What SmartBrief learned about digital marketing in 2017
Carly Chomer
December 21, 2017

SmartBrief’s account support team works with leading business-to-business and Fortune 1000 companies on digital marketing campaigns in SmartBrief publications. While we’re curating and writing about the top marketing and ad trends with partners such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Association of National Advertisers, our firsthand experience with digital campaigns also gives us the opportunity to witness these trends in real time.

So, what have we learned? Looking back on an exciting year in digital media, we compiled a list of the top performing trends and innovations in digital marketing 2017.

Showcase brand value

As content marketing takes center stage, we can testify that the guiding principle of delivering ongoing valuable and relevant content really does build deeper engagement. This year, we’ve seen unique campaigns that offer up thought leadership and provide a resource for a niche, targeted audience of busy professionals. One of our favorites is food:

The food-service industry offers some of the most visually enticing creative that we see from clients, often in the form of recipe ideas and menu suggestions. For example, the US Potato Board worked with renowned chefs to produce an ongoing video series with recipe ideas and tips for potatoes. It generated some of the highest engagement rates we’ve seen all year.

Similarly, Kikkoman aimed to make Asian cooking easy through campaigns that provided kid-pleasing and healthy menu suggestions for school nutritionists. In a single sponsored email using an eye-catching and image-heavy layout, the brand featured several recipes while promoting a gluten-free product offering. These efforts focus on building brand recognition among very targeted audiences and, by featuring a broad array of resources via a single promotional vehicle, maximizing website traffic to valuable industry resources.

Integrate display with social

While social marketing is hardly new, it grew in prominence in B2B marketing this year. Thought leadership campaigns, similar to the ones mentioned above, offer a natural progression into Facebook and Instagram through valuable, short-form content.

Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management utilized ads and social and native in-email sponsored content posts this year to arm professionals with career development tips and resources available on the Kellogg Insight website, which offers additional research, podcasts and blog posts. This short and digestible content lends itself to working well in both formats, with the opportunity to gain additional exposure through social. Interested in boosting your productivity? Turns out you just need to inch your workspace a little closer to the high performers.

Make the most of email’s effectiveness

Email still reigns as the most effective vehicle for distributing content. According to the Content Marketing Institute, that won’t change in 2018. But emails have come a long way.

Oppenheimer and Viacom offer two strong examples of how to utilize the prime real estate of a dedicated brand-awareness message to target audiences with a brand story through video, while driving traffic to industry resources. In the case of Viacom, the brand drove traffic to their channel “for all fankind” ahead of television’s Upfronts. This dedicated send ran alongside video placements and takeovers in relevant SmartBrief pulications.

Harvard Business School also utilized a dedicated message to provide multiple takeaways with a focus on signing up to receive ongoing information and program offerings. While this send reached a small but targeted audience, it generated engagement rates that were nearly 5x SmartBrief's network average.

Speak to your audience’s needs

Meeting the audience’s needs should be the goal of any and all marketing, and it’s one of the primary takeaways from our research this year with the Content Marketing Institute. What we found is that a busy professional, especially a decision-maker who has to balance time and resources, is looking for content that speaks to their needs and challenges.

Amazon Business recently provided decision-makers across multiple industries, including food-service and health care, with insights into common industry challenges and case studies focused on small and medium-sized businesses that are successfully utilizing online marketplaces. Because of its targeted nature, the program was able to generate a significant number of new leads in two key verticals.

The guiding principles of good B2B marketing – including targeting your message to your audience and speaking to their needs and offering strong content to showcase the value of your brand – remain tried and true, but 2017 was a year of seeing that content come to life in new and exciting ways. We’re excited to see what 2018 brings.


Carly Chomer is the marketing director at SmartBrief. She's responsible for working with teams across the organization to help them effectively and efficiently tell their stories.