There is no question that 2017 was an incredible year for marketing.
What’s even better than a banner year is fresh optimism for the next. Predictions and trends for 2018 present even more opportunities for marketers that can see the signal amongst the noise.
As we continue to grow, I’ve been researching what trends are worth considering and investing in for B2B marketers. The result is the following list: Influencer Marketing, Content Experiences, Artificial Intelligence, Data, Video, Privacy Protection, Audience Development, Voice and Purpose Driven Marketing.
Influencer Marketing Grows Up
Within the realm of influence, there are big shifts towards engaging with microinfluencers, always on programs, greater accountability of influencer reach and effectiveness and an emphasis on measuring influencer marketing ROI. Marketers are also taking a more holistic view of who an influencer is, including customers, members of their community and employees.
Many marketers are shifting their focus away from big name influencers towards niche players and for good reason. Microinfluencers deliver 60% higher campaign engagement rates and those campaigns are 6.7 times more efficient per engagement than those with influencers with larger followings.
Beyond niche industry influencers are the internal influencers to a company: employees. Companies are increasingly realizing the value of tapping this invaluable resource of credible influence. 90% of brands say they are either pursuing employee advocacy programs or have programs already active.
In 2018 we’ll see even more marketers transitioning from campaigns to always on engagements with influencers in a way that emphasizes mutual value. Influencers can build credibility by becoming ambassadors for the brand and the brand develops relationships with the influencer’s audience.
Ongoing engagements with influencers also help build a more authentic experience for the audience vs. one off campaigns promoting a specific product or service. Always on and ongoing influencer engagements with brands will pave the way for greater influencer marketing ROI. That said, those arrangements are only as strong as the relationships and as we all know, relationships are not automatic – they take time and investment.
Integrate Content Experiences with Influence
It is no longer enough to inform buyers, they want to feel something. Content experiences that are highly relevant, purposeful and engaging can come in many forms from video to interactive. All help engage customers intellectually and emotionally.
There is a strong connection between influencer marketing and content experiences. Amisha Ghandi, Head of Influencer Marketing at SAP (client) puts it best;
“Working with influencers to co-create content delivers mutual value. When that content is interactive, it creates an experience that is more engaging and inspires action.” @AmishaGandhi
With so many options for content, customers expect to be “info-tained” not just informed. Brands that can integrate trusted industry and internal experts with interactive and engaging content they are proud to be a part of, will be appreciated by contributing influencers just as much as they will be rewarded by customers.
Optimize with Artificial Intelligence
In a study by Smart Insights, AI and Machine Learning were rated the #3 marketing activity that will make the largest commercial impact on business in 2018.
Another study by Salesforce found that high-performing marketing teams are more than 2 times as likely to use AI in their campaigns than under-performers.
What are marketers doing with AI? Areas of focus with AI in marketing include advertising automation and optimization, chat bots for service and assisting in sales, and content personalization.
Bots for service are not new, but an increasing number of marketers are using chat apps and bots to engage customers during the sales process. In fact, 1.82 billion people worldwide are projected to use a chat app in 2018 and by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human.
I don’t remember where I heard it first, but the saying “Marketers are data rich and insight poor” is more true today than ever. Machine Learning and AI can help marketers make sense of all the “dark data” they’re sitting on as well as structured and unstructured data online to surface insights about ideal content, offers and even emotional triggers to inspire conversions.
Of course, marketers shouldn’t use AI to automate and optimize their marketing because they can, but because that’s what it will take to meet customer appetite for personalized experiences. The increased competition for customer attention amidst the huge amount of media each consumer is confronted with each day requires every advantage to optimize for reach, engagement and conversion.
Data Informed and Inspired Marketing
Speaking of data, it has become clear that few successful marketing programs are not informed by data in ways that were not considered 10 years ago. While companies only analyze 12 percent of the data they have available, senior marketing executives are more informed about what is possible and taking action. Josh Mueller, SVP, Global Marketing at Dun & Bradstreet (client) puts it well:
“A data-inspired framework is absolutely essential for modern marketers. To implement this necessity, we’ve fully integrated our content and demand gen organizations, with shared editorial planning and KPIs across the entire customer journey. With these common insights, our teams have built a continuous feedback loop – from topic selection through performance – that ensures every piece of content we create has a purpose and is measured against that purpose.” @jmueller03
Rather than being limited to using historical campaign data to iterate future campaigns, companies are using evolved marketing automation, machine learning and dynamic personalization platforms to apply customer insights from their data to marketing in real-time. There’s a lot more of that to come in 2018.
Video Stars Are Everywhere
There’s been a substantial increase in demand and production of video by brands wishing to better engage with customers. What is catching marketers’ and customers’ attention most with video is live streaming through popular live video platforms including Facebook live, YouTube live, Instagram live, Twitter, and Periscope. According to Facebook’s stats, live videos get 3X the views than recorded videos. Video optimized for mobile experiences is also hot for marketers and customers. Mobile video ad spend alone will grow 49% to roughly $18 billion in 2018.
Everyone with a smartphone and apps is empowered to create, publish and promote video content. Video is not the plaything of B2C anymore either as more B2B companies invest in creating engaging stories through video and publishing them on LinkedIn. I think we’ll see a lot more creative video coming from B2B brands in the new year.
Privacy as Marketing and Good Business
With the increase in compromises to customer data, concern over privacy is something more marketers are tapping in to. Realizing that certain segments of customers care about privacy, some marketers are using it as a marketing attribute.
Another consideration for greater focus on privacy is the oncoming implementation of GDPR in Europe. Companies anywhere including the U.S. that market to citizens of Europe must comply or face potentially significant consequences. Compliance with GDPR requires changes in opt-in, communications and data handling that marketers must address and soon.
Not only is compliance good for customers, it is also a solid marketing message and good business.
Capture and Captivate Your Audience
Numerous studies show buyers don’t trust ads or brand communications as much as the people and sources “they know”. Brands that develop audiences and community by providing value not only create relevant context but also hedge against the increasing challenges around customer trust and privacy. Companies are also making progress towards growing their own audiences with content marketing vs. buying access to those audiences with ads.
The key trend that I’m seeing that will actually help content marketers move the needle will be a move to direct access to subscribed audiences – and the data they provide – as a means of building value for the practice of marketing. @Robert_Rose
Voice – Can You Hear Me Now?
Search queries are evolving from obscure sequences of words typed into search box on laptops to sentences either typed or spoken into a variety of devices.
In 2017 20 million units of smart speakers were sold. Voice assistants like Siri and smart speakers like Echo and Google Home are training customers to use voice in ways that marketers must adapt to. Voice accounts for 20% of searches and is expected to hit 50% by 2020.
Voice content in the form of podcasting is also seeing great growth: 68 million Americans listen to podcasts on a monthly basis. Marketers looking for ways to engage with customers in a more meaningful way are looking at podcasting as a way to do that.
Two of my favorite new podcasts are “Data Inspired” from Rishi Dave, CMO of Dun & Bradstreet (client) and the “CMO Moves” podcast by Nadine Dietz. I have no doubt many more brand and executive podcasts will launch in 2018.
Purpose and Profit
With over 80 million Millennials and over $1 trillion in spending power, consumers are increasingly factoring things like brand mission, values, and sustainability into their purchase decisions. A study by the Economist Group found that 79% of consumers prefer to purchase products from a company that operates with a social purpose. Companies must consider what their purpose means in terms of communications and marketing.
Defining purpose is an initiative we are undertaking within our own company and it’s not as easy to translate into marketing communications as you might think! But brand purpose resonates with modern buyers and more companies will be incorporating their purpose into how the brand is positioned and how they operate – including marketing.
Beyond all the tactics of chatbots, microinfluencers, livestreaming, optimizing for smart speakers and purpose driven marketing is the strategy that answers “why” and for “who”. To inform marketing strategy, there is one universal truth for marketing: customer centricity. With a eye for optimization on customer preferences and behaviors, marketers will always have the right marketing mix.
How do you make sense of what trends to focus on? At our own company, we deliver “best answer” content marketing programs that integrate influencers, SEO, social, advertising, design and marketing performance optimization. Will optimization for voice search play a part in that mix? Sure. Do AI and machine learning have a role to play in optimizing search and social ad campaigns? How about using AI to surface insights about the best content to create and offers to make? Of course.
As a marketing agency it is tempting to chase shiny marketing objects to differentiate. To know what’s possible, we really have to. But we’re also focusing on customers and the core expertise that satisfies 95% of the performance expectations of our marketing programs. By being exceptional at very specific things consistently, we’ll be able to exceed expectations. We’ll also have room to experiment and find data that supports new and customer-centric areas for innovation.
2017 was also a record breaking year for our marketing agency, TopRank Marketing. We added 15 new amazingly talented staff and had the largest increase in client programs and new customer engagements than any year before. While we’ve seen much success with B2B influencer and content marketing programs, it is our focus on the intersection with data from SEO, social and analytics plus all new interactive design capabilities that has enabled great results and more opportunities.
What are the marketing trends you’re most focused on in 2018?