The 'trends blog' is always a bit of a fall back early in the year, when the brain's struggling to get back into creative mode, but 2017 looks like being less a year of change and more about consolidation.

So if you didn’t read the original post on the DVO blog, then 'happy new year' to everyone. 2016 was a good year for DVO, it’s strange when it’s your first-year clients to keep happy, projects to deliver and a start-up to pull into a business. Not so much strange as bloody hectic.

So digital trends for 2017... this is wholly inspired by Gartner’s 5 key emerging digital marketing trends. Read their stuff - it’s gold - especially if you’re keen on strategy.

In this post, we’ll look at:

  • The re-emergence of strategy through the experience
  • No more digital, just marketing
  • We’ve lost the purchase funnel?
  • User Generated Content (UGC) - advocates and loyalty
  • Big Data (come on we couldn’t leave it out)
  • Content Marketing

1. The re-emergence of strategy through the experience

Everyone is experience-obsessed now, and with good reason. There’s compelling evidence to back up how consumers form relationships with and trust brands to buy things.

Simply put, how someone perceives a brand is the sum of their interactions with that brand through their entire journey, awareness, consideration, conversion, retention. Consumers don’t see channels they just see 'a brand'. The experience is now being touted as the only true place a brand can differentiate themselves and gain a competitive advantage.

To do this however, requires a holistic view of the consumer and the various points they interact with a brand. Strategy is going to start meaning something again as marketers must take a big picture view to coordinate all the elements that make up the brands experience. This simply cannot be done in isolated silos. 

Experience led businesses:

  • Know and respect customers
  • Speak, look, feel and interact in one unified, consistent manner irrespective of channel
  • Make technology transparent and simple
  • Delight customers at every turn

"What does it mean for my brand?"

I think this is something that runs beyond the marketing department. Putting the elusive customer at the heart of a brand is not an easy task and will likely take an organisational reshuffle preceded by a big re-think especially if you’re a legacy brand with some entrenched philosophies. But small steps. You can start by simply looking at your customers again, do a segmentation and personas.

2. No more digital, just marketing

2017 could be the year we drop digital from the 'buzzword' dictionary. What does it even mean anymore, virtually every business I know and speak to is aiming to be digitally-led because their customers are. They still have a long way to go though.

Adobe research indicated that regardless of sector, roughly only 10-15% of businesses are truly digital first. The rest are some way along that curve struggling to realign to the reality of today's consumer. To this end, there’s a lot of talk about just marketing - it’s a given that digital will be included these days.

I for one am a big believer in this. I think continually naming different elements of marketing subconsciously perpetuates the siloed thinking we’re so desperate to drop.

3. We’ve lost the purchase funnel?

The old-style funnel was flaky at best, made-up at worst. An easy way to pigeon hole how somebody moved towards purchasing something. Now it’s quite honestly a defunct idea.

Technology puts consumers in control and they move at their own pace. They choose where, when and how to interact. Smart brands simply anticipate this and put the right content in the right place at the right time to meet these needs and encourage the consumer towards a goal.

"What does this mean for my brand?"

Understanding your customers is key. Use data wisely, pinpoint segments and create personas, then map journeys for each one. Stop sniggering at big data, and use it intelligently to understand where a customer is in their journey but more importantly to understand how to move the customer to the next stage.

Things are going to need to get personal at this stage, and data can help you do that. A macro view of the customer serves little purpose on this basis.

Customers as 'individuals' will be a key-theme for 2017.

4. UGC, advocates and loyalty

Forget millennials - focus your efforts on generation C. These people cross age-based generations - what they share is their propensity to be digital first. They are heavily influenced by authentic content, especially if it’s user-generated.

Figure out who your best customers are and nurture them, advocates (word of mouth) are the holy grail. To get them though you can’t have any week links in your experience. It worth working towards though, people are 90% more likely to buy something based on positive user generated content.

"What does this mean for my brand?"

There are a number of different ways to encourage UGC and advocates. The first stage is is simply about good service and a good product. Normally this results in good reviews. Once you’ve got the basics in place, i.e deliver on your promises then it’s time to start thinking how you can build UGC, created by advocates into your marketing. Check out a tool like Tint.

This enables you to source content about your brand from social media and re-purpose it for your marketing. Or you can look to encourage specific content through gamification.

Give something away, and get users to give you content in exchange. There are lots of tactics you can employ. What it means though is it should be on your agenda because the biggest brands are investing a lot in this space.

5. Big data

No trends blog would be complete without a mention of big data.

It’s big and it’s data! You’re doomed without it.

I think like all data there are two things at play, getting the right data and asking the right questions of it, this was the case even when it was just “data”. If you can capture enough you can make informed decisions about consumer journeys, needs, passions and goals and this will help you market more effectively.

"What does this mean for my brand?"

The challenge most marketers face is not getting their hands on their data, it’s more about integrating it so that it can be meaningfully analysed. There are now some great software’s out there that can help do this. As marketers our job is simple, to put the right message in the right place to move the customer towards purchase, simple. Not so simple when you’ve got loads of channels and a customer who doesn’t play by the rules anymore. In the short term using personas to map out the stages a customer moves through gives you a grounding to start to think about what you do next.

A word of warning though, as data analysis becomes more commoditised and software driven it’s going to create a level playing field. This equals no competitive advantage. Where you can standout it is through creative. Get the two working together in sync and you’ll be on to a winner, let one or the other dominate and chances are you’ll be wondering where the money went.

6. Content marketing

In a word, I think we’ll see more and more brands looking to content marketing and other strategies that more closely align with the reality of today’s consumer. Why wouldn’t they? And, because Gartner says they will.

Where I think brands will step up in 2017 is around creative and getting to grips with bigger strategies that permeate their entire social content output, giving it a soul.

At DVO, 2017 will be the year of integrated content marketing. We’ve taken our clients on a journey that often starts with social content and a digital experience, but we’ll be building beyond this; integrating online and offline channels around the content to continually meet the consumer’s needs.

"What does it mean for my brand?"

If you do one thing in 2017, we suggest that you stop looking at content marketing as a sub-set of SEO.

SEO is super important but content marketing is a broader brand marketing strategy. At the core, it builds consumer trust by anticipating needs at specific points in the customer journey.

Think long and hard about your strategy, put some real rigour into it. It will make everything that comes after so much easier to plan. You could simply try to own a space in the customers mind set. Or whatever takes your fancy, after all it’s your strategy.

Focus your efforts in 2017 around how you can integrate your content across your communications. I’d advise you think about a digital experience or a content hub as the nucleus and build your channels around it. Start simple break your content down into three areas:

  • Awareness, inspire, entertain, educate.
  • Consideration, help evaluate the decision, be honest, NO smarmy sales
  • Conversion (UGC works great here)

For an in-depth look at UGC strategy, take a moment to download DVO's latest white paper, here.