Depending on the context, the word “trend” isn’t always a good thing. Trends can be fleeting or insignificant, like topics on Twitter or the latest in fast fashion.
But if I’ve learned anything in my time in marketing, it’s that many of the things once touted as “trendy” soon become staples of our strategy the next.
Many thought blogging was a trend. Others said the same about social media, email marketing — you name it. Look at the power these each now hold in our marketing strategies. You can be sure many are eating their words.
So, don’t let the snappy headline fool you.
The points I’ve outlined below may seem like trendy outliers as we enter 2024, but tomorrow they could be the crutch of your marketing strategy. Here’s what you need to know today.
1. AI will (continue to) be everywhere
With the launch of Chat-GPT in November of 2022, AI was thrust into the spotlight. In the 12 months since, we’ve seen everything from legit, impressive AI tools to silly AI marketing gimmicks (like AI-created soda flavors).
Many new AI tools are incredibly powerful, offering to help teams save hours on some tasks. Others are not quite ready for prime time, bringing more frustration than solution.
In 2024, expect to see thousands of AI tools battle for market dominance. Many that came out in 2023 will not be around for long. The tools that will win are the ones that integrate smoothly with the platforms we already use. We’ve already seen Google Suite, Canva, Adobe, Zoom, and pretty much every other major player release AI capabilities.
You can expect some smaller tools to get acquired by the big boys — and we will all see AI get significantly more powerful in the year ahead.
There’s no question that AI will fundamentally change many aspects of the work we do. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re not alone. Public opinion is deeply divided, with more and more professionals afraid that AI will take their jobs in the near future.
While governments have held hearings around regulating AI, action is slow.
If you and your company are looking for common-sense AI policy to implement, check out this post from our own Marcus Sheridan: The AI Best Practice Guidelines Your Company Needs.
2. Generative search and evolving SEO
AI is having two profound effects on traditional search.
First off, tools like ChatGPT and Jasper make it easier than ever to create content, which means that we’re flooding an already saturated space with more and more written content, much of which is almost identical to everything else out there.
While this is new, the idea of content saturation is not.
The other big change is new, and AI-powered generative search is upending search as we know it.
Generative search is different from a traditional search engine. Rather than returning links to ads and pages, it generates an answer to your question, summarizing based on the data it can access and has been trained on.
In the coming year, expect generative search to play a bigger and bigger role in how customers self-educate and find their way to your business.
But there are some big unknowns.
We don’t know much about how ChatGPT or Google’s Generative Search Experience evaluates and serves up sources. Early testing gives us some idea, but there’s still a lot we don’t know.
We have some indication of how these tools will sell ad space in gerative search results, but details are sparse at this point. Each year, it seems Google search results have added more and more ads — and those ads have been harder to distinguish. You can expect generative search to do the same. After all, AI is extremely expensive to run, and these companies have invested billions of dollars they need to make back.
How people will use generative search. After OpenAI burst on the scene, it started to see falling traffic in the second half of 2023. Is the lustre wearing off, or is the market just stabilizing?
Still, companies are betting big on AI’s power to transform search, so SEO experts should keep a close eye.
At the same time, ongoing antitrust trial in the U.S. could have far-reaching impacts on the future of how we use the internet.
3. The (new) power of social media
I know, I know. It’s 2024. We can hardly call social media a new trend.
But in the wake of the first two items on our list, social media will take on new meaning for brands.
AI-generated writing, AI-powered chatbots, and AI video all present great opportunities — but they run the risk of alienating audiences with derivative, sterile, inauthentic content.
Consumers will look more and more toward social media for genuine content promising real human connection.
“As search changes,” says Marcus Sheridan, “I expect social media to play an even bigger role in the way we discover products and services.”
He continues: “The companies that have a social media presence that’s authentic and approachable will be the ones to win. And they’ll be very creative in the ways they meet, engage with, and delight their audiences.”
Back in 2022, Google made waves when it shared that about 40% of young people surveyed (aged 18-24 years old) use TikTok or Instagram instead of Google Maps or Google Search — and this was before generative search launched.
Look for continued evolution of how consumers come to find and trust brands in 2024.
4. Interactive/personalized buying experiences
Incresingly, customers expect businesses to provide them with a personalized experience.
This does not mean your buyers want to spend more time talking to your sales team. Quite the opposite, in fact. According to Gartner, “43% of B2B customers prefer to not interact with a sales rep at all.”
To serve your modern buyer, you website should provide an experience that’s interactive and customizable so that customers only connect with your sales team when they want to.
You may want to include calculators, quizzes, or what we call self-service tools, which help guide website visitors to the most relevant information for their needs.
Users get a much more personalized experience and value unique to them. With new AI chatbots and other tools, this type of experience is easier than ever to deliver.
For example, check out Wix’s website builder:
This tool walks the user through the steps of building a website on its platform in a few simple steps, showing them how it works and getting them invested in the process.
But it’s not just the big boys who can make this work.
Retrofoam has a price calculator to teach you how spray-foam installation can bring down your energy costs.
Because they’re located in Michigan, their self-selection tool start by asking for your Zip code.
Even if you’re outside their service area, you can still use the tool to get an idea for your project.
As you go on, you see clean illustrations and simple questions about the building you’re insulating.
When you get to the end, you get a quote that’s suited to your unique needs.
A study by Demand Metric and Ion Interactive found that interactive content not only better educates prospective buyers, but also drives twice the conversions and social shares.
Depending on which tool you use (or how it’s built), the information gathered through your interactive content can also be saved in your contact database to be used for marketing and sales later on.
5. Current events and advocacy
From health concerns to social and political unrest, there’s no ignoring the many issues facing the average consumer today — and your content marketing shouldn’t, either.
Ignoring what’s going on in your messaging or content can come off as insensitive and out of touch with your audience’s greater needs.
Plus, 81% of consumers say they must be able to trust brands to do what’s right, which includes taking action on social and global issues.
Although you may not want to go in for the hard stance, don’t go silent, either.
Pay attention to current events and how your product, service, or brand fits into them. Create content around how your offering can help or how it may have to adapt.
Think about what your buyers care about, and perhaps consider partnering with a related charity or nonprofit.
If certain social discussions are top-of-mind for your audience and suited to your brand, you may also want to weave those into your strategy.
For instance, if you sell a product exclusively for women, don’t ignore developments or concerns around women’s rights. This could make your brand look disingenuous.
The point is: Be human. Don’t lose sight of your consumer’s deeper concerns.
6. Helpfulness and education
Throughout its core updates in 2023, Google has kept urging creators (once again) to focus on people-first content.
And this is nothing new.
The search giant has always maintained its primary goal is to deliver the best answers to users in the quickest and easiest way — and its move into generative search doubles down on previous updates like featured snippets and “helpful content” algorithm updates.
This is another reminder to marketers that both consumers and search engines are putting more emphasis on the helpfulness of content.
Modern buyers don’t want to be sold to; they want to work with brands who are trustworthy and don’t go for the hard pitch.
They want to research their own purchases, gather as much information as possible, and make the best buying decision for themselves when they are good and ready.
The best way to make sure you are top-of-mind when that time comes is by educating them.
In the past, Google has suggested:
“People-first content creators focus first on creating satisfying content, while also utilizing SEO best practices to bring searchers additional value. Answering yes to the questions below means you’re probably on the right track with a people-first approach:
Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?
Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?”
To get even more granular, create content that thoroughly and honestly answers questions your buyers are asking and searching in Google.
This can span a wide range, but a good place to start is with what we call The Big 5:
Costs: How much your solution costs (and what makes that number go up or down.)
Problems: The negatives about, or issues with, your solution (that buyers tend to ask about).
Comparisons: How your product or solution compares to similar products or solutions.
Reviews: Honest and unbiased opinions and observations about your product, solution, etc.
Best: What the best available solution available is.
In our experience, these are the topic areas every buyer considers when making any purchase and naturally lend themselves to the short-form video and interactive mediums we’ve already discussed.
Starting with them, hand-in-hand with some of the other trends, lays a strong foundation for being seen as a trusted resource and teacher in your space by buyers and as a helpful resource by Google.
7. The continued prevalence of short-form video
In 2023, 90% of global advertisers increased their investment in short-form video content. And that’s likely to continue. Short-form video is everywhere. It’s on Instagram and TikTok, of course, but short-form video is also on LinkedIn — and it’s heavily promoted on YouTube.
Short-form videos may be as long as a minute, or even 90 seconds, but are usually 30 seconds or less. Some are as short as 10 seconds. These videos are vertically-oriented (think: shot on a phone) and often play on a loop (or auto-play into the next one, suiting short audience attention spans).
Platforms will keep prioritizing these kinds of videos, which boost their reach and suit their mobile-first audience. (On YouTube, more than 70% of all traffic is mobile.)
HubSpot found most marketers reported short-form video having the best ROI compared to all other media formats.
Expect this trend to continue.
Embracing trends, seeing what’s possible
The digital marketing world is always changing. There’s no predicting which trends will be here to stay and which bubbles will burst, but now is the time to start experimenting.
Take the seven trends mentioned above and slowly incorporate elements of them into your content marketing strategy.
Track their performance and, after a few months, you’ll have solid data to help you determine which to ditch and which may deliver the benefits and results you’re looking for.