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By Cassi Price, Manager of Marketing Strategy, VGM Forbin

It’s no secret that advances in technology have taken the marketing world by storm, changing more rapidly each month. As a business owner, how do you keep up and decide where you should be committing your marketing efforts – oh, and with all that free time you have for marketing? I feel your pain. From this web marketing specialist’s point of view, here are the latest tactics that are top of mind and top of the newsfeed for 2018. With each tactic, I also challenge you to think more about how you would incorporate this into future marketing. Who knows – you may uncover a perfect marketing opportunity to end your year on a high note!

  1. Facebook - Disruptions and Misconceptions

The Update: 2018 has already brought a great deal of disruption for the Facebook I have come to know and love as a web marketer. Mark Zuckerberg made an announcement on January 11 highlighting major algorithm changes such as “less public content like posts from businesses, brands and media” and a greater focus on video posts. Then in mid-March, Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica for its improper use of users’ private data, a move that made users realize how much personal data can be derived from the way we interact on the social network. One month later, Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on more regulation coming for Facebook.

Across the industry, we’ve seen large brands and users threaten to leave Facebook, but with very few actually closing their accounts and taking business elsewhere.  Brands like Clorox and Johnson & Johnson have stuck by Facebook, issuing statements declaring that they will not decrease ad spend with Facebook and that they still see Facebook as an “essential partner in building our brands.” Internally, our team has been beta testing a new Facebook strategy that we’ve seen success with in Facebook’s new environment and will likely be rolled out to all of our social media performance plan clients by Q3.

Your Challenge: Knowing Mark Zuckerberg said he will favor live video, think about what parts of your business you would feature on Facebook Live that your audience would find interesting or engaging.

  1. Beacons – Perfecting Proximity Marketing

The Update: First created by Apple in 2013, a beacon is a device that transmits data, usually in the form of push notifications on a cell phone, within a proximity of up to 200 feet. The most common scenario we’ve seen beacons used is when big box stores push out special promotions through their store app. These messages capitalize on micro-moments such as when a customer is walking past a specific department where a beacon has been placed. However, there are different types of beacons which can send push notifications to iPhone and Android users without the need for an installed app.

We’ve seen in the last year, Starbucks and Target are owning their beacon strategy, but most brands are still finding their beacon groove. Our team has been testing beacon performance in the retail space as well as event marketing, and while we have found beacons to be easy to set up with impressions running high, you must deploy the perfect message in an ideal situation to really get a strong response.

Your Challenge: Think about where your potential customers are and what the perfect message would be on their cell phone to get them to take action.

  1. Reviews – “If you want my average opinion, you must ask for it.”

The Update: We were introduced to Google My Business in 2014 with updates each year that made it a must-have tool in every marketer’s toolkit. In July of last year, Google made the long-awaited announcement that they would open up the Google My Business messaging feature across the United States. As we’ve seen this tool grow in usability over the past four years, we also have seen the importance of collecting reviews AND providing timely responses. According to Inc.com’s recent survey, 84 percent of online consumers trust online reviews as much as friends. The only problem is that consumers on average only give reviews when they are extremely happy or extremely upset with a company’s service, not really providing an accurate view of your service.

With the need to inspire more everyday happy customer reviews, our team went to work creating a service that automates customer review inquiries via text message or email – Reputation Plus +. It also directs generally happy customers to leave their review at the most popular online directories like Google My Business and Yelp, while filtering unsatisfied reviews directly to key employees to handle in a timely manner.

Your Challenge: Check out how many reviews your business actually has on your Google My Business Listing and then think about what your customers would say in a review if you asked for one just hours after they left your business. Also, think about how much insight you could gain from knowing how every single customer really felt after a visit with your employees.

  1. WCAG, GDPR…WTF?!

The Update: In 2018, the web accessibility plot thickens. WCAG or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are a set of standards which make your website accessible to all users, mainly individuals with disabilities. Over a year ago, we understood WCAG 2.0 to be added to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and enforced as soon as January 2018 with many businesses already being sued for non-compliance. However, in July 2017, President Trump placed the WCAG compliance regulation on the “inactive” list. Then on January 30th of this year, Trump issued an executive order on “reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs” which means clear guidelines for web accessibility regulation will yet again be stalled.

Across the pond, however, regulations are getting real with the GDPR or the General Data Protection Regulation. This new regulation will go into effect on May 25th of this year and will change how businesses around the world store, collect or use customer data for any EU residents. It replaces the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive with higher fines, opt-in consent, and protection of any data transfers outside of the EU.

Since the January 2017 announcement of WCAG 2.0 as possible regulation, our team has been working with clients to get their websites up to date and meeting the criteria set by the World Wide Web Consortium. And the latest GDPR compliance standards have now worked their way into our body of work for our largest clients. While neither are mandatory quite yet, we have found both sets of guidelines to be highly necessary to conduct business in a safe, secure and inclusive manner, not to mention a key differentiator between their business and others like it with a less accessible website.

Your Challenge: Use auditing tools to determine just how far your website is from being WCAG 2.0 compliant because while it is currently stalled, you may still be liable, and it will eventually be formally required.

  1. The Age of AI

The Update: Many of us enjoy AI or machine learning without even knowing it. We have come to expect programs to deliver us our next favorite movie, song, food or shirt. If you’re a regular to Netflix, Spotify, Hello Fresh or Stitch Fix, you already enjoy AI and all of its wonderful accuracy. How about virtual assistants? If you are asking Alexa, Siri or Cortana to cancel your next meeting and order Jimmy Johns #4 for lunch, you are among the 60.5 million Americans that use these services each month, according to a recent research report from eMarketer. How long will it be before these users expect that type of service from your website or web app?

I spoke about the importance of early adoption when it comes to chatbots, micro-moments and virtual assistants in a 2017 article, Micro-Moments: How to be in the moment with today’s consumer. These discussions inspired some great ideation within our development team, and we’re excited about more machine learning opportunities to come.

Your Challenge: Think about what types of interactions happen on a daily basis at your business that could potentially be automated with chatbots. Also, think about how your customer’s experience could possibly be personalized through the use of machine learning.

Now what? What do we do with all of this information and the knowledge that the marketing world as we know it is rapidly changing? My best advice is to simply be aware and watch for opportunities to test. Keep asking questions and stay in touch with trusted partners (like VGM Forbin). Start seeing what kind of data you already have that can help you such as email lists, customer visit frequency, customer habits and frequently asked questions. And don’t forget to connect with your customers on what is great and not so great about the experience with your company.

Finally, find a way to embrace the change. Marketing through technology is going to continue to change rapidly so settle in and find your niche.

 

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