Is your marketing strategy fit for 2018? Stay on top of industry trends influenced by new technology, evolving consumer demands, and a dynamic social media landscape.

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With each new year comes speculation about the marketing trends that will define the months to come. What technologies belong in your small business marketing toolkit? Which formats will prove to be worth the investment?

We can’t know with absolute certainty what lies ahead, but you can bet the following ten trends will play a big part in shaping the marketing landscape in 2018.

1. Brought to You By Brands: Social Influencers

Ten to Watch: Your Digital Marketing Trend Report for 2018 – Social Influencers

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Social influencers have been a trendy addition to marketing campaigns for years, but their impact is growing. Worldwide, there were nearly twice as many sponsored posts on Instagram in 2017 than in 2016 — about 1.5 million in all — and experts say the trend “shows no signs of slowing down.”

Determining your campaign goals, identifying the right social influencers for your brand, and making sure your influencer content delivers value to your potential customers are all crucial to creating a successful influencer campaign. Be sure to measure your results and optimize accordingly, whether by asking your influencer to tweak their message or by experimenting with different formats, like Instagram photo galleries, YouTube videos, and seasonally relevant content.

2. Click to Play: Consumer-Driven Online Video

Ten to Watch: Your Digital Marketing Trend Report for 2018 – Consumer-Driven Online Video

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This year, consumers will see a major change in how online videos — and ads in particular — are delivered. Both Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari browsers recently released updates that require internet users to click to play video ads. While it used to be that videos would play automatically when a visitor arrives on a site page, consumers now have the power to manage that content and decide whether they want to watch and listen to a video or not.

Blocking auto-playback means everyone will have fewer annoying ad experiences, which stands to generate a better public opinion of online advertising overall. When a consumer does choose to watch a video ad, that view will be more qualified and more likely to result in your desired marketing action. Studies have shown that consumers prefer to control their video ad experience, with the majority of users disapproving of auto-play ads and 80 percent favoring video ads that are silent. Create compelling video ads that consumers want to watch by sparking their interest with your opening frame, and try adding captions to drive more completed video views.

3. Gain a New Perspective: Vertical Video

Ten to Watch: Your Digital Marketing Trend Report for 2018 – Vertical Video

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Another trend we’re likely to see this year is vertical video.

It wasn’t so long ago that those who posted vertical videos were mocked and criticized. TV and cinema had long dictated that horizontal was best, and the rectangular shape of most phones seemed to support that assertion.

Well, vertical video is back, and it’s fast becoming the go-to choice for marketers everywhere.

The rise of Snapchat and mobile video viewing has many businesses shooting video content with their devices upright rather than in a horizontal position. The Interactive Advertising Bureau reports that mobile video is the fastest-growing video format among consumers, and notes that “changing consumption patterns make vertical viewing on mobile more common rather than the exception.” To appeal to your mobile audience and capture the attention of your customers when they’re on the go, think vertical when you produce video content for your brand this year.

4. Do-Gooders Can Do Well: Corporate Social Responsibility

Ads are no longer just about promoting products. Many of them now promote a business’s beliefs and stance on social issues, too. That’s because companies know consumers take these factors into consideration when evaluating brands and making purchasing decisions. Recent research from PR and marketing firm Cone Communications finds that 78 percent of consumers “want companies to address important social justice issues,” while a whopping 87 percent “will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about.”

If your business is involved with a charity, you invest in your local community, or you support a specific cause, consider letting your customers know this via your creative content. But beware — brands that embrace this approach don’t always succeed, as evidenced by last year’s Super Bowl spot from building supply company 84 Lumber. At a time when immigration reform was an especially controversial topic, the ad was misinterpreted as being political when instead, according to the company’s director of marketing, it was meant to convey a message of opportunity to potential employees. Regardless of the nature of your corporate social responsibility (CSR) message, it’s important to be able to read the room.

5. Invite Participation: Interactive Content

Ten to Watch: Your Digital Marketing Trend Report for 2018 – Interactive Content

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Digital technology creates countless opportunities for consumers to interact with your brand, and interactive content is a trend we’ll be seeing more of. Online quizzes, invitations to post user-generated photos on social media using branded hashtags, and interactive infographics all turn passive internet users into engaged followers.

The beauty of interactive content is that it can be entertaining without sacrificing value. You can incorporate tips, advice, and interesting industry data. Look for creative ways to feature images of your products and facts about your brand within your interactive feature too, and promote it across your social accounts for maximum reach and impact. An added bonus to this strategy is that fun and informative interactive content is conducive to online sharing. Incorporate bright graphics and stand-out visuals for the best results.

6. Social Storytelling: Instagram Stories

Ten to Watch: Your Digital Marketing Trend Report for 2018 – Instagram Stories

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Snapchat launched Snapchat Stories in 2013, but it wasn’t until recently that social media Stories really hit it big. That’s because Facebook now offers Stories as well, as does Instagram, which launched its own version of the tool in 2016.

Instagram Stories gained traction quickly. Within a year, they were being used by more than 250 million people every day, and that number is continuing to climb. Where’s the value in a collection of videos and photographic content that disappears after 24 hours, you ask? Because they’re temporary, Instagram Stories can entice your followers and boost engagement with your brand. Branded Stories appear alongside content from consumers’ personal social media connections in their feed, making the content that’s created by marketers feel more objective and natural.

As with online video ads, grab your audience’s attention early on by making your first image hard to ignore. You can incorporate music, or even combine this format with influencer marketing by having an influencer create an Instagram Story on your behalf. Either way, you can count on Instagram Stories to dominate social media campaigns in 2018.

7. Marketing With Machines: Artificial Intelligence

Ten to Watch: Your Digital Marketing Trend Report for 2018 – Artificial Intelligence

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If you think AI and related technologies like machine learning are beyond the reach of small and medium businesses, you’re in for a surprise this year. Between data analytics and measurement tool Google Attribution, which is still in beta but expanding to more and more advertisers, and chatbot developers like BotBot that cater specifically to small businesses, everyone has the opportunity to experiment with — and reap the benefits of — AI.

Chris Victory, vice-president of partnerships with digital technology company MediaMath, told eMarketer, “There will be a lot more marketers and advertisers jumping in headfirst to embrace and adopt AI. Once they start seeing the results of some of the applications of AI, there will be a snowball effect and people will want to do more.” The idea of using AI for marketing is still foreign to many businesses, but it’s on the verge of coming to the masses, so keep a close eye on this evolving scene.

8. Digital Meets Physical: Location Targeting

Ten to Watch: Your Digital Marketing Trend Report for 2018 – Location Targeting

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According to a new report from research firm BIA/Kelsey, spending on location-targeted mobile ads in the US has topped $17 billion. It’s expected to surpass $22 billion this year, and will continue to rise through 2022.

Having the ability to show a mobile ad to a consumer based on their proximity to a specific store, neighborhood, or venue has marketers excited — and with good reason. Some technology providers allow you to couple your customer’s location with demographic and behavioral information for even more precise targeting, while others let you pay for advertising based on whether or not your message directly results in a visit to your store.

Reaching consumers in real time when they’re out and about can have a huge impact on foot traffic and in-store sales. There’s no question that the lines between the digital world and the physical one are blurring. Marketers will benefit from having a clear view of how to leverage this up-and-coming marketing trend.

9. Content in Real Time: Live-Streaming Video

Ten to Watch: Your Digital Marketing Trend Report for 2018 – Live-Streaming Video

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This trend kicked off in 2016, when Facebook Live was released and Mark Zuckerberg touted it as “like having a TV camera in your pocket.”

Nearly two years later, live-streaming video is still going strong. Research shows that close to half of all US internet users are watching live video between once a week and several times a day. Aside from Facebook, live video is available on platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. As of earlier this year it’s also on Snapchat, though for the time being it can only be created by brands.

Live, on-demand video is a great way to publicize business events like store openings, product launches, and brand-related photo shoots. You can use it to introduce new and existing customers to your staff and take them behind the scenes in your factory or store. Brands that have demonstrated a mastery of this marketing tool include HelloFresh, NASDAQ, and Kohl’s, whose videos range from cooking shows, to company announcements, to fitness tutorials. Watch for this technology — which is generally affordable and easily accessible to brands of all kinds — to sweep small business marketing in the coming months.

10. Content Marketing Still Matters: Blogs

Ten to Watch: Your Digital Marketing Trend Report for 2018 – Blogs

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The humble blog may not have the sparkling appeal of live video or influencer content, but marketers continue to invest in it and will do so throughout this year. The latest research from the Content Marketing Institute reveals that 70 percent of B2C marketers still use blogs to share content with their customers, and half of them consider it to be their most successful format, second only to email (74 percent).

The best blogs share industry expertise, provide useful and interesting information, and remain relevant to the businesses that publish them. For inspiration, look to companies like Casper, One Kings Lane, and Chicago-based Threadless. All are regularly producing top-notch content that rivals some the most engaging newsstand magazines.

Are these trends on your business’s must-try list for 2018?


There’s even more to add to your small business marketing toolkit. Get more marketing insights and advice in these articles.