Broadly speaking, a digital marketer’s level of success will relate closely to their position relative to other digital marketers – how far ahead or behind their competitors they are when it comes to adapting to evolutions in industry best practices. This tells us that by planning effectively for future developments, you can improve your chances of remaining competitive within your field.

Predicting digital marketing trends is tricky, but luckily, certain online commentators seem to possess an uncanny knack for this particular strain of digital divination. We’ve collected some of their most interesting comments here, to give you some food for thought as you plan for the year ahead.

From “Digital Marketing Trends 2017”, by Dave Chaffey at Smart Insights

Our research with HubSpot […] shows that more businesses are now using a strategic approach [to content marketing] (40%), so this is a trend we can expect to see continuing in 2017. We can also expect that there will be more focus on Measuring Content Marketing ROI as the cost and competition within content marketing increases.

Where clever content marketing may once have been regarded as an optional outlet for organisations seeking to set themselves apart from the crowd, it is now practically ubiquitous amongst effectively marketed businesses. 20.3% of respondents to a Smart Insights survey of over 2,000 marketers named content marketing as the single most important technique area for digital marketers in 2017 – a higher share than any other technique, including big data and marketing automation.

Dave Chaffey is right when he says content marketing costs and competition are on the up – and that makes this an ideal moment for any marketer to start running a tighter ship. When you consider the fact that many of your competitors may be doing the same, it’s clear that this is a pressing concern. Here are a few points to help you start sharpening up:

  • “Measuring content marketing ROI” – it’s notoriously tricky to value a piece of web content, as the benefits of any particular content item may be indirect. For example, a person may view a company’s online content, think more highly of that company as a result and ultimately buy its product in-store a year or more down the line – a decision influenced by their earlier experience. No marketer can perfectly evaluate the fringe benefits of a content item. Instead, we must assess each item’s performance against a set of KPIs, such as the number of website visitor acquisitions it drives and the value of sales or sign-ups made as a result. This approach can be applied either to entire content campaigns (e.g. a month’s worth of blog content), or to individual pieces of content – the former can inform the direction of your content strategy, whilst the latter will allow you to appraise performance over time.
  • “Using a strategic approach to content marketing” – everything a digital marketing team does should be driven by strategy. We find it helps to think of the process of forming content marketing strategy as a cycle: you create and publish your content, you receive feedback and data, you perform analysis to inform your future strategy, you distil your findings into a handful of unambiguous, actionable points, you create and publish more content, the cycle repeats. It goes without saying that your strategy should also work towards your business’ goals – driving sales of Product X, building a bigger audience in Location Y, etc. Make a habit of considering how every action you make helps you to achieve specific goals.

From a Forbes interview with Stacey DeBroff, CEO of Influence-Central:

“As we head into 2017, influencers will entrench as defining voices in consumer marketing, as brands concede advertising control and look to passionate brand advocates to sway consumers on social media.”

Online influencers will have been on most digital marketers’ radars for a number of years by this point, but there are many within our industry who have never quite managed to get the hang of working with them.

An influencer is anyone whose online presence commands attention and informs opinions. We could be talking about on-off Twitter idol Stephen Fry, Snapchat Queen Kylie Jenner, or a respected content creator like any of the sources quoted in this interview. Influencers vary greatly in just about every respect, but they may all be leveraged to the same ends: building brand awareness and driving web traffic.

How to hook up with an online influencer

Pairing your brand up with online influencers should be a relatively simple process, although the effort and outlay required will generally increase in proportion to the profile of the influencers you approach. Here’s a brief outline of how you might go about partnering with an influencer:

  • Choose a channel first – Selecting an online channel to fit your target demographic is a sensible place to start planning for your influencer marketing campaign. Compare your audience profile with demographic data on the user bases of various online channels. Are you a better fit for a B2B blog article, a YouTube video, a Snap or a podcast?
  • Create a shortlist of influencers – Next, identify appropriate influencers who are active and clearly enjoying popular success on the online channel you’ve chosen (you should be able to work this out fairly accurately by looking at metrics like content interactions or profile likes/follows). These influencers should all be a natural fit for your brand, offering a high level of audience overlap.
  • Reach out – Contact the influencers on your shortlist to discuss the possibility of collaborating. You’ll be able to reach some influencers via easy-to-locate contact methods, which are likely to be listed somewhere on their online channel. In other cases, you may have to engage an influencer via their agent. Find out how much each influencer would charge for various types of collaboration, e.g. mentioning a product in a video, featuring one of your brand’s representatives in an article, and so on. Also request audience and engagement figures for the influencers’ channels. At this point you can remove any remove any influencers you can’t afford to work with from your shortlist.
  • Make ROI projections – Use influencer audience and engagement data to estimate the prospective ROI for each prospective collaboration on your shortlist. It’s tricky to do this accurately on your first attempt, but when planning future collaborations you will be able to use conversion rates and values from previous influencer campaigns to set your ROI projections. Now, go ahead and engage the influencer who offers the highest prospective ROI.

To return briefly to Stacey DeBroff’s quote, brands certainly do seem destined to “concede advertising control” to influencers. To us this makes perfect sense. Traditional advertising will retain its unique potential to form compelling narratives around brands, but influencer marketing now differentiates itself by allowing brands to position themselves within an existing narrative in which the target audience is already invested – the influencer’s narrative.

Leanplum CEO Momchil Kyurkchiev, quoted in “10 Digital Media & Marketing Predictions for 2017” by Social Times

“Smart applications will proactively anticipate user desires to satisfy the moment. Predictive analytics won’t just be an add-on for brands; it will become a must-have to understand and retain users.”

This is all starting to sound a little futuristic, but thankfully, predictive analytics can be easily understood as a continuation of deep-rooted digital marketing trends.

Whether as a marketer or a consumer, most of you will have encountered marketing that reacts to your actions and seeks to provide solutions to your needs. Think about the Just Eat ad that pops up around a certain mealtime, or the Amazon email that reminds you about that purchase you didn’t quite finish making on your last minute. You can find some interesting examples along these lines in our article on email personalisation.

Predictive analytics is set to take this data-driven approach to B2C communications to new depths, utilising everything that is known about each customer AND about customer behaviour more broadly to deliver higher conversion rates.

The really exciting thing about predictive analytics is the fact that there’s plenty of room for human creativity within this technical field. Marketers who can spot new connections between customer inputs and goal completions will be able to reap significant rewards by creating marketing funnels designed to exploit the behavioural trends which have been identified.

From “Looking Ahead: We Predict 11 Digital Marketing Trends for 2017”, by Kit Smith at Brandwatch

“While native advertising may be an old method, market forces should increase its prominence in 2017. The diminishing penetration of many ads – through ad blockers, reduced social media organic reach, and the decline of banner ads – will see an increase of native advertising.”

Otherwise known as advertorial, native advertising is sponsored content published on an established media channel, usually taking a similar form to the channel’s standard output. For example, this travel tips article on The Telegraph’s website, sponsored by Staybridge. Note the quote from our very own Daniel Rowles!

Native advertising is the perfect solution for marketers who want to enjoy some of the benefits of influencer marketing, without relinquishing quite so much control over the how their brands are represented. Advertorials can provide the advertiser with outstanding social proof from highly respected sources, with inbound links from high authority websites (SEO gold-dust!), and can drive traffic from popular media channels to the advertiser’s site.

Native advertising policies vary significantly between media outlets, but you’ll usually be able to find the person you need to speak to by doing a quick web search for “[Media outlet name] advertising sales”. Well-known providers of native advertising include The Guardian and – as we have seen – The Telegraph.

From “6 Digital Trends in 2017”, by Kevin King at Adweek

“2017 is going to mark a turning point in the way audiences interact with and consume video content. Through the releases of the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PSVR and Niantic Labs’ Pokémon Go on Unity, virtual reality and augmented reality became important technological breakthroughs in 2016. In 2017, we anticipate significant improvements in immersive devices as well as software. Also, look for efforts from brands with skin in the game to make using a headset culturally acceptable.”

All sorts of high-tech software and hardware gets a namecheck in this quote from Kevin King, which has the effect of making the trend towards immersive experiences appear to favour advertisers with loads of money and technical resources behind them. How exactly can SMEs compete?

Quite well, as a matter of fact – with a little imagination. Augmented reality ad campaigns and the like may well be off the menu for many at present, but it’s entirely possible to create an immersive experience for your audience whilst keeping things relatively low-tech.

For a fine example, check out this award-winning collaboration between AirBnb and The Art Institute of Chicago, which brought Van Gogh’s yellow room spectacularly to life and provided a major boost to the Art Institute’s media coverage.