Marketing, Startup Advice

Should you let a robot decide how you tell your brand story? Three digital marketing trends explained

Emma Koehn /

You’ve heard the statistics and the reality is right there in front of your face: digital devices are now literally attached to your consumers.

And yet, it can feel like a bigger battle to capture their attention than ever. 

Surveys of both business owners and consumers suggest that when it comes to digital marketing, things aren’t as simple as just buying some search terms and setting up a Facebook page. 

When Sensis surveyed 1,100 businesses and 800 consumers in June, the results showed the number of users actively following brands online dropped from 36% a year ago to 24%, suggesting the drive for customers to connect with your business through digital channels is waning.

But beyond the guidebooks on search engine marketing and optimisation, there’s a whole range of trends emerging that you can take advantage of to connect directly with your user base and to make sure your brand stays front-of-mind.

SmartCompany spoke to digital marketing experts this week to find out how you can leverage some of these new approaches.

Interactivity and speed in storytelling

Social media expert Dionne Lew says brands can no longer think of digital marketing as big chunks of information or storytelling.

“The trend small businesses should be tracking is micro-content,” she says.

There might be a temptation to create lengthy, detailed narratives, users are increasingly switching off any information that takes them a long time to process.

“While customers have 24 hours in a day, they have 31 hours of activity. They are stacking activities — for example, listening to a podcast while they go for a run,” she explains.

This means a brand’s digital marketing should include a number of pieces of “stackable” content, including video, that can be easily accessed and engaged with in small bites.

Ralph Grayden, director of content marketing agency Antelope Media, founder says interactivity is also going to play a big role in the year ahead.

“We’ve actually been working on quizzes and “choose-your -own adventure” type content just as much as on traditional articles,” he says. 

Customers who are engaging with brands online are less interested in simply hearing about their offerings; they’re now more interesting in getting things — whether that is a discount or another opportunity, according to the Sensis survey. 

Thinking about fun and engagement when setting up your strategy can also allow users to learn more about what you do in a way that can, in turn, give you data about what your users want.

The strategy of “gamifying” or creating easy-to-consume digital content has been favoured by a number of brands over the past year, including removal startup TaxiBox, which created a Tetris game last year to give more users an incentive to book their services.

Artificial intelligence and automation

If you’ve attended any kind of marketing workshop over the past 12 months, chances are you’ve heard the concepts of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) thrown around.

Founder of Good Things Marketing Helen Ahrens says SMEs and startups should be across what automation could mean for all parts of their strategy.

“It’s automation in sales — the ease of e-commerce platforms; automation in email marketing, [with products like] Mailchimp, and their integrations into e-commerce/CRM [customer relationship management] platforms, and automation in social media,” she says. 

Picking an automation software that works for your specific needs could mean you can start generating digital content that can compete with what’s being produced by the bigger players in your industry, because with the tools now available, smaller operators don’t have to outlay so much time on the set-up, says Grayden.

“Automation changes let SMEs compete on a more level playing field. What that means is streamlining processes, taking the burden of producing content and maintaining social media and newsletter campaigns away,” he says. 

Platforms that use artificial intelligence to match messaging to customers might have seemed like light years away in the mid 2000s, but Australian entrepreneurs are increasingly using — and investing — in these tools.

Earlier this month Shark Tank investor and serial business founder Naomi Simson announced her company, Big Red Group, had secured the rights to bring artificial intelligence marketing platform Albert to Australia. 

Albert is designed to process mammoth amounts of data to identify information points, like popular keywords, to boost the performance of a company’s search engine marketing.

The RedBalloon business says the technology reduced its customer acquisition costs by 25% in its first month of use. Simson says despite some business operators being hesitant about AI, it can free up valuable energy when used the right way.

We should not be fearful of this, as it frees our people up to focus on the higher value tasks like collaboration, strategy and creativity,” she said last month.

The advice game

A SmartCompany survey conducted earlier this year found content marketing was the third most popular strategy among 700 SMEs, with blogs, video content and podcasts all popular areas of priority.

But just because you have expertise in a particular area doesn’t mean you’re going to create bang for buck making content. It’s a slow process, and one that requires diligence, say experts.

“It’s the Pantene principle — it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen,” says digital marketing expert Kirryn Zerna, who says businesses get the best boost from producing regular content, rather than just publishing the odd piece of advice here and there.

Depending on your setup, the idea of regularly feeding a content hub to attract more customers might seem like a nightmare, but the other great thing about AI is it can consolidate what you already have, says Lew.

For example, using free tools like Lumens5 you combine text and images through AI to create a video,” she says.

Once you’ve got a clear goal and a system in place, you can then knock over groups of bite-sized content in a row, Lew says.

You can work out say 20 micro-stories that you can tell around a bigger issue and produce it in advance, in batches, which you just drip feed out,” she adds. 

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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  • Sensis, well that about sums up the superficial approach to digital that Australian business has demonstrated thus far. It occurs to me that business owners in this country simply have not immersed themselves into digital culture to any great extent, they tend to see it all as a technical solution and choose to adopt a strictly surface level approach. As if social media is a ‘flash in the pan’ trend and not a deep opportunity to truly speak with and understand their markets (people). Until the business community in Australia begins taking digital seriously, they will continue to suffer and fall behind.

  • Jesse Mullins

    Digital marketing is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly and should be pressed further to expand its full potential. Until such time that happens, businesses may not necessarily see the growth they wish to see.