There always seems to be something new going on in the world of marketing: an update to Google’s search ranking algorithm, a game-changing feature that makes a familiar social network feel fresh again, a new way to connect with customers.
It can be hard for entrepreneurs and marketers to keep up.
That’s why it’s important to follow the overarching trends, not just smaller developments in the industry as they happen. Even if you can’t predict exactly what the future holds, you'll at least have an idea of the direction we're going in.
So, what matters for your business in 2017?
Here are some of the biggest marketing trends you should be paying attention to.
1. Live video: A better way to engage your audience
Live video offers the ability to share an experience moment-by-moment with a large audience from all over and invite them to comment and participate in real time.
Just two or three years ago, Periscope and Meerkat were considered innovative for popularizing the concept of streaming live video straight from your phone.
Today, live video is a feature that's rolling out across most of the major platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. There are also gaming-focused options like Twitch and Beam (now Mixer) to cater to a fast-growing vertical that includes over 2.2 billion gamers around the world.
From the "Let's Play" to Q&As, brands and creators are getting creative with the format, letting audiences ask questions and have a say in the direction that the stream takes. This adds up to a deeper level of engagement than you might get from a standard video (plus in many cases, viewers can still watch these live videos after the fact).
Live video's execution can range from a shaky phone camera pointed at your face to a full-on show where brands and creators invest time and effort into the concept and production.
Here's an example that got over 2.9 million views from entertainment company Super Deluxe, featuring hours on end of destroying fidget spinners in real time.
2. The maturing of the “micro-influencer”
Influencer marketing has been the talk of the town for years.
Ever since we've democratized the ability to build an owned audience, creators—YouTubers, bloggers, Instagrammers—have amassed large followings and attained a status that was once reserved for real celebrities.
But now micro-influencers (with around 100K followers or less) are getting taken more seriously by brands. Whereas the big name influencers charge anywhere from $3000 to $100,000 for a post or campaign, micro-influencers generally cost much less: a few hundred dollars to nothing more than a freebie of your product.
Micro-influencers also tend to have more engaged audiences than bigger influencers relative to their total following.
And the power they have over consumers isn't only being recognized by brands. The FTC is becoming more vigilant about creators disclosing sponsored content, and Instagram also announced plans to increase the transparency of collaborations between brands and influencers with a method for explicitly labelling sponsored posts as such.
3. Ephemeral content isn't disappearing anytime soon
Snapchat was the first to give us “Stories”: self-destructing social content with a 24-hour lifespan.
Not everyone saw the appeal initially, but when you consider how deliberate the majority of social media activities are, this ephemeral content format gave us a new way to be our authentic selves without worrying about the permanence of traditional social publishing.
Now that Facebook has taken Stories and successfully applied the concept to Instagram, the photo-sharing platform has grown into an even bigger marketing powerhouse with 200 million active users sharing Stories as of April.
While Snapchat recently rolled out SnapMaps to let you check out Stories across the globe, Instagram has made their own version of Stories more “marketing friendly”.
With Instagram, your Stories are discoverable in the Explore tab (tag your location to draw even more eyes), letting you increase your reach. Others can also "mention" your account in their own Instagram Stories to put their following's attention on you.
Instagram has also started rolling out clickable links for Stories. When you consider that driving traffic from Instagram to your site has long been limited to a single link in your bio, this is a potential game-changer.
What's more, Snapchat has announced a similar update too, one that will let you add clickable links to your Snaps, which will open in Snapchat's browser.
Now, Stories aren't just about engagement—they're becoming a legitimate way to drive traffic to your website.
4. Private chat is opening up to brands
As consumers spend more time in messaging apps than on social media, these apps have evolved to allow more than just an ongoing back-and-forth between friends or a way to make impromptu dinner plans.
Facebook Messenger, in particular, is now a viable customer service channel, and one that offers a more authentic line of communication than email, and is often faster than picking up the phone.
If you enable the Messenger Channel in your Shopify store, you can automatically notify customers who opt in about the status of their order and field any questions they may have.
Direct messaging on Instagram now also lets you send links, which means sales and customer service on Instagram just got a whole lot easier.
These marketing trends didn't just appear overnight. They developed over the course of years. But now they're at a point where companies of all sizes can begin taking advantage of them.
While it's important to not get distracted by every "shiny new thing" we see in marketing, these trends hint at what the future looks like for brands and consumers. The question is what's next?
What marketing trends stand out to you? Where do you think every entrepreneur's eyes should be? Share your thoughts in the comments below!