One of the questions I get asked the most is: What are the latest trends in digital marketing? What’s big at the moment? What’s coming up next year? And I must admit that I’m always reluctant to answer these types of questions.
First of all, it’s hard to stay on top of the absolute latest developments in such a fast-moving industry – I do my best with Twitter and webinars and podcasts and conferences, but I’m bound to have missed something.
Second, and more importantly, I’m hesitant to talk about all those sexy trends, as they can really be distracting. Most big companies are slow-moving machines and if you’re constantly jumping on the latest trend not only will your efforts be fragmented but by the time you’re ready it won’t be a trend anymore! On top, you’ll be sidetracked from implementing the fundamentals, which ultimately will drive the success of your business.
No, really, what are the latest trends in digital marketing?
Okay, okay, let’s talk some trends.
Augmented reality and Virtual reality
Let’s start with the sexiest of them all, thanks to the recent Pokémon Go trend (although – is that still a thing?), the first time that augmented reality has been used in a mainstream way. AR is essentially about the overlay of information onto the real world (while VR is escaping into a fully virtual world). You need only look at Snapchat’s filters (they’re amazing!) to think of applications in make-up or clothing; and what about GPS navigation, or sightseeing, or children’s books?
Data and analytics
Ah “big data” – ironically this one is a sexy term for something that’s not usually very sexy: databases, analytics, technology that is essentially working behind the scenes. This is about capturing data, storing that data, analysing it, visualising it… In marketing, we can use this data to improve forecasting and planning, to optimise our campaigns in real time, to better understand our customers, and to personalise our offerings to those customers. However, it’s a question both of having the technology to make this kind of analytics possible and of having the expertise and the organisational set-up to be able to do something about it.
Companies are recognising the need to work smarter in digital marketing, turning to marketing automation software to manage things like personalised email communication and landing pages. Automation technology is getting more and more sophisticated as well, allowing for immediate responses to your customers’ actions and real-time personalisation. The most successful companies have been using marketing automation to great effect already in the last few years, while there is a big opportunity for small companies in particular to implement it in their business.
Video has been on the rise for years with more and more brands and businesses choosing to present their content in visual form, increasingly in video. Facebook video views have increased from one billion to eight billion in just a year, while ten billion videos are watched on Snapchat every day; Instagram is also increasingly focusing on video. With Periscope and Facebook Live we now see live streaming coming to the fore as well, allowing for a less formal and more intimate, real-time engagement with your customers.
The year of mobile has been and gone and we’ve passed the tipping point so that mobile internet usage now exceeds desktop. Mobile commerce is expected to make up almost half of total eCommerce sales by 2020. Unless you’re one of the big guys – Facebook, Amazon, and the likes – you’re going to need to focus on mobile web rather than hoping that consumers will download your specific app. At the very least, your website needs to be responsive (so that the layout adapts optimally to the size of the device), with optimised mobile checkout becoming more of a priority.
How will these trends affect our business strategies?
For most established companies, it’s still a question of dealing with what’s already happened, let alone jumping on the latest trends. They’re still struggling to operate in an environment where all this new technology has emerged, we’ve seen the proliferation of content, there are endless new channels and devices, not to mention changing customer expectations…
The implications of these huge changes are that traditional models and legacy systems don’t work, new competitors are disrupting the category (think Uber, Airbnb), we need to be ‘always-on’ even though our organisations are structured around an on-off product cycle, we need new expertise, we need somehow to bring together all the data from different sources, we need to collaborate much more across functions and channels…
This is what digital transformation is all about: not just investing in new technology but more importantly implementing organisational changes to be able to leverage that technology. So we need to be building digital capabilities across the board, re-structuring the organisation to be always-on and much more agile, leveraging all that data (ideally real-time), failing fast… and learning fast too.
Back to basics
Ultimately, marketing is still about how to engage our customers, the technology just a tool in which to achieve that. And so, for me, we come back to the fundamentals: understanding your target audience, being clear on your brand benefits, creating great content that is distributed across a search- and mobile-optimised website and other relevant platforms…
So before you jump on that sexy new digital trend that’s on the horizon, go back to the fundamentals and make sure that you’re doing those right. A fancy new technology built on shaky foundations will not a successful business make…