A famous quote from Lao Tzu says

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

That might be true for life but not in Marketing. I actually think about the future a lot. The reason is obvious: if you can’t see what’s coming you make the wrong investments. Now, you can’t foresee the future, but you can make predictions.

Making predictions brings clarity, just like writing does. Formulating my thoughts about the future (of Growth Marketing) helps me to plan ahead and understand where we are right now.  

I learned that humans can get better at predicting the future, so consider this my public training. To reinforce that, I want to score my previous predictions every year. Since I haven’t made any last year, I’ll start scoring in 2019. The inspiration for that comes from Rand Fishkin, who’s been doing this for years (hat tip).  

So, this post is my predictions for where Growth Marketing is going in 2018.  

I base my predictions on my experiences at Atlassian, the German Accelerator, talking to people in the industry, reading tons of blog articles and industry reports. If you’re interested in what I’m reading, subscribe to my curated newsletter

Here are my predictions in a nutshell:

What’s going to happen in Growth Marketing in 2018?

 

#1 Most publishers and companies will retreat from Social organic as a marketing channel

Reason one: Organic reach on social media has been consistently breaking down in the last two years.

(source: Parsely; last 12 months)   It’s reaching a significant point. In some countries, like Slovakia or Guatemala, where Facebook is pretty much the internet, this hits hard. I picked that thought up from a recently published Reuters report.  

Reason two: The two biggest traffic channels – by far – are Facebook and Google. They have a duopoly.   Facebook has started capitalizing on that position by raising it’s price per ad while reducing organic reach, of course.

(source: Stratechery)  

Reason three: The ongoing discussion about the harm of social media on our health has already forced Facebook to react strongly.   As I wrote in Tech Bound #13:

  • In May, FB promised to reduce links to low-quality web pages
  • In December, it said to show less clickbaity content
  • A few days earlier, FB published a statement about the bad influence of social media on us

It sounds a lot like organic reach is only decreasing further.  

Conclusion: Most publishers will not use Facebook as a primary acquisition channel anymore, but as a secondary “reach multiplier channel”. If Facebook tweaks its algorithm in a way that users see more content from their friends, instead of content from Facebook pages, there’s still a chance for content to go “viral” and spread from user-to-user. But I don’t think we’ll see much of page-to-user in 2018.

#2 SEO will become more important for Growth Hacking

Reason one: I wrote about how Social Media as a channel has become more expensive (ads) and less lucrative (organic reach) in prediction #1. The next bigger channel is Google and SEO has proven to yield much higher returns than paid search.  

As Rand Fishkin (yes, I do read other things as well) writes:

“SEO still gets ~20X more traffic than PPC”.

Reason two: I recently gave a presentation at WalkMe (San Francisco) about the topic “building a community around your product”. In it, I pointed out the fact that we get more and more averse to ads. Not that we ever liked them but in the last 5-10 years, they have been taken to such an extreme that we’ve literally become blind to them.  

Already in 2015, Hubspot wrote about the dilution of display ads.   When was the last time you didn’t do something else while the 30 second ad on Youtube was playing?   I call it “ad aversion” and I think we can’t measure its full impact yet.  

Heck, some Youtube ads even mine bitcoins in the background and drain your computer resources.  

Reason three: On top of “ad aversion”, Google Chrome will introduction its built-in ad blocker in February 2018. As browser with the highest market share, this should have an impact on the ad industry.   Conclusion: Marketers will spend more time and energy on SEO. However, see prediction #3.

#3 SEO will get much harder

Reason one: I devoted a whole edition of Tech Bound to the future of SEO. One main driver of that theory is complexity. SEO is not as “simple” anymore as 5-10 years ago.   There are many reasons for it:

  • Google’s use of machine learning, which makes it harder to reverse engineer ranking factors
  • A strong push in mobile: AMP, app indexing, PWAs, mobile-first indexing
  • More SERP features (featured snippets, knowledge graph, direct answers, etc.)
  • Industry-/keyword-specific ranking factors
  • Voice search (and missing tracking data about it)
  • etc.

Reason two: The earlier mentioned reasons (ad aversion, less investment in social media, more marketers falling back on SEO) will lead to more competition in SEO. That means marketers will one-up each other in terms of content marketing and set the bar to get a lot of organic traffic higher.  

Reason three: Google answers more and more questions directly in the SERPs (search engine results pages). Direct answers, featured snippets, knowledge graph and carousels are only the beginning.

Conclusion: SEO will yield higher returns but also get much, much more competitive. Since backlinks have become just one ranking signal of many, it will not be easy to gain a competitive advantage. That will make it a winner-takes-all-game in some cases.

#4 Niche communities will be discovered as a great channel for growth

Reason one: Niche communities are relatively untapped so far but they’re extremely potent as a vehicle for growth. Members are more engaged and passionate about the topic the niche community is focused on.  

With the right strategy – I outlined it in “the underrated power of online communities for growth” – you can even build one yourself and raise a loyal audience.   Examples of niche communities:

  • untappd, a community around beer
  • Inbound.org, a community around inbound marketing (owned by Hubspot)
  • Barcalycard Travel, a community around travel (owned by Barclaycard)
  • Goodreads, a community for book lovers (owned by Amazon)
  • Dribbble, a designer community
  • Instructables, a makers community (owned by Autodesk)

 

Reason two: Big social networks are not a platform for “focused” discussions. You can talk about everything and nothing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, & co. Of course, there are Facebook Groups, Subreddits, Hashtags, and what not. But that only allows you to go one layer deep.   On a niche community, for example, a web forum for cat lovers (not uncommon), every member is passionate about the community’s topic, which makes it much easier to talk about subtopics. On big social networks, that’s just not possible.  

Reason three: The reason marketers haven’t used the opportunity so far is a) because it takes effort to “piggyback” on an existing community and b) advertising on niche communities isn’t as easy as on big social networks. But with other growth channels fatiguing, that investment becomes more and more attractive.  

Conclusion: Niche communities will become very interesting in 2018, as a way to acquire users (piggybacking) and as a way to build relationships and retain users (own community). I expect 2018 to a) show a splurge in niche communities and social networks and b) more marketers using them for growth.

#5 App push notifications will die as a retention tactic

Reason one: Andrew Chen wrote about how people opt out of Push Notifications and as growth marketer at UBER, he must know.   We also have to include cell phones in the discussion about “is social media harmful?”. Most human beings – including me – don’t have a healthy relationship with them. Push notifications have conditioned us to pull the phone out and check “what’s up” at every given opportunity.   Turning them off has really given me more peace of mind. And I don’t seem to be alone.  

Reason two: A study from 2017 concludes that “News outlets have shifted toward alerts that provide detail and context at the lock screen level.” The lock screen is clogged.   That results in more competition on the lock screen, which makes it harder for push messages to come through. I expect companies to become even more aggressive about them as a reaction, which will further “turn users off” (pun intended).  

Reason three: Publishers have abused “breaking news” too often.

The same study mentioned above also came to the conclusion that 31% of all alerts received via Apple News was click-bait.   When everything is breaking news, nothing is.   Conclusion: I don’t see a bright future for push notifications and I think in 2018 we’ll see a strong downward trend. Many of my friends and I have already turned them off and use apps like Focus to decondition ourselves and get our attention back.

#6 E-Mail marketing will return

Reason one: The strong trend of replacing e-mail with messengers as a business communication platform leaves a vacuum: everybody still has an email address, but it’s less used for business. That opens a window of opportunity for e-mail marketing.

However, I don’t think dry sales campaigns will make a comeback – curated e-mail and well done drip campaigns will.  

Reason two: E-Mail is a channel you can fully control. No email provider is going to decrease your reach or make you “pay to play” (apart from some basic distribution cost). And e-mail provides pretty good analytics.  

Reason three: The internet is getting more crowded and it’s harder to filter good from bad content. There are a gazillion blogs and news outlets (that’s why I created Tech Bound). Email can be a weapon against the noise.  

Conclusion: Companies like TheHustle, The Skimm, or Finimize already do a really good job in leveraging Email. I see a big chance to revive E-Mail marketing as a 2.0 version with more exclusive content.

#7 User testing will become easier and cheaper

Reason: I see a lot of new, cheap but good tools, like Inspectlet, Hotjar, Omniconvert, and Smartlook, coming to market in the analytics and tracking space.  

Conclusion: A/b testing is now super simple. You don’t even need coding skills for it. Plus, tools are getting cheaper while improving functionality.

#8 Podcasts will become a stable advertisement channel

Reason one: I see a chance that podcasts receive a good chunk of the social media ad budget, which is shifted because social network CPC is going up (see previous predictions).

(source: Bridge Ratings)   To me, podcasts are already the new radio (including jingles and native advertising) and it seems that publishers are starting to recognize the opportunity behind that.   The attention on podcasts is high. I listen to them all the time and many of my friends and acquaintances do as well.  

Reason two: As a company, you can make individual deals with each podcast. You’re not bound to ad networks or agencies unless one company owns many podcasts you want to advertise on. Plus, the ads are native (spoken by the podcasters), which is much more trustful and yields higher returns on spend.  

Reason three: Podcasts are growing. According to Edison Research, four in ten Americans listen to them.   The modern economy is a “choice economy”, meaning the consumer decides when and what to consume. Look at Netflix. Or Spotify. Podcasts fit well into this lineup.   I also think smart speakers will accelerate that trend.  

Conclusion: Podcasts are already big but in 2018 they’re becoming a stable advertising platform.

#9 B2B marketing will become a lot like B2C

Reason one: I don’t see many differences between B2C and B2B marketing anymore, except for very high priced and complex B2B products. That’s very connected to the fact that people don’t like to speak to salespeople anymore.  

Data from State of Inbound indicates that “38% of salespeople say getting a response from prospects is getting more difficult.”   One to two decades ago, you’d simply pick up the phone and call a salesperson when you wanted to buy a B2B solution. Nowadays, there are over 10 steps we take before we even talk to a salesperson.  

Reason two: Millennials are the biggest group of decision-makers in the B2B space. Already in 2015, B2B decision-making involved Millennials 73% of the time.  

Millennials are different than other buyer groups in that they are very prone to modern media (social media, search, apps) and very averse to traditional media (tv, radio, print).   A reason that plays directly into this is that companies have flatter hierarchies. The result is that more people (think “Millennials”) are being involved in purchase decisions.  

Reason three: Direct outreach is getting harder, according to Digital Doughnut (yes, that’s really their name), while inbound marketing channels yield better results in B2B marketing.

(source: Digital Doughnut)  

Conclusion: B2B companies should experiment more with B2C tactics. B2B is already a lot like B2C: Intercom and Slack have podcasts, Caterpillar experimented successfully with its “built for it” video campaign and Hubspot & Buffer are capitalizing big time on SEO. I even wrote a whole article on B2B without salespeople. 2018 will be a pinnacle year for that trend.

#10 Smart speakers will become a viable user-acquisition channel in 2018

Reason one: We’re getting close to significant smart speaker adoption. Research from Juniper indicates that smart audio hardware revenue might exceed 10$ billion in 2022.   Apple’s HomePod is finally coming to market and will compete with Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home.   Ford announced to bring Echo into its cars, which I think is huge.   Siri, Cortana, and Bixby – virtual phone assistants – will break out of phones and move into homes, cars, and offices.   As marketers, we cannot miss out on these platforms.  

Reason two: Voice shopping is a winner-takes-it-all game. When you tell Alexa to “order new toilet paper”, it will first look for previous purchases and suggest to buy them again or “suggest highly rated, top-selling items that are prime eligible” (according to Amazon). It also seems that Amazon favors its own white label products over others when it comes to voice search.   Hence, competition is harsh. Once a customer is locked-in, it’s harder to win him over as a brand and you’re competing with Amazon itself at this point.

(source: Bloomberg)   It also seems that ranking high on Amazon for product categories will be an important factor for voice shopping.  

Conclusion: Smart speakers will make the marketing game VERY interesting and they will be a strong force in our world; if not in 2018 then in 2019 or 2020. But I see smart speakers becoming a viable user-acquisition platform in 2018. Companies should think about creating Alexa skills, manufacturers should think about their Amazon rankings – now.

#11 B2B businesses and marketers will go all in on LinkedIn

Reason one: Organic reach on LinkedIn is still one of the highest compared to other social networks.  

Reason two: LinkedIn is growing and comes with similar functionality as Facebook: feed, comments, likes, groups, and articles. Combine that with higher organic reach and you have a lot of compelling reasons to invest more time and resources into the platform.

(source: Practical Ecommerce)  

Reason three: Linkedin is probably the best B2B advertising platform right now. If you’re trying to get more leads or even recruit, regular ads and inbox messages can be very potent it done right.  

Conclusion: I’m seeing a lot more marketers using Linkedin as a traffic source and in 2018 they will go all in – because it works! But I also think towards the end of 2018 Linkedin will filter out more content algorithmically as a response to this content flood.

What else I’m thinking about in 2018

 

  • The role of WhatsApp in Growth Marketing?
  • What will happen to Snapchat?
  • What social networks and apps will surprise us (like tbh)?

In a year, we’ll see how accurate my predictions are.   Until then.     PS: What are your thoughts? Which predictions do you agree with? Which not? Let me know on social media or in the comments.