Challenges and Opportunities: European Social and Digital Marketing In 2018

2018 is poised to be a busy twelve months for marketers in Europe. We sat down with some of the brightest and most innovative minds in social and digital marketing to pick apart the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead and, importantly, dive into the customer expectations from brands in the coming year.

Focus on Technology

For marketers, technology remains front of mind, and our experts were quick to point out innovation they expected to see brands embrace in 2018. Platforms and technology will continue to develop, and marketers need to keep with the pace of change. But with the evolving complexity of the digital customer’s journey, perhaps the most significant challenge for brands will be to elevate engagement further and truly interact across social and digital channels. Easier said than done?

Maggy van Eijk, Social Media Lead at BBC, and Tim McLoughlin, Global Social Media Head at Hotels.com, were both excited about alternate realities. McLoughlin spoke of already looking for brands to bring augmented reality to a much wider audience. Van Eijk, echoing this, also raised the challenge for brands concerning the issue of making both virtual reality and augmented reality accessible to a large audience, and “not just a handful of people at home with a headset!”

However, what was clear from talking to our experts was that new technology or strategies are not the most important factor for success in 2018. Instead, they stressed the need for quality content, designed and produced to enhance the social experience, to be top of mind and ensure real engagement across social and digital channels with brand customers.

European marketers in 2018 need to create quality content, designed and produced to enhance the social experience, to remain top of mind.

 

Brands Being in The Moment

Interestingly, live content on social was a theme picked up by nearly all of our experts—with different perspectives and expectations. Perhaps the highlighting of this tactic isn’t a surprise given the continued rise of video content, the live options developed from Facebook and Instagram, or even Twitter's foray into live TV.

However, Tom Ollerton, Head of Innovation at We Are Social, initially looked at social on TV as a trend he hoped was in decline. “It was interesting to see global spend in digital overtake spend on TV for the first time. But this was a hollow victory because this year we saw brands doing TV ads on social. There’s no real ‘social’ element to this, just video with paid media behind it—basically just TV. This is unintelligent and unimaginative.”

Maggy van Eijk continued on this theme: “Production values should be going up, and there needs to be a point to the live stream. What’s happening? And why should people keep watching? What’s the reward at the end?”

“There needs to be a point to the live stream. What’s happening? Why should people keep watching—what’s the reward at the end?” — Maggy van Eijk

 

The perspective from Ewan Turney, Head of Content at England Rugby mirrored the comments on quality but looked to live broadcast as a trend to continue. “For sports teams, access to large digital audiences for live stream games not on TV and breaking down barriers between fans and their heroes. Instagram Stories vs. Snapchat is a good one to see how it plays out.”

Ultimately, all of our experts wanted to see quality content, in all formats, which engages the audience. Van Eijk continued, “People want to connect with brands in a way that doesn’t feel too “brandy.” They know when the tone is too patronising, especially in the youth market. Going back to proper community management is a great way to maintain your relationship with your fans and customers without having to be too gimmicky about it.”

More Personal, More Relevant

When it comes to quality versus quantity, of course, quality wins! But our experts also looked to brands to take this a step further and use their channels to entertain. What does a customer want from social? “To be entertained and [for brands] to tell a great story. That won’t change,” said Turney. “Most are now producing content at really good levels as knowledge has grown. But that means it’s becoming harder to cut through and so innovation, and driving a big increase in quality of content, should become the focus.”

Bianca Spada felt that brands not creating content that resonated with their audience were keeping themselves from the benefits that social networks can offer. “Platforms reward brands that are able to create engaging content with additional reach. Good content also drives sales, but it’s important that at the heart of content creation is a goal to entertain the user, not just sell your product.”

“It’s important that at the heart of content creation is a goal to entertain the user, not just sell your product.” — Bianca Spada

 

McLoughlin felt that for content to excel it was also time for a more personal and relevant approach. McLoughlin was excited to see brands “breaking up audiences and realising they’re not all the same, and providing more customised content and experiences for subsets of people [which] can deliver great results.” McLoughlin continued, “More personal is more relevant, and that means you have a hope that people will remember what you spent your marketing dollars on.”

McLoughlin continued in this vein when he spoke of brands’ biggest challenge this year, saying it was time to stop “thinking of millennials as one homogeneous group. No people of any same age group are all the same, especially not one that spans about 20 years.”

To Put Your Audience First - Be Social

The move to more personalisation gives brands the opportunity to create meaningful connections through social media, while genuinely engaging their audience. Ollerton discussed the need for a more personalised approach, coupled with technology advancements, to support brands’ efforts in increasing the quality of their content. He said, “2018 is the year where the ‘big idea’ will start to lose prominence. Brands don’t need to create generic content that suits everyone—they can create content that is dynamically produced in real time for the individual.”

Van Eijk also said f technology could drive quality in content but instead focused on the challenges and opportunities on Facebook saying, “Facebook’s algorithms are going to continue to be harder to crack. Brands have to be experimental and can’t be scared of trying something new. The quicker you can adapt to new features and formats the more you’ll stay ahead of the curve.”

But, perhaps, Bianca Spada shine light on brands’ most significant challenge in 2018: “Being social. It might sound very straightforward, but I see a lot of brands using their social channels to 'just sell products.' It's called social because it should be a two-way conversation. The role of the brand is to put out content to start this conversation. It is very easy to forget this.”

True Brand Transparency

Will the UK unite in their joyous celebration of the Royal wedding? Will a European nation celebrate their country holding aloft the World Cup? One thing that was sure from talking to our experts was that social media would continue to be the life-blood of conversations across Europe in the next 12 months. But as brands adopt the idea of truly being social on social, the need to be transparent and authentic comes back to light. As organisations become more open, another interesting trend will be the increased demand for brands to take stands.

As brands adopt the idea of truly being social on social, the need to be transparent and authentic increases.

 

In the last few months, we’ve seen Patagonia with their “The President Stole Your Land” campaign in the US, or in the UK, HSBC’s "Together We Thrive" campaign, designed to reassures post-Brexit Brits that they still have a place in the global community. In our complex political and social climate, more than ever before, customers are looking for brands to hold values true to their own.

This can be a complex for brands, and the simple truth is that brands that can demonstrate an emotional empathy with their audience will win their long-term loyalty. Brands now need to deliver on the emotional promise to customers. This, along with the points raised by our experts on making customer lives easier, entertaining, and engaging on a community level, shines a very bright and positive light on social and digital marketing in Europe.

Brands: It's time to deliver on this promise.

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Graham leads Spredfast marketing efforts across EMEA and APAC to help organisations understand how to create social campaigns that resonate, curate relevant social content across every major social network to create incredible social experiences and access real-time insights, and historical data, to plan campaigns and develop content strategies.