AI, branded partnerships, social media developments and micro-influencers – what to expect in this year’s five major content marketing trends.

We are deluged with more content than ever before and less time to consume it. Now add the latest changes to the Facebook (and Instagram) algorithm, deprioritizing publisher content. In addition, a survey showing that 81% of consumers admit that their attention to traditional digital ads is waning. What does it all mean? 2018 looks like the start of a real paradigm shift where marketers pivot from highlighting reach and impression numbers to customer engagement. Get used to that word. Because engagement is everything now.

Here are five trends to look out for this year:

1. Niche is the New Mass

Credit: Beautycon Media / Culture Co-op

Every content strategy conversation and media plan over the past few years has focused, almost obsessively, on Millennials. But in 2017, the first signs of fatigue appeared, with marketers finally beginning to acknowledge that they can’t mix college graduates with 30-somethings. In 2018, we’ll notice the rise and consideration of different customer segments like the Xennials (early 30s to 40s) as per the JWT Intelligence report, or the Pivotals, a micro-generation between the Z generation and Millennials. For example, with more than 5 million monthly views, the content and e-commerce powerhouse Beautycon broke through in the highly competitive beauty market by shaping a unique voice around the needs and aspirations of Pivotals. The result? Beautifully crafted content challenging status quo beauty standards. To stand out from the crowd, expect more effort from marketers to build marketing initiatives and content around niches.

2. Micro is Macro

The influencer marketing industry—estimated at $2 billion in 2017 and set to reach $10 billion by 2020 according to AdAge—will continue its expansion. Furthermore, the latest Facebook changes that allow brands to measure the value of engagement within influencers’ ecosystems will encourage brands to create long term relationships with influencers and maximize ROI. So what does a winning influencer strategy look like? Micro-influencers (or brand champions) enjoy engagement rates 60% higher than influencers with a large following. Successful brands leverage the authentic relationship of micro-influencers with the use of dark social tools (such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Facebook groups) in order to create high-quality engagement programs. The Adidas and Tango Squad strategy was built around micro- and medium-influencers using Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to create a global brand champion network that promoted brand referrals in a genuine and transparent manner. As influencer marketing becomes more mature (read: regulated), the rise of influencer programs that leverage one-on-one interactions and transparency will provide a more solid ROI.

3. Co-branded Partnerships are on the Rise

Credit: Illustration by Ad Age. Composite images courtesy of Lyftt, Baderbräu.

Building meaningful relationships by going where customers are, has long been the content marketing strategist’s mantra. But the old tactics and traditional events won’t be enough anymore. Creating smart co-branded partnerships that can leverage brands’ similar (and yes, sometimes unexpected) target audiences will become key to acquiring new customers and create an engaged user base. Recently we saw Lyft and a Chicago craft brewery giving customers the opportunity to purchase beer and save on Lyft rides, as well as Adidas’ staking a deal with the Berlin transit authority to design and sell limited edition sneakers that come embedded with a yearly transit pass. By rallying like-minded communities, these two examples prove that co-branded experiences offer new opportunities in awareness and (re)engagement.

4. Get Cozy with Voice

Credit: Johnny Walker

Be it Google Home, Siri by Apple, Cortana by Microsoft or Amazon’s Alexa, it’s no secret that voice activated devices are the next big thing in content. And the steady growth of podcast usage – out of 10 million Canadians, 41% listened to podcasts in 2017 – means that all things audio will continue to grow and influence our daily routines and how we consume content. Searching and finding content in the “No Interface Content Era” is still in its early stages, and quite limited. So far. But the market is evolving quickly (AudioBurst, a startup positioning itself as the first audio search engine, recently completed a $6.7 million round of funding) and brands like Uber, Johnny Walker or BuzzFeed are already proving to be adept at the No Interface Content game. If your brand is looking for new content channels, it’s time to become an early adopter and lead the revolution.

5. Get Personal with Social Individual Interactions

Credit: American Eagle

Chatbots are not new but they’ve become the top social media opportunity for marketers in 2018. Facebook has focused lately in finding ways to monetize Messenger and WhatsApp. From introducing more compelling features to both chat platforms to slowly introducing ads, Facebook’s vision relies almost entirely on chatbots, which can automate replies within Messenger. A few years ago, it would have been prohibitively expensive for brands to create mass one-on-one interactions, but chatbots are getting better and better at answering personal inquiries. The Food Network’s culinary chatbot allows users to browse recipes by celebrity chefs and play games like Meal Match with friends, while American Eagle’s shopping assistant chatbot encourages fans to take a photo of an item they like, which the retailer uses to suggest similar items from their catalogue. Most significantly, chatbots collect new data and develop new user profiles while offering an alternative channel to more traditional content hubs.

With Facebook’s publisher changes, marketers will need to push themselves and think outside the box to get their content in front of the right eyeballs. Voice and machine learning will give marketing campaigns that extra needed push, especially in terms of SEO, and co-branded partnerships may be what awareness campaigns are missing to reach a wider audience. In other words, strategy is more important than ever. New tools add complexity for content marketers, but we know that the right content mix only leads to lasting engagement with consumers.

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