The Changing Face of Digital Marketing: What small businesses need to know for 2018

digital marketing - new developments & key trends 2018Digital marketing never stays static, and 2018 is going to be no exception.

As a small business owner, or the person responsible for marketing in a small organisation, what do you need to know at the start of this year to stay ahead of your competition?

We asked Tim Butler, founder of Innovation Visual, to reveal the key digital marketing trends that every business owner will need to get to grips with in 2018.

1. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a significant force in marketing now and in 2018 people will realise that it is impacting their marketing in many different ways. AI works by learning and responding and this power is being used in a number of areas of marketing and customer service.

Machine learning – the ability for AI to learn and improve itself without explicitly being programmed has seen the functional scope of what is possible expand rapidly in recent years.

Marketing is at the forefront of AI use. Google’s AdWords and Facebook both use AI to refine who is shown what adverts. AI goes even further beyond this in marketing.

2. Voice Search & Digital Assistants

The most commonplace use of AI is in the digital assistants like Amazon Echo’s Alexa, Google Home’s Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. The rise of voice search is something you need to be aware of due to the pace at which it is growing. There are an estimated 50 billion searches per month now activated by voice.

The searches are on both Voice First devices (those that do not have a screen, meaning all interaction is through audio, like Amazon Echo and Google Home), mobile phones and increasingly desktop devices that have voice search capabilities.

For small business owners in 2018 the huge rise in voice search will impact consumer businesses more than B2B. However, both should be implementing plans to benefit from, rather than be left behind by this technology. The main impact areas from voice search are:

No screen for search results

Only the first result is read out by devices so being number 2 in the results now has little benefit. The fight to be the number 1 search result is going to become increasingly intense for marketeers going forward.

Longer and question based search queries

Voice searches tend to be longer and more sentence based than typed search queries. The impact here is that you need to start optimizing your content for themes, not rigid sets of keywords.

Retained context & personalization

The AI is retaining the context of what has been said before, which means that the results provided are dependent on this and increasingly granular personalisation.

Local & mobile bias

A large majority of voice searches are being done on mobile devices. Google has said that 20% of its mobile device / app based searches are now done by voice. Searches like ‘find a coffee shop near me’ take into account the user’s geo-location data to provide results.


Voice search is facilitating greater disintermediation. If you ask Amazon’s Alexa to order you a large peperoni pizza one will arrive from Domino’s. You do not get the choice. Being the chosen supplier or being number one in results gives massive market power when voice search is going direct to transaction.

3. Chatbots

Helpful chat boxes in the corners of websites have become increasingly popular.

Often when discussing their use with clients over the past few years the issue has been manning these chat systems, so that web visitors have someone ready to interact with, especially in smaller businesses and outside of normal hours. This problem is ceasing to be a problem through the application of AI.

Chat systems powered by AI can understand the conversational tone and like search algorithm changes, hold previous data to form context. Good bots can provide personalised responses to people’s questions.

For the customer, this can mean that rather than scrolling through lots of different options of products they can use the chatbot technology and ask it questions and eventually get a customized product recommendation that fits their exact need.

It sounds great and it is when it works, but for anyone who has used a poor one the level of frustration can become overwhelming!

2018 is going to see much better chatbots as the technology becomes more mainstream and mistakes that have come before are learned from and improvements are made.

The other big difference is the way that bots can integrate with existing messaging Apps such as WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger by inviting the Bot to join a conversation. This will make bots much more prevalent in 2018 and just like voice search make their use by people habitual not exceptional.

4. Smarketing

No, it is not a typo. Smarketing is a term being championed in a number of places, especially by HubSpot. This is going to be getting more traction in B2B marketing in 2018 as an approach to deliver better customer acquisition and sales results.

The Smarketing theory is that businesses need to stop thinking about Sales and Marketing as two separate functions. This can be easier said than done, especially with established hierarchies and managers protecting self-interest, but it makes sense.

To a potential customer they view a potential supplier in singular terms. To them the experience they have with that business should be consistently good throughout their buying journey. So, they should not experience a dramatic change in tone, approach, content or even offering when they move from browsing a website to being contacted by a sales person.

There is a benefit for businesses acquiring new customers by taking an Smarketing approach. If you have a joined up Smarketing team you do not face the issues of marketing pushing the wrong types of leads, or the wrong level of seniority, or too many / too few leads into the sales function.

A seamless Smarketing team leads to better customer experience, which is likely to improve close rates and reduces internal business inefficiencies reducing cost and improving output.

Why then would you not have a Smarketing team in 2018? It will come down to the matter of it requiring a substantial change in the mind-set of the organization.

Is your business ready to change in 2018? If it is you could gain a competitive advantage. If not you could get left behind as your competitors take your business.

5. Rise & rise of inbound marketing

Inbound marketing has been around for some time. Since John Deere started the Furrow Magazine in 1895 if you include the offline approach. However, digital inbound marketing continues to gain ground and in 2018 it is set to become as mainstream as having a mobile friendly website for B2B companies.

Inbound also feeds into the trends from search engines to look for content and optimizing for themes. Building great content is great for your visitors, the search engines know this, but inbound marketing and content marketing places the emphasis much more on getting this content to achieve the business goals.

If you follow inbound marketing techniques you create your content in a much more structured way.

Content is focused on specific audience groups, personas, and their needs. Their need for information changes through their buying journey and good inbound marketing addresses not only the differing content needs at different stages, but crucially also moves the prospect along the buying journey.

Does your business have documented target personas? Does it understand their buying journey? Does your marketing team have a content strategy? If you are not answering yes to all of these questions then make 2018 the year that you start benefiting from inbound marketing.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Tim Butler, founder of Innovation Visual, a digital marketing consultancy specialising in developing your online presence and digital communications. Using the latest techniques in SEO, PPC and online content creation, Innovation Visual works to increase conversion rates, basket values, and return frequency. Tim is a regular contributor to ByteStart, and you can find more of his insight in;

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