In 2017, brands became incredibly adept at attaching to purpose often just for the sake of doing so. There was an enormous amount of customer information collected, yet most brands missed the mark when it came to social listening and effective positioning. One of the main reasons for this was a lack of clarity around brand purpose and alignment with their missions and values – an essential component of all savvy brands. Last year also saw brands pay a huge price for overusing emotion and underestimating customer knowledge.

2018 requires that brands take a deeper dive into collected data in order to fully understand their value propositions. Authenticity and emotional connection remain dominant themes, but must be balanced with learnings from new media like artificial intelligence. All brands will find it challenging to differentiate while still adding value.

Meanwhile, savvy brands will embrace new media (e.g., video) built upon a sound strategy, and consistently strengthen their value proposition through effective listening and storytelling. Micro-influencers will continue to grow in popularity, mostly based on cost and brands’ ability to reach their target audiences more effectively. Lastly, voice-optimized content will likely take us into 2019 with brands struggling to align their voices across ubiquitous content.

That being said, here we highlight the six dominant shifts for brands to watch for 2018. These trends will most definitely affect the viability of brands not only this year, but also beyond. Is your brand ready?

Artificial Intelligence

The way brands interact with consumers will be greatly influenced by the use of artificial intelligence. Through the utilization of big data and machine learning, brands will produce highly-customized content. Savvy brands will collect data based on a variety of factors including persona and lifestyle to market more effectively to their customers.

Differentiation 2.0

Differentiation has and will continue to play an integral role in brand success. While most market leaders acknowledge the need for differentiation, it is often lacking in the end result. Savvy brands will learn to link an emotional connection with differentiation, thereby strengthening their relationships with consumers.

Video Will Dominate

Successful creation of video content – the strategic kind that aligns well with a brand’s verbal identity – will be key for differentiating oneself in 2018. The use of Instagram Stories and Snapchat will continue to allow brands to create rapid-share, video content. Savvy brands will seek to tell stories that blend emotional connection with a clearly communicated value proposition.

Value Will Remain Elusive

The definition of “value” will become more and more difficult to pinpoint. Consumers will not only have enormous clarity on why they are making a purchase, but will also expect that brands deliver extended value beyond that purchase. Brands will be required to be transparent and authentic, all while balancing emotional resonance to engage consumers. While consumers will ultimately define their value, it will be incumbent upon brands to collect data and adjust their value propositions accordingly.

Rise of the Micro-Influencers

According to eMarketer, companies shelled out an estimated $570M globally last year on influencer marketing. Efficiently measuring the ROI  for these campaigns, however, will remain a challenge. Micro-influencers, on the other hand, will thrive in 2018 as they continue to offer brands more effective targeting, longer content cycles, and competitive investment in comparison to the often exorbitant upfront costs associated with influencers.

Voice-Optimized Content

According to Google, 20 percent of online searches in 2017 were conducted through voice search. That number is expected to increase to 50 percent by the year 2020. The ease of voice search versus typing is a significant factor in its popularity – one of the reasons as to why brands now have to optimize for voice search as well as web content and mobile. You will start engaging brands in the same way you talk vis-à-vis your messaging app, SMS, and telco apps (to give a few examples).

Cover image source: Ian Schneider