10 Digital Marketing Trends for the New School Year



It’s now late August, summer’s last gasp.

The days are getting shorter and soon relaxing trips to the beach will give way to a new school year and leaves changing colors amidst the new autumn chill.

So here’s a gentle reminder of the 10 hottest trends in digital marketing that will continue to grow in importance during this next school year.

It also serves as my own list of skills to practice, both for myself and for my clients:

1. Be Visual

Last November, 18 year-old Instagram model Essena O’Neill made international headlines when she promised to swear off social media because it promoted a dishonest and contrived sense of beauty.

At the time, O’Neill had over 574,000 followers on Instagram and more than 250,000 subscribers on YouTube. She likely made more money than I have in my life so far, simply by modeling brands in her photos and videos.


While we can debate all shades of the “she did this as a PR stunt” argument, my primary takeaway from all this was far more basic:

Wow — I need an Instagram account.

That people can become paid internet celebrities by virtue of photographs and/or glorified selfies alone blows my mind.

Regardless, as the rise of Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook video have shown, visual communication is fundamental to digital marketing and will only continue to rise in prominence.

2. Influencer Marketing is Changing

Word-of-Mouth marketing has long been considered the purest form of promotion. That is, people trust their friends’ judgments and when they like a product or service, recommend it to their tribe.

But then there is the celebrity endorsement – those promoters whom you don’t trust because you know them, but because you like and admire them.

What baffles my Generation X brain is that the nature of these valuable celebrities (ahem – influencers) has shifted from traditional media stars (including actors, musicians and athletes) to social media upstarts (typically Millennials who owe their fame—and fan base) entirely to platforms like YouTube, Vine or Instagram.

Witness the rampant success of DJ Khaled (Snapchat), PewDiePie (YouTube), or Dan Bilzerian (Instagram).

Even pop star Justin Bieber got his start years ago by uploading YouTube videos from home.

3. Be Short

Last year we officially saw mankind’s attention span shrink to 8 seconds, less than that of a goldfish.

Goldfish Attention Span

The key takeaway here is that folks don’t read web pages so much as scan them.

Thus, to succeed:

  • Have a solid title.
  • Break up your posts with headings, short paragraphs and rich media.
  • Say what you need to say, then shut up.

Witness the rise of micro-blog Twitter, micro-video platform Vine, and even Pinterest, which has solidified its niche as the web’s primary visual search engine.

In other news, people don’t read web pages anymore. Rather, they scan them for headlines, graphics, and key points to summarize. (See Slate’s You Won’t Finish This Article.)

All the more reason to keep it brief.

4. Or Be Long

“The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” – Mark Twain

But then again, the last year has also seen the the return of long-form narratives.

For all the hype given to increasingly short attention spans, longer pieces saw a resurgence via some amazing pieces in The Atlantic (thank you, Te Nahisi Coates!) and Medium.

5. Design matters

Studies show that visitors judge a website in 1/20th of a second.

Thus, design matters.

Ironic, coming from an author who uses a standard WordPress theme, but as in all things, presentation counts.

You can have the best content in the world, but if it’s presented in a truly ugly or cluttered way, no one will ever know.

And on a personal note, some of the best career advice I received was “don’t turn 30 in DC without a Master’s Degree.” So I went and got an MBA.

Later, that fear turned to having my PR job replaced at age 40 by a hotshot 25-year-old social media whiz. So I learned social media.

Today (at 39) the fear is I’ll soon be replaced by a data visualization and design expert.

Visual communications is supplanting the written word – the future of digital marketing belongs to those who can craft compelling infographics, animations, and short video clips. In other words, designers.

6. Rise of Video

The 2016 statistics on video usage are many, and they are daunting.

  • 1/3 of all online activity is spent watching video
  • 87% of online marketers use video content
  • 80% of users recall a video ad they viewed in the past 30 days
  • Enjoyment of video ads increase purchase intent by 97% and brand association by 139%
  • 59% of executives would rather watch a video than read text

The takeaway here is the rise of video is perhaps the most important trend in digital marketing for 2016, 2017 and beyond.

7. Micro-Targeting

It’s better to have an engaged fan base of 100 people than an email list of 10,000 people who couldn’t care less about you.

Facebook’s ad targeting allows you to get so specific that you can identify down to the single dozen people in a given geographic area whose posts indicate they’d be interested in your product.

Put differently, the way to grow large is to first be small.

Don’t be afraid to focus on those few influencers who could grow into your core group of devoted fans. Earn their loyalty first, and the rest will follow.

8. Authenticity Still Matters

The way to win in the digital marketing game – indeed, the only way to win in this world of exponential content, shrinking attention spans and (shortly) computer-written blog posts – is to be real.

Be authentic – admit your mistakes, don’t shy away from emotion. In short, be human.

One of the best ad campaigns of the last decade did just this, when Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign urged women of all body types to embrace their beauty.


Highly effective and highly controversial, it instantly became fodder for discussion in marketing classes nationwide.

9. Newsjacking

Newsjacking – taking advantage of the day’s top news to pitch your own content – remains a tried and true way to gain new viewers, subscribers and fans.

Classic examples from years past include the Twitter account for Adele Dazeem, which launched just minutes after John Travolta famously uttered the name – a gross mispronunciation of Idina Menzel – at  at the 2014 Academy Awards ceremony.

Another was this Twitter jab by fast food company Arbys during the 2014 Grammys, when this:


Led to this:

10. Customer Service is Key

“The key to success in life is in the follow-up.” – me.

This goes back to a recurring theme on this list – that ultimately clients buy from people, not brands. And part of being human is providing exemplary customer service.

Persistence counts, and too many people quit too early.

Responding to your customers – particularly to their complaints or the problems they’re experiencing, is a key recipe for not only improving your product but also building loyalty.

Most importantly, exemplary customer service is one of the key differentiators that small players can leverage in order to win market share from far larger brands.


That’s my take. What did I miss?

Add your own favorite trend in digital marketing in the comments below.

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