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.

Chatbots
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.

Let VR make zoos obsolete

Like many people online, I was distressed and angered by news of Harambe the western lowland gorilla who was shot dead at the Cincinnati Zoo just one day after his 17th birthday, for the actions of a neglectful parent who allowed her four-year-old toddler to slip through the barrier and fall into the enclosure. Michelle Gregg, the parent, has been defiant and unapologetic in a Facebook post, calling it an accident. All the online hate she has received is not going to change her mind, but perhaps we can direct that hate towards a positive outcome.

Let’s question this: why do we need zoos? If we are trying to preserve near-extinct species, might we not direct our money and efforts towards combating the actual causes of extinction, such as over-fishing, hunting, poachers, and unscientific traditional Chinese medicine remedies, to name a few? If we want economic ways for children (and adults) to observe animals in the flesh, there are new technologies today that are just as good.

How close can you get to a predator in a zoo anyway? 20 feet? 10 feet? Is that worth them being locked up in a cage or enclosure for years? Animals’ stress in confinement conditions is a well documented phenomenon. We know we are doing these animals harm. Yet we do it anyway because “every city deserves a zoo.”

Perhaps it’s time to call for an end to public zoos. We call Josef Fritzl (the man who imprisoned his daughter in a cell for 24 years) and his ilk monsters, yet we routinely imprison animals for their entire lifetimes in the name of science, companionship, or “education” for children. Perhaps letting a child experience a gorilla up close through VR goggles instead of from 20 feet away in a zoo, is a small price to pay to spare an animal years of misery and stress?

If you haven’t already, get yourself and your child a VR headset (the cheapest is Google Cardboard), and see the potential of the technology. I’ve swam with dolphins and penguins, stood within 5 feet of a lion, and soared next to an eagle.

What zoo can match that?