As 2017 draws to a close, it's time to reflect on how well your marketing initiatives performed this year. In that context, we can all name some huge trends that we expected to explode -- but simply didn't.
Take Snapchat: Widely expected to be the forerunner in social media and influencer marketing, it wasn't, and Apptopia reported that fact as early as July. Specifically, From May 2016 to May 2017 Snapchat usage declined 6 percent -- and only 17.5 percent of users were snapping on a daily basis at the time of Apptopia's report.
Similarly, the CEO of a social content production studio told TechCrunch (anonymously, for fear of retaliation from the social network) that he'd seen an average decline of 20 to 30 percent in views of Snapchat Stories.
Snapchat was not alone in this lower-than-expected performance. Virtual reality didn't see the mass adoption we all anticipated, either. VR usage may well become more common as hardware gets less expensive and more streamlined; but for the moment, VR technology is still too fragmented for any of us to expect its widespread use.
As for the bigger picture, there weren't any enormous leaps in technology in 2017. But some emerging trends will continue to shape the marketing initiatives of 2018: A prediction? Augmented customer experiences, content creation, curation and distribution and the continued diversification of online channels for ecommerce and B2B companies will all continue to grow in the coming year.
Leveling up in 2018
The fact is, we all know there's too much noise out there. Next year, marketers will still be looking to perfect what they're doing in all areas, in order to rise above the crowd as old tactics start to lose their mojo.
Of course, not everything that looks like it's going to be huge will actually come to pass. But here are some trends I'm personally keeping a close eye on from my vantage point as the CEO of an outsourced digital CMO agency.
1. Augment reality for the buyer's journey.
Augmented reality is nothing new, but we will see companies start to leverage it on a more consistent basis next year. According to Global Market Insights, devices in the AR market are expected to grow more than 90 percent by 2024. Recent advances in application -- namely, Apple's new ARKit for iOS and ARCore for Android from Google -- will fuel that growth.
The new IKEA Place app powered by ARKit tech and iOS 11, for example, allows users to see how different items will look in their homes. By snapping a picture of the room, you can insert an object into the photo and try out different placements to decide whether it works or not.
A Deloitte survey found that almost 90 percent of companies with annual revenues of $100 million to $1 billion are already leveraging AR or VR technology. That said, developing an AR app for the sole purpose of making your brand seem cutting-edge can come off as contrived. You may be able to generate some buzz by jumping on the emerging tech bandwagon, but it will likely be short-lived.
To understand how best to integrate AR into your current shopping experience, think carefully about how your target audience will actually interact with it. Novelty is great, but how will it enhance the overall customer experience? For now, keep your eyes focused on shifting trends and your mind open to the various possibilities. While you might be a dedicated early adopter, you may have to wait for mass usage before you can conceive a strategic-marketing play using AR.
2. Encourage customers to immerse themselves in your brand story.
Building a strong presence online is getting more and more expensive, and real-life experiences are bridging the gap. Today's events go beyond networking, trading business cards and listening to presentations to convey brand stories in more authentic and tangible ways.
We infused our own company's top three core values into every aspect of our recent Hawkefest event. We did this by holding short format talks on productivity, to show guests how (value 1) to "get sh*t done." We also let attendees pick and choose which sessions to attend so they could (value 2) "learn quickly."
And, because our third core value is "be cool," we had bands, food, drinks, VR experiences and even an adult-sized ball pit.
Consumers are tired of the constant barrage of messaging they experience online and are starting to crave offline connections. Capitalize on that movement by hosting events that embody your brand identity, and use interactive experiences to relay a more compelling story. Take a fresh approach toward engagement, with sponsored activities or branded events.
These moves can help you elicit real emotional reactions and give participants a reason to share your story with others.
3. Stop "renting" your audience.
This is the big one. With the rapid rise of published content and paid distribution, capturing the attention of your ideal customer has become far more expensive. You've got to own, not rent, your audience, and that means taking ownership of your content and media.
General Mills is leading the way here by interacting digitally through its website with more than a million customers a day. According to SmartBrief, 55 percent of traffic to the company's site originates organically through Google searches. General Mills isn't paying for that traffic, just offering truly relevant content alongside strategically placed ads. Who knew how well a display ad for Pillsbury Crescent Rolls would resonate with people searching for cooking tips?
Obviously, General Mills is paying attention to its consumers’ needs and desires and using that data to deliver the kind of content that will keep them coming back for more. What's more, such content boosts subscriptions to the company's email programs, which in turn increase traffic and sales. Email subscribers, it turns out, purchase twice as many products as visitors to the website.
Related: Is Your Content Worth the Download?
An important message here is that paid traffic won't deliver the kind of return on investment it has in the past. Instead, people are hungry for content that speaks directly to their needs and interests. So, don't rely on affiliates or on bidding on programmatic content to drive your traffic in 2018. Instead, work with your existing base: Monetizing an existing base is not only cheaper than it is with a paid base, but also more effective.
Instead of blowing your marketing budget on oversaturated spaces, dust off those email lists and use SMS messaging to drive blog traffic. Try anything you can to keep a handle on your customers and provide engaging content they'll really value. Become their go-to resource.
If you succeed -- if you "own" your audience members because you've maintained an ongoing conversation about what matters most to them -- you'll find ,it easier to pivot and incorporate new technology once you discover the right application.
But if you fail to listen to and understand your target audience members, you'll never win them over -- even using the coolest tech out there.