We are quickly approaching the end of 2017 which brings to mind a familiar question—where the &*@# did the year go?!

It’s at this time of year, in those few peaceful moments between Christmas parties and end of year festivities, that we like to reflect on what’s happened in 2017 and think about what’s to come for the new year.

Every year we find ourselves trawling through industry blogs reading predictions from experts on what is expected to be “hot” in 2018. But, it’s a bit like reading your horoscope in the back of a magazine—you know it probably won’t come true, but it’s a bit of fun, so put down the martini shaker and stop judging, Janet.

This year, while avant-garde technologies such as AR/VR, Internet of Things (IoT) and wearables are slated (again) to be big disruptors in the marketing game we also anticipate seeing a rise in uptake in areas that were popular in 2017, such as content marketing and influencer marketing.

Our friends over at Smart Insights have put together a great predictions list of marketing activities they believe will have the biggest commercial impact in 2018 for businesses. The list, in order of popularity, goes:

  • Content Marketing
  • Big Data
  • AI and Machine Learning
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Mobile Marketing
  • Marketing Automation
  • Conversion Rate Optimisation
  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • Internet of Things
  • Communities
  • Partnerships
  • Paid Search Marketing
  • Wearables
  • Display Advertising

Now, for those that have been playing along at home, you might recall we like to run our own “Predictions Survey” at the beginning of each year to ask our network of business owners whether any of these predicted “hot trends” will be filtering down to the real world.

While IoT, VR and AR might be pretty groovy, it’s unlikely that these trends will be widely adopted by the average business owner. After all, Nike might have created a pair of self-lacing, Back-to-the-Future, IoT connected kicks, but self-lacing shoes didn’t exactly take over the footwear industry in 2017.

So, while predictions abound at PUNCH we’d like to offer some insight into what we think businesses should be focusing on in 2018 to get the largest commercial impact.

 

Domination of Voice Search and Mobile-First

SEO never really gets invited to the “hot trends” party. But with the rise of voice search SEO has found itself back on the guest list when it comes to trends in 2018. Our word of advice, voice search might seem like the future, but the future is now.

According to Location World, 40% of adults in the US are using voice search at least once a day and it’s been predicted that by 2020, HALF of all search queries will be made by voice search.

Smart marketers and business owners should be jumping on this trend in 2018.

Why?

Do you want to be found? It’s as simple as that.

By optimising your website for voice search, you’re basically helping Google index you higher.

If your website is optimised for voice search, your likelihood of appearing for queries rises significantly, leaving your late-adopting competitors in your dust.

But remember, people are using voice search on mobile devices, so be sure your website is optimised for mobile.

Google also lists websites that are optimised for mobile viewing higher, over those who are only optimised for desktop viewing.  After all, 51% of website visits in 2017 were on mobile. Year on year, this is up a whopping 25%!

 

So, our two key takeaways here are:

  • If your website isn’t already mobile-optimised you should be getting all over that like an open bar at the office Christmas party. If you don’t you’ll be left behind in 2018 or like, on page 65 on Google.
  • While you’re optimising make sure you’re thinking of voice search—you’ll be thanking us in 2019.

 

Chatbots, AI and Machine-Learning

Chatbots, and the artificial intelligence technology that enables them, became a BIG trend in 2017 and we don’t see that slowing down anytime soon. Independent research suggests that by the end of 2017, only about one-third of all customer-service queries will require the attention of human representatives.

While social media environments like Facebook are at the vanguard of the chatbot revolution, we see the increased interest in chatbots as a cultural shift towards social messaging. Just as users have migrated towards SMS and messaging apps as their communication medium of choice we’re also seeing users embrace that same familiar interface with chatbots.

While most business owners don’t have the resources, knowledge or desire to build their own custom customer service chatbot, there are some great free chatbots available. The legend, Neil Patel, has written a great article on how to increase your open rate using chatbots with an easy step-by-step guide for marketers and business owners that aren’t coders (isn’t that most of us?!), so you can take advantage of chatbots now.

 

So, key takeaway here is:

  • If you’re not already using a chatbot on your Facebook page or website, 2018 is the time to start. Timely and efficient customer service can be the difference between success and failure for companies, especially those in highly competitive markets. As social messaging continues to explode in popularity, bots will become ever more pervasive in day-to-day B2C and online communications.

 

Content and Influencer Marketing

Heading into 2017, 51% of businesses told us they would be focusing their hard-earned time and money into content marketing. So, while content marketing has been at the top of everyone’s priority list for some time now, with businesses fully recognising that it is a necessity in any successful marketing strategy, this doesn’t mean it can’t earn a spot on the trending list.

Bill Gates famously declared “Content is King” in 1996 and 21 years later (side note, how was 1996 that long ago?!) the man’s still bang on. Not only is content still king but it’s one of the hottest marketing strategies of 2018.

These days customers expect--nay demand--engagement and personalisation from their interactions with brands whether it’s on social, to email and even search. In the year ahead, it’s going to be just as much about the process of delivering content as the content itself. After all, it’s not about churning out content anymore – the web is simply too crowded for that.

There’s a new kid on the block when it comes to content generation these days--influencers. There’s no question Influencer marketing has continued to rise in prevalence in 2017 but where will it take us in 2018?

While previously it has been the big companies that have jumped onto the influencer bandwagon, we expect more businesses across the spread to be taking advantage of influencers in 2018 and beyond.

After all, influencers come in many shapes and sizes. There are big celebrity influencers like the Kardashian/Jenners of the world who have audiences in the millions, right down to “micro-influencers” who have audiences a few hundred or thousand strong. What defines someone as an influencer is, unsurprisingly, the impact that person has on their niche audience and their ability to affect their audiences’ buying habits.

 

Two key takeaways here are:

  • The key to effective content marketing lies not only in the power of your writing, but also in your style and strategy. It’s important to remember that while it’s great to push out large amounts of content, the emphasis should always be on content quality and not simply the quantity. Speaking to customers in different stages of their relationship with your company will be key to converting and keeping high-value customers.
  • The rise of micro-influencers will give more businesses an opportunity to get their foot into the influencer marketing game. While influencer marketing is arguably less ROI-driven than other digital marketing strategies, it is an investment that can pay dividends if done properly. This will be an interesting space to watch in 2018.

 

Final thoughts for 2017

At PUNCH we think one of the big things that companies need to focus on in 2018 is integration between all their marketing efforts--both digital and traditional. After all, technology development is a two-way street—we both shape technology and are shaped by it in turn.

As machine learning and automation are becoming more accessible and sophisticated we'll be keeping our eye on how brands leverage these tools not only for lead generation but also for customer retention. With so many tools to improve customer experience marketers should be thinking about what brings the best potential to turn a single customer into a customer for life.

We’re eager to see how these digital marketing trends will scale in 2018. Are the experts right? Are we right? Are we all going to hell in a hand-basket? Only time will tell.

That’s it from us in 2017—what a cracker of a year! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours from all of us at PUNCH. Enjoy a well-deserved break, unplug and resist the constant siren-song of your inbox calling out to you.

We’ll see you in the new year, refreshed and possibly a few kgs heavier from all the holiday ham and wine—don’t worry, “dad bod” is super in for 2018, did we forget to mention that in the round up?!

Cheers!