Predictions: 17 digital marketing trends for 2017

What does 2017 hold for digital marketers? We ask a raft of industry experts from the marketing technology and industry community

The age of the customer is here, and personalisation and consumer context are now ensconced in every marketer’s lexicon. Certainly, the single biggest driver of digital transformation is customer experience.

With the customer in mind, and the end of 2016 fast approaching, CMO reached out to a host of marketing leaders, vendors and industry commentators to find out what 2017 holds for digital marketing.

CMO wanted to know: What should marketers focus on to improve their digital marketing prowess in 2017? What big milestones and game changers for digital marketers in 2016 will shape 2017? What will be the biggest drivers of digital transformation? Where should digital marketers place more emphasis in 2017?

From a range of opinions and varied responses, a list of 17 themes and trends surfaced. Chief among them is the importance of the customer experience. Experts agreed marketers need to create better targeted, more relevant and contextual communications, and work together to create better consumer engagement.

1. Customer experience rules the roost

The customer is at the centre of everything, according to Adobe Asia-Pacific vice-president of marketing, Marta DeBellis, who says marketers need to “walk in the shoes of customers” in 2017 and truly understand the experience their brand is offering.

“Customers are interacting with brands across many different touchpoints and marketers need to be aware of how this experience affects the overall customer journey,” she says.

Customer experience is the new competitive differentiator of success and it’s separating those brands which are pushing ahead with transformation, and those trapped in a business model of yesterday, DeBellis says.

“Today’s digital landscape is overflowing with people interacting across multiple devices, whether it’s mobile devices, wearables, tablets or even car dashboards. When new products and innovation come onto the market, people want to be able to use it. The increased expectations of consumers have brought us to a tipping point where experience must be at the centre of everything brands do.”

Sitecore CMO, Scott Anderson, agrees marketers should refocus on the customers they serve, and the expectations those customers have of the brands they do business with.

“Six in 10 consumers are not satisfied with the experiences delivered by brands. While it is easy to get caught up in the complexity of so many trends that are changing the game for marketers and business in general, the starting point is the customer his or herself,” he says.

“Make a New Year’s resolution to start 2017 with a research project to revalidate your customers’ preferences for information consumption and buying habits. As technology is prompting rapid changes, you may be surprised to find your audience is turning to different sources to fulfil their content needs and heightening expectations for when, where, and how to receive information.”

The connected customer will continue to shape the marketer’s priorities in 2017, Salesforce APAC senior vice-president, Lee Hawksley, continues.

“Empowered to communicate, research, purchase, engage and leave a brand whenever and wherever they want, consumer expectations of frictionless experiences will challenge brands to deliver unprecedented levels of personalisation and accessibility,” Hawksley says. “For marketers, this will mean a move away from campaign-centric thinking to treating consumers as individuals and engaging with them in a context-rich manner throughout the customer lifecycle.”

Related: Complacency kills CX: lessons learnt from the Aussie retail meltdown

Related: CMO roundtable: How to stop optimising channels and focus on the customer opportunity

The partnership between CMO and CIO will also continue to strengthen and deliver enterprise-wide value for organisations that centre on the customer.

“Martech and adtech will continue to consolidate and cease to exist as siloed solutions in the marketing domain,” Hawksley predicts. “Rather, they will become the execution and engagement layer of core customer systems throughout the enterprise - bringing together IT, sales, service and marketing to create truly orchestrated engagements. Smart CEOs will shift the focus from gaining a single view of the customer to providing the customer with a single view of their enterprises.”

How do our 2017 predictions compare to this year's? Check out our 16 predictions for 2016 here.

ADMA CEO, Jodie Sangster, also sees a growing need to focus on the customer, and says it will be the biggest driver of digital transformation in 2017.

“The idea we are trying to get to is the utopia of the right message, to the right person at the right time and be highly relevant and personalised so that we can build and retain our customers. That’s the driver behind it,” she says. “That has gotten the attention at the c-level, whether it’s the CEO, CFO, CMO, simply because it sits at the core of the business.”

Sangster suggests marketers focus on measurement in 2017 in order to improve their digital marketing prowess, and get better in touch with the customer.

“There’s a disconnect between the reality of what people say they’re measuring or should be measured, and what is actually being measured – and making sure that those measures are making their way back in future marketing or digital marketing campaigns to improve results,” she says. “There’s also a disconnect between measuring engagement, for example, and measuring true return on investment.”

CEO of IAB Australia, Vijay Solanki, is another who believes ‘measurement and data’ are going to shape customer experience.

“Making sense of consumer, product and advertising data to create a true end-to-end understanding of the market will be the biggest game changer,” he claims. “Think using end-to-end data to help deliver personalised experiences on owned, earned and paid media.”

2. AR, VR and machine learning hit the mainstream

The obsession with augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and machine learning/artificial intelligence is not slowing down anytime soon. In fact, Adobe’s DeBellis says these technologies, which have already started shaking up the way digital marketers operate will shape activities in 2017.

“AR and VR will change the way marketers can engage with customers and drive experiences beyond what is possible today. The challenge for marketers will be to learn how to create content for these formats to fully leverage the opportunities they offer,” she says. “Machine learning in data science in particular, will offer significant productivity opportunities for marketers, allowing them to focus their time on overall strategies and away from day-to-day analytics and data management.”

Machine learning and pattern recognition will be particularly significant around personalising messaging to individual prospects and customers in a way that strongly resonates with them, LogRhythm regional marketing director Asia Pacific and Japan, Joanne Wong, says.

“Without machine learning, it is simply too difficult to compile and process the huge amounts of data coming from multiple sources [purchase behaviour, website visit flow, mobile app usage and responses to previous campaigns] required to predict what marketing offers and incentives will be most effective for each individual customer,” she continues. “However, when all of this data is made available to computers programmed to perform data mining and machine learning, very accurate next best action predictions can be made.”

Accenture Interactive managing director, Tim O’Neill, sees VR continuing to make headway and becoming the tech to watch in 2017. And he’s one of a number of experts that agree the technology not only enables companies to connect with consumers in a deep and meaningful way, but it brings company efficiencies and monetary gains.

Related: 10 examples of virtual reality marketing in action

Related: Why it's time brands got more 'phygital' with customer experience

“2016 was the mainstream debut of VR technology, and in 2017 we expect that VR, regardless of the delivery method, will start to enhance and extend many industries and services,” he says. “As these experiences become more commonplace, VR will become a more common part of the brand marketing toolkit.”

According to Eaton Power Quality marketing manager, Trang Dao, continued automation for optimising business and marketing processes, along with machine learning and artificial intelligence, are all areas that allow for large increases in productivity and efficiency, helping organisations to realise digital returns.

“Larger organisations will be looking at taking advantage of large data sets with machine learning and artificial intelligence using tools from IBM, Google, Amazon and others,” he predicts. “The continued rise of marketing technology in new areas, along with decreasing costs, presents opportunities for leading marketers.”

Certainly, the rise of the immersive experience is a powerful marketing tool, according to GroupM CEO, Mark Lollback. “In 2016, marketers saw a taste of what augmented reality could offer with the launch and unprecedented growth of Pokemon Go. Grossing new revenue of $10 million a day at its peak, marketers could now see that augmented reality wasn’t just a distant future thought, or only for the console gaming masses,” he comments.

Machine learning in data science in particular, will offer significant productivity opportunities for marketers, allowing them to focus their time on overall strategies and away from day-to-day analytics and data management

Adobe's Martha DeBillis

“In 2017, we can expect to see more brands get on board with AR (and VR), firstly for gaming apps, but then will swiftly turn into a new wave of content production and consumption.”

Meltwater director A/NZ, David Hickey, was more conservative about take-up but points to VR take-up in industries such as real estate and tourism as a sign of its proliferation. “If you think about off-the-plan home purchases, VR will allow realtors to show potential buyers exactly what the new property will look like before it’s even built - this will be huge,” he add.

3. The power of data is proven – and protected

Data has given marketers the power to demonstrate ROI and drive business growth, and there’s no doubt data utilisation will remain a major priority in 2017 for marketers as they look to maximise media returns and engagement opportunities through digital and physical touchpoints.

Next Gen Health and Lifestyle Clubs director of marketing and products, Andrew Savage, sees digital marketers focusing mainly on data in 2017, with the aim of knowing how to further leverage and consolidate known data to create a single customer view and then to effectively use that to engage customers through one-to-one touchpoints.

“It’s about data, data and data - in particular, the greater use of first-party data in effective audience targeting and in framing bid strategies around known audiences,” he says. “Following Facebook’s lead in developing custom group targeting and look-a-like audience creation, this application has the potential to significantly improve SEM performance. Display also needs to more seamlessly tap into known data sources to improve granular targeting and improve performance.”

For LogRhythm’s Wong, protecting a company’s most prized possession - its customer data - is vital. “Arguably, every marketer’s biggest asset is its customer data. This in turn, is also the asset under the biggest threat from cyber attackers,” she says.

Read more: Why CMOs should be paying more attention to cybersecurity

Read more: Why big data is the capital driving the digital age

“With the increased frequency and sophistication of website hacking, spamming, phishing and malvertising [the injection of malware into advertisements on legitimate sites], the website is the ultimate gateway for malicious attackers to steal customer data and deface the company's online assets.

“Marketers taking charge of cybersecurity will be a game changer. There is no doubt we are moving towards a time where the customer will expect companies to share their cybersecurity preparation strategy to address any type of cyber risk and protect the customer’s data.”

Up next: More of our digital marketing predictions for 2017

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