5 Major Digital Marketing Trends for 2017: What South Africans and Emerging Marketers Need to Know

This is the first blog post from tihe Friends of Brands team. Without going into much detail of what this platform is all about (you can read about the purpose of the overall blog in the category section), we aim to share our knowledge and insights as thought leaders in our areas of business. With this and other posts, you should be able to gain much understanding about what we do and how our focus areas can help you as a professional, student or business.

  1. Renewed Focus on UX/UI
  2. Bigger Social Media Budgets
  3. Influencer Marketing in South Africa Becomes a Thing
  4. Better Defined Digital and ATL Strategies by Brands
  5. Renewed Relevance of Local Search

Defining Marketing Strategies

I’ll start with my favourite topic, Strategy. My commerce (academic) background sort of dictates that with every project, I (and the team) require an understanding of the overall strategy whose ultimate goals are the things we will work towards.

Past experience has shown that many brands want to jump into the technicalities of how the strategy (if there is one) rolls out. This is certainly fine, but changes and/or failure of the executions therein cannot be mitigated if there is no overall strategy to reference.

I’ve sat in too many meetings were there are no clearly defined KPIs and their relevant targets. Focus is usually on the actual executions and tactics, without regard as to what exactly is the problem at hand and what the outcome we want is.

Whenever I do watch television, I’m usually tuned into CNBC Africa. One of their programmes is Masters of Innovation which is sponsored by Huawei. The topic of this particular evening was the state of fashion and technology in Africa. What I noted, and duly commented about on Twitter was when the co-host (head of marketing at Huwaei) wanted to associate the use of social media influencer marketing with direct sales of shoes associated with a campaign currently running for Superga. Her entire stance was that any online marketing effort should be associated with a crude number of sales. This isn’t so, and she clearly misunderstood the objective of the entire campaign: to increase awareness through a branding exercise. This objective and others are the things that should be detailed in the overall strategy, which is something that even the most capable of marketing professionals miss.

I am of the view, however, that 2017 is the year where the marketing strategies (the physical document) becomes the centerpiece of the entire marketing efforts of every brand or business. South Africans need to get it, and get it soon.

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Understand UX/UI

Another big theme of the year is the renewed focus on User Experience/User Interface AKA UX/UI. I’ve come across and worked with many people who do not understand this and to be quite honest – so did I! After working with a UX/UI designer, I realised how crucial my expertise as a data and insights analyst helps the UX/UI professional make informed decisions about how to build an app, a website, a backend, etc., by understanding how most online users interact with these assets – in any industry.

Big corporates, especially international ones, work with rigid frameworks that disallow certain changes and adding of a bit of creativity that the UX/UI designer can bring, thus, restricting the inability for him/her to do a most efficient job based on what analysis says users consume the specific website, app, other.

In 2017, I foresee greater interest in understanding what exactly UX/UI is and how, when executed correctly, can possibly give a brand/business a competitive advantage online.

Renewed Relevance of Local Search

Another big trend in 2017 will be a renewed relevance of local search. I remember when I started working in marketing, we had to raise local search results for a client in the travel industry. I got it then but not so much as I do now. That’s because I now own a smartphone and most of my searches on mobile are to locate places. These are usually nearby restaurants, client offices and so on.

Local search as a topic in online marketing circles seems to have peaked with the introduction of Google Business Listings (replacing Google Places), and the update that was termed mobilegeddon. The latter never really became a thing, unlike other Google algo updates and so on. However, what has grown exponentially in the past year has been the adaption of Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMPs. This and the increasing location-based searches that we conduct will allow greater focus on local search strategies which are all too important for any brand.

Bigger Budgets for Social Media

This trend is closely tied to the 5th and last trend in my list. The latter cannot exist without the former! Social media is by far the most important category in the internet that many brands either misunderstand, lack investment in or both. To be fair, it would be too foolish to invest in something that one does not understand!

Once companies like Friends of Brands can help clients understand the value and ways to go about social media, it should be too easy for clients to sign off the budgets needed to compete well on social media. The only way to survive at scale on the internet is to pay to play. You can only get some much traction on the internet before you need to pay to be visible.

Also, companies like ours need to be better at stating the case of why social helps ATL. Instead of digital teams trying to bite much more of the budget pie, the most successful teams will be those ones who can work together and take what is equitable for them to do their jobs and ultimately for the benefit of the client’s bottomline.

Influencer Marketing Really Becomes a Things

Friends of Brands started as an influencer marketing platform; as such this form of brand partnership is still in our DNA. I really love it! This is partly because it is a much more efficient and cost-effective marketing model than big celebrity sponsorships.

I won’t go further on this topic but I will certainly follow-up about it in subsequent blog posts.

There are certainly more trends in 2017 that will define digital marketing. In this post I have focused on what I see as rather low-hanging fruit: the things that every team should be focusing on as a foundation to more successful integrated marketing efforts in the near future. I have not even began sharing my and colleagues’ views and insights about more exciting topics such as Artificial Intelligence, automation, Uberisation (or the Gig Economy) and much more. These will ultimately define what kind of company your business is: one that embraces technology and its ability to empower all your stakeholders, or a company that’s stuck in possibly the 20th century.

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