Beth Gladstone, an independent digital marketing and content expert and a member of the Exhibitors Only Expert Panel, presents her marketing predictions for 2018.

“The only constant in social media is change.”

I heard this recently at Social Media Week and it summed up the state of play online at the moment perfectly.

Not so long ago it was incredibly easy to build an online audience. A few tweets here, a Facebook campaign there and you were able to drive leads and even make sales.

Today, the online landscape is completely different. As a result, marketing has become much harder. The trouble is, many brands and businesses are failing to adapt to the change. So often I meet companies who want to “get more followers”. Yet with Facebook recently testing an update where all non-ad posts from brands were removed from the news feed - what good are page followers?

It’s time for marketers and the companies they serve, to make a change. In events especially, where news is only as good as the day it’s released, exhibitors and event companies must both be in the moment and planning for long-term success. A long-term which may not involve social media, or many of the marketing channels we rely on today, at all.

Here are my marketing predictions for what will be effective in the promotion of brands and exhibitors in 2018 and beyond.

Social media: Time to pay to play

We’ve known for a while now that social media is very much moving towards a “pay to play” landscape. Nearly every channel (bar the more commercial Snapchat and Pinterest) has introduced an algorithm which makes gaining organic reach (i.e. getting people to see your posts in-feed without sponsoring them) very difficult.

With Facebook’s new “brand-free” news feed being hinted at, I predict it won’t be long before many social media channels take this approach.

For many of my clients I’ve seen the clickthrough rate on tweets and statuses decline hugely over the past six months. The amount of traffic reaching websites from social media has also dropped. The content is just as good as it’s always been, but people are less engaged. It’s harder than ever to make users “like”, “comment” and “share”. Social media has become a party that no one wants to be seen visiting - at least not publicly anyway.

So what can you do to adapt?

Here’s my first piece of advice: go owned. Social media was never our channel, we just liked to think it was. The mavericks in charge of channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can change the rules at any time.

Spend time on social, sure. But either put a small paid budget behind your posts to ensure they get seen, or do it for brand awareness only.

Owned channels that will remain effective in 2018 include:

A private community

While Facebook posts are notoriously hard to gain traction with, a closed Facebook group can be a great way to get seen. As long as you’re heavy on the moderation, ensuring the group isn’t full of promotional or spammy messages, you can get real interaction with an engaged community.

An email list

Building up an email list is a great way to maximise on an owned channel that you’ll always have. Despite our inboxes getting fuller by the day, great email newsletters can still achieve high open and clickthrough rates. The trick is to create incredibly useful content and serve it to a niche audience. This may mean breaking one email list down into five different groups and tailoring email campaigns to suit.

Your website

Your website is, of course, your biggest owned asset. Keeping it up to date, easy-to-use and responsive, is key to getting more traction in 2018. This is where blogging can come in handy and could be a better use of your time in 2018 than social media alone. Your blogs will always be available for people to read and will build up SEO juice at the same time. Unlike social media posts, you get to decide how long they stay relevant.

Content marketing: Get committed

Something I’ve noticed in content marketing this year is that results take time. You can’t put up a blogpost and expect to get a ton of traffic as a result. Even virality (unless your Taylor Swift) has died down and many blogposts simply sit there, waiting to be read.

However, this doesn’t mean that content marketing is dead. It just means that brands need to focus on a longer-term strategy. Using “spray and pray” techniques of blogging when you remember (or only in the lead-up to an event) isn’t going to work.

Instead, you need to make a year-round editorial calendar. Posting regular, high-quality content around subjects your audience actually want to read about. Google is becoming more and more semantically written. This means keywords matter less and less. The general theme of your post and LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords are more important.

Say you were exhibiting at Mobile World Congress exhibition and decided to write a blogpost answering the question “Why should I visit Mobile World Congress?” for your clients. As well as using “Mobile World Congress” as a keyword for 20% of the article, you also want to use related keywords for the other 80%. This could be “MWC”, “technology exhibition” and “Barcelona”. All of which, will help improve the way Google views (and therefore displays) your content.

As well as keeping a regular content calendar, you also need to review the type of content you’re posting. Our attention spans are shorter than ever - less than 8 seconds if studies are to be believed.

As a result, my three predictions for what will work in content marketing in 2018 are:

1. Stories

The “stories” format of micro-blogs, videos and images, used most famously on Instagram, is becoming a popular way to create content. In my experience, stories can get almost double the engagement of a static status or post. This is a great trend to capitalise on early to try and increase your content marketing efforts in 2018. Instagram stories showing behind the scenes efforts of your brand is a great place to start.

2. Video, video, video

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all prioritise video content higher in the user’s feed than they do image or text-based statuses alone. YouTube still remains the second biggest search engine. As a result, there has never been a better time to begin creating video content for your brand.

3. Long term content strategies

As I mentioned above, you can’t spray and pray blogposts thinking they’ll have an impact. Google is way too clever and there are far too many other brands out there writing about exactly the same topics. Use sites such as Quora and Google search suggestions to find out the questions your audience are asking. Write content around them, make it “SEO-friendly” and find creative ways to share it if you want to have content marketing success in 2018.

The big idea

This year one thing I’ve noticed is the lack of the “big idea”. This has probably been down to a few factors; smaller budgets meaning many brands can’t now afford to hire expensive ad agencies and also the rate at which content decays making the big idea seem not quite worth it!

However, in 2018 I predict the big idea will make a comeback. We’ve seen lots of evidence recently that brands need to think about their perception long-term, far more than their short-term campaigns. A recent UK study voted M&S as the best retailer for storytelling and Apple as the best brand overall. What do both have in common? A coherent narrative.

In 2018 I think many brands will turn back to the “big idea” that feeds into their overall brand strategy and brand keys, rather than posting any old thing to jump on the latest “trend”. Will this mean we see less content? Probably. But will the content be higher quality and more coherent? Definitely.

Here are three things I think brands will and should focus on for 2018:

1. Go visual

The key to rolling out a big campaign in 2018 will be twisting the way the narrative is presented. As mentioned earlier, video will be a big one, as well as beautiful, enticing imagery and even new media forms such as cinemagraphs will all help to tell the story.

2. High-quality merchandise

Especially relevant for brands exhibiting, low-quality merchandise is not the way forward. Instead, brands in 2018 should be focusing on one big, key idea and seeing how they can promote that, as opposed to lots of free pens and keyrings. Some of the most effective ways I’ve seen my clients do this is by thinking of high-quality merchandise which actually helps their audience to solve a problem.

Whether this is “strategy cards” which promote creative thinking or an item that can be used to help support everyday workflows.

3. New mediums

Podcasts today almost feel how blogging did a few years back. Exciting, new and easy to get traction. One of my favourite examples from this year is from the B2B brand General Electric, which released a sci-fi podcast series called The Message. This eight-episode series used fiction to tell the story of its products and brand (General Electric) and managed to reach an entirely different and new audience as a result.

 In conclusion: Don’t do what you’ve always done

Marketing changes every year. Things I would have advised clients to focus on in 2016 are completely different to what we’ll look at for 2018. Pivoting your marketing strategy isn’t the problem. Audiences adapt quickly and this is often the only way you can continually increase the amount of leads generated.

Failing to adapt, or recognise, the changes in the marketing landscape is what holds brands and exhibitors back.

Are you ready to embrace change?


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