Three major developments that will shape multi-channel marketing in 2017

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With the huge range of different marketing channels available to marketers today, it’s more critical than ever to have a marketing strategy that covers a variety of different channels.

A 2013 study by Multichannel Merchant and Neustar found that 35% of companies already market on multiple channels, and a further 27% had plans to implement a multi-channel strategy in the near future.

Among the customer touchpoints that the study’s respondents considered most critical to their organisation were search engines, cited by 61% of marketers; mobile, cited by 54% of marketers; and social media, cited by 53% of marketers.

2016 has been full of developments that will have a huge impact on the way that marketers approach these channels in 2017 and beyond. So as we close out the year, what are some of the major developments that are likely to shape multi-channel marketing in 2017?

‘Mobile-ification’ of search

This year has been full of huge updates to search that reflect the extent to which mobile now affects the landscape of digital.

First, Google removed the ‘right-hand rail’ from the search results page and moved to only displaying paid ads at the top and bottom of the SERP. This made the layout of the main search results page more adaptive to mobile, and concentrated attention more on the ad positions that tended to perform better.

Next came a major strengthening of Google’s mobile-friendly ranking system, commonly referred to in the industry as ‘mobilegeddon’, which moved to penalise websites which weren’t adaptive enough to mobile devices. Bing also implemented its own ‘mobilegeddon’ update in 2015 which allowed users to differentiate between sites that were and weren’t optimised for mobile, although it opted not to penalise sites for being unfriendly.

A graphic of two mobile phones side by side, one showing a cluttered webpage layout with a small image, lots of text and small navigation buttons. The cluttered phone display has a red circle with an X at the bottom of it. The other phone image has a mobile-optimised layout, with a large image, large text and navigation buttons, and a streamlined, vertical layout. This phone has a green circle with a tick at the bottom.

In 2016, Google doubled down on favouring sites that are properly mobile-adapted in its algorithm. | Image: Google Resources for Webmasters

Finally, in October, Google announced it would be doubling down on mobile search by splitting off desktop and mobile into separate search indexes – of which mobile would be its primary index. If marketers weren’t already making mobile a priority in their marketing strategy, these developments are sure to have lit a fire under them.

The ClickZ Intelligence report ‘The State of Mobile Advertising 2016’ found that 56% of client-side and 44% of agency-side respondents characterised their (or their client’s) mobile advertising efforts as “beginner”, while only 13% of client-side and 16% of agency-side respondents described their mobile advertising strategy as “advanced”.

However, a 2016 Marketing Trends Survey by Selligent and StrongView revealed that 52% of respondents planned to increase their spending on mobile marketing in 2016, a figure which is sure to get even larger in 2017 and in the years that follow. While for many marketers mobile is still considered a ‘bolt-on’ to desktop-focused activities, I wouldn’t be surprised if the opposite is true very soon, especially for organisations who care about search as a marketing channel.

Visual social media

I’ve written a number of times about the trend towards visual social media, with the increased integration of visual elements like video, gifs and images into formerly text-based platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and the rise of visually-focused platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat.

These channels might not be established marketing staples yet, but they are increasingly moving that way. YouTube was the fourth-most cited channel for respondents to the 2016 Marketing Trends Survey who were asked to name the top three performing networks for their social media marketing efforts (behind Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) with Instagram coming in fifth place.

Overall Instagram is far outstripping the competition as a social platform for brands to grow their following, with a median average of 6-8% follower growth month on month, according to the 2016 Social Media Inflation Index. In total, this worked out to an average of 100% follower growth for brands throughout the year 2015.

A screenshot from the dedicated Instagram account for Red Bull cliff diving world series, showing a thumbnail grid of different photographs and videos of people cliff diving.

Instagram is one of the best platforms for brands to grow a following

The rise of visual social media is why established platforms like Facebook and Twitter have made it a priority to integrate more multimedia into their platforms, with the addition of GIFs, short videos and live video streaming to stave off the challenge from more visual competitors.

Noticeably, both Instagram and Facebook have also pioneered ephemeral visual content offerings in the style of Snapchat, which goes to show how much visual channels are influencing the game in social media. This will need to be a big consideration for multi-channel marketers moving into 2017, if they want to take advantage of the increased opportunities that visual provides.

Increased integration of commerce and social

Social media is generally treated as a channel best suited for building up brand visibility and traffic, for raising awareness but not for making direct conversions, as consumers tend to have lower purchase intent when they visit social networks. But several shifts in 2016 have signalled that this might not be the case for long.

Social media and ecommerce have been overlapping more and more as social networks look to drive more revenue by integrating ecommerce features into their interface. The launch of Facebook Marketplace, the acquisition of Famebit by Google/YouTube and the change to Pinterest’s business profiles to showcase Buyable pins more prominently are just three recent examples of this trend.

marketplace2

Even where organisations aren’t using these features directly to sell products, it could prove more lucrative to advertise on social platforms where consumers are increasingly being put in a purchasing mindset.

Social commerce, the closer integration of ecommerce and social, is a significant shift that has the potential to impact mobile, ecommerce, marketing and advertising, and marketers with stakes in any of these channels may well need to adapt their strategies accordingly in 2017 and beyond.

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