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The future of digital marketing: predictions for 2018

By Michael Feeley, Founder and chief exec



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December 20, 2017 | 9 min read

As the year draws to a close, Return asks its senior team to reflect on 2017 and offer predictions for 2018. Topics raised include programmatic and shoppable video, voice search, and shifts in online search and targeting...

Return 2018 predictions graphic pink

What does next year hold for digital marketers?

Guy Levine, founder and chief executive

AI and big data will continue to be on the agenda for 2018, however the gulf will widen between the companies who know how to use it and those who don’t. When brands believe technology will mitigate their need to intimately understand their audience, they will undoubtedly lose in the battle for attention.

As search becomes more complex with a true understanding of voice and context being needed, surfacing content will not be the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge will be about creating an experience and narrative that people truly want to engage with.

Mellissa Flowerdew-Clarke, marketing director

Digital is now ubiquitous in all marketing strategies – even the industries that previously lagged behind are starting to see the benefits of utilising digital, to help future-proof customer acquisition in turbulent market places. We’ve seen a shift over the years from a mass-media centric, one-to-many approach, to digital enabling data-driven, one-to-one tactics. The next phase is, what Forrester calls, ‘post-digital’, where success will be determined by marketing’s ability to adapt to one-to-moment marketing.

To be successful in the post-digital era, marketers must become instrumental across the business – not just from a brand-build and lead generation point of view, but also in its ability to be the voice of the customer; working across departments to help influence customer experience all the way from the front-line, to product development and post-sale.

Marketers have struggled in the past to demonstrate its impact on the bottom line, but with an increasing focus on data-driven strategies underpinning strategic business objectives, and pressure being applied to form attribution models that prove ROI, marketing is increasingly demonstrating its worth, and its seat at the top table.

Andy Heaps, operations director

The goal of digital marketing stays the same. That is: understand who your ideal audience is, reach them at scale, and connect with them effectively and cost-efficiently. But the way we achieve it is changing. No longer can digital marketers work in channel silos. Ensuring consistent delivery of the right message, to the right person, at the right time, in the right place is critical to success, but only works at scale with a truly audience-first strategy.

So, digital budgets need to be channel independent, and those managing budgets across channels need to be more agile than ever. Audience behaviour needs to drive all multi-channel planning and optimisation decisions, so that at any point in time, regardless of the channel or medium, we can show the message most likely to provide the biggest possible step towards conversion.

The final piece of the puzzle, and likely the most difficult for many, is measurement. Google Attribution (due for release in Q1) will bring attribution capabilities to the masses, so there’ll no longer be any excuse to measure ROI on a last click basis!

Dan Beckett, sales director

I think 2018 will see a shift in clients from being overly focused on single channel delivery to a solution-based approach. They will be looking to engage with agencies in a more encompassing, partner-focused relationship, to ensure that digital specialism and support translates into wider business improvements.

Stephen Murphy, client services director

Next year, I expect greater movement of budget towards digital video in terms of focus, formats and platforms. Google will continue to evolve the YouTube proposition and enable more brands to easily curate and promote.

I am excited to see how Shoppable video formats progress, as I think, given the potential this offers, it has been underutilised in 2017, despite some notable brands using it well, such as Ted Baker.

Investment in programmatic video will grow, as will the use of video on the key social channels and YouTube. I expect more brands to see the opportunity to become content creators or be lead sponsors of digital only content, while others will start to more accurately target individuals online based on engagement, sequentially.

Lucy Davies, digital strategist

I’m predicting Amazon will continue to expand into (and dominate) new verticals – everything bar fashion. In many industries we’ve seen it overtake Google as the number one product search engine, and the 2017 push on its added-value services (Amazon Prime, Amazon Now, Amazon Grocery, Amazon Lockers, Subscribe & Save etc) will only continue to grow customer loyalty.

As a result of this, e-commerce retailers will need to adapt their attribution models to understand that new audiences gained on social media or display may visit the site, engage well with product, but then choose to buy from a retailer on Amazon – just because it’s easier/safer/more convenient for them.

Investment in, and optimisation of these top-of-the-funnel channels needs to acknowledge the increasingly fractured opportunities for consumers to buy, and not make strategic decisions from last-click data.

Victoria Blount, head of paid performance

During 2018, I think there'll be an increased focus on personalised ads through Facebook & Instagram marketing.

Using robust analytics, CRM and social data to strategise a multilayered approach which identifies and understands how to intercept the audience in a micro-targeted way, with exact copy matching their buying signal.

Naturally, video is the mother of all content across all social media, but specifically with Snapchat & Instagram Stories – having native content like this which can be promoted through social will become even more crucial in 2018.

Rodica Lazar, head of organic performance

Voice search will become more important next year. Considering in 2017 that 55% of teens and 40% of adults used voice search, we expect the trend to become more mainstream. This will have a major impact on the way we implement keyword research and content strategies.

Engagement with your website will be more of a focus, with analysis of time spent on page, bounce rate and click-through rate becoming the important metrics to look at. UX will become an area of focus. Structured data isn’t a ranking factor, but it does influence CTR and experiments this year have shown that a higher click-through rate has an impact on rankings.

Understanding your customers – what they need, want and how they interact with your website at every stage of the buying cycle, is vital. As all of Google’s efforts go into providing the best search results, more focus needs to be placed on optimising for one-to-one, rather than one-to-millions. Links are now, and will continue to be, a major ranking factor – better link acquisition strategies and more focus on brand mentions help provide relevance and context for a brand.

Rachel Smith, paid search manager

In 2018, keywords’ importance will be fading out. Of course, they will still be there, but audience will be the main focus, more so than it has been in 2017. It is all about the user journey, not just typing in keywords and serving users with a basic ad.

The ads need to be tailored to that person at the right time in their journey, and their specific needs. Therefore, agencies and PPC really need to focus on their audience lists, and how to get specific and creative in targeting the right audiences for their brand.

Phil Norris, head of content

If your content strategy is based around identifying high-volume, low-competition keywords and creating articles or guides to target them, then it’s time for a change. Digital marketers are constantly preaching about putting the audience front and centre, but are failing to do that when they create content that’s targeted at keywords, rather than actual people.

For that reason, in 2018 we’re going to see a much greater focus on long-form content (specifically articles around the 1,500-word mark or longer) that tackle themes or subjects, instead of short to mid-length blogs hammered out in a couple of hours featuring various iterations of a key search term.

It’s the difference between an in-depth guide on the wider theme of 'how to write a blog', and an article that just targets the word 'blog' (and related terms) over and over again. The former may not hit as many high-volume keywords, but we can guarantee it’ll be more helpful to your audience, which means better engagement metrics and more shares.

Founded in 2008, Return works with a broad portfolio of clients, including In the Style, Robinsons Brewery and Goodwin Smith.

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Return was born in September 2008 with one simple aim: to maximise our clients' return on digital.

The digital world has seen extraordinary changes since...

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