It's the time of year when brands pause to take analyze the successes the past twelve months have brought and begin looking to the future for new ways to hone their digital strategies. Planning effectively for the future means having clear insight into the technologies, behaviors, and consumer expectations that will define the coming year.
Below we dive into four digital trends that will have a big impact on the digital sphere in 2018.
Voice Search; A Force To Be Reckoned With
2017 was the year that the importance and influence of conversational interfaces crystallized. The pace of adoption of connected speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home was impressive in 2017 and shows no signs of slowing down in the year to come. Data published by eMarketer estimates that 24.5 million connected speakers will ship by the end of the year and pegs the U.S. household penetration at 13.8% by the end of 2018. Adoption of connected speakers means that a growing number of U.S. households are being introduced to the voice assistants that power these devices.
Voice assistants and chatbots are poised to have a significant impact on the way users engage with information on the web. From purely search perspective, voice assistants mean that (ideally) users are presented with a single correct answer to their query, eliminating the plethora of options presented via text-based search. Content marketers will have to start adapting their strategies to focus on this new way of searching if they hope to compete in an increasingly voice-driven landscape.
From a commerce perspective, connected devices also put greater pressure on retailers to reduce friction in the path to purchase. The more consumers shop via conversational commerce, the more they will become accustomed to expect machines to do the work of sorting, sifting, and selecting products for them based on their specifications.
Video Is Essential
By now most brands are aware that the state of digital marketing is something of a content arms race. Creating quality content is absolutely essential in order to succeed in digital, but churning out the same content is almost as bad as doing nothing at all. The truth is that a multimedia approach to content is necessary if a brand's content is going to stand out from the competition. Videos are a core element of that multimedia strategy.
Time spent viewing videos on digital devices is growing every year, and is projected to be 1:22 per day on average in 2018 (eMarketer). For younger generations, digital video viewership is the norm, with 90% of millennials watching digital videos at least once per month. A handful of social feature launches -- Facebook Live and Instagram Stories -- in the past year have helped hasten a proliferation of video content.
All of this signals a demand for quality video content and an increased opportunity for video advertising. In fact, eMarketer estimates that video ad spending will reach $15.2 billion in 2018 -- an increase of roughly 16.5% from 2017. In 2018 many brands will be looking for opportunities both to create more engaging and authentic video content and to incorporate video as part of their advertising strategies.
Augmented Reality Is On The Rise
Augmented reality became a hot topic with the runaway success of Pokémon GO, which launched in summer 2016. The technology and its applications are far from frivolous though, even if they are often entertaining. The rapid mobile adoption of the past decade has paved the way to making AR accessible to a majority of the population, and that puts brands in the position of taking advantage of AR to connect with consumers in new ways.
2017 saw the launch of a handful of high-profile AR projects and collaborations. In September Swedish homewares giant, IKEA, launched IKEA Place. IKEA Place is an AR app built on Apple's ARKit, a framework that allows developers to build augmented reality apps for iPhone and iPad. With IKEA Place consumers can see how furniture and home decor will look in their home by selecting a product and holding up their phone to their surroundings.
Apple's ARKit and Google's ARcore are making it easier for developers to bring augmented reality apps to the market. This will lead to an increase in the number of AR apps available and encourage user experimentation with the technology. In 2018 brands should be looking for opportunities to use AR to improve customer experience in meaningful ways.
Personalization Is Key
Personalization is not a new trend by any means. It's been mentioned as a dominant digital marketing trend for several years now. And it's no wonder why -- according to survey data published by eMarketer, between 36% of marketers say personalization gives them a 1-10% sales lift, and 30% say they've seen lift between 10-20%.
Despite the fact that personalization is the word out of every marketer's lips, and that the evidence supports its positive impacts on sales, the majority of brands have yet to nail their personalization strategy, or even begin devising one in some cases. According to eMarketer, only 6% of marketers claim that their personalization initiatives are "advanced", versus 56% who say theirs are "in process", 28% who are just starting out, and 10% who are doing nothing at all.
Personalization has already become the norm for most consumers, even if brands haven't totally caught up. Spotify creates music playlists based on each consumers listening behavior on the platform. Google uses our past searches to predict what we'll want to know next. Netflix crunches viewing data to give us options in hyper-specific genres it already knows we like, greatly reducing the burden of searching and helping ensure users can reach the content they'll enjoy.
In other words, today's digital users are accustomed to personalized experiences, and they are beginning to demand them from the brands they shop and do business with.
This time of year there's always tremendous hype about what's next for the industry, and we can certainly expect exciting things in 2018. While brands shouldn't necessarily go out and invest in these technologies and changes all at once, it's important to stay on top of industry predictions if in order to avoid getting left behind by the competition. New trends present opportunities for forward-thinking companies to get ahead of the curve.