By Kelly Ehlers, president of Ideas That Evoke.

Marketing is getting personal on both sides: from data-driven targeted ads to consumers choosing brands that demonstrate their personal ethos. At my agency, we’re focused on real-time communication and creating content that tells a brand’s story. If 2017 has been any indication, these strategies have given way to five trends that will move the needle in 2018.

Video and Live Production Are Making Moves

Branded video content saw such a rise in 2017 that Nielsen recently partnered with Facebook to track cross-platform ad performance. Video visually engages users while delivering entertaining, informative content. That last part is the key: There’s no point in hiring a production team to switch up those 2D posts if your strategy falls flat. Don’t lose sight of continuing to create engaging content as you increase capabilities. In some cases, adding animation to a post can be just as effective in catching a user’s attention.

Transparency Is the Best Policy

Over a century after Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle exposed “how the sausage is made,” brands are leading with transparency -- not just for accountability but also as a form of marketing. Many of us grew up blissfully unaware of BPAs in our toys and GMOs in our food, but everything from a product’s ingredients to its manufacturing process is now becoming a touchpoint. By positioning product benefits as a seamless part of an intentional lifestyle, these touchpoints are ditching the hard sell in favor of a slow and steady conversion. To take this concept of transparency one step further, 2017 has taught us that a brand’s most valuable product benefit is ethos.

Social Is Getting Socially Conscious

Brands are representing a wider consumer base with a focus on authenticity, from retailer American Eagle’s #AerieREAL campaign promoting body positivity to the inclusive seven-shade Nudes collection by couture designer Christian Louboutin. Consumers want to see real, relatable people. This has impacted my team’s strategy, from bringing on brand ambassadors to moving away from in-studio flat lays in favor of on-location photo shoots. With social media’s advanced metrics, brands can now use data for a more complete picture of their audience. Listening is a key part of any conversation and, in the age of product reviews and real-time chatting, consumers demand to be heard.

Turning to Social for Real-Time Personalization

Brands are making statements that would’ve seemed risky only a few years ago in an effort to connect with their audiences. Consider retail outfitters REI and Patagonia, both of which were already ahead of the game with ethos-driven branding. In 2014, REI pushed further by closing stores on Black Friday with its shocking #OptOutside campaign. Three years later, it’s still going strong. This move not only disrupted a conventional sales model that an REI chief executive told Fortune has “lost momentum,” it also directly responds to consumers via the brand’s mission. In a similar move, Patagonia’s "100% for the Planet" campaign saw profits from all global Black Friday sales donated to grassroots organizations in 2016. The response? Record sales gave $10 million in donations (five times what the brand expected) while delivering $10 million worth of product to brand-loyal consumers.

Hiring Managers Are Reading Between the (Digital) Lines

Innovative content delivery may catch more eyes, but great messaging stays with the user even after they’ve scrolled past your post. Brand storytelling is at the heart of my team’s work and, as the industry continues to evolve, we need to find new ways of telling stories. One internal approach is to think outside the box while hiring. In addition to traditional marketing and communications backgrounds, the team at my agency has a range of experience from journalism to creative writing. Encouraging a collaborative work environment also helps teams connect from both creative and strategic perspectives, resulting in a well-rounded brand story.

For brands still building an audience, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned one-on-one conversation via social media. We’ve seen how bringing that human touch to a conversation can build relationships and even recruit influencers. At the end of the day, it’s all about connecting with the consumer to keep the user experience and brand story both personal and impactful.

Kelly Ehlers is the President of Ideas That Evoke, a social media and PR agency, the 24th Fastest Growing Agency in 2016, Inc Magazine.

Published on: Feb 16, 2018