy at all times. No matter what you’re working on, be it an email template or a promotional video, remember: if it doesn’t work on mobile, it’s not going to work at all.
Spending time creating content that disappears 24 hours after it’s published sounds crazy on paper. But the reason that apps like Snapchat have been so successful (150 million daily active users in 2016!) is precisely because of their short-lived nature.
Snapchat, and more recently Instagram Stories, are the warts-and-all response to the existing trend of posting beautiful, filter-rich images on social networks. The platforms are all about immediacy, with users capturing moments in photos and video to share online while knowing that the images will self-destruct just 24 hours later.
So how is this useful for smaller businesses? Three words: time, cost and engagement.
Unlike those carefully crafted YouTube videos or beautifully written blog posts (hi there! ;-)) which can take hours, even days, to put together, disappearing content allows businesses to engage with audiences far more frequently and at a fraction of the cost. That’s hugely important in our always-connected, information-rich world where attention spans have never been shorter.
You can use apps like Snapchat and Instagram Stories to share snaps of work in progress or rough-and-ready videos of your product in the wild. You could even tease new products or get your followers scrambling by offering limited-time promotional discount codes.
No one will scoff at your shaky camerawork — it’s almost expected on this platform, and one of the things followers find so endearing — but if you create fun, interesting content, then people will follow and your brand will benefit from vastly more exposure.
Snapchat might have started out as an app for teens to obsess over and parents to scratch their heads at, but recent data shows that 41% of the app’s new users fall into the 18–34 age bracket, and that audience is still growing. Don’t be afraid to make disappearing content a part of your marketing plan in 2017.
You’ve probably seen Facebook’s TV commercials for Live, its new video broadcasting service that allows users to record and share video in real-time. Their followers can then “tune in” and react and comment on the action as it unfolds, or watch the broadcast later if they missed it.
Facebook has been aggressively pushing this feature recently, even going so far as to make its Live button a permanent feature of its mobile app alongside the option to upload a photo or check in at a physical location.
There’s a simple reason for this: online audiences can’t get enough of live broadcasts. And this applies to people who follow companies and brands on social platforms, too.
Always keen to embrace new marketing trends, Santa Monica-based food-meisters Tastemade has been making liberal use of live video for some time now, aiming to put out an incredible 100 live streams every single month.
Even without any kind of editing, Tastemade’s streams make for compelling viewing. Check out this latte art footage they shot last March (and which has been now viewed more than a million times):
Smaller businesses might not be able — or indeed want — to stream live footage of their workplace or host Google-style webinars with viewers throwing out questions (hey, maybe someday!). But it's well within any web-connected company’s means to do things like run real-time tutorials, live stream the creation of a product, or thank customers upon reaching a significant company milestone.
Whatever approach you take to live streaming, the point is to let customers take an active role and make them feel like they're a part of something exciting.
The speed with which digital marketing trends change can sometimes be a bit overwhelming for the smaller business owner. But the great thing about many of the trends we’ve discussed today is that they are largely fuelled by creativite ingenuity rather than capital.
Combined with a quick marketing strategy health check, embracing the newest marketing trends could well give your business the boost it needs to pull ahead of the pack in 2017.
Don’t be afraid to embrace the change — it’s nowhere near as scary as getting left behind!