Predictions: 8 digital marketing trends for 2018

What does 2018 hold for digital marketers? We ask a raft of marketers, martech experts and industry commentators

The age of customer centricity is here, and as experience increasingly becomes the biggest driver of digital transformation and marketing strategy, 2018 will be about moving the customer relationship to an even deeper and more dynamic level of personalised engagement.

With this in mind and given the end of 2017 is fast approaching, CMO reached out to a host of marketing leaders, vendors and industry commentators to find out what 2018 holds for digital marketing.

Based on those discussions, we’ve put together our top 8 predictions for the New Year, a list that highlights the importance of technology, building consumer trust and authenticity, and tapping ever-more data insight for engagement.

1.Brands start realising mobile’s role in next-gen CX

There’s no doubt mobile has become core to the digital marketing ecosystem – as a communications channel, support and service mechanism, purchasing tool and more. But according to Forrester’s 2018 mobile predictions, marketers need to put even more emphasis on understanding how next-generation consumers are interacting with brands via these devices in the New Year.

The analyst firm claims smartphones are fast assuming the role of ‘central conductor’ across broader digital experiences. To cope, smart firms must continue to invest heavily in the underlying technology – along with architecture, talent and process - to deliver these experiences.

“In 2018, poor mobile CX will be the focus of many development sector CMOs, as the sales audience changes to younger generations who have a different approach to researching and assessing a purchase,” InSite Logic managing director, David Stewart, tells CMO. “The re-evaluation of mobile CX will not only include an update to the methods in marketing, but also a greater understanding of the new target markets buying habits.”  

For Forrester, the biggest challenge for marketers working on mobile initiatives in 2018 will be striking a balance between improving their basic mobile offerings, such as apps and mobile websites, while pursuing ecosystem strategies that extend beyond apps.

Not everyone sees is as a mobile discussion, however. “Mobile customer experience can definitely improve, and it’s easy, unambitious perhaps, to predict mobile-first will be pervasive,” Datarati CEO, Jarther Taylor, comments. 

“Rather than focusing in on mobile, or other single channel experiences, we need to create better, more fluid multi-channel and multi-platform experiences. The experience from desktop to mobile to wearable to voice-activation to in-store will need to feel consistent.”  

Stocard A/NZ country manager, Radinck van Vollenhoven, agrees poor mobile CX affects brand loyalty, perception and adversely impacts revenues. It's not good enough anymore to have an optimised mobile website or app, he says.

“It needs to be seamless and easy for customers to browse content and purchase products,” he says. “Content and offers need to be personalised to the customer to ensure optimal engagement and conversion. Marketers will need to continue to invest in deep omni-channel capabilities that enable the analysis and interpretation of large amounts of customer data into tangible action points. Optimising the CX across all channels should be an absolute priority for all marketers in 2018.”  

Managing director of agency Jaywing, Tom Geekie, notes mobile strategy goes way beyond a responsive website, even if it is designed mobile-first. User experience [UX], conversion rate optimisation [CRO] and user journeys are critical, plus search engines reward better mobile experiences, and there is better integration with other technologies such as beacons or AR apps, he says.    

“Further, well-timed, targeted and structured mobile advertising via programmatic or PPC provides greater opportunities for brands wanting to capitalise on the mobile consumer. These are all highly technical disciplines that must be data-led. Marketers who understand this could win big in the battle of mobile CX.”  

The multi-platform advertising play is also in the spotlight for Bonzai vice-president of sales, Rupert Pay, in 2018. While programmatic will face challenges like any new technology, he predicts more programmatic formats will emerge, offering a fresh opportunity to engage with customers across multiple devices.  

“2017 saw the first takeover skins being delivered programmatically,” he says. “2018 will see more programmatic formats, across premium publishers delivering greater viewability at a more realistic, transparent price - all of which is great for the whole ecosystem.  

“And in 2018, it isn't necessarily a case of re-evaluating your mobile strategy. It's about having one in the first place. 2018 is the last chance saloon for brands and CMOs to get their mobile CX in order.”

1a. Voice activation arrives  

But while the world continues to focus on a mobile-first ecosystem, the next wave of customer experiences are set to be voice-first and 2018 is the start of this transformative trends, mobileDEN general manager, Gavin Gorazdowksi, says. Take-up is set to grow rapidly of mobile and voice-enables speakers such as Amazon’s Echo and Google Home in the coming year.    

Read more: What AI and voice activation will do for brands in the home

“It already goes without saying that brands must focus on providing the best possible experience on mobile devices, but there are various predictions about how prolific voice interactions will be in 2018,” he says. “I think 2018 will be more about integrated, cross device digital customer experiences.”  

2. Re-establishing consumer trust is vital  

Trust between brands and consumers in 2017 was at an all-time low according to Forrester, and not one brand significantly improved its CX index score on the analyst firm’s list from 2016 to 2017. Examining the trust-crisis and speculating how companies will respond next year, marketers will need to win back consumer trust by owning brand value and offering a more personalised, distinct and authentic experience.  

“I see authentic customer experiences leading the pack when it comes to design and branding in 2018,” co-founder of fintech company Waddle, Leigh Dunsford, says.  “Customers are very aware of corporate hogwash and cliché terms repeated within industries, making authentic language and design even more critical as we head into another year of compounding advancements in technology.  

“I believe language that is authentic from the company and that resonates with the customer persona is key. Conversational tones, along with common terms used in real-world interactions are making it to the homepage. Don’t look to competing sites for inspiration, do your own internal research.”  

Unification of knowledge into personalisation will be the top trend for experiential businesses such as retail, hospitality, health and wellbeing, PoweredLocal’s CEO, Michale Jankie, believes. 2018 will be about the catch up to tracking and historical profiling of customers.  

“Just like websites and apps do now, when you walk into a restaurant for the second time, staff will be expected to remember who you are, what you ordered in the past and if you are a local,” he explains. “Foodora and Quandoo are already nailing this for the ordering and booking markets, while companies like ours and Doshii are going to bridge that gap for instant profiling of customers in-store, in real-time."  

Marketers today have access to a wealth of data and employ a variety of analytics tools to better understand their customers. But the risk of purely relying on data is that it becomes formulaic, LogRhythm senior regional director for APAC and Japan, Joanne Wong, says. The trend moving forward is personalisation on a mass level. 

“We must be careful with our use of digital tools as well. We can’t be template-based and lose the authenticity that customers crave today,” she says. “Our customers are bombarded with so much content, they are becoming jaded if we just follow the same route. This is why it is important we understand who they are, what they want and give it to them when they want it and where they want it.”  

3.Expect great things from artificial intelligence and machine learning  

According to Salesforce research, artificial intelligence (AI) use by marketers will grow more than 50 per cent in the next two years. Gartner predicts 20 per cent of all business content will be authored by machines in 2018. Meanwhile, Forrester sees AI as a marketing enabler in 2018, helping further streamline marketing processes and giving rise to the new ‘marketing monitor’ – whose primary responsibility will be vetting technology and automation output to ensure quality customer and brand experiences.   

“AI in 2018 will be the key to personalisation and see marketing's job change,” VRTY CEO, Kingston Lee-Young, says. “With AI at the forefront, marketers will be better able to understand the likes and dislikes of a customer, determine what specific branded content should be served to that consumer, and track all their interactions through the customer's journey.  

“AI will also be imperative to provide customers with a seamless personalised digital experience in the future, for brands to get cut through, and for marketing to help deliver ROI.”  

On top of this, the connected home and continued saturation of mobile devices will see greater growth in the emerging space of voice search, which will provide considerably fewer opportunities to get products and brands in front of consumers when they’re actively looking for something, Jaywing’s Geekie says.  

“We expect a step change from talking about AI to using it in earnest in 2018, as more affordable solutions outside of the big-ticket items will come to market,” he says. “Marketers will need to get their heads around the concept of marketing to machines as they will increasingly act as gatekeepers to the end consumer. This will also mean brand will be so much more important than it has to date in the age of digital. Plus we’ll see a rise in niche products and marketing.”  

Read more: How virtual humans could transform the brand experience

Read more: 8 things you need to know about AI in marketing right now

Now AI is embedded on some of the major customer engagement platforms, it’s already helping marketers deliver richer, more timely communications, Datarati’s Taylor says. One important way AI can add value is to engage when engagement is wanted, not when a campaign calendar dictates it.  

“AI will also allow marketers to adjust customer journey marketing on the fly - not just based on known behaviours or post-analysis,” he says. “This will be particularly important in social and content marketing, where localised trends or issues might suddenly alter how our customers think about and respond to our messages. Having the ability to monitor and analyse the zeitgeist can help us adjust our content before distributing it, so we can avoid getting caught in our own filter bubbles.”  

Future-facing CMOs will adopt a challenger-centric approach in 2018, investing money where they see most value, Seismic MD for A/NZ, Andy Pattinson, says. Looking ahead at 2018, I think marketers need to shift their mindset to start thinking of AI as making a good thing better,” he says. “Through the adoption of AI, marketers will have a clear view of the type of content to target different customers with.”  

Yet while it might seem like advancements in AI are changing marketing for ever, Quantcast CMO, Steven Wolfe Pereira, sees it reconnecting the industry with its roots.  

“To stay competitive, marketers need to instantly take into account millions of data points and anticipate shifts in consumer demand,” he says. “That’s why AI has the potential to be a powerhouse of growth for brands in 2018. Machines can take on these vast data sets and immediately identify trends that could turn into competitive advantages.  

“On top of this, the ability of AI to continuously track and measure the success of online campaigns, and adjust them in real-time, increases the impact from marketing budgets. Having a better, real-time picture of global audiences gives brands the transparency to know if they’re reaching the right audience, and more accurately tie their activity to brand growth.”

Simply put, AI will enable and empower marketers to do their best work yet, Datorama APAC managing director, Mick O’Brien, says. “The value add comes from the ability of AI to elevate insights that were not previously known from within a department’s data assets, freeing up marketing teams to do what they’re best at and actually passionate about, so that better decisions can be made on both strategic and tactical levels,” he says.  

For Publicis Media chief digital and technology officer, Jason Tonelli, the big shift is accelerating how data is accessed, allowing decisions to be made faster and experiences to be created that are richer.  

“So the enabler to ML and AI – data warehousing and cloud computing – will shape 2018 to be a year whereby the right message or experience can be presented to the right person with more accuracy and better human understanding than ever before,” he says.  

Want to see how things stacked up against the predictions in 2017? Check out our round-up of 17 predictions for digital marketing here.

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