2017 saw the rise of trends like social video, virtual reality gaming, mobile ad-blocking, and mobile-first user habits. We saw an increased focus on customer experience and personalized marketing, while other efforts failed to gain ground in a highly competitive space.

Based on our latest research into the biggest trends shaping 2018, incorporating survey data representing over two billion consumers across 40 countries, these are the eight trends every marketer should watch.

1. The Evolution of Online Sports

Live sport has remained one of the final frontiers of appointment-based viewing. With the advent of streaming services like Netflix freeing viewers from being shackled to a set time and location, it’s only natural that the world of sports would be required to follow entertainment’s lead.

While over half of internet users now watch sports-related coverage online every month, it’s social media that could spark the true sports revolution.

With social networks currently acting as a perfect complement to sports viewing, we predict that its future development will move towards an integrated, mobile-centric experience where fans can view sports and engage with others simultaneously.

2. The Bumpy Road of Smart Home Speakers

2017 was touted as the year of the ‘next big thing’ in internet devices: smart home assistants. The likes of Amazon’s Echo have been available at fairly affordable prices for some time now, Apple’s HomePod device is set for release soon and many other brands are entering this market.

As with many ‘next big things’ of the past (here’s looking at you, smart glasses), reality hasn’t quite delivered on corporate expectations.

2 in 3 digital consumers in the UK don’t own any of the leading smart home products, and one in three say they have no interest in using any of them in the future.

Only time (and Apple’s upcoming entry into the product selection) will tell whether smart speakers will become a staple resident of future homes or fail to compete with the smartphone and become a thing of the past.

3. The Rebirth of Social Music

While video was certainly the key driving force of social media engagement in 2017, music could be the next medium be engulfed by social.

Of course, music has been an important part of social networking since the days of Myspace, and in many ways the big social services are already part of the music business.

Every artist and band of note will have their own page or profile where they can create brand awareness and interact with fans, making social media a key part of their marketing strategy.

But with a few false starts at Facebook and Twitter in the last few years, along with the sea of contracts and agreements that need to be crossed, providing a rich music streaming library has not proven easy for the social giants.

Despite this, it seems the chance for increased user engagement and additional revenue streams that social music streaming could bring is too good an opportunity to pass up. This year, Facebook has been working on a licensing deal with major record labels and music publishers and recruited for numerous senior positions related to music licensing.

This implies that we could see music streaming become a core part of their strategy very soon, and, as we all know, where Facebook walks other social media brands will follow.

4. Digital Lessons from Africa

Africa is a region where mobile truly is king and the trends emerging in this region offer us a glimpse into how the coming era of mobile primacy could impact other markets.

4 in 10 digital consumers in Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria are mobile-only users, who don’t get online via or own any other connected device. Compare that to only 9% of internet users across our 40 markets globally.

Over 40% of internet users in Kenya are now paying for products and services with their mobiles, and innovative mobile payments solutions have proven popular.

African internet users also tend to use fewer social media platforms, but for longer and in more engaged ways, than other digital consumers – with Facebook and WhatsApp forming the core of their social portfolios.

Africa’s mobile-first culture lends an opportunity to brands; in this region they can truly talk about mobile-only strategies that can be impactful. In 2018, the innovative and unique behaviors of internet users in Africa should act as a lesson to brands on how to navigate the mobile world.

5. The Mobile Payments Race

Thanks to elements like unique market conditions, a complex regulatory landscape and an absence of foreign competitors, it’s the areas of the world where the financial infrastructures are relatively undeveloped that have provided the opportunity for mobile payment providers to establish themselves.

These areas tend to see the fastest rates of smartphone penetration, and the lacking infrastructures mean that a mobile payment solution is very much in demand.

Apple Pay has been a big name in the mobile payments race, but there are plenty of local solutions – such as WeChat Pay in China, and Swish and Klarna in Sweden – that compete against the more well-known brands.

Alibaba-owned Alipay has emerged Apple’s most significant competitor, with its investments in local solutions giving them a serious share of the market in countries like India, South Korea and Thailand, where Apple Pay may suffer due to their reliance on Near Field Communication Technology.

2018 may split the market between the two giants Apple Pay and Alipay, but smaller, locally-expert and preferred offerings like could still hold their own in their parts of the world.

6. The Slow Decline of Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing has been a go-to tactic for brands over the past few years. The theory is that consumers are more likely to buy a product if it’s endorsed by someone they trust or find inspiration from, rather than one that’s simply pushed by an artificial and impersonal ad.

This has been a highly successful strategy for many, which may ultimately be part of the reason behind its demise as the market gets oversaturated by celebrities toting products.

Just 14% of digital consumers say they discover brands via celebrity or influencer endorsements.

This is a  number which has held steady for the last couple of years, and internet users are still three times as likely to discover brands via TV or online ads.

Influencer marketing was first introduced as a means of incorporating that personal touch when it comes to targeting consumers.

With so many brands jumping on the bandwagon, the perception of this tactic as a personal touch is rapidly disappearing which could mean it’s only a matter of time until the influencer bubble finally bursts.

7. The Rise of Generation Z

The time has come to look beyond millennials and start targeting their youthful successors; Generation Z.

Although there are plenty of common behaviors and attitudes which unite the two groups, they also have many differing habits and expectations. Some key points to keep in mind when targeting Gen Z are:

  • They are the only generation who are more likely to use social media than search engines to research products.
  • They spend more time online on their phones each day than on all other devices combined.
  • Two in three still live with their parents.
  • One in four say they do no food shopping whatsoever.
  • They’re more likely to use Snapchat and Instagram regularly than their millennial counterparts.

Gen Z is emerging as a core group to focus on for most brands. In 2018, we should see modified marketing strategies that will listen to and target this younger generation.

8. The Resurgence of Social Commerce in the West

Many major social platforms have learned the lesson that introducing ‘buy’ buttons does not automatically equate to in-platform sales. But device trends and evolving social engagement patterns may lay the groundwork for social commerce to truly make an impact in western markets.

Crucially, while purchasing products on mobile was once perceived as insecure, it’s now a mobile-first activity. Also, social media is now a firm go-to for researching products and services.

Chinese platforms are ahead of the game here, with many companies already giving users the opportunity to pay for items either in-store or online.

Utilizing omni-channel social strategies and focusing on online security and reassurance to the consumer, brands could certainly prove successful in using this medium for their commerce, which is especially important as consumers spend an increasing amount of their time on social media platforms.


Written by

Felim is Senior Trends Manager at GWI. He oversees the Trends team who produce a wide range of off-the-shelf reports and infographics along with our Chart of the Day series. Moving to GWI after completing a PhD, Felim specializes in writing about online consumer behaviors and digital trends.

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