It’s January so we thought we would publish our thoughts on the most significant trends and technologies which we believe will shape digital marketing over the coming year. You can listen in more detail to our opinions as we discuss them in the first episode of the Digital Marketing Podcast for 2018.

Key Technology 1: The Ongoing Rise of Machine Learning


Through 2018 we expect to see much more use of machine learning. Already the photo app on most phones can recognise faces and group images by theme, and this is an excellent example of everyday applications for an otherwise seemingly advance technology. Google and other platforms are offering much smarter targeting based on ‘best’ potential customer by using machine learning, and we think that this technology will come into its own in the digital marketing world. We know experts have been predicting this for several years now, but this year we expect to see machine learning explode into the digital marketing scene. It won’t be as futuristic as Hollywood movies would have you believe, but it will help you to achieve more as it starts to improve and become integrated with lots of the digital marketing tech and functionality you know and love. While on the subject of Hollywood level expectations we have seen an active move in the industry to stop referring to this technology as Artificial Intelligence as many feel that using this label sets incorrect expectations.

Machine learning has an enormous capacity to take some of the heavy lifting out of previously labour intensive tasks. Its particular strength is in sorting and organising, and we think there will be an increasing use of this technology to triage your workflow and communications, so they are more manageable, giving you more time to think strategically and to deal with some of the more complex interactions your role or department is required to perform.

Key Technology 2: The Growth In The Adoption Of Voice Search.

Alongside this growing use of machine learning in digital marketing tech we expect to see continued growth of voice search and use of virtual assistants by both businesses and consumers, especially after gadgets like Amazon Dot are widely gifted this Christmas. The news that Apple is buying Shazam is also exciting in this area, and we expect Apple will quickly make moves to build Shazam functionality into Apple Music not only to add the functionality it offers but also to help make music recommendations better based on all the data Shazam have. As consumers make greater use of voice search, we expect to see a real growth in traffic for marketers who are optimising their content so it can be found and navigated by voice search. Expect some interesting case studies at this years SEO conferences as marketers explore how to exploit the growing demand for voice search’s best friend ‘questions in natural English*.’

*Other languages are also available.

Key Technology 3: Greater Adoption Of Virtual Reality

We also expect to see a real growth in the use of and adoption of Virtual Reality. Initially like many other speculators, we expect this to take off in the gaming world where it offers obvious experiential benefits. The launch of the Xbox VR headset (shhhhh!) will no doubt be widely attributed with starting this rocketing, but we are particularly interested in the self-contained Oculus Go headsets which Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg announced will launch in first quarter of 2018 at $199 price.

Occulus Go could prove to be a real game-changer in the Virtual Reality world. $199 is a great price point for what is proposed will be a completely untethered and self-operating virtual reality experience. Up to this point, all virtual reality experiences have required connection to a much more expensive piece of computer hardware such as the Samsung Mobile handset or a high-end gaming PC. That has been a barrier to widespread consumer adoption.

Mark Zuckerberg announced the news at 2017’s Oculus Connect conference in October, stating their goal to get one billion people into Virtual Reality.

Such a bold goal would suggest they maybe have something significantly more than a gaming platform in mind for this new technology. Let’s explore why we think this. To draw a comparison, Microsoft’s original Xbox gaming platform took five years to sell 24 million units. Sony’s PlayStation 2 released in 2000 which holds the record to date for most units sold of a gaming console managed an estimated 155 million units. Given that it took Facebook around eight years to reach one billion users with a free to access social media service it seems unlikely that they could reach similar audiences with gaming focussed virtual reality. These kinds of ambitious growth targets would suggest a much broader use case more on par with a new operating system. Perhaps not starting with Oculus Go but certainly leading on from it.

Apple IOS has around half a billion users worldwide, and Android boasts an estimated 2 billion users, so we wonder if maybe medium to long term, Facebook has something extraordinary up its sleeve beyond Oculus Go. Whether VR remains a niche gaming world gimmick or achieves Facebook’s expectations, time will tell, but we do think this technology is one to keep an eye on as it launches and grows this year.

(Take a look at the Facebook Virtual Meeting demo here for further inspiration on whats about to be possible and be inspired!)

Key Technology 4: Improved performance for Google’s Display Network.

Another area of development we have been following with interest throughout 2017 is Google’s interest in improving consumer’s banner Ad experience. Back in June 2017, Google announced it would be adding ad-blocking technology to Google Chrome in a system designed to filter out poor advert experiences. In December 2017 they gave us a date the activity will start. February 15th, 2018 

So the clock on this development is already ticking as we race into the new year. We also saw Google releasing some interesting tools for within Google search console designed to grade the advert experience offered by websites which feature banner adverts. This would tend to suggest that sites with a poor advert experience could potentially in the future see a drop in organic search engine performance. If this will become a part of Googles page ranking algorithm remains to be confirmed, but it certainly would make sense.

For a long time now the Google Display Network, despite being one of the most extensive Ad networks in the world, has had a hard time from advertisers who have been frustrated by the large number of low-quality websites that hook into Google AdSense to make money from displaying adverts. Control of where adverts on the Google Ad network get shown has been an ongoing issue. There has also been a considerable consumer backlash with a growing rise of Adblocking software adoption from consumers. The IAB ran a survey that estimated that 26% of internet users were making use of ad blocking software. 
2017 saw the Coalition For Better Ads publish research to determine the ad- formats and behaviours that most bother people. With their recent moves, it looks like Google are making an effort to pull up their socks in the display advertising world and we hope we might see an improvement in the overall quality of results that advertisers can expect from display advertising using Google’s Display Advertising Network. Clearly, with all the effort going into Advert experience that’s what Google is hoping for.

Key Technology 5: Growth In Augmented Reality Apps 2018

We do expect to see a massive increase in Augmented Reality Apps. In the autumn of 2017, Apple launched an iOS toolkit for developers to build AR apps, significantly reducing the difficulty such apps have previously posed. Developers have had all winter to play around with what these tools enable, so expect to see a lot of AR apps and games flooding into the IOS App store and the news headlines very soon.

Key Technology 6: Greater use of Beacon Technology

It’s no secret that digital sales channels have become the darling of many retail operations. Given the wealth of analytics data that digital properties can provide it appeared to many that the traditional bricks and mortar store based sales model was on its way out. But the curious fact remains that people still visit these brick and mortar stores. The difficulty is that without a good way of tracking consumers it’s hard for retailers to correctly understand the relationship between these real-life individuals visiting stores and the digital visits that appear to be generating all of the sales and revenue. Loyalty schemes have been bought into the mix to try to help with the real-time real-life analytics data, but adoption levels are not always at a level to provide enough data to fully understand the real consumer relationships. This is where beacon technology can come into its own. Beacons are small battery operated radio transmitters that broadcast a Bluetooth signal to smartphones within a certain range. This demo video below gives a great run through of a potential frictionless customer experience beacon technology can offer.

For retailers, this technology has a high capacity to deliver coupons, loyalty benefits and of course provide a source of highly valuable data collection. For many marketers in this space, the technology is being explored to offer real-time personalised engagement within bricks and mortar stores. The insights Beacon technology data can provide could be the key to realising true Multi-channel marketing, a long-held utopian dream of for marketers. Unacast who run the world’s number one location and proximity platform have been aggregating data from their global network of proximity sensor companies. The Real World Graph™ which they run forecasts 500 million proximity sensors globally by 2021.

With a real-world network like this, able to verify both location and identity of users and an accuracy down to meters, beacon technology will undoubtedly be a massive game changer for the digital marketing world. The tech opens up a whole host of Marketing technologies traditionally limited to the web and pushes them into some exciting real-world location and context specific opportunities. The technology further expands how brands can interact with and build relationships with consumers. Early adopters of the tech have already seen some impressive sales uplifts. The only downside is how well consumers will react to the real world bombardment of messaging and notifications from Apps linked into this network.

To date, the technology is somewhat of a novelty to consumers, but as we see broader adoption of beacon technologies from multiple retailers, there could be a genuine backlash from Consumer similar to the adblocking growth of the last few years as users are bombarded with various messages from numerous apps. In the end, of course, it all comes down to marketers tailoring the experience to the consumer’s interests. The brands who genuinely do this and take an active interest in giving users a fantastic, tailored experience will be the ones whose beacon linked apps will stay. Those who don’t will rapidly be uninstalled. Either way, expect to see rapid growth in the number of marketing platforms that can work with and integrate with beacon technology.

Key Technology 6.5: QR Codes To Become Cool Again

And finally ( and for the podcast listeners you will know who in the Target Internet team is putting their weight behind this one) Ciaran is predicting the rise of QR codes from the ashes. Snapchat’s Snapcode which was originally used to help Snapchat users find their friend’s Snapchat profiles, can now be utilised to direct users to any website or app. ” Its the same functionality as a QR code,” Ciaran explains, “But it doesn’t have any of the stigma associated with the black and white boxy QR codes from 2012 which get such a bad rap. Snapchat is much cooler.

Example of custom Snapcode promoting our podcast launch on Spotify

An example of a custom Snapcode which links to Target Internet’s Podcast on Spotify


All you need is the Snapchat app to read them, so no need to download a separate QR code reader. Creating them is also simple. Just head over to and log into your Snapchat account to get started.
With an estimated 300 million+ active Snapchat users worldwide, Ciaran believes we can expect the broader adoption of these codes by youth orientated brands. “These codes offer a new and exciting gateway into alternative apps and tech and make it easy for the consumer to get to and discover such content. My only hope is that marketers don’t ruin the format with bad user experiences like they did with the original square and boxy QR code format.”

We are not all convinced of Ciaran’s enthusiastic prediction which is why we’ve made it only half a point in this list, but you have to admire his dedication to the format. Still, in the online digital marketing world, stranger things have happened.