The 14 top rated digital marketing techniques for 2017 according to Smart Insights readers

In this arti­cle, I’ll take an in-depth look at what I see as the most sig­nif­i­cant trends in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing for the year ahead. But, it’s not only my view, since I have ‘crowd­sourced’ the impor­tance of the dif­fer­ent trends rat­ed by the pop­u­lar­i­ty of each trend.

For all mem­bers of Smart Insights, we also have a more detailed free down­load of the mar­ket­ing mega­trends for 2017, which are 9 dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and martech mega­trends will help give you an edge in 2017. In the down­load we dis­cuss machine learn­ing and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, which for me is the biggest trend in mar­ket­ing right now. Machine learn­ing tech­niques apply across many of the tech­niques we dis­cuss in this post includ­ing Big Data, Mar­ket­ing Automa­tion, Organ­ic Search and Social media mar­ket­ing. If you want to know more about the defi­tion of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing before start­ing on trends, see our post on What is Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing?

To get our read­ers’ views on the most impor­tant trends at a top-lev­el, we asked Smart Insights read­ers to give their opin­ion on the most impor­tant trends. We asked:

Select one mar­ket­ing activ­i­ty that you think will give your busi­ness the biggest incre­men­tal uplift in leads and sales in 2017 (or your clients if you work for an agency or as a con­sul­tant)”.

Thanks if you shared your opin­ion, we had 2,352 respons­es from mar­keters around the world! Here are the results for 2017:

While this does­n’t have a con­trolled sam­ple of our free research reports like Man­ag­ing Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing, it does can­vas opin­ion wide­ly. Note that these trends aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly the most impor­tant chan­nel by vol­ume of leads or sales, rather it is the tac­tic which will give the biggest increase in the year ahead, so it shows what is becom­ing more impor­tant. By ask­ing for just one tac­tic, this helps shows the the top 3, 5 or 10 top-lev­el trends.

To help the deci­sion on which tech­nique to choose, we expand­ed upon the short labels you see in the graph to help scope the response more care­ful­ly. For exam­ple, ‘Big Data’ is a neb­u­lous term, but when we expand­ed the def­i­n­i­tion to include insight and pre­dic­tive ana­lyt­ics, it shows the val­ue of the spe­cif­ic mar­ket­ing tech­niques for Big Data and this help explains why this is in posi­tion num­ber two. Here is the full list­ing of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing tech­niques:

Big Data (includ­ing mar­ket and cus­tomer insight and pre­dic­tive ana­lyt­ics)
›Con­tent mar­ket­ing Com­mu­ni­ties (Brand­ed niche or ver­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ties)
›Con­ver­sion rate opti­mi­sa­tion (CRO) / improv­ing web­site expe­ri­ences
›Dis­play (Ban­ners on pub­lish­ers, ad net­works social media includ­ing retar­get­ing and pro­gram­mat­ic)
›Inter­net of Things (IoT) mar­ket­ing appli­ca­tions
›Mar­ket­ing Automa­tion (incl CRM, behav­iour­al Email mar­ket­ing and web per­son­al­i­sa­tion)
Mobile mar­ket­ing (Mobile adver­tis­ing, site devel­op­ment and apps)
›Paid search mar­ket­ing, e.g. Google AdWords Pay Per Click
›Online PR (includ­ing influ­encer out­reach)
›Part­ner­ships includ­ing affil­i­ate and co-mar­ket­ing
Search Engine Opti­mi­sa­tion (SEO or organ­ic search)
›Social media mar­ket­ing includ­ing Social CRM and Social Cus­tomer Care
›Wear­ables (e.g. Apple Watch, activ­i­ty track­ers, aug­ment­ed real­i­ty)

In our Dig­i­tal Chan­nel Essen­tials Toolk­its with­in our mem­bers’ area and our Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Skills report we sim­pli­fy dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing down to just 8 key tech­niques which are essen­tial for busi­ness­es to man­age today AND for indi­vid­ual mar­keters to devel­op skills. This visu­al shows the core tech­niques which will dri­ve more leads and sales for you, but with­in some sec­tors, tech­niques like using AI, IoT, Wear­ables will be more impor­tant.

The Top 14 marketing techniques in 2017?

Let’s now drill down into the key tac­tics and mar­ket­ing tech­nol­o­gy with­in each of these tac­tics which will be impor­tant in 2017.

1. Con­tent mar­ket­ing trends

Con­tent mar­ket­ing has been in the top 3 for the last 3 years we have run this post, so we focus a lot on how to cre­ate an inte­grat­ed con­tent mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy through advice in our con­tent mar­ket­ing toolk­it.

Our research with Hub­Spot, illus­trat­ed in the Com­pet­ing on Con­tent info­graph­ic, shows that more busi­ness­es are now using a strate­gic approach (40%), so this is a trend we can expect to see con­tin­u­ing in 2017. We can also expect that there will be more focus on Mea­sur­ing Con­tent Mar­ket­ing ROI as the cost and com­pe­ti­tion with­in con­tent mar­ket­ing increas­es.

At a prac­ti­cal lev­el, Martech Guru Scott Brinker has talked about the 4th Wave of Con­tent Mar­ket­ing and I’m see­ing more and more exam­ples of inter­ac­tive mar­ket­ing apps — like our capa­bil­i­ty graders and also per­son­al­i­sa­tion tools rec­om­mend­ing con­tent. Read his arti­cle, intro­duc­ing it, a great read and you can check out the ion­In­ter­ac­tive exam­ples of inter­ac­tive con­tent mar­ket­ing.

2. Big Data

As defined in our ques­tion, Big Data mar­ket­ing appli­ca­tions include mar­ket and cus­tomer insight and pre­dic­tive ana­lyt­ics.

The 3Vs of Big Data show why this is a key trend select­ed by many, who have expe­ri­enced the increase in vol­ume, real-time data and data for­mats in their busi­ness and want to exploit the val­ue to increase sales through per­son­al­i­sa­tion on web­sites and through email mar­ket­ing through pre­dic­tive ana­lyt­ics — a top­ic we have cov­ered many times on our blog. It’s also close­ly tied into machine learn­ing where Big Data is mined to iden­ti­fy propen­si­ty to con­vert giv­en dif­fer­ent cus­tomer char­ac­ter­is­tics and behav­iour.

3. Mar­ket­ing Automa­tion (includ­ing CRM, behav­iour­al email mar­ket­ing and web per­son­al­i­sa­tion)

Like con­tent mar­ket­ing, mar­ket­ing automa­tion has been in the top 3 for the last 5 years we have asked this ques­tion. Many busi­ness­es still have poten­tial for improv­ing their automa­tion as our research on the State of Mar­ket­ing Automa­tion shows.

To help with this knowl­edge gap, I think I have giv­en more webi­na­rs and talks on Mar­ket­ing Automa­tion than on any oth­er top­ic in 2016. The most com­mon ques­tions at the end are ‘where do we start’ and ‘how do we get to the next lev­el’. These ques­tions are answered in our Email mar­ket­ing and mar­ket­ing automa­tion toolk­it which includes a free inter­ac­tive capa­bil­i­ty review to score your use of email mar­ket­ing automa­tion. As busi­ness­es progress up the learn­ing curve I expect more busi­ness­es to be putting lead scor­ing in place, or refin­ing it and learn­ing the best places on the jour­ney to fea­ture con­tent through pre­dic­tive ana­lyt­ics.

4. Mobile mar­ket­ing (Mobile adver­tis­ing, site devel­op­ment and apps)

Mobile was in the top 3 three years ago, but as more com­pa­nies have adopt­ed mobile respon­sive web design and email tem­plates they have seen less need to focus on it, or at least there are few­er oppor­tu­ni­ties for growth.

How­ev­er, research shows that retail con­ver­sion rates are sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er on smart­phone, so there is work to be done for many busi­ness­es to opti­mise con­ver­sion on mobile, although they will like­ly always stay low­er than desk­top.

Mobile also has a large impact on search mar­ket­ing as Google vig­or­ous­ly fol­lows its mobile first mantra. To me, it’s a some­what mis­lead­ing mantra, since the real­i­ty is that many web users are still using desk­top, lap­top and tablet devices and there is a dan­ger with mobile respon­sive designs that con­ver­sion on high­er res­o­lu­tion screens may fall if mobile opti­mised. Instead, lead­ing com­pa­nies are look­ing at adap­tive mobile design approach­es which have the ben­e­fit of serv­ing more rel­e­vant, con­tex­tu­al con­tent and CTAs for users and reduc­ing load times.

Mobile first’ is also mis­lead­ing if we look at the over­all cus­tomer jour­ney since often dif­fer­ent devices may be involved at dif­fer­ent points. So a bet­ter vision for mobile strat­e­gy is treat­ing it as part of a mul­ti­plat­form or mul­ti­chan­nel strat­e­gy. As this data from com­Score high­light­ed in our mobile mar­ket­ing sta­tis­tics research shows, the mul­ti­plat­form rib­bons for all coun­tries are much broad­er than users who are mobile only or desk­top only.

5. Social media mar­ket­ing includ­ing Social CRM and Social Cus­tomer Care

When I meet mar­keters at events and train­ing I find there is still huge inter­est in social media, thanks to its reach and options to engage audi­ences and encour­age advo­ca­cy or ‘social media ampli­fi­ca­tion’ to give it the full treat­ment.

Our social media research sta­tis­tics sum­ma­ry shows con­tin­ued growth in social media usage over­all, but with reduced pop­u­lar­i­ty of some social net­works in some coun­tries. For exam­ple Twit­ter and Face­book are in decline or plateau­ing in many west­ern mar­kets while Snapchat, Insta­gram and Pin­ter­est are still grow­ing in usage.

Trends in social media mar­ket­ing are often con­trolled by the efforts of the social net­works to mon­e­tise and this has seen Face­book and Insta­gram, in par­tic­u­lar make changes such that busi­ness­es now need to ‘pay to play’ to get the reach need­ed to have an impact. They have con­tin­ued to inno­vate in their tar­get­ing and remar­ket­ing options.

6. Con­ver­sion rate opti­mi­sa­tion (CRO) / improv­ing web­site expe­ri­ences

This is the tech­nique I select­ed a year ago as the way Smart Insights would see the most growth from in the year ahead. It’s high­er in pop­u­lar­i­ty than pre­vi­ous years, but I still won­der whether many busi­ness­es are miss­ing out on a more data-dri­ven approach to increase leads and sales from their web­sites.

I saw this chart of the vol­ume of struc­tured tests pre­sent­ed by a major mul­ti­chan­nel retail­er who want­ed to scale the num­ber of tests they were run­ning. It a great way to show the need to test exten­sive­ly since only a third have a pos­i­tive test. It also shows how com­peti­tors may be get­ting ahead if they are test­ing more exten­sive­ly.

7. Inter­net of Things (IoT) mar­ket­ing appli­ca­tions

IoT is one of the most impor­tant mar­ket­ing tech­nol­o­gy appli­ca­tions of the last 2–3 years, but it is of most rel­e­vance to devices mak­ers and retail­ers, so it is rel­a­tive­ly high-up in this rank­ing of pri­or­i­ties.

There are expect­ed to be 75 bil­lion con­nect­ed devices by 2020, mean­ing there will be ten times as many devices able to talk to one anoth­er as there will be peo­ple on the plan­et! The impli­ca­tions are huge and far rang­ing. All this shar­ing of data will trans­form the way we live our lives.

Our arti­cle cov­er­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties and exam­ples of mar­ket­ing appli­ca­tions of the Inter­net of Things has this use­ful sum­ma­ry of alter­na­tive appli­ca­tions:

8. Search Engine Opti­mi­sa­tion (SEO or organ­ic search)

Mobile mar­ket­ing SEO tech­niques will be par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant in 2017 with Google’s recent announce­ments about the mobile index and AMP. We have seen huge increas­es in AMP smart­phone traf­fic since Sep­tem­ber 2016 when Google rolled AMPs out beyond Google News. AMPs are tar­get­ed at pub­lish­ers, but should be con­sid­ered by busi­ness­es with an active blog too in my opin­ion.

We have been cov­er­ing these announce­ments and improve­ments in our oth­er alert posts:

How Google’s mobile-only index will change search in 2017
›Google to start penal­is­ing sites that use pop-ups
›Stop every­thing and imple­ment AMP pages

9. Wear­ables

Wear­ables are one of the hottest con­sumer con­sum­able com­modi­ties (e.g. Apple Watch, activ­i­ty track­ers, aug­ment­ed real­i­ty)

10. Paid search mar­ket­ing

Google AdWords is the most impor­tant form of Pay Per Click and here Google has been pur­su­ing their ‘Mobile-first’ strat­e­gy by build­ing out these fea­tures.

11. Online PR (includ­ing influ­encer out­reach)

Online PR today is inex­tri­ca­bly linked with Con­tent mar­ket­ing, SEO and Social media, or it should be. But this does­n’t get a top rat­ing since the oth­ers are impor­tant.

12. Com­mu­ni­ties

These are brand­ed niche or ver­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

13. Dis­play adver­tis­ing

This includes ban­ners on pub­lish­ers, ad net­works social media includ­ing retar­get­ing and pro­gram­mat­ic.

14. Part­ner­ships includ­ing affil­i­ate and co-mar­ket­ing

A neglect­ed aspect of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, per­haps unsur­pris­ing­ly unsexy.

Oth­er trends

This is an inter­est­ing cat­e­go­ry since read­ers can tell us what we’re miss­ing. Sug­ges­tions here include:

Account Based Mar­ket­ing (ABM) — rel­e­vant for B2B mar­keters tar­get­ing large accounts we have a new guide in our B2B toolk­it on this ear­ly in the new year.
›Dig­i­tal OOH (Out-of-home) — A sur­pris­ing one for the num­ber one tech­nique
›Employ­ee advo­ca­cy and feed­back — inter­est­ing to see the inter­nal mar­ket­ing per­spec­tive — again sur­pris­ing to see as the main growth point
›Machine Learn­ing — as men­tioned at the top of the arti­cle
›Omnichan­nel and mul­ti­chan­nel attri­bu­tion — both good for remind­ing us that it is the way that these chan­nels work togeth­er to sup­port each oth­er that is often most impor­tant — the rea­son why many mem­bers are look­ing for advice on an inte­grat­ed mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy