2018's top five digital marketing trends

It’s been a busy year in digital, and this time, the gauntlet has been passed to me to share Fresh Egg’s 2018 digital predictions.

A look back at our 2017 blog at the beginning of last year saw great leaps in customer experience optimisation, personalisation and big data integration, amongst other trends.  And 2017 has not let us down.

We’ve seen huge developments in live streaming, progressive mobile technology and virtual assistants. The Internet of Things is all-encompassing, and showing no sign of slowing down.

So let’s look at what’s in store for 2018:

1. The bitcoin boom

We think 2018 will be the year that cryptocurrency and blockchain transactions really take off – led by the world’s first digital currency, bitcoin. This new way of banking was first developed in 2009 and has seen huge surges in activity and market value this past year, with bitcoin price increasing by more than a thousand percent.

In case you didn’t know, cryptocurrency is a peer-to-peer digital currency, operating online only. With no central governance, with varying support from major banks, it's not actually classed as an official currency – yet more and more people are using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies for online transactions.

As of 2017 there are a reported 2.9 to 5.8million users of cryptocurrencies, a large proportion of them using bitcoin. The increased use has generated mainstream media interest as more big businesses start to adopt alternative currencies as ways of making payment.

October 2017 saw the first property available to buy in Bitcoin – with the £18 million London mansion’s owners hoping to ‘shift perceptions on cryptocurrency and pioneer bitcoin deals across Britain’.

And in December 2017 commercial radio station Absolute Radio offered one bitcoin as a competition prize, further cementing its presence in mainstream consciousness.

With backing from Microsoft, Samsung, Expedia and global Internet payment systems like Stripe, the bitcoin revolution is just getting started.

From a marketing point of view, adopting bitcoin payment on your site showcases your business as forward-thinking, innovative and all-embracing of new technology. You’ll lead the curve, open your business up to a new audience, and be at the forefront of an exciting new currency revolution.

But it’s not all plain sailing, with apparent huge energy implications to power bitcoin's ‘production’, and volatile fluctuations in value (from up 44% or down 25% against the dollar). Newer cryptocurrencies are beginning to solve this problem with more efficient mining processes. 

Video game platform Steam last month stopped accepting bitcoin as a payment method because of exactly this, with in-game transactions causing headaches in terms of refunds and gamers having to repurchase in line with its changing value.

Whatever happens over the next year, we’re interested to see how businesses and consumers will adopt alternative currency in 2018, and who will get bitcoin ready.

2. Visual Search to take over voice

Voice search has already made waves in 2017 but we’re looking to the real transformation to take user experience (UX) to the next level – visual search.

I spoke to Head of SEO Steve Teece to get his thoughts:

“It’s an exciting and transformational time for search. In 2017, we’ve seen major tech companies such as Pintrest, Ebay, Amazon, Google and Bing rollout visual search. Through advancements in machine learning, companies are now able to allow users to move away from traditional text-based searching and use their camera to discover information about what’s around them.

Similar to voice search in 2015-2016, as more devices and apps adopt visual search throughout 2018, we’ll see a significant shift in users using this type of search. Visual search offers advantages over text and voice search, especially when trying to search for items that are hard to describe or when users want answers quickly about places or products they can see in front of them. Gone are the days of typing and refining search queries – the point and search age is here.”

The new Pixel phone can look up artwork, places, films and products – simply by pointing your camera at them. The visual search engine will pull up the relevant information alongside the image (all within the camera), giving you everything you need in one tap of the thumb – without ever having to leave the app.

That’s not all it does, either. If you scan over a URL, email address or other piece of contact information, Lens will automatically prompt you to send that person an email, visit the site or call that number.

Nice. And. Easy.

Minimal effort from the user met with fast intuition and just downright cleverness from Google HQ. It’s a UX dream, and it’s coming to a phone near you in 2018.

3. AI / machine learning – an open door to digital transformation

The dawn of machine learning is upon us, and 2018 will be its year, with artificial intelligence at the heart of a new level of digital transformation.

As the world’s tech giants start to unlock the door to the AI revolution, intelligent technology will continue to empower us in increasingly infinite ways – or in Microsoft’s own words – to ‘see more, do more, and be more’. The organisation’s new mission statement, to ‘amplify human ingenuity with intelligent technology’ illustrates this exciting shift in deep learning and automation, and the giants of tech are following suit.

The boom in AI tools and technologies is here, and it’s open to everyone.

Head of Design and Development Stephen Carpenter told me more:

“It’s clear that 2018 will be a big year for AI – one that takes digital marketing to a new level, with truly customised experiences for consumers, optimised and more efficient processes for brands, and exciting new product innovations afoot. AI brings technology that recognises what it is to be human. It understands our motivations, anticipates our needs, and meets them before we even realise they need meeting.

“It also enables the use and interpretation of big data to see into the future with qualification, making better business decisions formed on fact, not fiction – this is predictive modelling at its finest.”

A great example of this new intelligent predictive modelling at work can be seen with cruise line Carnival’s use of Microsoft’s Azure AI and data platform. The company used real-time data analysis to accurately predict water usage onboard ships – saving $5.2m in water storage and production.

From sophisticated predictive modelling to facial, speech recognition and language / linguistic analysis, AI is humanising technology with life changing capabilities for consumers.

Like the Seeing AI, an intelligent camera app from Microsoft that turns the visual world into an audible experience.

Users can hold the phone up against text, products, scenes, documents or currency for a description of what it is. The app can read text in real time as soon as it appears in front of the camera, and can even recognise friends and describes people around you, including their emotions.

The app, also prototyped but yet to be released in smart glasses, is breaking down barriers to solve real-life problems and was developed by Microsoft software engineer Saqib Shaikh who lost his sight when he was seven years old.

Seeing AI is one of the five intelligent APIs from Microsoft, the first of many transformational pieces of technology with the power to change and enhance the lives of many, in this case those who are blind or visually impaired.

The vision, speech, language, knowledge and search APIs open Microsoft’s big thinking to the masses, making AI development accessible for many brands and agencies by adding just simple lines of code instead of building whole solutions.

For developers, it means access to the big Microsoft brain – a product they’re calling Cognitive Services, fulfilling the company’s mission to ‘empower every person and every organisation to do more’ via agency integrations and open APIs.

It’s an exciting time for AI, opening a world that was previously hard to tap into. A world where personalisation, intelligent automation and sophisticated machine learning is the norm.

We’re already starting to explore this new world at Fresh Egg and are excited to help our clients accelerate their digital transformations.

4. Progressive web apps to take over

We’re gearing up for a big year for progressive web apps (PWAs).

Google last month removed Chrome apps from the Web Store to replace them with PWAs. Chrome apps will no longer be available on Linux Mac and Windows, as the search engine works to bring PWAs to desktop in mid-2018.

Senior Front End Developer Ashley Hitchcock has long been a champion of PWAs:

“PWAs use service worker scripts to offer native app-like experiences to users via the web. With Chrome supporting service workers, Windows Insider build enabling them by default in Microsoft Edge, and Webki actively developing them (currently supported in Preview), it’s never been a better time to venture into progressive web apps for brands. The opportunities to make the customer experience more seamless optimisation of the customer experience are endless.”

They’re faster, more responsive, and offer a seamless, sophisticated and intuitive way for users to interact with your site.

They use less data than native apps, use caching for faster loading times, and can be live on the homescreen, with push notifications enabled. There’s no need to download from an app store, and they update dynamically with background sync enabled.

It’s mobile UX 2.0, and it’s already here to stay.

5. VR - a new frontier for marketing

Although virtual reality (VR) is nothing new, the opportunities it presents for brands to market themselves is. VR technology has come on leaps and bounds in 2017, with a reported 43million people actively using it on some level. That figure is expected to quadruple into this year.

Facebook has already set the tone for VR and digital marketing in its purchase of the largest VR company Oculus Rift, with 360 video and photo quickly becoming a mainstay in our timelines.

From ‘simple’ 3D ad creatives that require glasses to view, through to simulative experiences, like Excerdrin’s VR experience to show what a migraine feels like, the opportunities to enhance customer experience are endless.

Duncan Copeland, Fresh Egg Account Director, told me more:

“With VR the traditional brand story is transformed into a completely immersive experience, where every sense is engaged, and the user is able to feel the experience rather than just interact with it.

With more and more users adopting VR as the norm, this presents a real opportunity for our clients and brands across a wide variety of sectors. Viewing your dream home or taking a look around your ideal car without leaving the comfort of your sofa is now a reality.”

We think 2018 will be a new frontier for digital customer experience in an infinite number of ways, not least these five areas we’ve mentioned in this blog.  What digital trends do you think will be big this year?

If you’d like help transforming your challenges into digital success, do get in touch!