5 Marketing Trends for the year ahead

2018 looks set to balance more technology with more humanity in marketing. Augmented reality, artificial intelligence and voice tech drive hyper-personalised and even individualised targeting, while influencer marketing expands into the virtual realm. But brands will also zone in even more on emotion and social purpose as we see the seeds of optimism start to sprout.

Event marketing gets even bigger

Research into millennials’ spending choices shows they would rather buy experiences and events than products. Brands are still figuring out how to tap into this shift – Refinery29 has the 29rooms series of events in the US, for example.

Like its cousin experiential marketing, event marketing taps into the cultural epidemic that is FOMO (that’s fear of missing out, for the uninitiated). It’s hands-on, authentic and participatory, building trust with your audience by showing the human face of your brand. Partnerships with creatives like musicians and artists add kudos and help build a sense of community.

Influencer marketing is only going to grow

At the very start of the year, media giant Viacom acquired ‘influencer marketing shop’ Whosay, showing the value of professional, brand-safe and authentic influencers. Microinfluencers will continue to grow in importance – their access to valuable niche audiences can’t be underestimated. And brands will be keen to cement long term partnerships with members of Generation Alpha – yes, there are 0-7 year olds with huge social media followings.

Where the really exciting developments are, however, is on that blurry line between reality and fantasy. It’s not exactly a new concept – Gorillaz have been around for 20 years, after all – but marketers are now explore the potential of fictional characters like Lil Miquela. More and more sophisticated, they’re easier to control than actual humans and can be placed in any context. What’s more, audiences (at least some of them) don’t seem to mind not knowing exactly who’s pulling the strings.

The rise of AI, AR and voice tech

Research from mixed reality specialists DigitalBridge found half of consumers would be more likely to shop with a brand that offered access to visual technology, rising to 69% among 18-24 year olds. Now that augmented reality tech is available in the form of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore, consumers fully expect retail brands to make AR apps available. With mobile AR users set to reach almost a billion by 2020, this is one trend you won’t be able to ignore.

The use of artificial intelligence to enhance user experience with predictive analytics and personalised targeting (thanks, big data) is changing the face of marketing. Chatbots are getting smarter, as are image recognition tools, and you can now have everything from clothes to packaging for chocolate spread designed by an algorithm.

Voice is another area to expect significant expansion this year. ComCore predicts 50% of mobile searches will be facilitated by voice by 2020. Optimising for voice search will become a focus, as will hyper-targeting using emotional analytics.

Embrace self-expression, optimism and purpose

Empowerment and self-expression are the keywords here. Interbrand’s Jez Frampton coined the phrase the ‘Age of You’ in 2014, but now we really understand what it means. This trend is all about enabling the individual to see their own potential and empowering them to live the way they want to live. It’s about digging deeper into consumers’ emotional drivers to sell your product.

At the same time, brands are coming under greater pressure to take a social and political stand. It can be tricky to get right – It’s important that purpose relates back to your brand, as consumers will see through attempts to adopt a stance for the sake of it. A sense of optimism is emerging, which taps into a desire to live better and make positive lifestyle changes.

Soaking up social video

Instagram Stories is blowing Snapchat out of the water, with businesses rushing to take advantage of Instagram’s community of more than 300 million daily users. The rising popularity of ‘ephemeral content’ sees audiences looking for more unstaged, authentic video from brands. More and more brands are using their Instagram profile for their best content and Stories for real-time engagement, according to Smart Insights. In terms of longer form TV style content, Facebook Watch is the one to keep an eye on, although it will have its work cut out to carve a niche in an increasingly saturated space. Either way, video content will need to be great quality and engaging to grab fatigued users’ attention in 2018.