The marketing world and the technology that supports it are in a constant state of flux. Solutions and techniques appear and fade away rapidly, customer engagement strategies fall out of favor at lightning speed, and marketers must constantly retrench and rethink. Anyone remember the New England Patriots Super Bowl comeback win? It reminds me of the modern marketer, who is perpetually in a state where everything can change with a sudden rally from one team or the other.
These changes are going to continue, especially in 2018. And because it’s that time of the year, I thought it would be prudent to share my view into what might happen in the year ahead. These predictions run the gamut from technology to customer engagement strategies, but they all fit into the idea that marketing is changing rapidly … and in 2018 that pace is only going to increase.
- Customer data platforms will mature as a solution class. One of the major barriers holding back adoption of customer data platforms (CDPs) has been their somewhat nebulous definition. Everyone agrees that CDPs manage different types of data, but many of the solutions on the market today center more on the advertising or tag management side of the equation instead of marketing to known, first-party customers. In 2018, that will change and we can expect the definition of what a customer data platform is and what its capabilities are to solidify. CDPs will also become more valuable because 30 percent of companies will see further declines in customer experience and lose a point of growth, according to recent Forrester Research data.
- Chief Data Officers will become a more common executive role. The volume and velocity of customer data and other enterprise insight has grown exponentially in the last 15 years. Because of this explosion, we will see the development of the chief data officer as a c-level role to handle the massive influx of data and ensure it remains high quality. In 2018, more companies will hire CDOs to handle the unceasing flood of data, which is expected to reach 163 zettabytes by 2025. Brands that don’t make data management a corporate priority will fall behind the ones that do.
- The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will force American companies to rethink customer engagement. The European Union’s landmark data privacy regulation will come into force on May 25, 2018. The GDPR’s main tenets provide the “right to be forgotten” to European consumers and forces fines on companies who don’t comply with the data controls in the law. These changes will have massive impacts on American companies, especially if they sell to Europeans, because they will be subject to the regulation as well. Even American companies who don’t do business in Europe will be affected because the GDPR propagates the idea that customers should have direct control over how their data is used and who is able to do that when.
- Marketing technology and advertising technology will further converge. Traditional programmatic advertising methods don’t bear the same fruit they once did. This is especially true in the wake of controversial ad placements on YouTube and elsewhere. The approach to targeting consumers with relevant ads needs to change, and integrating the first-party relationship management of marketing technology will enable that. Empowered customers have caused massive upheaval in the marketplace, and marketing and advertising will work more closely in 2018 to adapt.
- There will be another massive data breach. In 2018, we can expect to see another major data breach of consumer data. In 2017, we saw major corporations experience data breaches such as Yahoo!, Verizon, Whole Foods, and many others. Most brands don’t have a good handle on data in their organization, and the extensively siloed nature of enterprise data doesn’t help matters. Big data sets also aren’t always well-managed or well-protected. These immature data management and data governance practices can and will lead to another breach of customer data.
- Personalized marketing enters a new phase of development. In 2018, we can expect personalization efforts to reach a new level of specificity. Personalization 3.0 will include analytics, natural language parsing and bots, and a greater reliance on artificial intelligence and machine learning to individualize the customer experience. According to Forrester, intelligent agents will influence 10 percent of purchase decisions in the year ahead. The addition of these intelligent agents to the customer experience will be transformative in personalizing customer interactions and driving customer retention.
- Hybrid retailers will dominate the field as big-box stores fade away. The era of the dominant big-box retailer is all but over except for a few players still left on the chess board. Big names like Walmart, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Home Depot, and Target will increasingly adopt a “bricks-and-clicks” approach to retail that integrates the digital and physical. These hybrid retailers will become the new way that retailers approach their consumers – with an omnichannel worldview that allows the seamless transition between online and offline spaces.
- Path to Purchase analytics will replace the outdated customer journey. Let me be clear: the customer journey, as we have traditionally understood it, is deader than Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” Customers no longer travel a linear pathway from awareness to purchase to aftercare, and brands need to understand that. The new model rising to replace the traditional linear customer journey is something we’re calling “path-to-purchase” analytics that expressly describes the pathway customers take to purchase a product by analyzing the actions that get consumers from awareness to sale.
- Apps will almost completely replace the mobile web. The mobile web is becoming increasingly irrelevant as more consumers engage with their chosen brands through native applications instead. Apps provide greater opportunities for personalization, especially as consumers increasingly accept the conditions that brands place on them. The number of apps on the average person’s phone may go down, but apps will overall start to replace the mobile web in 2018.
The marketing landscape shifts like the scores in a Super Bowl comeback. Between new customer expectations and new regulations, marketers have their work cut out for them. Not all these predictions may come to pass in 2018, but they are certainly where we see the market heading the months ahead. What the future will hold is anyone guess, but it’s certain to require pivoting at the speed of the customer.