Let’s go back to the shift of the millennium. Ask somebody about inbound marketing and you’ll probably get a shoulder shrug as an answer. Tell them about a marketing technique through which customers come looking for your products instead of you chasing after them. You’ll probably get a laugh or two. However, nowadays inbound marketing is real, very real. Hubspot’s former CMO Mike Volpe summarized this marketing technique in a simple and accurate phrase: “Don’t interrupt what your buyers want to consume, be what they want to consume”.
“Don’t interrupt what your buyers want to consume – BE what they want to consume.” ― Mike Volpe
Although outbound marketing strategies still are popular and effective, they are losing a lot of terrain against their more effective, inbound marketing counterpart. It is even considered that properly executed inbound marketing tactics are 10 times more effective in generating leads than the classic outbound techniques. How did this shift occur so suddenly? Well, there are many factors in play: the internet, worldwide online access, social media, search engines…
The list goes on for a while, but the fact is that with the aperture of online businesses, marketers shifted from an aggressive strategy of finding customers through mass marketing, to a strategy that lets the customer come to you. Everybody is doing inbound now, from established companies such as Startbucks with their Instagram account or GE with the technology YouTube channels, to newcomers like Salesforce or HubSpot that promote high-quality online content.
Since inbound marketing strategies develop at such an accelerated pace, it is vital to keep up with the newest trends out there. You sneeze, you lose. What are these newest trends? There are some obvious ones you will hear every now and then, such as a solid social media strategy or providing quality content. These are musts, not trends. Some marketers even consider some of the classic online marketing techniques to be overrated or even obsolete. So then, which are the most promising inbound marketing channels and strategies for 2017? Here are probably the 5 most important trends inbound marketers should look out for this year:
1. Welcome to the Mobile World
By the end of 2015 Google announced that over 50% of their search queries globally were taking place on mobile devices. And the number is increasing drastically with each year that goes by. This means that at least half of the customers you are trying to attract with marketing content will be arriving on devices such as smartphones and tablets.
From your blog posts and video content, to your home and landing pages. Having a mobile-friendly design, interface and content is vital for your inbound marketing strategy, since there are high chances most of your potential customers will be arriving through this channel. Moreover, this also plays a key role in the case of SEO, since the algorithms of search engines like Google rank mobile-friendly site favorably. So be sure to tailor your site properly for mobile users, or you will be losing tons of potential leads and exposure possibilities.
2. 4 Key Pieces of Content: Presentations, Infographics, Videos and Interactive Content
Naturally, quality content is vital. Who wants to spend time reading pointless articles that are only created for SEO purposes? However, how you provide this content is also extremely relevant. 2017 is all about stunning visual content and interaction. Naturally blog posts and white papers are still vital, but customers are looking for more visually engaging content such as infographics or embedded presentations.
Without a doubt, one of the most important types of content in the next years will be video. It is bound the be one of the leading platforms for businesses to introduce their brands and attract leads. Videos provide a high amount of information faster than most written content and have a great virality potential, which makes them a key piece in every content marketing strategy. According to HubSpot’s 2016 State of Inbound Marketing report. YouTube and Facebook videos will be the preferred content distribution channels of marketers in 2017. Whether it is live streaming video, Snapchat/Instagram videos, or a regular YouTube channel, video is a must this year for any inbound marketing strategy wishing to succeed.
3. Email Marketing’s Last Stand?
Many consider that email marketing will soon disappear. As you can see in the graph at the beginning of this article, many expert marketers view it as an overrated marketing technique. If only the guys from MailChimp would hear that… Although various new interactive inbound marketing channels are emerging, email marketing is still a highly lucrative and promising strategy. If done right. Still 2 out of every 3 marketers consider that email marketing results in excellent or at least good ROI.
So how can email marketing stay alive in 2017? First, email marketing campaigns will focus on innovative or even interactive content that engages customers on a further level than the classical email. Powerful story-telling and visual content such as videos, presentations, GIFs and other engaging elements will help innovate the way we have seen emails until now.
Finally, email marketing has a last ace under the sleeve: automation. Email automation tools are not only going to make emailing campaigns much more efficient, they will also integrate personalized content, smart tracking analytics and in general enhance the whole lead generation process. 2017 will be the year that defines the future of email marketing.
4. The Narrowing Gap Between Sales and Marketing
Although sales and marketing are usually seen as two opposite poles in businesses, in the last years they have been working tightly together. You probably have heard of the smarketing trend, referring to an integration between the sales and marketing processes. Well, in 2017 this will not only be true for many companies, it will be a must for those who want to keep up with the inbound marketing movement. It is estimated that companies with effective smarketing strategies generate over 208% more revenues from marketing efforts.
One of the biggest advantages of smarketing lies in the lead generation process. A tight collaboration between sales and marketing teams enables a clearer depiction of the customer’s buyer’s journey and thus allows businesses to identify clearly a customer’s specific journey stage. In this sense, content can be tailored specifically for each buyer persona and more high-quality leads can be generated.
One of the clear signs that the smarketing movement has come here to stay, is the increased value and usage of marketing and sales automation and acceleration tools. CRM platforms that allow sales and marketing teams to collaborate efficiently and follow the customer along the whole sales funnel until maturity are on demand. A demand that is just going to keep on increasing. You just need to check the annual reports of companies such as Salesforce or HubSpot and you will be blown away by their growth rate in the last years.
5. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Data Analytics
This is probably the most interesting of all upcoming trends and one that, without a doubt, will revolutionize the way marketing is done. Data has never been as valuable as today, and most companies are collecting huge amounts of it on their customers. The goal is to generate AI solutions that automate most marketing processes and provide insightful recommendations grounded on machine learning. In this way, efficient marketing forecasts will result from reliable customer behavior analysis.
AI will not only be used to collect and analyze relevant data, it will also automate even everyday processes such as customer interactions. A great example is that of chatbots. Since Facebook Messenger opened its doors to the chatbot revolution, at least 34,000 chatbots have been created to improve customer relations. And this is only one of the most visible trends. Automated content recommendations, customer service, ad targeting, customer segmentation, sales forecasting… The possibilities for AI are immense.
The number of marketers using AI today is fairly low, but 2017 will definitively be a year that will see a huge increase in marketing strategies adapting to this promising trend. Will this mean that a lot of marketing jobs will be cut or will it be a positive leap into a more productive way of doing business? It is hard to say… Arguing from the point of creative destruction, it would probably mean that certain marketing jobs will become obsolete. This, however, would also be reflected on new jobs emerging in innovative marketing areas and contributing to the overall development of the industry. So, AI is not a trend to worry about, it is one to follow with excitement.
Time never stands still and neither does marketing. Every good marketer should adapt his or her strategy to the upcoming trends and always have keep a second eye on the future. As the popular saying goes: forewarned is forearmed.