The top 5 digital marketing trends of 2017

As we kick off the New Year, let’s look at the strategies set to take the world of digital marketing by storm in 2017. These are the trends SMEs cannot afford to miss.

  1. Speak up: Voice-driven SEO

The way consumers discover and access services is changing. Typing search terms into a phone or laptop is a task of the past. Hands-free search is the new frontier for SEO. With the launch of Google Home, to compete with Amazon’s Echo, connected home devices are now becoming mainstream.

This year, marketers will need to begin tackling the idea of voice-driven search results, and take advantage of early analytics as platform owners release them. This will change how businesses market themselves from the ground-up as they will need to remain nimble to continue winning customers.

  1. Making cens(or) of it: Overcoming ad blocking

Ad blocking is a fact of life and marketers need to accept this. More than 400 million mobile web users and 200 million desktop web users are using ad blocking technology to restrict the banner ads displayed on their devices. This year, marketers should stop worrying about the growing popularity of ad blocking and simply adapt to the new reality facing online campaigns.

Advertisers should diversify their media mix to include native ads as well as non-standard ad formats. This will help them to improve their ability to work around blockers.

High quality and relevantly targeted content marketing will continue to be important: if consumers see what they like, they will be less inclined to block it.

  1. History repeats itself: Chatbots return

A.I. and chatbots are very much in vogue this year and for good reason, they will begin to increasingly impact how customers interact with businesses. As larger companies adopt them, it’s something SMEs need to be considering.

Chatbots have moved on since the likes of Microsoft’s Clippy, who attempted to aid frustrated Word Doc creators. Those chatbots were largely novelties with limited functionality, and their clunky responses made dealing with them a chore. In 2017, chatbots will complete a resurgence that has been years in the making. When Google Allo launched in September 2016, it was projected to become “the most significant chatbot messaging platform ever” with its ability to read and interpret messages, and crucially, offering appropriate responses in turn.

But chatbots aren’t just for Google. High street brands like Pret a Manger and Dominos are both already using chatbots to help consumers in a range of ways. The likes of WeChat and Slack offer options for SMEs looking to dip their toes into the world of chatbots. They go beyond helping-out customers by also facilitating internal communications.

  1. Coming at you live: Real-time social

For further real-time customer engagement, companies should also consider live streaming. Facebook has bet a lot on its Live feature. Last year, it signed up 140 media companies and celebrities for a trial of the feature. Facebook agreed to pay the publishers big bucks — with Buzzfeed reportedly earning $3.1 million — to keep the live videos streaming in. This incentive guaranteed a minimum volume of Live videos would be met over the course of the year, and based on early results, it will be in publishers’ best interests to continue rolling live cameras even after the funds stop. It’s clear that live-streaming social content is going to continue to take off in 2017, and marketers will need to find new and exciting ways to use this video format. The proof may be in the pudding with Facebook claiming that users watch live videos three times longer than the same videos when they aren’t live.

  1. Let’s be clear: Visibility in a trust economy

Amongst these innovations, trust remains fundamental to the business/customer relationship. Since the first days of social media, displeased customers have used social channels to air their grievances in a public forum. It’s come to be expected that most, if not all, companies engaging in social media marketing will have some level of customer support available for those who leave less than a five-star rating.

In 2017, business ratings will become a dialogue. Companies like Uber and Airbnb have pioneered the space of customer ratings, completing the flow of two-way feedback. What’s yet to be seen is whether providing visibility of customer ratings is capable of producing higher-quality customers — or just annoying the ones who are below-average to begin with.

Although many tech innovations are giving marketers greater tools to win and maintain customer loyalty, SMEs shouldn’t get ahead of themselves and remember the basics. Ultimately, marketers need to listen to customer needs and give them what they want in an efficient way, while making the customer feel valued. The many tools that now exist should be used to amplify the basics, while marketers keep the customer at the heart of everything they do.

By Jeff Weiser, CMO, Shutterstock