In 2017, advertising spending is tipped to actually slow across the world, according to buying agency Magna Global.
But that’s not likely to matter much to small and medium business owners who are taking an increasingly sophisticated approach to managing their marketing strategy.
Experts tell SmartCompany that in the year ahead SMEs should turn their attention to the increasingly targeted approaches making headways in the marketing landscape by carefully choosing everything from the partners they work with, to the metrics they use.
So what branding trends can you take advantage of in 2017?
Here are some suggestions.
The goal posts shift on number crunching
Using social media to market a business is now commonplace, but it’s how that social media presence converts to sales that counts.
According to one marketing expert, 2017 will be the year that smaller operators fully take control of deeper analysis about who is engaging with them online and why.
“A lot of small businesses are on social now, and they’re starting to evolve into a place where big data [is] making more sense of them,” Good Things Marketing chief executive Helen Ahrens told SmartCompany.
“They’re focusing less on the idea that 3000 people liked a page—now it’s about clicks on posts.”
Click-through rates, time spent engaging on posts, and tracking the direct effects of a digital marketing campaign on sales are all becoming second nature to the bigger players—and if you don’t have an idea of which metrics will show you whether your digital strategy is working, now is the time to brush up, says Ahrens.
“There’s lots of really interesting agencies and specialists online and lots of free resources, but technical specialists in marketing can also help you identify the things that matter,” Ahrens says.
Now that most businesses have basic social media marketing skills under their belts, it’s time to properly reverse-engineer the aim of a marketing strategy by being concrete about the desired result, and then working out the metrics and posting strategy.
“For example, you might say ‘we want to make 20 more sales a months’,” Ahrens says.
Read more: Lessons from five leading retailers: The risk-takers and the innovators
The race for perfect pictures
Images are well known for trumping words when it comes to driving behaviour and consumer preferences for pictures is becoming increasingly important in the battle of the social media platforms.
At the start of the month, research firm Emarketer predicted Instagram would soon overtake Twitter as the world’s preferred marketing platform, with three quarters of US businesses surveyed planning on using Instagram as part of their marketing strategy in 2017.
This represents a significant challenge for marketers given most Instagram users access the platform from their mobile phone, as PricewaterhouseCoopers pointed out in a marketing review published in September.
Businesses must now make content that is high quality, but also made for consumption on very tiny screens.
As PwC observes, “US adults are spending about 25 percent of their 12 hours of daily media consumption on a mobile”.
This includes younger consumers, who are also said to feel a strong connection with Youtube stars and content, which they identify with more closely than other content formats.
Video content also provides a central platform for influencers to spread news about a brand.
What’s missing in the Australian market, according to Ahrens, is a strong platform for SMEs to make effective video materials—but she believes a solution might not be too far off.
“I don’t know what it is exactly, but you know how [graphic design startup] Canva is ‘graphic design for anyone’?
“I predict in the next year there will be video editing for everyone. We’re at a marketing point where the cost is just so high,” she says.
There’s already some movement on this front, with the likes of Shootsta telling SmartCompany earlier this year the growing market for video content with a quick turnaround presents a big opportunity in the business of moving pictures.
Connection to the world
Authenticity is going to become increasingly important in branding, particularly in the retail space, Retail Oasis strategist Pippa Kulmar told SmartCompany earlier in December.
“I think the future of retail has got to be around sustainability and conscious capital, and having an authentic story,” says Kulmar, who believes a potential backlash against fast fashion retailers like Zara in favour of social enterprise brands like Patagonia could be on the cards in future.
The connection that consumers now expect between the brands they use and their experience and values makes space for simple campaigns that show life as it happens, says Inside Out PR’s Hannah van Otterloo.
She points to a 2016 campaign from Ikea as an example of how brands can draw on the power of personal connections.
“Åkestam Holst did an inspiring spot for Ikea that tackles the issue of divorce for good reason. Instead of presenting a glossy image of divorce and a bliss family image of ‘separated but still supporting one another’,” van Otterloo says.
“The communications agency targets the consumer to feel like it really understands the ugly face of divorce on a father, mother and children.”
The “Every Other Week” campaign is a one-minute video built for online sharing.
It tells the story of a small boy whose parents have recently broken up, and the stabilising effect of using IKEA furniture to make his dad’s new place feel familiar.
IKEA also built on the connection between its products and domestic problems earlier this year by renaming products in its online search engine to reflect relationship issues—for example, the mattress wedge that was listed as “She doesn’t want to snuggle”.
Whatever the message your brand wants to push next year, there should be one central focus says van Otterloo: “Always feature the human element, emotion!”
Making the buzzwords work for you
There are two shiny ideas that pop up in almost all marketing predictions at the moment: the value of influencers and the move to content marketing.
There’s plenty of examples of big brands using both ideas, but how can those with smaller marketing spends take advantage?
There’s no denying that a partnership between a business and a likeminded individual with their own audience can have positive long term impacts, says Ahrens, but you have to know how to pick them.
Famous brand ambassadors on the scale of the Kardashians might suggest that partnering with a third party to talk about your company will be incredibly expensive.
However, getting bang for your buck is about more than the size of a social media influencer’s audience, says Ahrens.
“Smalls should work with smalls. A small influencer of 5,000 to 30,000 followers presents a realistic option.”
Now that brands are coming to terms with the process of finding social media stars to work with, they should be taking a more strategic approach to choosing someone who will help achieve the brand’s objectives, Ahrens says.
“The first thing is to speak to at least three influencers to get an idea of market value,” she says.
“Estimate their time, reach and market value.”
Then it’s a matter of picking the person or people who will best achieve the goal you have for them.
Instead of focusing on the number of followers, it’s worth thinking about how an audience moves with an influencer across a number of different platforms, Ahrens says.
“I would choose someone who has their own blog as more valuable [than someone with just a big following on Instagram],” she says.
“You want a full fleet, [cross] platform audience.”
For content marketing, 2017 might be the year that the business community emerges from the “rubbish” that has been produced over the past few years into a higher quality offering, says Ralph Grayden, head of communications agency Antelope Media.
“People have switched off,” he says.
The lack of engagement in this area means businesses have a new opportunity to make things people actually want to read and consume—and marketers are curating bigger projects that add value to the target audience.
“For instance, we recently published a dense, two-part 4,000-word LinkedIn article for one of our clients and they received their best response ever,” Grayden says.
With this push for “quality” marketing that consumers find useful and engaging, SMEs are better served to pick a couple of platforms and strategies and run with a few things that will work really well, Grayden says.
“No one can master every social platform. Pick the one (or two) that your audience is most likely to use and master it, don’t do a half-baked effort at trying to use several,” he says.
This article was originally published on SmartCompany.
Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and iTunes.