The changes we’ve seen in digital advertising are monumental – and they won’t be stopping any time soon. To keep one step ahead of the game, we’re looking at some of the biggest ‘ones to watch’ for 2018.

Last year brought with it some huge changes. Mobile web, AI, VR and the rise of online video content exploded onto the scene, and for the first time ever, digital ad spend surpassed traditional TV. Although this phenomenon was hard to predict, the future of the ad world is certain – digital will continue to grow. The power and need of brilliantly natural but innovative content has never been more apparent.

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Voice-activated search

The explosion of the smart speaker industry came as a surprise last year, with an unexpected 20 million plus units sold. And it’s reported that by 2022, smart speakers will be a staple part of more than 55% of consumers’ households. In fact, voice-activated search is already attributed to 20% of all Google queries today. Google Home, Alexa and Cortana have made their way into millions of consumers’ homes in the last year, with 40% of adults now using voice search at least once a day.

Apple’s HomePod is next to join the collection of virtual assistants (Feb 9th), built purely to take our commands, answer our questions, and learn more about us with every word spoken. And with all these new devices, comes new opportunities for brands. It offers a completely new and innovative way to reach consumers on a different level; one that puts more emphasis on the need to produce great content.

Understandably, consumers are becoming accustomed to interfaces that require no visual surface or physical input, and the way they communicate with these devices is very different to your traditional Google search. Queries are more natural and conversational, we ask full questions and expect thorough responses.

This will have a huge impact on SEO; and it is a matter of time until smart speakers appear as an item in digital marketing budgets in the same way that brands have had to adjust and evolve to social, or implement effective SEO as mobile and desktop iterations. Marketers will need to strategise and think about the differences between how users can get to the best results for both types of searches, as well as investing in better, rich content, rather than tons of PPC.

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Intelligent social advertising

With 60% of all internet traffic being accounted to mobile, and social media usage being heavily dominated by mobile, it’s no wonder native social media advertising via mobile is taking the lead in digital ad formats.

With this dominance, comes the need to adapt and evolve the way marketers are targeting social media consumers. Native advertising is expected to drive more than 74 percent of all ad revenue by 2021, with a more natural placement and formatting, gaining them much more exposure and engagement than traditional banner ads.

We predict ephemeral content will provide the best engagement rate as we push into 2018, allowing brands to be more authentic with their content, in real time. Instead of one strategy, brands will have a separate plan for their ephemeral content marketing.

“Content that is short lived is thought to be more authentic in 2018, versus sponsored ads or spam posts that last longer and push customers into making purchases.”

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Demographic targeting has, for a very long time, been the primary way to break down, categorise and reach specific target audiences on social. But those days are numbered. The way brands can target audiences today has evolved so much that we can choose to show an ad to someone based what they’re searching for, what they’re buying and selling, what they like and dislike, what times and places they’re online, and even how they prefer to consume adverts.

In just a few nanoseconds, our online footprint can be analysed using artificial intelligence engrained in our social channels, to customise messages in that moment. Therefore, marketers should utilise this new, advanced data and information the best they can to ensure their advertising is as relevant to their target market as possible. Hit people at the right time, with the right message, because now more than ever, your audience are expecting nothing less.

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Chatbots

We’ve become a particularly impatient bunch, especially when it comes to communicating with brands – our expectations are high. We need answers to our questions, responses to our complaints and recognition for our compliments.

Last year alone, Facebook reported over 100,000 monthly active Chatbots on Messenger, which all offer a whole new platform for brands to connect with customers. Bots are a fantastic method to help answer consumers’ questions without the lengthy waits. They bridge the gap between brands and consumers in ways that no other marketing platform can do, improving efficiencies in online customer service, specifically in the finance sector, and also boosting sales conversions in recent months.

In 2018, we’re going to witness the emergence of some seriously talented virtual helpers, so when using chatbots as part of your online customer service, it’s crucial to ensure yours is just 1) intelligent and 2) tried and tested. After all, there’s nothing more irritating than speaking to a clunky robot machine that doesn’t understand you.

They can be used to answer basic customer requests, like delivering order status updates, scheduling appointments and providing simple automated services out of hours. But as bots become smarter and more human-like, you can customise your brand voice and send personalised messages directly to users to improve brand-consumer relationships.

However, the one challenge facing the bot industry for 2018, will be striking the perfect right balance between automation and human interaction during customer engagement. If your business is yet to implement a Chatbot strategy, we would recommend starting small and building Chatbot technology into your social communications first. Brands like Whole Foods and Nat Geo have seen great successes in this already, both for campaign and always on communications.

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Influencers

It’s no surprise that content marketing, with the explosion of social advertising, is becoming well and truly oversaturated, as brands fight to secure an array of celebrity endorsers. Although the market’s flooded, it shows no sign of slowing down, which means the way brands are currently recruiting and working with influencers must become more intelligent.

With the emergence of so many bloggers and influencers, it’s become much more accessible for any brand to use internet celebrities to advertise their products and services. However, people are losing faith in the celebrity endorsement factor, and instead they put more trust in ‘regular internet users’ and ‘experts’ who interact and engage with the brand organically.

Users and consumers are savvy. They know when an influencer has been hired or paid for promotional purposes only, they’ll be quick to criticise if the influencer doesn’t show true authenticity and transparency. Therefore, the future lies with brands turning to real experts – and staying away from influencers that could harm their brand. Building greater relationships with trusted influencers or experts who care for your brand ensures they become the best kind of brand advocate to influence your customers.

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Pansexual Marketing

Pansexual marketing is a term we use to describe an advertising campaign or strategy that aims to promote a product or service to a customer base that see past gender and gender stereotypes; and with sexual fluidity on the rise as a result of growth in cultural awareness and acceptance of bisexuality, we predict to see more advertisers introducing gender-neutral marketing campaigns and content in 2018.

The sole purpose of this approach is to break down the barriers between sexes, and instead recognise consumers as individuals first, and men and women second. Reports have shown that almost 40% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers “strongly agree” that gender no longer defines a person as much as it used to. It’s true that the days of blue for a boy and pink for a girl are on the way out (although John Lewis’ attempt to incorporate dinosaurs onto girls’ clothing still seemed to irritate a loud minority).

“The importance of pansexual marketing should not be understated.”

We’ve learnt that Millennials are by far the least conservative generation to date in terms of gender roles, with an increase, for example, of recognition for gender-fluid and transsexual persons, and a breakdown of gender-aggressive stereotypes.

While there will be some exceptions with gender-specific products, brands will be most successful in future campaigns when they soften gender constructs and bring forward brand stories that appeal to any gender. Advertisers should keep it at the forefront of their minds to avoid force-feeding gender stereotypes onto their customers moving forward, and to look for a neutral stance in their campaigns if applicable.

2018 is sure looking to be an extremely exciting year for brands and consumers alike. We think one of the most important points to take away from this forecast is the need for brands to produce really awesome, rich content which they can use as a thread to sow each of the above together. It’s going to be this quality of content that makes the customer’s experience tighter, better and more efficient.

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