Editor’s Note: Kent Lewis is the president of digital marketing agency Anvil Media Inc. Every year, he and his team compile a list of predictions for the New Year to help digital marketers prepare effective strategies. This year, Anvil has shared their list with us along with reflection on last year's predictions.
The holidays are all about tradition. At Anvil, one of our traditions for the past 12 years has been to share our digital marketing predictions for the coming year. We also take a moment to evaluate how accurate our predictions were last year, and this holiday season is no exception.
Before we share our 2018 predictions, let's recap what we said about 2017:
Anvil's 2017 marketing predictions: How did we do?
2017 will be the year of video
Here is what we said about video last year:
We've all searched YouTube for informational or entertaining videos over the years, but 2017 will be transformative for video. With a 5x higher recall than the written word, video is the most engaging media format and most effective in assisting conversions. Mobile search volume has surpassed desktop, so more video is being consumed than ever before. Affordable data plans, improved bandwidth, and widespread Wi-Fi access have reduced the cost and improved the overall mobile video experience.
Another factor is the evolution of content marketing, incorporating an increasing amount of video. Video production costs have decreased dramatically, both in terms of the quality of mobile phone video, affordable or embedded editing software, as well as digital SLR and 4K video cameras. Video form factors have evolved as well: live streaming (on platforms like Facebook), 360-degree video, augmented and virtual reality, and best of all, drones, all make the video capture and viewing experience more dramatic and immersive. Even business-to-business brands are getting into the mix with demos, tutorials, and testimonials.
Last but not least, video advertising is exploding and will offer new opportunities for targeting and engagement that display and text ads lack. If your brand isn't doubling down on video in 2017, you will miss the bus.
Grade: A-. We pretty much nailed this prediction, although it was a safe bet based on trending behavior data. With smartphone cameras improving in quality, bandwidth getting cheaper and platform capabilities expanding, video overtook most forms of content consumption.
Mobile page load speed will make or break your business
Here's what we said about mobile web design last year:
By the end of 2017, having your website AMP'd will be required as AMP'd pages will be a ranking factor for Google. October of 2016 was the first month when mobile internet usage surpassed desktop. Mobile traffic has been growing much faster than desktop for several years and has now surpassed desktop.
Additionally, Google has made significant moves to favor mobile: the switch to a mobile-first index and splitting its index in two (one more frequently updated mobile index, and a less frequently updated desktop index), and the introduction of AMP pages. AMP consists of three different parts: AMP HTML is HTML with some restrictions for reliable performance and some extensions for building rich content beyond basic HTML.
The AMP JS library ensures the fast rendering of AMP HTML pages. The Google AMP Cache can be used to serve cached AMP HTML pages. If you don't have AMP pages, then you absolutely have to have your site optimized for mobile page speed, even if your site is already "mobile-friendly." Users are going to grow accustomed to the light speed loading time of new AMP pages and will not have the patience to wait for your site to load. You will lose out on customers, no doubt.
Grade: C+. Mobile page load speed is still a huge factor as Google has shifted to indexing mobile first, however, the focus on using “AMP” pages to achieve faster mobile pages did not explode as dramatically as anticipated. With the focus on PWA’s (Progressive Web Apps) for e-commerce websites, AMP pages may not become as large of a factor in the future. However, if you are battling slow page speeds on mobile devices, AMP still may be a viable solution for you so don’t count it out.
Paid search will move further into programmatic
Here's what we said about paid search last year:
With Google's public release of new features centering on audience targeting in 2016 (remarketing lists for shopping, demographics for search, customer match), the search giant will make further strides in 2017 toward programmatic search. Moving away from specific keyword targets, Google will give advertisers more ways to target audiences specifically and prioritize those automated and programmatic ways over manual inputs. We predict at least three additional automated/audience-targeted features to be released in 2017.
Grade: A. Adobe launched its first fully programmatic campaign this year. Google also nixed manually ran “app install” campaigns mid-November to push users towards its programmatic Universal App Campaigns (UAP).
Brands will incorporate live ads into their media mix
Here is what we said about live advertisement last year:
With the proliferation of live video in 2016, brands will meet higher adoption and usage with live media ads. Carl's Jr. was one of the first brands to do this at the end of 2016, partnering with Vice to physically insert their mascot into live programming as advertising. We predict that brands will not only sponsor live content, but insert live ads into the content itself (rather than cutting to commercial).
Grade: B-. While a few larger brands did adopt live video as a marketing channel in 2017, it was not as prevalent as we expected. Suffice to say, we believe this prediction was a bit too forward-thinking and we expect larger adoption in 2018.
Fake news will fade out
What we said about "fake news" last year:
In 2017, fake news will be penalized on paid media and in organic rankings. With the impact fake news had on the recent election, internet giants Facebook and Google have already made small steps to not include ad inventory on the big platforms. We predict that they will take this a step further and actual penalize fake news websites as an organic ranking factor, and disapprove ads that link to fake news sites.
Grade: B-. Although it has taken most of the year and Congressional hearings, real fake news (not including credentialed media channels which publish unflattering news) is at least being addressed with some level of seriousness. Facebook and Google have made attempts to eradicate fake news with mixed results so far. We hope “real” fake news continues to disappear.
Google will generate even more revenue (via apps and drugs)
Here's what we said about about Google last year:
In an effort to compete with Amazon in the e-commerce space, Google will launch an app to make browsing shopping ads easier and create a simple checkout procedure that allows for a single point of payment when buying from multiple sites. Google will also loosen restrictions on marijuana advertising. With 26 states and Washington D.C. legalizing marijuana in some form, enthusiasts are looking online for purchase options. Despite being illegal on the federal level, Google will pass up millions, if not billions, of ad dollars by continuing to restrict advertising of the drug and its associated products. Google's love of money will win out, and it will allow some type of advertising in 2017.
Grade: C-. Wishful thinking perhaps, but this prediction did not materialize. It may become a reality in the next two to three years, however.
Facebook will be unliked
Here is what we said about Facebook lat year:
Facebook activity and audiences will decline as a permanent effect of the 2016 election. The 2016 presidential election has been controversial in the U.S, and Facebook had much to do with this outcome. People argued, fought, and unfriended family and friends alike fighting over the next Commander-in-Chief. Because of people's aversion to conflict, they will avoid using and decrease interaction on the social platform, and stats will decline unlike ever before. While Facebook Shop will create buzz and momentum, it will not offset the lagging negative perception.
Grade: D. Facebook continues to see growth of monthly active users. While facing some ‘Fake News’ issues and legal backlash, users have stayed faithful to the platform reaching over 2.07 Billion Monthly active users in Q3 of 2017.
Consumers and businesses will check back into location-based marketing
After losing its luster in the past year or two with a decline in check-ins, location-based marketing is poised for a rebound. Snap Inc. recently signed a deal with Foursquare to provide more accurate geo-filters. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have always encouraged their users to tag their location/check-in. With the market taking a big shift into the mobile market, location-based marketing is prime for the opportunity, providing resources such as in-store beacons, Facebook's "Local" feature, geo-location notifications, and geo-fencing.
Grade: B. While location check-ins remained stagnant, location-based marketing has seen growth over the past year. Google has been expanding location-based ad types for local business including local listing ads utilizing Google My Business locations (pay to show up at the top of the local pack) as well as gradually rolling out local service ads for home service industries. Additionally, Google is toying with Google My Business and incorporating Google+ posts into Knowledge Graph results. So while we didn’t see local growth exactly where we predicted, there certainly has been growth and evolution.
Twitter will sell cheap
Twitter will be acquired at a discount price. No social media channel has ruined more careers than Twitter. With that dubious distinction, stock prices near all-time lows, and the lack of sustainable innovation, Twitter is ripe for acquisition. Being the main platform of the President-elect is another death blow that will find Twitter under new ownership sometime in 2017.
Grade: D. Much to our chagrin, we missed this one. Trump may have delayed the inevitable by becoming a global poster child for the social platform. The jump in character limit per-post may have further buoyed the brand, or hopefully merely delayed the inevitable.
Politics will impact marketing
We have all seen the effect of a presidential election on the advertising industry: a drop in available inventory, a reluctance to try and compete with the election noise, and uncertainty about the market. These effects are especially true as we have approached October and November. This year was no different. But we think 2017 will be very different from any other year following an election -- and those of us in digital marketing should probably have a bit of anxiety.
More people are going to "take a break" from social media, anxiety is rising around the impact on the economy, and people will boycott or support brands that align or don't align with their position. All of these issues are going to make it more difficult to reach targets effectively, and cause confusion around where digital buys are being placed or if they are even being seen by the intended audience.
Confusion usually leads to paralysis as brands don't like to spend their money without some level of certainty. At the end of the day this is going to have a major impact on digital marketing. We anticipate a decrease in total digital ad spend, or at the very least a flattening, after years of continued growth. This is one prediction about which we hope we're wrong.
Grade B. It’s true that global brands did pull advertising in 2017, due to controversial politically-charged statements. Consumers are continuing to vote with their wallets as well. On the other hand, digital ad spend grew and jaded consumers tend to have a short memory and return to old habits.
Looking Ahead: Digital Marketing Predictions for 2018
Having examined our predictions for 2017, it's time to begin our predictions for 2018. This list is based on current data and trends, and marketers who wish to stay on top of their game should follow closely to prepare for the new year.
Voice Search will make massive strides in 2018
In 2018, digital assistants will dramatically affect the way consumers search. The 2017 holiday season will prime the pump with consumers purchasing large quantities of voice-assisted devices, including Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple iPhones with Siri and Microsoft Cortana devices. The Android, Windows and Apple device users will speak directly to their devices to conduct searches as well as manage their lives.
How consumers verbally communicate significantly varies from how individuals type out search queries. Because of this variation in behavior, you will begin to see more long-tail keyword queries; this will allow brands to create much more accurate and intelligent keyword search optimization strategies, since more granular data will be available around consumer behavior.
Voice search is also driving the need for brands to optimize for Position 0 on Google. Position 0 is a sentence, list, or table “answer” to common questions asked by Google users that appear above the organic search results. This coveted position will become increasingly competitive, even as Google heavily moderates results. Lastly, brands will increasingly invest in custom voice “skills” for Amazon, which is now estimated at 25,000, to better connect and engage consumers.
Voice Search will fully embrace Paid Media
As we predicted in 2017, it's only a matter of time before Google and Amazon figure out how to monetize voice assistants. As more phones and smart speakers flood the markets and consumers acclimate to utilizing these device on a daily basis, Google, Amazon, Bing and Apple will increasingly explore ways to integrate paid media into their voice based services.
This process has already begun: as we outlined in March, Local Service Ads are in beta and will be rolling out to Google’s Home and Pixel devices soon. Select home service companies have been invited to participate in this paid, Adwords-based experience. More is sure to come. By Q4 2018, consumers everywhere will be asking their voice assistants for shopping help and that paid ads will be at the center of the interaction. You can bet on it.
Amazon Search will continue to gain ground on Google
According to a Kenshoo study, 56 percent of consumers start product searches on Amazon. That means a minority of consumers are starting product searches on Google. While this behavior shift that has been in the works for the past decade, it will reach a tipping point in 2018.
With Amazon advertisers expected to increase investment by 63 percent in 2018, Google may find itself in a defensive position. In short, Amazon is the new Google in many respects, so brands will adjust marketing strategies appropriately in 2018. Those that take a more aggressive stance and invest bigger and smarter in Amazon organic and paid programs will outperform competitors that fail to do so, in 2018 and beyond.
eBay makes an Ad Play
As Amazon reaps massive financial success from its Sponsored Products promotion platform, expect other players to step up. One big online reseller that will be making a play in 2018: eBay Promoted Listings. Once known as the place to auction off that (hopefully valuable) junk from your attic, eBay has quietly started allowing “Buy Now” listings to become more pervasive, representing an opportunity for re-sellers to sell direct using the platform.
eBay also allows a minimum bid for auction items to be considered “sold”, for those selling rarer and more valuable items they believe will fetch a premium. Along with new listing options, eBay is increasing ways to get more traffic to customer listings via its Promotions tool, expanding the program to new categories and sellers in 2017.
Unlike Amazon and other promoted listings platforms that charge only for a click, eBay only charges for the promotion when an ad is clicked and the item is sold to the clicker within 30 days. This allows them to charge a premium for promotions, but the charge is always attached to an actual sale. Experts predict eBay Promoted Listings will represent a $1B+ market with over 70% margin, prompting a rise in eBay stock valuation in Q4 of 2017. Early adopters of this technology might see a blue ocean of opportunity in 2018.
AMP Pages Will Blow Up & Become a Ranking Factor
As Google continues to roll out Mobile-First Indexing, more emphasis will be put on sites utilizing AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) to improve mobile user experience. AMP pages load 4x faster than normal website pages on average, which can significantly improve user experience, CTR and site engagement.
Currently, AMP pages do not have the widespread adoption that Google was hoping for. Only 900,000 of the 1.2 billion websites on the internet have implemented the AMP framework thus far.
With Google’s continued focus on mobile, it is likely that they will soon factor the use of AMP pages into organic rankings to further increase adoption. Businesses that have yet to implement the AMP framework should consider creating AMP pages for their top performing content, especially if Google intends to make AMP a ranking factor.
Link Building will play a much more prominent role
We’ve already discussed the importance of ranking for Position 0 and owning voice search results, but it is worth mentioning that the old-school strategy of securing high quality inbound links to boost domain authority is not only important, it is more critical than ever.
To achieve Position 0, ensure that other websites linking back to your website are the most “authoritative” around the query that the visitor is searching. 70 percent of voice search results are Featured Snippets, so capturing Position 0 in SERPs translates to you owning the voice result if someone talks to Siri, Bixby, Cortana, Alexa or another digital assistant.
Brands will focus on Fan-Generated Content
When it comes to showing products in natural settings, there are a number of brands who rely on celebrity photoshoots and repurposing paid influencer content. The influencer scene has become so overblown, that many influencers are pricing themselves out of the market.
Based on this trend, we think the bubble is about to burst, and many brands will switch to sharing user- generated content from fans instead of high-priced influencers. Vans Girls is already sharing fan-generated content for a majority of its Instagram posts. This works in Vans’ favor by allowing them to save money, while providing incentive to its fans.
Fans are already posting great content on their meticulously-curated accounts and tag posts with Vans in the hope of being featured on one of their favorite brand’s social pages. The collaboration strengthens brand affinity with consumers and helps solve a common challenge among brands: content creation.
Micro-Influencers are going to become more useful to Consumer Brands Than Big Influencers
In the past few years, Influencer Marketing has become a proven tactic for driving awareness and leads. Seventy one percent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on a social media reference. People follow influencers they like and respect on social media but an influencer doesn’t have to be a celebrity or have at least 100,000 followers to help your brand.
While brands have been pining after mega-influencers, micro-influencers have demonstrated significant value by making an impact with as few as 1,000 followers. They tend to be more authentic and trustworthy brand ambassadors. The smaller price tag, high engagement rates and steady results will raise eyebrows of previous skeptics. Look for 2018 to be the year of the micro-influencer.
ChatBots Will take Over Social Media Messaging
According to a study done by Facebook, 56 percent of consumers prefer to handle a customer service issue over chat vs. over the phone. As this trend continues to grow, the need for timely responses on social channels will grow with it. Every visitor to a website or Facebook business page presents an opportunity to enter a brand’s funnel and ChatBots help secure that potential lead.
Don’t wait and see for yourself: jump on the trend by creating a simple ChatBot that can answer questions and redirect social media visitors to your Customer Service department and/or Sales team. The secret behind ChatBots is the ability to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to broaden its knowledge and ability to provide sales and service support in a seamless manner. As a result, look for greater ChatBot adoption in 2018 than any previous year.
Augmented Reality Marketing will finally Take Off
Pokémon Go might have come and gone, but it’s effects on marketing might not be so ephemeral. The first attempts at augmented reality marketing seemed to be a bust. In 2009, a hidden feature named Monacle made Yelp the iPhone’s premiere AR application. Sadly, it never took off. In 2010, the MIT Technology Review even wrote an article detailing the failures of AR campaigns to draw in consumers.
Pokémon Go, the fad of 2016, may have breathed new life into AR by introducing it to a mainstream audience and re-inspiring marketers. Ad Age claims that AR is “marketing’s trillion dollar opportunity.” In the Fall of 2017, Apple released the ARKit, which gives developers tools to create their own Augmented Reality iOS applications. An example of an app already created with ARKit is Ikea Place, which lets you visualize how Ikea furniture and décor will look in your home or office.
AR marketing use varies from the real-estate and interior decorating spaces to virtual banners and Google My Business information for brick-and-mortar establishments. Apple CEO Tim Cook pronounced, “We are high on AR for the long run, we think there’s great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity.”
With tech giants behind AR and the “Pokémon Go generation” (millennials) starting to buy homes, advance in their careers, and spend more on entertainment, it seems AR marketing might finally go mainstream. Maybe Yelp will even put out Monocle 2.0.
SkyNet may become a Reality, thanks to the rapid evolution of AI
We don’t typically wear our tin foil hats in public, but there are already signs that AI has the potential to go very, very wrong. From the “highly aggressive” DeepMind AI to some of the worlds brightest minds warning us about the dangers ahead, 2018 has the potential to bring a Terminator-like problem front and center. It may not be as obvious as this guy running amok through the city streets with his army of buddies, but it will be very real.
We are turning more aspects of our lives over to technology at an alarmingly fast rate. Self-driving cars, bank accounts, smart refrigerators and even medical procedures are being managed by AI, with little to no control or regulation. The rate at which machines can learn already far exceeds our ability as human beings - setting the stage for a potential showdown in the future. We predict there will be at least one major event in 2018 that will clearly demonstrate the threat.
So there you have it. AI-driven chatbots living in an augmented-reality world, will take over the real world, if Amazon, Google and eBay don’t beat them to the punch. Make sure your marketing team has thoroughly assessed the technology and trends we’ve outlined above, in order to maximize your success in 2018 and beyond.
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