Digital Marketing Experts’ Predictions for the Year Ahead (2018)


Join us as we analyse some of the most interesting expert digital marketing predictions for 2018. Will this be the year of e-learning? How long should our blog articles be getting? And what will a successful brand look like in 2019? We’ll give you our take on all these predictions and more, plus some actionable advice on how to respond if they come true.

“Creators [will] reduce content output”

Heidi Cohen – Chief Content Officer, Actionable Marketing Guide

Writing for Social Media Examiner’s blogging, video and podcasting guide for 2018, Heidi Cohen made a deceptively simple prediction that could have complex, far-reaching implications for how content producers work:

We’re going to reduce our content output

Anecdotally speaking, this tallies with what we at Target Internet and several of our peers have been doing for the last year or two. We’ve been creating fewer content items, with longer word counts/run-time and better-honed content.

“Marketers will focus on creating higher-quality content around their key topics, ideally selecting more niche topics to stand out in the sea of increased content.”

Here’s perhaps the juiciest part of Cohen’s prediction: that content producers will be aiming to create higher quality content, ideally covering niche topics.

The stats appear to bear back up Cohen’s statement. According to Orbit Media’s 2017 Survey of over 1,000 bloggers, the average blog article in 2017 took 200 minutes to write – up from just 144 minutes in 2014.

So how can content producers adapt to the increased quality of the competition? We see a choice between two contrasting strategies:

Improve and specialise

Increasing your content quality and moving towards niche topic areas go hand-in-hand.

First-and-foremost, by developing a niche (or a small number of them), you will surely be enabled to source more specialised, exclusive and uniquely valuable expertise from within your organisation, as well as all the data and access that comes along with your work.

This access and expertise can be a tremendous asset in the content you produce, and could set you apart from less specialised content producers working in the same fields.

Capitalise on reduced competition lower down the quality scale

Major trends in digital marketing strategy often bring opportunities to find alternative routes to success, by swimming against the current.

If a significant percentage of producers start to scale-up and up-scale their content, that alternative will come in the form of reduced competition further down the content quality spectrum.

  • Getting onto the first page of Google News results – with fewer of your rivals writing shorter, time-sensitive articles, it might become easier to rank on Page 1.
  • Going viral – whilst your competitors are focused on gaining traffic via organic search, you can work on making better short-form content, optimised to encourage social engagement.
  • Renewed focus on high-value search phrases – instead of creating ten pieces of content designed to be the web’s best-optimised for their respective niche keywords, you might try creating one extraordinary piece of content that’s optimised for an exceptionally popular target phrase. (For a decent chance of success, this tactic should be supported with paid social and white-hat link-building).

The question, then, is should you try to keep up with increasing industry standards, or should you seek alternative opportunities by bucking the trend? The only way to know for sure is to try both approaches and measure the results.

A further quote from Heidi Cohen might offer a strategy that brings together the best of both options – by repackaging parts of long-form content into other media types:

“To maximize reach, content creators will need to focus their efforts on initial amplification and distribution for the long-term. To keep their content visible, they’ll transform this content into other formats including blogs, video, podcast and live events, as well as keeping it up to date with ongoing content renovation and reuse.”


“Twitter and LinkedIn will both take active steps to reduce the amount of traffic they refer out to other sites”

Founder, Moz

Remember when achieving respectable organic reach with your Facebook posts was the norm?

Those days are long-gone, with organic posts typically reaching fewer audience members year-by-year. Some of us have committed more budget to sponsored posts as a result; others have focused on alternative social channels.

If you fall into the latter group, you may be disappointed to hear that Moz founder Rand Fishkin thinks two of the best-of-the-rest in social – Twitter and LinkedIn – are set to follow Facebook’s lead in 2018.

“Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have all had success algorithmically or structurally limiting clicks off their platforms and growing as a result,” says Fishkin.

“I think in 2018, Twitter and LinkedIn are gonna take their own steps to limit content with links from doing as well, to limit the visibility of external links in their platform, and to better reward content that keeps people on their sites.”

We don’t have the data to back up Fishkin’s prediction as yet – but unless the platforms come up with a radical model that reshapes the market, it seems likely that they’ll have to go restrict external link visibility in order to compete with the likes of Facebook and Snapchat.

If Twitter and LinkedIn really are squeezing external link reach, what should the businesses using these channels do about it? Here’s our take.

Invest time in planning for organic virality

Whilst social channels may well continue to reduce visibility for external links, it’s clear that the most engaging posts will still continue to reach users.

Regularly producing social posts that get a high level of shares and likes is a specialist skill. Not only must the responsible social media executive master the general principles of attracting engagement; they must also learn what works for their brand, which will be affected by their audience demographics and industry type.

Using competitor analysis to form a winning social strategy

All social media marketing involves a degree of trial-and-error as you learn what works for your brand. To get a significant head start, you might consider modelling some of your posts on those which have worked especially well for your competitors.

Here’s a Twitter post by The National Trust which achieved outstanding organic reach:

Imagine you were operating in the same industry, with similar customers to the National Trust. You might look at this post and take away the following points:

  • Try using posts with multiple images
  • Flowers/nature are a popular theme
  • Use seasonality
  • Ask a question to attract engagement

Consult with a niche specialist

Analysing your competitors’ posts can be a big help towards producing engagement-baiting Twitter and LinkedIn posts.

To take this one step further, we recommend buying some time with a consultant who has worked in your niche and can provide guidance based on their proven successes with the relevant channel(s). Small details can make an astonishing difference in a social media post’s performance – and this is one of the best approaches to finding the ones that matter.

Get to grips with LinkedIn Marketing Solutions and Twitter [BUSINESS]

LinkedIn Marketing Solutions and Twitter Ads seem likely to grow in importance if organic outbound link reach declines. That’s what their shareholders are hoping for – and if the recent growth in ad spends on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat is anything to go by, they’ll get their wish. Take some time to get to know the two platforms and assess their compatibility with your brand.


“Brand promise” to define the marketing landscape in 2018

Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)

Here’s our favourite point from this year’s digital marketing predictions round-up from the CIM:

“There’s growing evidence that, particularly for younger people, the extent to which a brand ‘does good’ – beyond a cut-and-paste corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy – is a major factor in making purchase decisions. In 2018, marketers will be under pressure to balance the needs of the business against these new expectations among younger customers. As such, we’re likely to see organisations of all sizes integrate some element of cause-related marketing into their campaigns.”

Beware brand promises that your organisation doesn’t truly live

The CIM are right to point out the inadequacy of “cut-and-paste corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies” – and we’d like to take that point further.

It’s not just CSR policies that miss the mark with audiences – it’s any altruistic gesture that’s not intrinsically related to the brand.

Our CEO, Daniel Rowles, deals with this topic in his book, Building Digital Culture (2017, Kogan Page). He writes about the Pepsi Refresh Project – a campaign centred around a 30-second Superbowl commercial that invited viewers to bid for a share of $20 million in funding for a good cause of their choice.

There was a lot to admire about the Refresh Project. It seemed… refreshingly honest when it aired in 2012; it linked up traditional marketing channels with social media, and above all, it would surely do some good.

But in spite of all these fine credentials, it didn’t generate sales. Daniel writes:

“I think we can sum up why this did not work in a few words. It was not authentic. Now, I do not mean they were not donating all that cash, and I certainly do not mean that they lied in any way. What I mean is that this strategic positioning was not truly lived by every part of the organization.”

It appears that creating a good-hearted ad campaign is not enough to significantly shift perceptions of a brand. Instead, to earn good feeling, brands must point to the genuine good they do in their day-to-day work.

Let’s take a look at two brands that have gotten this right in recent years.

The Happy Egg Co. – a positive message built into a brand

If you want to broadcast your brand promise loud and clear (and make sure your company sticks to it), you could do far worse than putting it in your brand name.

Free-range egg producers The Happy Egg Co. have done just that, enshrining their commitment to ethical farming in their brand name itself. This approach inspires confidence – and not just in customers. At the time of writing, you can find Happy Egg Co. eggs in Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrison’s, Ocado, Asda, Coop and more.

Jack Daniel’s – highlighting basic good

Not all of us can launch a new brand with a good cause built into its DNA. Many of you will be working with long-established organisations whose good name and brand identity have been decades in the making.

In such cases, the best option tends to be to give new or renewed prominence in the brand’s marketing to a long-standing positive attribute.

Here’s a 2016 ad from bourbon-makers Jack Daniels. It reminds the viewer of the role the company plays in the community of Lynchburg, Tennessee, where the Jack Daniel distillery was founded in 1875.

There’s nothing grand or innovative about this type of brand promise – it’s just a gentle reminder that Jack Daniel’s means more than the product you see on the supermarket shelf.

Your brand may be built around a progressive vision like The Happy Egg Co.; or it may be a more traditional business like Jack Daniel’s. Either way, the best route to communicating brand promise that wins customers’ hearts is working with the best facts of your brand – rather than your best idea of what the audience wants.


“It all adds up to digital transformation”

Dave Chaffey – Smart Insights

Dave Chaffey’s annual digital marketing predictions are always worth a read. This year’s particularly technical list of marketing trends boils down to one particularly interesting conclusion:

“It all adds up to digital transformation.”

Chaffey writes: “Over one-quarter (30%) of businesses already have a transformation programme in place, with many businesses looking to launch their digital transformation programme imminently.”

30% is a significant figure in itself – but when you take into account those other businesses which do not need to digitally transform, such as start-ups which have always been inherently digital, you begin to appreciate the global scale on which digital transformation is happening.

We’re reaching the tipping point where transformation becomes obligatory, rather than merely optimal.

Implementing a digital transformation strategy: where to begin?

There’s a lot to consider when mapping out a business’ digital transformation. How will you successfully transition from your legacy systems? How can you get buy-in from senior stakeholders within the organisation? And more fundamentally, what will your digitally transformed brand look like from the customer’s perspective?

The book mentioned in the previous section, Building Digital Culture, addresses these questions in the detail they deserve. Grab a copy to gain a solid conceptual grounding and plenty of case studies that will help get your planning off to a sure start.


“I think this year we’re going to see machine learning in practice a lot more.”

Daniel Rowles – CEO, Target Internet

We couldn’t very well leave ourselves out of our own article! In a recent episode of The Digital Marketing Podcast, we made some predictions for the year ahead. Let’s take another look at one which we are pretty sure is going to happen:

“We’re starting to see more machine learning coming into digital advertising, and what this should mean is our ads are better placed, based on things – and the subtleties of user journeys – which we might not even be aware of – and the subtleties of user journeys we might not even be aware of.”

Daniel’s prediction seems like a safe bet, as it chimes with a growing emphasis on machine learning in Google’s communications to advertisers. Machine learning tech has been used extensively by the web’s biggest players in recent years. This year it seems likely that a wider user-ship will be enabled to tap into its capabilities.

For businesses that advertise with Google, the most basic response to Google’s growing use of machine learning would simply be to explore it – to try new functionalities as they are released and track the results against the most comparable existing methods. Lots of us will be doing this.

Using machine learning’s insights to drive diagonal progress

Keeping up with change is one thing – but using that change to pioneer new ways forward is quite another.

We believe the emergence of machine learning on widely accessible platforms like Google AdWords is going to open up remarkable opportunities for marketers to learn new things about customer behaviour.

Machine learning brings the opportunity to detect patterns in data that wouldn’t be obvious to the human mind. In other words, it might be able to reveal new trends in your audience and content. Those advertisers who closely study the way Google’s machine learning affects their campaigns will be in a strong position to learn things about their customers.

Not only could this serve to improve your digital advertising – it could also turn up findings that can be used diagonally, to forge progress in other aspects of your marketing such as CRO and content marketing.


Only one thing’s for certain…

Try as we might, no-one can say for sure how digital marketing will look a year from now. Several powerful factors will affect the course of every point we’ve made in this article – things like competition amongst providers, platforms and brands; societal and technological change; and the actual success rate of new technologies versus expectations.

One thing we can say for certain is that we’ll be on hand to provide straightforward, actionable advice on the most important new digital marketing topics as they emerge. Follow our blog and The Digital Marketing Podcast every week to stay up to speed with our fast-changing industry.


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