5 Things to Expect in the World of Digital Marketing in 2018-2019
It’s the nature of disruption that, sometimes, almost nobody sees it coming until it’s already here. The eventual effects of the demise of net neutrality, for instance, are likely to be huge, but anyone who tells you they know what exactly these will be is either a genius or a fool. Still, with a good deal of industry knowledge, some intuition and a healthy pinch of salt where hype is concerned, it is possible to make a few predictions that are likely to come true at least in a general sense. In no particular order, let’s take a moment to think about whether:
Affiliate Marketing will Continue to Be a Thing
Although even people who are intimately involved in digital commerce sometimes lose sight of first principles, the fact is that, at some point, money needs to change hands for this whole internet thing to keep working. In large part, this means advertising dollars, either from brick-and-mortar businesses with a digital footprint, or those that engage in some form of e-commerce. In the latter case, affiliate marketing will continue to be one of the dominant models in 2018 and beyond.
Plenty of vendors and publishers are currently a little disillusioned with the affiliate concept for reasons ranging from poor conversion rates to having unrealistic expectations to begin with. Affiliate marketing is by no means magic: if done well, it tends to succeed, but failing to ride the learning curve and invest the necessary time and money is almost guaranteed to lead to disappointment.
Recently, a whole slew of “me-too” affiliate websites have disappeared or lapsed into dormancy. This isn’t a sign of the impending demise of affiliate marketing, but rather the natural result of too many people climbing on the bandwagon and some falling off.
Going forward, we can expect to see affiliate marketers who offer real value to customers to pull even further ahead of the pack: content quality and product research will be more crucial than ever. From the other end, it’s likely that sophisticated vendor companies will start rewarding leads based on the expected lifetime value of a new customer, not that of an initial transaction or some arbitrary sum. Publishers who want to cash in on these kinds of opportunities will have to do their research; for instance, LeadNetwork.com, a payday loan affiliate program, offers $200+ per qualified lead instead of a dollar or so per low-performing click.
Youtube Is Good, but Customers Will Want more Live Streams
Video content has become an extremely valuable part of the digital marketer’s toolkit, whether we’re talking about SEO, visitor engagement or simple exposure. It’s well known that Youtube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world, but this also means that any given clip faces a huge amount of competition. It only takes one minute to scroll to page 5 of Google’s results, but few people will be willing to sample video after video until they finally get to yours.
Consumers expect a certain format and message type from TV ads, but the same principles don’t automatically translate to online video content. People – many of who will be watching on mobile devices – are increasingly looking for immediacy, interactivity and personalization. Instead of a canned message, they want to see real people and real interactions, which ideally means something that’s running live instead of a recording.
Consider which will improve a brand’s image more: a product launch in the form of a managed press conference, or a real-time Q & A session with actual users? If something goes wrong (and I’m thinking of United Airlines here), can a company’s reputation be better protected with a press release and a few tweets, or by a senior executive showing his human side on camera?
Obviously, live video won’t be replacing all the established methods of online reputation management, but a brand that incorporates it into their overall media strategy will automatically have a leg up on one that doesn’t.
The Line Between Customers and Communities will Start to Blur
In the past, the sales funnel was often described as if the customer was no more than a passive entity that had to be led from one stage to the next. If this was ever the case, it certainly isn’t any more: digitally connected customers actively seek out buying opportunities that appeal to them and click past those that don’t. They’re aware of their options, post and read reviews online and research not only products and prices, but companies.
Aside from small, impulsive purchases, the modern consumer tends to make considered buying decisions rather than choosing whatever option happens to be most convenient. There’s no longer any clearly defined path between awareness and action; rather, a complex set of factors, especially including social influence, play a role in making a buying decision.
This is increasingly being recognized by smart marketing managers. For one thing, whether a customer is interested in a cellphone plan or a box of breakfast cereal, they are now affected more than ever by the nebulous concept of the “trustworthiness” of the supplier. This means that the focus of marketing and advertising has to be broadened from merely turning prospects into conversions to presenting a community-friendly corporate image, not just to potential customers but also to everyone they interact with on social media and in daily life.
Message Emphasis will Shift
This particular trend has been gathering momentum for some time, but will most likely become a canonical part of marketing very soon. The basic idea is that advertising will stop talking about what something is and start emphasizing what it does.
When seeing an ad for a product, customers are now more likely to ask “What can I do with it?” than “What can it do?” The distinction is subtle but very important. One question is centered on the product itself: what features it boasts and what its specifications are. The other is all about the consumer: does it solve a problem, does it make life easier, do I need it?
This is already the norm where highly technical products are concerned. Only a small minority of consumers are interested in knowing how blockchain, cloud storage or RFID actually work. What matters is what problem these technologies solve at what price. This isn’t just the headline of the message, it’s the entire theme.
Marketing will Be Focused on Influencers, not End Users
The typical modern customer is likely to be sophisticated and cynical enough to realize that their interests and that of a salesman aren’t identical. Any claims made in advertising are likely to be viewed with ambivalence if not outright suspicion.
Getting subject matter experts (SMEs) to support you neatly sidesteps this obstacle. SMEs are independent commentators whose opinions people trust within their area of expertise. Many of them share their views through blogging, webinars or other digital media, and several of them have loyal followings of several thousand. Some of them work as paid consultants or present training on what they know.
The opportunity here is clear: convince one SME that your product offers value, and hopefully they will influence many hundreds of potential buyers in your favor. In a turbulent and disrupted marketplace with way too many options, people have confidence in their recommendations, which may cover not only which option is better in a generic sense, but also how it can benefit consumers with a specific need.
Another advantage of devoting marketing resources to SMEs is that messages to this audience don’t need to be simplified. They’ll be more interested in concrete information, such as white papers and dedicated training, than emotional appeals. Remember the courses Microsoft offered to resellers and installers from about 2000 onward? That is an excellent example of getting SMEs on side and working on your behalf.
Getting buy-in from these authorities can easily be seen as a sales function separate from those involving ordinary customers. There’s also the possibility of developing subject matter expertise in-house, for instance by having sales staff specialize in different industry verticals.