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Marketing moves at the speed of light … er, at least it feels that way when you’re brainstorming a new campaign or strategy, and all of a sudden, a new statistic or technology release changes everything.

On a yearly, quarterly, and even monthly basis, new trends and techniques pop up and transform the way we attract, connect with, and market to our audiences.

But keeping up with the changes isn’t quite enough. To succeed in this fast-paced marketing world, you have to stay ahead of the game. That’s why we created this guide — influenced by some of our very own HubSpot experts — so you can bookmark and return to the most important marketing trends of 2018, time and time again.

Why Follow Marketing Trends?

If a certain marketing strategy or approach has consistently worked for your business, why change it? This just involves more time and energy, right?

Yes, but it’s worth it.

Marketing trends evolve for good reason. Google employees don’t sit around and say, “We’re bored. Let’s change up the algorithm of the search results page for fun.”

Nope. Changes in the marketing world happen because consumers change the way they shop, research, and spend their time and money … and changes in consumer behavior and priorities directly influence how they respond to marketing and advertising efforts.

Staying up-to-date on (and ahead of) trends helps your company save precious time and money and ensures you’re marketing to the right people who are in your target audience … and ready to buy.

So, sticking to your “reliable” marketing strategy might be cheaper in the short-term, but listening and responding to marketing trends will actually save you money and keep your business relevant in the long-run.

More so, digital marketing changes practically every day. It is the internet, of course. And if you’re not marketing on the internet, you’re already far behind the curve, my friend.

2018 Marketing Trends

Marketing refers to a wide range of activities that promote and advocate for a brand, so the term “marketing trends” is pretty vague. That’s why we’ve organized this section by the type of marketing, as you’ll see below.

Lots of things change in the marketing world, but we’ve chosen one or two for each section that we believe will best equip your business to succeed.

General Marketing Trends

Customers as Marketers

The marketing funnel is no more, my friends. Today, the flywheel — and a subsequent focus on service — have replaced the one-way direction of the funnel.

marketing-trends-flywheel

In the world of the marketing funnel, customers were an afterthought. Once they became a paying customer, businesses considered them obsolete — until, of course, it was time re-sign that contract.

The flywheel, on the other hand, places the customer in the center. Since word-of-mouth marketing is the single most powerful marketing tactic, it’s wise to not only serve your customers but also equip them to become advocates for your brand. The flywheel illustrates this process: excellent service as its own marketing strategy.

What does this mean for your business? Place a heavy emphasis on customer service. Train and equip your customer service team to not only handle requests and problems but also delight and empower your customers.

Content Marketing Trends

All kinds of businesses in all kinds of industries are starting blogs, investing in content marketing resources, and paying for content-related advertisements. Why? Because 47% of buyers viewed three to five pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep, and 70% of people would rather learn about new products through content than traditional advertising.

But contributing to a blog isn’t quite enough in today’s content dog-eat-dog world. To ensure your content is as effective and accessible as possible, you must pay attention to what type of content resonates most with your buyer persona.

Video Content

Video as a marketing tactic isn’t a new idea, but its effectiveness and popularity have definitely skyrocketed in the last year. In fact, YouTube is the second most popular social network behind Facebook. Also, when both video and text are available on the same page, 72% of people would rather use video to learn about a product or service.

The heightened impact of and interest in video means that the investment you put into video will pay off — literally. In the past, companies would create video and hope it reached and influenced its audience. Now, consumers and followers are literally begging for more video from their favorite organizations.

Alicia Collins and Megan Conley, video producers and editors at HubSpot, weigh in: “This [consumer behavior] also indicates that video can be used throughout all parts of the flywheel — not just as an asset for marketing. When incorporating video, businesses have historically used it as a means of introducing their brand and product or service offerings. But that’s not the case anymore. Video can be a valuable addition to both sales and customer service efforts.”

In the past, video was limited due to costly resources and production. Today, it’s much more accessible. With a lower cost barrier, video has become less intimidating to incorporate into your marketing efforts. You don’t have to hire a production team or marketing agency; all you need is a smartphone and editing software.

What does this mean for your business? Create video! Start at the bottom-of-the-funnel and create video assets for your sales and service representatives. “Video as a conversion asset versus a brand awareness asset is much more valuable and yields a higher ROI,” Alicia and Megan report.

These videos can also be lower quality and still as effective, meaning a smartphone and decent lighting is all you need to connect with your audience. For more information on how to use video for your business, check out our guide here.

Native Advertising

When your brand pays to feature content on a third-party website, you’re investing in native advertising. The point of native advertising is to naturally, organically advertise your brand or product within another environment, such as a publication, video, or graphic. Unlike traditional advertising, which is designed to interrupt and stand out, native advertising is designed to blend in and promote your brand to a new audience.

Native advertising has been around half a decade, but campaigns are still as successful as ever, if not more. Because they don’t “feel” like traditional ads, consumers are more likely to consume and explore native advertising efforts. In fact, consumers view native ads over 50% more than banner ads.

Buzzfeed is a popular publication and blog that routinely partners with brands for native advertising. In the example below, Google Home has published content on back-to-school recipes, and the only mention of the brand is in the byline. Google Home is advertising their product by incorporating their brand into otherwise native content.

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Source: Buzzfeed

What does this mean for your business? Native advertising isn’t new, but it’s still just as effective. It shouldn’t replace all content marketing efforts, but it should definitely be added to or upped as part of your overall marketing strategy. Look for publications that are relevant to your brand, such as HuffPost for lifestyle brands or Entrepreneur or Inc. for business or B2B brands. The process of publishing native advertising content is typically pretty straightforward, as long as your content isn’t blatantly promotional.

Social Media Marketing Trends

According to the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), social media spending will account for almost 20% of marketing budgets in the next 5 years.

Social is an important part of every business’s marketing strategy. It allows brands to connect authentically with their audience and provides a fun, informal outlet to let brand personality and character to shine through.

It’s also an ever-changing medium, and it’s important to stay up-to-date with the ever-changing trends and best practices.

Permanent vs. Ephemeral Content

Not all social media is created equal. Different content types and lengths perform better on Facebook than Twitter, and some platforms encourage hashtags while others don’t.

And now, in 2018, Instagram and Facebook Stories have created another new type of content: temporary. Instagram and Facebook Stories are photos and videos that live for 24 hours then disappear “forever”. (Not really … there’s an Instagram Archive where all your Stories reside after they expire. But you get the gist.)

Kelly Hendrickson, a social media marketer at Hubspot, says: “Ephemeral content versus permanent content is often dictated by the social platform, as well as by the audience's behavior on the platform.”

Take Instagram, for example. “Stories are soaring in popularity, and the user behavior on Stories leans toward playful, low-fi, quick content with heavy use of features within the UX (gifs, boomerangs, polls, etc). Their fleeting design isn’t the only differentiating factor. Instagram Stories can be heavily edited, too, with filters, GIFs, colored text, and more. Because of these fun additions, brands have added a brand new strategy for producing and publishing ephemeral content that varies from their other social media content.”

Permanent content is a little different. “Instagram can organically serve up a wall post across a wide span of time, so there is less of an opportunity for brands to be timely (who wants to see New Year's post when they’ve already given up on their resolutions?!). Since Instagram users are more active on weekdays, during the standard workday, it seems users are looking for a break! It’s critical to use your brand voice and point-of-view to find how you can serve your audience during that break. Should your presence be inspirational? Beautiful? Informative? Playful? Trendy? They all have a place on Instagram’s permanent wall, it just needs to match your brand’s message.”

What does this mean for your business? Instagram and Facebook stories are a chance to showcase a little more of your brand’s personality and flair. Kelly says, “The combo of a running clock and a lively audience is a huge opportunity for brands to lean into quick, in-the-moment content that showcases the more light-hearted elements of their brand. Succinctness and clarity are key in content.”

Don’t shy away from adding new content just because you haven’t done so before … it’ll expire in 24 hours, anyway! For more information on creating Instagram (and Facebook) Stories, read our guide here.

Micro-Influencers

Influencers play a major role in modern marketing, but their influence isn’t limited to major celebrities and big brand names. Micro-influencers have found their niche in the social media world, too.

Micro-influencers are social media promoters that have smaller following, typically between 100,000 and 1 million. These folks might have a smaller follower base, but their posts pack more punch due to their engagement levels. Also, because they’re considered “average” and “everyday” people (unlike hard-to-reach celebrities), people view micro-influencers like friends and family — in that they’re more likely to trust their recommendations.

Rosie, known as The Londoner, is a popular travel and lifestyle influencer on Instagram. She only has 340,000 followers, but they’re fiercely loyal and engaged with her posts. The below image shows that: with almost 36,000 likes, Rosie is garnering almost 11% engagement.

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Source: Instagram

Here’s another example: Non-celebrity beauty influencer @ling.kt only has 1.2 million followers … but it’s a much more dedicated, engaged follower base. In the below image, Ling mentions a brand partnership and receives over 103,000 likes — which is almost 10% engagement.

 marketing-trends

Source: Instagram

Micro-influencers are the future of influencer marketing. It’s tempting to look at the number of followers to determine how influential a user is, but the true influence lives in engagement rates. Micro-influencers deliver engagement (read: clicks, subscribes, and purchases), drive social buzz through more personal posts, and are much more cost effective.

What does this mean for your business? Don’t be swayed by high follower numbers. Instead, hop on Instagram and do some research on who’s active in your industry or niche. Search your brand hashtag and any generic hashtags related to your product or brand. A micro-influencers follower base might be small, but they’re loyal and interested in what that influencer has to say. Paying for a post or two will go a long way with those users.

Search Marketing Trends

61% of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority. Are you one of these marketers? If so, have you figured out how exactly you plan to improve your SEO and organic presence?

We encourage you to start with the trends below. Optimizing for the following consumer behavior will help your business become more discoverable online.

Voice Search

Let me guess — you’ve used Siri, Alexa, Cortana, or Google Assistant in the last month or so. Am I right? Probably, because digital and voice-based assistants have taken over the world … or, at least how we search for and consume information.

Lately, digital assistants have accounted for a greater number of search queries than ever. Not only do they answer very short informational queries, such as “Who is the actor in Mission Impossible?” and “What’s the weather in Boston today?”, but they’ve also started to process more local, customized searches. These are typically like, “Where’s a nearby coffee shop I can work from today?”, “How late is it open?”, and “Do they serve iced coffee?”

Because of this emerging behavior, businesses need to respond and change the way they frame information. Instead of catering to Google’s manual search algorithm, content should be framed around questions.

What does this mean for your business? Aja Frost, an SEO strategist for HubSpot, says: “Businesses should look at a topic and say ‘What questions could users ask about this?’ Then, they should plan sub-topics accordingly and look for opportunities to insert questions as headers. This will allow voice assistants to easily grab questions and recognize content as solutions.”

Aja also encourages businesses to look for featured snippet opportunities, which are the information previews Google provides when users search for definitions or questions. Voice assistants typically pull responses from these boxes.

Mobile-First Indexing

48% of consumers start mobile research with a search engine, and the first position on Google search results on mobile has a 31.35% click-through rate.

It goes without saying that mobile usage is skyrocketing, especially for search queries and research. Due to this, businesses should ensure their website is discoverable and readable via mobile devices — both smartphones and tablets. Website speed is also becoming important as Google prioritizes better performing websites in their search engine results pages (SERPs).

What does this mean for your business? If you’re not already, get familiar with how to design and optimize your website for mobile use. This typically requires a responsive design — meaning your website will “respond” and change its design and layout as users access it on their desktop versus their smartphone. For more information on this, check out our guide here.

Technology in Marketing Trends

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

In general terms, artificial intelligence refers to a subset of computer science that teaches machines to do things that would require intelligence if done by a human. Think of tasks like learning, seeing, talking, socializing, reasoning, or problem-solving. When completed by computers, they’re considered AI.

AI has completely infiltrated our daily lives and tasks. When Spotify recommends a song, Facebook recognizes and tags a person, or you text a friend using Siri, you’re tapping into AI. As we utilize AI more and more (especially as consumers), marketers and businesses will need to respond.

The point of AI isn’t to replace humans or the need for a human touch. It’s to improve and expand our ability to connect with our audience and help them solve their problems quicker and more thoroughly. In fact, authenticity in marketing is more important than ever to consumers. AI is also incredibly helpful when collecting and analyzing data and making data-driven decisions.

What does this mean for your business? Research ways you can incorporate AI into your business and marketing operations — not only to better serve your consumers but to also make your life easier. For more information on AI, read our guide here.

Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR)

Virtual reality is viewing a computer-generated, lifelike scenario. Augmented reality is viewing the real world augmented with visual, haptic, olfactory or visual additions. VR and AR offer different experiences, but both are making waves in the marketing world in 2018.

And they’re affecting your lives, too. Ever watched a 360° video on Facebook? That’s VR. What about IKEA’s IKEA PLACE app that helps you visualize virtual furniture in your very real room? That’s AR. 

 Right now, VR and AR are being used to supplement and improve customer experiences online and at events. In the future, though, marketers will need to integrate VR and AR into their marketing efforts … or risk falling behind. Marketers thus far have been slow to adopt this trend due to pricey equipment and bulky headsets, but as VR glasses and AR apps become more accessible, businesses can expect to add this technology to their marketing strategy.

What does this mean for your business? VR and AR might not be necessary for your business and marketing strategy today, but you should definitely start thinking about it. The near future could bring about a mass adoption of VR glasses — not unlike smartphones or tablets. And if everyone has one, your business must, too. For more information, check our out guides on VR and AR.

Chatbots

More than half of consumers expect a response within 10 minutes to any marketing, sales, or customer service inquiry. How can this be humanly possible?

It’s not … for humans, anyway. Enter: Bots.

Bots are powered by a computer program that automates certain tasks, typically by chatting with a user through a conversational interface. Bots are made possible by artificial intelligence, which helps it to understand complex requests, personalize responses, and improve interactions over time.

Bots provide quick, easy solutions to problems — no matter how complex. No longer is the need for live chat or a literal one-to-one digital conversation. Bots provide the perception and dedication of a 1:1 service experience while working with hundreds of customers — something that no customer service representative or team would ever be able to do.

To the consumers who hate repeating themselves to multiple sales or service representatives (33%, to be exact), listen up. Chatbots are and will be making your lives much easier. If employed correctly, they manage conversations at scale and aggregate data from multiple sources of data — from calendars to knowledge bases to blog posts and videos. 


What does mean for your business?
Jon Dick, VP of Marketing at HubSpot, says: “It’s on you to make things as easy as possible. Your buyers want to use live chat? You should give it to them. They’ve had the same problem three times in the last month? You should already know, and have a plan to fix it.”

Not sure how to breach the subject of chatbots? Read our guide here … and keep an eye out for future HubSpot products that might help. *wink*

Privacy in Marketing Trends

In the marketing world, data is valuable currency … and not just valuable to you, as a marketer or business owner. Whether their email address, credit card information, or smartphone location, consumers also view their data as precious and privileged.

And it’s your responsibility to take care of it.

GDPR

Whether a software company, bank, government agency, or lemonade stand, each and every business operates using data. It’s the lifeblood of all things marketing, sales, service, and more.

And hackers know it. When data breaches happen, precious information is siphoned into the wrong hands, leading to untrustworthy businesses and exploited consumers.

That’s why the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was enacted in May of this year. The GDPR is an effort by the EU to give greater control to consumers over their data. Under the GDPR, organizations must ensure that their data is collected legally and safely and that those who collect and manage said data will protect it and respect consumers’ rights.

Following the GDPR guidelines might seem like a burden, but being fined for non-compliance will feel much heavier; fines range from 10 million euros to 4% of a company's annual global revenue. Is this a risk you want to take?

What does this mean for your business? Do your research! Read our GDPR guide and peruse our GDPR checklist to ensure your business is compliant.

Over to You

You’re up to speed … for now. If your current campaigns and advertising don’t align with these trends, don’t fret. Slowly apply these changes to your marketing efforts, and be sure all of your activities are compliant and legal.

As long as you’re keeping a thumb on the pulse of current marketing trends — and remain open to change — you and your business will never fall behind.

Originally published Aug 21, 2018 6:00:00 AM, updated September 18 2018

Topics:

Marketing Trends