With 2017 coming to a close, MyCustomer surveyed a panel of marketing experts to canvas their opinions on the trends that have shaped marketing over the last 12 months.
Some of the responses were unsurprising - artificial intelligence has been everywhere in 2017 - but others are perhaps more unexpected.
How many of these trends have impacted your organisation's marketing this year - and what trends, if any, are missing from the list?
1. Artificial intelligence
“2017 has been the year that has seen artificial intelligence (AI) dominate the digital marketing stage,” says Christopher Baldwin, head of marketing for Northern Europe at Selligent.
“Artificial Intelligence and automation has really driven change across the board,” agrees Miro Walker, CEO and co-founder of martech consultancy Cognifide. “It’s not just changing consumer interfaces but creeping into and enhancing business process and marketing tools.
“Organisations are using AI to enhance analytics, buy media, write content and deliver relevant content in real-time to consumers on an individual basis. This doesn’t just influence marketing strategy, it pretty much rewrites the marketing strategy handbook. Traditional campaign cycles which might have spanned several months are now giving way to real-time targeting based on personal data, cohort data, facial recognition and sentiment analysis.”
Jackie Palmer, global VP, strategy and solution management at SAP Hybris, believes that the combination of AI with machine learning has been particularly significant, as businesses have begun adding machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities to marketing strategies to transform the customer experience.
She notes: “With the volume of data marketers have to work with exploding, it has become increasingly difficult to get insight into which tactic to use to drive engagement and when to use it. A new generation of tools are emerging that have machine learning and AI built in, allowing marketers to have these insights pushed to them. This information, plus an agile execution process, has allowed marketers to capitalise on changing market conditions or events that create opportunity in their audience.”
2. Fake news drove a desire for authenticity
Wider societal trends frequently bleed into marketing strategies, as organisations seek to respond to changing customer behaviours and demands. And one of the most fascinating developments has been the rise of – or rising awareness of, depending on your point of view – ‘fake news’.
Indeed, such is its significance that when Collins Dictionary compiled the list of words for inclusion in its next edition, not only was “fake news” announced as one of the new additions, but it was annointed the “word of the year”. With use of the phrase estimated to have increased over 300% within the past year, there has unsurprisingly been a growing concern about the validity of news, content and messaging.
And this has demanded a response from marketers.
“Fake news was declared as word of the year, so it’s no surprise to see a rise in the popularity of technologies that are based on blockchain, which has authenticity at its core. For brands, simply making ads that they say are authentic won’t cut it - organisations need to walk the talk and live and breathe their brand values.”
3. Online ad fraud spiralled out of control
According to JPMorgan Chase, online ad fraud will more than double this year from $7.2 billion in 2016 to $16.4 billion. What’s more, The World Federation of Advertisers predicts that within 8 years it will be the second largest source of criminal income in the world, after drug trafficking.
With around a third of all web activity estimated to be fraudulent or artificial and over half of online ads not even seen by a human, it means that between 40% to 60% of global digital spend is potentially wasted.
The ad tech industry is estimated to be spending $1.5 million to fight ad fraud – but is clearly losing the fight. While this is a trend characterizing the last 12 months, expect it to be a trend that also strongly influences subsequent years also, unless efforts are dramatically stepped up to tackle the issue.
4. Brand journalism reached a turning point
Brand journalism has really come to the fore in recent years, as marketers at a growing number of large enterprises have adopted a different approach to engaging audiences. Brands as varied as Red Bull, Airbnb (with its Airbnbmag and formerly Pineapple) and Dollar Shave Club (via men’s lifestyle publication Mel), have made a name for themselves with this strategy.
But 2017 witnessed the collapse of one of the most acclaimed examples of brand journalism, as questions have begun to be raised about the strategies some organisations are adopting.
In 2015, mattress manufacturers Casper became one of the pioneers in the brand journalism field when it launched its independent online publication Van Winkle’s. Covering a whole range of sleep-related topics beyond mattresses – from dreams and biological rhythms, to relaxation and wakefulness - the venture received coverage from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, and accolades including ‘best branded editorial experience’ in the 2016 Webby Awards, while Contently named it second-best content marketing effort of 2015.
However, after almost two-and-a-half years of operation, Van Winkle’s ceased publication in November, with Casper turning its attention to print magazine Woolly, which is focused on wellness and comfort.
In an interview with Digiday, Jeff Koyen former editor-in-chief of Van Winkle’s noted: “It goes back to the marketing problem that you can’t measure brand [awareness]. If you read an article on Pineapple and then book a room on Airbnb, I can’t prove that.”
Jonas Twitchen, lead strategist at creative agency Rufus Leonard, believes that there are other reasons why brand journalism and content marketing in general may have reached a pivotal moment in its evolution.
“This year we have reached ‘peak content’ with every man and his dog now in the area, mainly producing low-grade content outsourced to the lowest bidder, with minimal distinctiveness, limited brand voice, and no real value-add,” he notes. “The first wave of this trend has now run its course and we can expect the next wave of content to be (hopefully) more interesting and worthwhile.”
5. Advocacy marketing gathered momentum in B2B
Research from Forrester has emphasised the importance of advocacy on B2B customer journeys. Its report Advocate Marketing Creates B2B Customer Relations That Last A Lifetime revealed that peers and colleagues are the primary source (22%) for gathering information during the discovery stage of a purchase decision, ahead of other sources including tech information websites (21%) and tech analysts (18%).
Advocate marketing is enabling B2B organisations to produce content that is appealing to buyers because the material is authentic coverage of the experiences of customers, and therefore valuable to prospective customers as they navigate the buying process.
Typically, the content has taken the form of case studies, articles and interviews, but B2B companies are increasingly exploring other platforms to support prospects.
“In the B2B world, reference customers have long been de rigueur. But the online ratings and reviews we have all become dependent on for purchase decisions in our personal lives are spilling over,” says Palmer.
“In response, branded communities have emerged in the B2B space that allows customers to openly share their triumphs and frustrations and openly encourage transparent dialogue with supplier representatives. Marketers can take advantage of this to highlight their brand promise and integrity, and amplify the positive stories that often emerge in these forums.
“These trends signal a great deal of opportunity for marketers. B2B marketing is changing in exciting ways; new ideas, new technologies and new ways of engaging audiences. Marketers will need to experiment and take risks as customer expectations evolve and that signals a huge growth opportunity.”
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.