4 Thoughts on the shape of marketing in 2018

By Sam Turner January 03, 2018
‘Time changes everything except something within us, which is constantly surprised by change’ - Thomas Hardy


In an effort to make you slightly less surprised in 2018 then, here are the things I can see changing in marketing this year, based on our experiences over the last 12 months or so. I’ve gone for changes here that are likely to impact everyone; whether you’re a marketer, managing director who doesn’t get involved in marketing or somewhere in between, with handy crib notes at the end covering what to do next.



Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash


GDPR and (more interestingly) the changing face of email

This wouldn’t be a marketing blog if it didn’t mention GDPR, so consider this both my contractual obligation as a marketer and my agreement that yes, GDPR will shape marketing in 2018.

You can find many, many (many) GDPR opinions online, so I’ll add mine only briefly. GDPR will change:

  • The willingness of many businesses to run large email lists - who are emailed regularly - of non-clients
  • The entire approach of many businesses to what email marketing is

The main driver behind this is fear. GDPR has created a fair amount of it, arguably fairly so, and firms are, frankly, scared of falling foul of the new rules.

But positive things can come from fear.

Is your email marketing really that effective currently? How many new clients does it directly contribute? What exactly is the response rate of that cold list of 10,000 contacts you purchased seven years ago?

It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that your email marketing needed a shakeup some time ago. The fact that GDPR might be the catalyst is no bad thing.

Marketers: What’s ‘plan B’ for your email marketing? Email is still a viable online channel for the right audience so how are you going to use it in the future? Bear in mind how many marketing emails land in your own inbox and remain unread or are instantly deleted. There is another way!

Non-marketers: GDPR is not just a marketing thing and, tempting though it might be, addressing its requirements shouldn’t just rest with marketing. Assemble a GDPR project team to come up with a plan.


Adoption of inbound in marketing circles and outside of marketing circles

The assumption among marketing professionals is generally that inbound marketing is well-known and well-adopted in businesses large and small across the UK. Back in 2014, Hubspot data suggested that 79% of UK companies adopted ‘inbound marketing strategies’ during that year.

I’d quibble that, mainly from the point of view that one man’s ‘inbound marketing strategy’ is another man’s ‘push a blog out there and see how it does’.

Anecdotally, we see very different levels of knowledge of inbound between marketers with their finger on the pulse, more traditional, perhaps primarily offline marketers and people outside of marketing. Amongst the latter group there appears to be fairly limited penetration of sophisticated inbound values and techniques when it comes to the fairly traditional industries we predominantly work in (legal, financial advisers and the wider finance sector, software providers to the same, etc.). A survey we conducted of top North West legal firms last year revealed that only 10% were using gated content (content which requires you to submit personal details in order to see it) as a way of attracting leads. This is a fairly basic tenant of inbound.

But there is no doubt that inbound is growing as a whole and, as with anything else, the knowledge that comes with that growth will take time to disseminate through industries, networks and job roles.

Marketers: Don’t assume everyone out there is in the same place you are when it comes to inbound. Make it part of your job to clue up your firm’s wider team. This could be as simple as shouting about your inbound successes.

Non-marketers: Time to tick ‘find out about inbound marketing’ off your ‘to do’ list!



Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash


Personalisation will change to personal experiences, driven by technology

Personalisation used to mean including someone’s name at the beginning of an email. It doesn’t mean that any more.

To illustrate that point, let’s consider Google for a second.

Each of our individual experiences on Google is entirely different, based on who we are, where we are and what else Google knows about us.

Take my relationship with Google Maps, for example, particularly when it comes to the Google Maps map of the United States.

One of the first places that’s always picked out for me on the map is Philadelphia, before perhaps better known and larger cities on the east coast, like New York and Washington. I have family ties to Philadelphia and will often search things to do with the city.

Because I have my place of work and home address stored in Maps, I get an alert at about 4pm each day to tell me what traffic is looking like along my route.

No one else has this exact same experience of Google (unless you happen to be following me very closely, in person, perhaps with a deerstalker hat on and large magnifying glass). That is proper personalisation.

You might not think that your firm can reach that level of personalisation, but there are technologies from larger firms out there that have spent the money so that your firm can reach that level. We’re Hubspot partners and Hubspot is one of those firms. Using their technology and that of other providers, you can give every single visitor to your website a different experience, based on what you know about them and what they want from you.

And here’s the crucial part.

During the lengthy 7 paragraphs on Google personalisation above many of you will have been thinking ‘yeah, so what, I get the same thing every day and have done for years.’

Exactly. Google levels of personalisation are the new normal. We’ve all received that personalisation for some time now and it’s becoming more sophisticated every day. We expect it of Google and other companies and, very soon, your clients and potential clients will expect it of you.

Marketers: What are you doing this year that makes your marketing more personalised? If you’re just sticking to emails with the addressees first name at the start then reassess what more you can do to personalise your marketing.

Non-marketers: Ask your marketers for a personalisation plan for 2018. How is your marketing getting more personal? What’s the expected impact? What changes are you going to see?


The ‘value-add’ of your content

The pure volume of content produced (as everyone moves towards having an ‘inbound marketing strategy’, natch) is vast.

Therefore, to catch people’s attention, your content really does have to be unique and useful to them. This has been true for a while now and is only getting more true with each passing year. We have a simple test in the office called the ‘can’t scroll past’ test. If we were one of our clients’ target audience, would we be able to ‘scroll past’ the piece of content we’re producing, or advert we’re designing, or would we have to click on it and download it?

If your content doesn’t pass this test, it begs the question: why spend the time producing it?

One of our best performing pieces of content is a guide detailing 47 practical SEO tips anyone can implement on their firm’s website. The original version was produced several years ago and yet it remains one of our highest performers because the value it adds appears to be genuinely significant: if you follow all 47 of its tips, it’s likely that you’ll have a better performing website when it comes to Google search ranking. Great news!

As more people spend more money on more content, the ability of people to pay attention to more of it is going to decrease. Making your content the cream of the crop may be an old message but it gets truer with every passing year.

Marketers: Review your content plan and apply the ‘can’t scroll past’ test. What have you got in the pipeline that really is absolutely crucial for your audience? How much are you planning that could be ignored with no ill-effect on your audience?

Non-marketers: Ask your marketing team or agency about their current ‘heros’ or ‘stars’ when it comes to content. What produces most return for you? Which blogs chip in the most traffic from search? How are they planning to replicate these?

 demonstrating roi

Sam Turner

Sam Turner

Sam has responsibility for ClientsFirst’s inbound and content marketing, as well as helping clients to execute their own marketing campaigns and produce engaging copy. He has a background in blogging, copywriting and social media and is always on the lookout for a story or an emerging social technology. A keen traveller, when not in front of a computer keyboard, Sam can be found planning his next trip away or, closer to home, back in front of a keyboard writing something covering film and TV.

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