The retail landscape has evolved, weeding out businesses that failed to adapt quickly enough to the digital age. Gartner L2’s new interactive highlights brands that did the opposite, zooming ahead of the innovation curve in 2018. Together with the recent Year in Intelligence report, the interactive paints a clear picture of brand-specific risks and opportunities for digital implementation.

Here are a few key trends we observed among those winning brands:

Digital Goes In-Store

In a channel-agnostic world, the last ones standing are retailers and DTC brands that have learned to thrive by striking the appropriate balance between maintaining an optimally sized physical footprint and a digitally powered marketing and fulfillment strategy. Striking this balance is no longer the exclusive purview of digital-first brands like Warby Parker or Away, as traditional players like Target and Walmart find a way to reinvigorate their store experiences while crafting omnichannel marketing and purchase paths.

Intelligence

Best Foot Forward

Content quality and brand equity remain the biggest drivers of site engagement on desktop — direct traffic and traffic coming from organic search results accounted for over 75% of total desktop site traffic in 2017. Brands have taken notice and prioritized content investments this year to create a frictionless, more intuitive site experience for consumers. Increasingly, sites are becoming curated content hubs, as brands become more adept at tying editorial content to commerce.

Bigger, Not Better

Influencer marketing is at an inflection point. Brands promoting products via individuals is no longer a secret — consumers know they’re being marketed to, although they still consume influencer content. Even with increased consumer and regulatory attention to sponsorships, brands are jumping in headfirst. Influencers provide an alternative route to reach consumers on social platforms that results in more buyer interest and media reach, and over a third of brands intended to increase their influencer budgets during 2018.

Favorite Frenemies

Branded search is an area where marketers are expected to have an edge over retailers, as Google gives preference to brand-owned results by discounting the cost of bidding on brand-owned terms — a direct result of being more relevant to the search term. However, retailers own more of the search results than brands. Gartner L2’s analysis of branded product search results on mobile shows that analyzed retailers collectively own almost three times more paid results than brands do. Depending on their distribution strategy, brands are incentivized to cede paid search to retail partners and focus on linking brand-owned content and traffic to conversion points.

Cutting Through the Clutter (With Relevancy)

Brands now have to navigate a fine line between consumers’ increasing concerns about privacy and personal data usage and their increasing demands for personalized marketing messages. This requires brands to execute a complex balancing act, collecting only necessary information and communicating how data usage adds value to the customer experience, all while deploying personalization built on that data.

Mobile Moves Down the Funnel

Mobile commerce continues to surge in the US. Its rise is propelled by a number of factors, including better connection speeds, bigger and more interactive screens and increased retailer support for conversion boosting mobile payments and buy buttons. Such factors will cause mobile commerce sales to encompass the majority of e-commerce sales by 2021.

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