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Digital marketing in 2017: trends, challenges, and software solutions

Digital marketing is a constant struggle between finding the right marketing tactics, and being able to measure their effectiveness. A 2017 Infusionsoft report of small business marketing trends shows that 46 percent of marketers are unsure about the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, while 9.5 percent feel outright that their marketing efforts aren’t working.

The range of digital marketing tactics being used by marketers is diverse. A report by Manta shows the budget breakdown of digital marketing spend by small businesses in 2017:

Smart Insights shows a similar report, with the top-rated digital marketing techniques for 2017 being chosen by marketers as:

This diversity means that measuring effectiveness (or lack thereof) cannot be attributed solely to one digital channel.

Part of the problem lies with strategy– only 49 percent of marketers surveyed in Manta’s research admit to having a formal strategy that targets the right audience and uses the proper marketing channels for that audience. Another issue is software adoption. A study by Blue Corona says that 50 percent of marketers are using 2 or less apps for their marketing operations.

Given current marketing trends and the challenges faced by marketers in measuring the effectiveness of their efforts, this report will outline:

Trends in marketing in 2017

Digital marketing trends relate heavily to channels and emerging technologies that create new and innovative ways to market to consumers. It can include anything from web design and social media, to advertising and SEO.

The current marketing trends that small businesses are most investing in include social media marketing; mobile marketing; email marketing; and data-driven marketing.

Social media marketing

According to Gartner research (available to clients), social media for marketing has matured, allowing for more uptake and experimentation with the channel and its various platforms. As noted in Infusionsoft’s report, small businesses are mostly turning to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, and YouTube for their marketing needs.

Aside from content amplification and lead generation, Gartner notes that social media is being heavily used for advertising, advocacy, and customer support. According to the report:

Given its cross-functional uses and relatively low barrier to entry compared to other forms of marketing, social media continues to be the most popular tactic for small business marketing, clocking in at 70 percent.

Email marketing

According to Gartner (research available to clients), email marketing’s cost-effectiveness and relevance to target audiences have helped it remain a key channel for marketers. Notably, the percentage of small businesses using email marketing (43, according to an Infusionsoft report) along with high conversion rates, continue to prove the return on investment from this marketing channel.

Notably, personalization also plays an important role when it comes to email marketing success.

Mobile marketing

Mobile accounts for a large proportion of web traffic. Consumers are spending a lot of their time on mobile devices, while Google prioritizes mobile-responsive sites in its search engine. Not surprisingly, this makes mobile a lucrative area of focus for marketers in 2017.

From email, to video, to social media, mobile users access almost every digital marketing channel via their mobile devices, making a mobile-first strategy imperative.

Despite the importance of mobile, however, a multi-channel strategy must be considered. While the percentage of time spent on mobile is increasing, consumers continue using other devices too, including desktop.

Data-Driven Marketing

Data-driven marketing is quickly becoming a staple in the marketer’s toolkit because of its ability to micro-target customers, as well as its massive potential for ROI. According to a recent report by VB Insight, the ROI of data driven marketing can be as high as 224 percent.

Using data to spot trends and identify gaps in marketing strategies, data analysis allows for better measurement, segmentation, optimization, and– as demonstrated with email marketing– personalization.

As marketing data analysis improves, it will play a bigger role in supporting and measuring both sales and marketing efforts.

Other notable trends

Other familiar marketing tactics continue to dominate digital marketing in 2017, including content marketing, video, and SEO.

Content marketing


Paid search and SEO

2017’s biggest marketing challenges

Given the trends mentioned above, marketers face a variety of challenges, the biggest of which is knowing whether or not any of their digital efforts are effective. Contributing to the confusion is a lack of resources, knowledge, and time; the difficulty of converting leads into customers; and diminishing organic reach

Lack of resources, knowledge, and time

According to Infusionsoft’s small business marketing trends report, 49 percent of small business owners manage their marketing efforts alone. Amidst juggling sales, finance, and operations, marketing is normally relegated to the backburner; 19.4 percent of marketers claim that they don’t have enough time or resources for marketing, while 10 percent of marketers admit that understanding tactics and trends is their biggest challenge. Notably, 17 percent of business owners had no plan to do digital marketing in 2017 because of a lack of resources.

Where there is budget, marketers find it difficult to find people with the right skills. This is especially true for data analysis in marketing, an emerging job role that’s becoming increasingly difficult to fill. According to Gartner (research available to clients), almost 50 percent of marketers find it difficult to hire and retain personnel with analytics and digital commerce skills.

Converting leads into customers

While driving sales remains one of the top priorities for digital marketers, converting leads into customers remains a challenge for many small businesses. Marketers have cited their main marketing objectives as driving sales, followed by keeping and retaining current customers, and building brand awareness. The problem is that with nearly every digital channel, marketers are having trouble marrying channels with conversions. Social media and mobile are especially notable for their lower than average conversion rates.

Gartner (research available to clients) indicates that while social is good for driving traffic, it is less conducive for driving conversions. As the highest of all social network conversion rates, those for Facebook ads range from a high of 1.6 percent in the Legal sector, to a low of 0.47 percent for employment and job training.

Mobile shows a similar story: global conversion rates on traditional (i.e. desktop) media are roughly 3.5 percent, compared to only 1.27 percent on mobile and 2.98 percent on tablet. This can be attributed in part to the fact that users are spending 90 percent of their time in mobile apps as opposed to surfing the mobile web.

Diminishing organic reach

While social media is clearly the preferred digital marketing tactic for small business marketers, its biggest challenge is diminishing organic reach. This means that marketers must spend more money on social in order to reach the same audience that they would have previously been able to reach organically.

Facebook is the preferred social media channel for the majority of small business marketers. It’s also the social media channel notorious for decreasing organic reach thanks to constantly shifting algorithms.

In 2012, organic reach for Facebook was roughly 16 percent, dropping to 6.5 percent in 2014. In 2017, it can be as low as 2 percent. Other social networks have followed similar patterns. As a result, 59 percent of marketers surveyed by Clutch agree that paid marketing on social media is more effective than organic.

Paid search is playing a similar role when it comes to competition in Google’s SERP. Although the value of organic search for small business marketers is high, the benefits of paid are gaining prominence; 26 percent of marketers surveyed by Clutch used paid online advertising for better positioning their website in online search engines.

Which software tools can help your digital marketing efforts?

Considering the trends and challenges of digital marketing in 2017, there are tools that can help even the most budget-constrained, resource-low, and technophobic marketers.

Social media marketing

Given the importance of social media to marketers, tools that help to manage and run successful campaigns on multiple social channels are a necessity. Social media tools let you interact with your customers, as well as monitor conversations and gauge campaign metrics. They can also help expand organic reach through advocacy marketing.


Visit our social media marketing directory for more options.

Marketing Automation

According to the Online Marketing Institute, companies using marketing automation are 2.2 times more likely to capture intelligence for the sales team to help them improve lead nurturing and close more deals. Marketing automation tools connect all of your marketing channels to run campaigns, create landing pages, measure your campaigns, and score leads.

See our entire catalogue of marketing automation solutions.

Email marketing

Email marketing tools assist in the design, creation and distribution of emails to a list of subscribers or customers. These tools help track engagement, segment users, and grow mailing lists, as well as optimizing campaigns for mobile devices.

View a complete list of email marketing software options.

Marketing analytics

Analytics tools will help you measure traffic volume, give you demographic information about your visitors, and tell you which marketing channels are proving to be most successful. This will help you better target the right customers, channels, and campaigns.

Check out more marketing analytics and intelligence software options.


Mobile marketing tools help optimize your content and deliver it on mobile devices. This can range from SMS and mobile search, to mobile advertising and NFC.

Check out some other mobile marketing tools.

Content Marketing

Content marketing software doesn’t necessarily help you become a better writer, but it can help with the process of managing and sourcing your content. It includes features like a calendar for content scheduling, content pitching and ideation, and content analytics to analyze performance.

See other content marketing software.

Video Marketing

Video marketing tools help with the creation, distribution, hosting, and branding of video content, as well as video placement and social sharing for maximum exposure.

Check out some other online video platforms.

SEO and web tools

SEO tools can help with organic reach by ensuring that both your web design and your site’s content are optimized for Google. This includes having a mobile-friendly site, targeting the right keywords, and giving details about areas for improvement.

Check out some other SEO/SEM software options.

The future of digital marketing

Emerging technologies may be disruptive to digital marketing, but they offer unlimited potential for new marketing opportunities. As early adopters test the merits of new marketing channels and technologies, their effectiveness will determine whether or not they become a viable tactic for marketers.

While these tactics are yet to ingrain themselves in many small business marketing strategies, they’re poised to become major trends (with their own set of challenges) in the years to come.

As for now, there is no one-size fits all solution for marketers. Depending on your business size, industry, and available resources, there are channels and strategies that will be more or less suitable for your business.

There are, however, some key takeaways that apply to all small businesses:

1. Social media is largely favored by marketers because of its familiarity and low barrier to entry. Using social media marketing software can help manage social media campaigns, client interactions, and expand organic reach.

2. Email marketing is still a highly effective marketing tactic, with one of the biggest ROIs. Email marketing software will give you insights about your campaigns, ensure mobile-responsive designs, and help you segment your subscribers for better targeting.

3. Mobile marketing targets consumers on a platform where they’re spending most of their time. Mobile marketing software lets you send, track, and analyze your mobile marketing campaigns.

4. Marketing analytics can give you micro-insights about your customers through data collected via various channels. Analytics software can piece together these channels in order to provide a more holistic view of your customers for better targeting.

5. SEO and paid advertising can work in conjunction to give your brand more exposure in search engines. Using SEO and web tools can ensure that your site is optimized for both search and user intent.

6. Content marketing continues to play an important role in brand building and driving organic traffic. Using a content marketing tool can ensure that you have a content strategy with achievable targets.

Read more about trends in marketing:

Categories: Trends
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Suzie Blaszkiewicz :Suzie is a writer and researcher at GetApp focusing on the social side of business– CRM, marketing, collaboration, and of course, social media. Aside from musing about B2B software, she has experience writing about consumer apps for iPhone and Android, as well as research experience from the London School of Economics. Suzie loves travelling, eating, and trying to steal dogs from the park at lunchtime.