7 Digital Marketing Trends to watch in 2017 and beyond

I’m fresh back from vacation, so it’s time to roll up those sleeves and dive deep into 2017, which will be an exciting year especially now that we’re part of the awesome Ruder Finn family. (In case you haven’t seen the news yet.)

Here’s a look at my predictions for what will matter most to digital marketers in 2017 and beyond.
Dark Social
First coined by Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic, Dark Social refers to social sharing not on semi-public platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, but messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and WeChat, and of course Facebook Messenger.

This shift to person-to-person and closed group sharing is a massive trend, with some estimates claiming over 60% of people share exclusively in Dark Social. Anecdotally we’ve all seen it happen: I now share much more with friends and family on WhatsApp than Facebook. It’s more intimate, you’re not bombarded by sponsored messages, and there’s no danger that your personal conversations are stored and analyzed on a server somewhere.

End-to-end encryption will be the norm, ensuring that private conversations stay that way. Content marketing will rely less on social platforms and more on private sharing, using tracking codes similar to UTM to track every piece of content as it is passed around, whether it’s a blog post, whitepaper, magazine article, or online video.

Immersive Storytelling
It seemed every year was going to be the year VR took off, but in 2016 we might have finally seen critical mass, with the launch of Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR.

Sino Group, a Daylight client, became the first property developer in Hong Kong to create a VR mini-movie, VR@SaiKung, and Digital Domain, another Daylight client began sending out tens of thousands of Google Cardboard VR viewers to fans. You may know Digital Domain as the Hollywood special effects house responsible for the CG effects in blockbusters like Transformers, Avengers, Fast & Furious, and many more.

As VR becomes more mature and accepted, we will see it move in exciting new directions such as short-form dramas.
In 2017 we expect to see Augmented Reality (AR), or Mixed Reality (MR), come to the fore with Microsoft Hololens coming out of development, and while the jury is still out on Magic Leap, it is indisputably one of the most well-funded stealth startups at US$4.5 billion and counting.

Brands will continue to dabble in holograms for campaigns, following the VR model, beginning with OOH activations, gradually moving to individual headsets as they become more popular.

In the same way that robots have taken over much of manual labour, software is gradually taking over white collar fields as well, including digital marketing.

Chatbots, first made popular by Facebook’s launch of their chat API in April 2016, will increase in prominence in 2017 and beyond. Customer service, e-commerce – even Facebook fan engagement – will be more than adequately served by chatbots.

This month, Daylight helped Pacific Place, one of Hong Kong’s most premium retail malls, create their Christmas Chatbot on Facebook Messenger, answering fan enquiries about their Christmas campaign as well as playing simple games.

I’d hate to add another buzzword by calling it Conversational Marketing, but this is a trend we cannot afford to ignore.

Social VR
VR as a way to share unique, real-time experiences with tens of thousands of individuals will start to take off, aided by native support for VR viewing in platforms such as YouTube and Youku.

Digital Domain broadcast the world’s first real-time VR concert on 30 December, featuring Chinese pop superstar Faye Wong. Other events will surely follow, including sports.

With data rates at 100 megabits per second for mobile users, 5G, expected to start rolling out in 2020, will accelerate Social VR even further. We will soon see social chatrooms and completely virtual events where each spectator may be hundreds of kilometres apart, yet share in an experience as if they are in the same room.

Micro KOLs
Influencer marketing has risen in importance and become a key part of any social strategy, but engagement rates are steadily falling. Many Instagrammers and YouTubers have been accused of being shills for hire, eroding their influence and fan enthusiasm.

In 2017 we will see the appearance of Influencer Mapping tools adept at discovering Micro KOLs, who are influencers within niche areas with followers in the hundreds or thousands, instead of hundreds of thousands or millions.

Replacing the brute force approach of paying huge dollars for celebrity KOLs, marketers will migrate to Micro KOLs with a passionate and loyal following within a specific niche.

Predictive Analytics
Analytical tools will emerge that finally achieve the Holy Grail of predicting a shift in consumer sentiment as soon as they happen, giving brands a head start in managing events with a significant impact on their reputation.

While sentiment analysis is nothing new, Asia, with its multitude of languages and geographies, has made it challenging to develop sentiment detection with acceptable accuracy.

With the maturation of Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology combining AI and linguistics, aided by large corporations like Google making their NLP tools available to developers everywhere, we expect to see predictive analytics become an essential part of every marketer’s toolbox this year.

Emotional Conversion
We constantly talk about the necessity for brands to have an authentic voice, but in this post-truth era of media, is that enough?
The story of the year in marketing, of course, was the rise of fake news and how it can lead to individuals making decisions and forming opinions that defy logic and reason.

Emotional conversion is a form of halo effect that leads to perceptions of an individual or brand not correlated with reality. Marketers have pursued emotional conversion since the dawn of marketing; you might even say it’s the essence of advertising.
What’s different today is how social media has polarized opinions via its echo chamber effect. In 2017 we will see a backlash against fake news and its effects. Online tools will emerge that enable consumers to verify the authenticity of any content, on the fly.

Wrangling Facebook content marketing

Facebook has incredibly high penetration across most parts of Asia, so wrestling with this beast is a fact of life for digital marketers. But their dominant market position also means they don’t always have to listen to you, as any marketer who has opened a customer service ticket with them will know.

Here are some common questions about working with Facebook, and how you can make them work for you.

Understand how Facebook works. This is a massive platform that is tweaked daily, with reams of data in their Insights module that tells you everything you need to know about how your fans interact with your page. Engagement is measured not just by social actions (Likes, Comments, Shares) but by how long they view your post, how long it takes them away from Facebook, and so on.  Video engagement is measured arbitrarily, learn how Facebook defines it. Learn how to interpret the data, and you will have answers to all the common questions you as a marketer need to ask, such as Who is my audience? When is the best time to reach them? What kind of content do they like/dislike? Where are they located?

Accept that you have to pay for exposure. Marketers often forget that Facebook doesn’t work for you. They are not here to help you sell, they are here to benefit from the eyeballs that the Facebook experience delivers, so they can sell ads. For brands, Facebook offers a variety of advertising tools that increase your reach, but at the end of the day, if your content is uninspiring or overly self-serving, no amount of post boosting is going to help you. Therefore…

There’s only one best way to increase Reach. Make better content. It’s that simple. Sometimes I tell people our agency is not really a social agency, we are a content publisher. Want better SEO? Create better content. Want more eyeballs on Facebook? Create compelling content. Want more engagement? Create content that consumers want to share. Hire people that understand how to deliver clickworthy (not clickbait) content. Hire ex-journalists that know how to tell a story. Forget about gaming Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm, instead focus on making content that your audience wants to share, like and comment on. Reach and engagement will take care of themselves. (Mostly, but you still got to pay for advertising, unfortunately, because they have to keep NASDAQ:FB up there!)


Photo credit: Brian Taylor for AdWeek

Five Ways to Make WeChat Work for YOU

WeChat is big. With over 400 million monthly active users, it’s a juggernaut that’s crushing all other social apps in China (at least until the next big shiny thing comes along).

Marketers are already devising creative ways to build on what started out as a messaging app, but is now a platform that encompassing gaming, e-commerce, post-sales service, brand communication, universal ID, and who knows what next.

How do you make the most of it?

Let’s start with the basics: five tips to remember.

Be compelling. WeChat is not Weibo, it’s even more of an interactive, two-way conversation and that’s what your friends expect, or they will drop you very quickly. To attract and keep them, you have to sustain their interest with compelling, relevant content. You must make it their loss if they unfollow you. Your friends cannot tell how popular you are, unlike Weibo, so their only reason to follow you is your content stream, past and future. Earn their trust and don’t lose it. Compelling content means useful, multi-channel, and personal. Don’t be afraid to go long if you have to, in fact it’s appreciated when done right.

Be informed. WeChat changes all the time. New services are constantly being added, new rules installed. For example, recently Tencent announced that personal accounts now have a limit of 5000 friends. If you have already have more, your Moments will only be seen by a random subset of your friends. Rules change all the time. Service accounts used to be allowed to post once a month, now it’s once a week. Make sure you are always up to speed.

Be creative. Tencent wants you to succeed. Why? Because the more ways marketers can find to use WeChat, the longer they’ll stay with the platform. So with every new feature, such as WeChat Login or additions to the API, don’t be afraid to push the envelope. I’m firmly convinced that the ultimate WeChat marketing case study is yet to appear.

Be careful. China is no slacker when it comes to enforcing against what it considers unsavory content on the Internet. This means you can push the envelope, but stay away from content that even remotely touches politics, or any other topic that the government considers sensitive. I know, it’s a moving target, but nobody said it would be easy.

Be trustworthy. Tencent wants WeChat to avoid the fate of Weibo and similar platforms that have lost their momentum, so they work hard to clamp down on over-aggressive marketing tactics, unscrupulous actions, and misleading claims. They also routinely sweep their user base for fake accounts, which can account for those sudden drops in friend numbers within a day. Help WeChat help you.