2017 was a bewildering, rollercoaster year. But putting aside scandal, cryptocurrency, political chaos and a certain royal engagement, what did last year mean for marketers, brand agencies, copywriters and creatives?
Here's a run-down of the most important trends we spotted this year - and why we think they'll continue shaping the industry in 2018.
1. The social media honeymoon is over
We all knew social media was awful for our attention spans and the plague of productivity, but 2017 saw storms gather as our understanding of the pitfalls of social media matured further.
Two Apple shareholders (holding about $2 billion in stock between them) called on the tech giant’s board of directors to investigate iPhone addiction amongst children and make it easier for parents to control screen time. Less screen time means fewer opportunities for brands, advertisers and marketers to reach their audiences.
After the scandal surrounding ‘fake news’ rocked Facebook during the 2016 US presidential election, the world’s most popular social media site had another difficult year as accusations of political manipulation refused to fade.
Co-Founder Mark Zuckerberg said that “Facebook has a lot of work to do [in 2018] whether it's protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.”
That'll be easier said than done. Congress is divided over whether to impose regulations that would define Facebook as a television network or telecoms company, rather than the neutral ‘platform’ it purports to be.
At the same time, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will introduce tougher fines for data breaches and give users more control over how their data is used.
The problem for copywriters, brand agencies, advertisers, marketers and the brands we serve is that social media is probably the most important channel for communicating with audiences.
So writing for social media now has to be more relevant and more judicious than ever, especially since scepticism of the content published via Facebook, Twitter and other platforms looks set to continue to grow in 2018.
2. Print-based marketing is stronger than ever
Research published by the Direct Marketing Association showed that response rates for direct mail are up to 37 times higher than email response rates. They are also at their highest since records began, rising 14% since 2004 while email response rates have fallen by 57%.
Why? Put simply, print shows you've made an effort. Especially with high-ticket items or premium brands, it pays to think outside the tweet or text. Takes this direct mailer we wrote for P&O Cruises, to drive repeat business. No-one books a cruise without serious consideration. So, we needed to position the brand and its product as valuable and value for money, which is why a serious, weighty piece of 'proper' marketing was needed. The medium is the message.
And it's not just consumers who sit up and pay attention to print. We were tasked with reminding senior managers at a major bank to take risk more seriously. So we wrote a 10,000-word contemporary parable in book form. It worked because people treat a 'real' book differently - reverently even - compared with, say, an email attachment.
Eye-opening research by NDP BookScan shows printed book sales have risen each year for five straight years (rising 10.8% since 2013), while sales of ebooks were down 5.4% between Jan-Aug 2017 compared with 2016. The printed word is back and looks set to become even more important in 2018.
3. No train, no gain
Just as marketeers and readers are returning to traditional, tangible media, those looking to brush up on their writing, marketing and business skills are increasingly turning from online resources to face-to-face training.
We taught a Guardian Masterclass on persuasive writing every couple of months in 2017 and launched a new class on SME marketing and branding. Demand is high and more classes are planned for 2018. Clients asked us for more bespoke training this year than ever.
Now more staff are expected to do more writing, whether it's customer service emails or internal comms, professional copywriters are required to educate, not just create. New training clients this year ranged from architectural practices, office outfitters and telecoms giants to international business schools and a major bank. It helps having a qualified teacher on our team, as 2018 looks set to be another busy year for training.
4. New (old) social networks are taking over
It's not just how marketers and brand agencies work that is changing: networking and new business activity is evolving, too.
Back in the day, you'd head off to a convention or trade fair if you wanted to schmoose prospects and see what competitors were up to. More recently, you'd pepper LinkedIn with connection requests and status updates.
These days, you're as likely to make a viable new contact at a 'content event' in a private members' club or an upscale hotel. We recently gave a talk on how to win pitches at Soho House. A club targeting professionals in the creative industry, Soho House offers members events, high-profile speakers, product launches, educational seminars - and, of course. a hip bar to relax in.
For upscale hotels, 'content' and 'programming' are also growing in importance. Guests can now catch a Q&A, ruminate on art or rub shoulders and hope to connect with high-flyers from the worlds of art, fashion, design and the media.
More and more professionals across all sectors are turning to these spaces to build their networks. Rather than replacing the trade fair, they complement formal business events by blending learning, socialising and networking in a more relaxed environment.
In giving like-minded people a space to connect over shared interests ('likes', we might say), these clubs and hotels function a bit like social media - but in the real world.
In the busy creative and marketing industries, these clubs mark the cross-over between free time and work time: a place where unwinding with a drink after a long day might just end up with your next lead.
5. Brexit is forcing us all to think global
You might have noticed an uptick in international client business during 2017. We certainly did, as agencies in the US, India and the far east took advantage of the weak pound and sought our services.
For British firms and creatives, 2018 may well just be the year when working globally becomes the new normal.
6. Full service agencies are back
Well, sort of. For a while now we've seen brand agencies doing ads, ad agencies doing brand consultancy, design studios offering strategy and PR firms having a go at everything. In other words, we're seeing a slow return to the old full service agency model.
In October 2017, NASDAQ-listed digital, business and technology giant Cognizant acquired Zone, one of the UK's leading full service agencies. And Publicis formed a new, dedicated full service agency for its P&G account, signalling a growing marketing appetite for agencies who can do it all.
We've certainly noticed the change. Before Christmas we were brought in to provide ad concepts for a big high-street restaurant chain for a brand consultancy. Not so long ago, we helped create the concept for an advertising campaign for Imperial College Business School for their communications agency, OPX.
We've always worked across the branding/advertising, online/offline, public/private, B2B/B2C divides, across most sectors - and offered a full range: training, tone of voice guidelines, annual reports, speeches, scripts and straplines. In 2018, marketing, branding and creative agencies need to be ready for anything.