THE BLOG
11/02/2016 02:33 pm ET Updated Nov 03, 2017

5 Rules of Digital Marketing for 2017

As the year draws to a close, digital marketers everywhere are taking a hard look forward to 2017 and the fresh opportunities the year will bring. Technology will continue to deliver new ways for brands and customers to engage with each other, but customer preferences can change just as quickly. Digital marketers need an analytical approach and a commitment to staying current with technology to ensure results. Yet it's also important not to lose sight of the human side.

Because of these challenges, planning for the future in digital marketing is not easy. But if you keep these five rules in mind, your 2017 digital marketing efforts will be more successful:

Digital marketing is about connection
Digital marketing - like most marketing - isn't just about selling more stuff. At least, it shouldn't be. "An effective digital marketing strategy can broadcast a brand's purpose, or their "why"," says Adam Fridman, founder of digital marketing agency, Mabbly. "This purpose resonates with an audience seeking deeper connections with brands." At our core, humans are social animals that are literally "wired to connect." The success of digital marketing tools like social media, marketing hubs and blogs are evidence of this thirst for human connection.

To encourage customers to connect with your brand, you must first gain and demonstrate an understanding of the customer's needs, wants and challenges. This allows you to develop digital marketing that is personal, personalized, and knowledge-based, as well as social. IBM's THINK Marketing media hub is exemplifies this strategy, delivering useful and relevant content based on customized content suggestions from IBM's Watson artificial intelligence platform.

Of course, not every brand has technology like Watson at their disposal. But you can still gain a deeper understanding of your customer and improve your ability to deliver what they need in 2017 by further developing your customer journey and personas. These are key to developing digital marketing content that engages customers: it's about knowing what your customer needs and delivering it in ways that are both convenient and compelling.

Engage your people
The nature of digital is social, because the nature of people is social. Deep down, just filling their need for stuff often isn't what your customers are after; they're after a sense of connection to your product, your brand, and your people. Yet for many brands, making true connections on digital media is challenging to say the least.

You can buy clicks, but you can't buy the kind of engagement that comes from a true human connection. Particularly on social media, customers seek to feel connected to a real person behind your digital marketing. That's where your employees come in. Companies like Zappos have had great success with a digital media strategy that gives customers a peek behind the scenes, where they can become connected to the people behind the brand. In 2017, seek ways to engage your people in your digital marketing efforts; often they are your best evangelists.

Visuals are important
The popularity of primarily visual social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook demonstrates a simple truth: the Internet is primarily a visual medium. What that means for your digital marketing is that even if you offer the best content, if it's not packaged visually for easy consumption, customers won't engage with it.

Whether it's infographics or simply adding a compelling visual aid to a piece of content, studies show that visuals can enhance retention. When people hear information, they forget all but 10% of it within three days. When they see the information, they remember 65% of it three days later. That's the power of visuals in your digital marketing. In 2017, find ways to deliver your digital marketing content more visually.

Remember the 80/20 Rule
The Pareto Principle says that 80% of results come from 20% of causes. What this means for your digital marketing is that 80% of customers won't engage with your brand's digital marketing efforts. Only 20% will actually engage with the content, by taking the time to look at it. Of those only about 5% or so will go beyond that kind of low level engagement to actually making a purchase or responding to your call to action.

The 80/20 principle applies to all aspects of your digital marketing, from the content you produce, to the tactics you select. In 2017, seek to understand which customers and strategies make up your 20% and build your marketing engine around them.

Analyze and adjust
The only constant in the world of digital marketing is change. As the year progresses, you need to analyze your results, and fine tune what you're doing to constantly improve how you are engaging with customers. What worked in 2016 may not work in 2017. What works in January may not work by July. In 2017, it will be important to constantly analyze the results you're getting and keep up with the constantly evolving digital customer.

From the continuing advance of technologies like mobile commerce and artificial intelligence, to the changing landscape around SEO and social media, digital marketing in 2017 will mean adapting quickly to change. Whether your marketing efforts include content marketing, inbound, social media, pay-per-click, affiliate arrangements, eCommerce, or other tactics, these rules will ensure that you are able to get more results from your digital marketing efforts.