24 min read
May 31, 2017

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

Given current trends in marketing, this report outlines challenges and software solutions to help your digital marketing efforts.

Suzie BlaszkiewiczContent Analyst

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:

  • Current marketing trends for 2017

  • The biggest challenges that marketers are facing in relation to these trends

  • Software that can help alleviate the challenges of digital marketing.

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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:

  • 80 percent of social media marketers have or are planning to have social advertising programs within the next year.

  • Roughly 60 percent of marketers plan to have an advocacy program in place within the next year.

  • 65 percent of marketers say they're handling customer service interactions on social media.

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.

  • 51 percent of marketers feel that the ability to segment email lists and individualize campaigns are most effective for personalization.

  • A study by Experian shows that companies experienced 27 percent higher click through rates and 11 percent higher open rates when using personalized marketing emails.

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


  • Consumer video will account for 80 percent of online traffic by 2019, according to a study by Cisco .

  • A survey by GetResponse shows that 28 percent of marketers see video as a key channel driving growth.

  • According to HubSpot, 48 percent of marketers plan to add YouTube to their marketing strategy in 2017.

Paid search and SEO

  • Relevant content creation is the most effective SEO tactic for 72 percent of marketers .

  • According to a survey by Clutch , 86 percent of marketers say that they use both paid and organic marketing efforts.

  • 13 percent of social media marketers surveyed by Clutch only use organic social media, while 1 percent only use paid.

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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.

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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.

  • Hootsuite : A social media management and scheduling tool that helps track engagement of social content across multiple channels.

  • Zoho Social : Social media management with pre-publishing insights based on previous campaign performance.

  • Oktopost: Includes an advocacy tool that can help amplify organic reach through your employee network.


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.

  • Infusionsoft: A marketing and sales tool for automation, contact management, and eCommerce.

  • Marketing 360 : Fully-fledged marketing automation platform combined with professional marketing services.

  • HubSpot : Inbound marketing and sales software that ranges from landing page creation to SEO optimization.

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.

  • MailChimp : Send marketing emails, target campaigns, and get detailed reports on campaign performance.

  • Campaign Monitor : Email marketing and automation software for growing businesses with tracking features and mobile-ready templates.

  • SendinBlue : Automation, marketing, and transactional email platform with SMS capabilities.

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.

  • Google Analytics : A universal tool that lets you track traffic volume, sources, and campaign performance across your site.

  • Exponea : An advanced analytics and marketing automation platform that offers features such as segmentation, geo analysis, attribution models, predictions, and recommendations.

  • Radius: A predictive marketing tool that lets you pinpoint customers that are most likely to convert.

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.

  • TargetEveryOne : Create, send, and analyze mobile campaigns.

  • SimpleTexting : SMS marketing platform to broadcast and track mobile text messages.

  • Tune : Gathers and aggregates mobile marketing data for in-app marketing efforts.

Check out some other mobile marketing tools.

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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.

  • Kapost : Strategize, organize and publish your content from one central location.

  • Scoop.it : Content curation and publishing platform.

  • Contently : Create workflows, publish, and analyze content marketing efforts.

See other content marketing software.

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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.

  • Libris : A digital asset management platform for managing a large number of images and videos.

  • Vidyard : A business video hosting and analytics software.

  • Wistia : Online video hosting platform for video marketing with clickable calls-to-action, video optimization, and email collection to grow mailing lists.

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.

  • Google Adwords : Offers both free and paid versions that help identify keywords in specific regions to drive more qualified traffic to your website.

  • Moz : A tool for SEO management, social media monitoring, and actionable recommendations.

  • WooRank : Identifies opportunities, addresses website issues, and recommends improvements to boost online visibility.

Check out some other SEO/SEM software options.

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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.

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots are slowly starting to pick up traction in virtually every avenue of business, from marketing and customer service, to HR and eCommerce. When it comes to marketing, their biggest potential is for automation and personalization. If you're interested in finding out more, we've written about chatbots in marketing before .

  • Augmented reality (AR) is a hyped up buzzword, and although the cost of entry is still quite high, big brands are expected to come out with AR advertisements and games to capitalize on the new technology. Gartner positions augmented reality marketing at the peak in its Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising 2016 .

  • Virtual Reality (VR) simulates real world environments and can provide immersive experiences for customers in virtual worlds. As affordable VR headsets like Google Cardboard become the norm, VR marketing will be able to reach larger audiences.

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:

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