9 trends that will define marketing in 2018

2017 was the year the industry got its much-needed wake-up call. The question now isn't whether marketers can fix a broken system, but how they'll make it better.

Polish must be applied to brands' strategies in 2018 — with a loss of growth likely where it's not — guided by a demand for high-quality experiences that are delivered on both a global and local scale and that leverage new technologies and data to offer true personalization.
Last year, marketers took necessary inventory on the myriad issues harming their industry, with many finally deciding to directly address a murky digital media landscape. Now that a cleanup is underway, failing to take the next step and deliver better experiences portends grave consequences, with Forrester Research forecasting a loss of growth as the customer experience declines for 30% of businesses and industries in 2018. These headwinds will be felt in the boardroom as well, as more CMOs have their roles diminished or eliminated altogether to be replaced by chief growth officers. 

"Recognizing and identifying the transparency gaps in the system have been necessary steps. Now it's time to put solutions in place," Brian Benedik, VP and global head of ads monetization at Spotify, told Marketing Dive via email. "It's imperative that marketers, agencies, publishers and platforms collaborate to make this happen and rebuild trust."

"Marketers have basic, legitimate expectations around their media investments, including financial transparency, brand safety, viewable and audible messaging, bots and more," he added. "These are table-stakes now for publishers and platforms."

Transparency opens a 'can of worms'
A call for greater transparency will extend beyond the B2B space to affect consumers in 2018. Whether or not certain benchmarks are hit on the path toward achieving digital transformation, this trend will open a new "can of worms" for marketers, according to Rebecca Coleman, founding partner at the creative agency Something Massive.

As marketers demand more transparency, consumers, too, will expect brands to be more open about where their products come from and what they stand for. For national brands that aren't exactly "farm-to-table," per Coleman, it will be necessary in 2018 to think about how to communicate value in a way that also makes customers feel better.

"Especially in the current political climate, there are a lot of consumers that are trying to use their wallets to make an impact."
 Rebecca Coleman
Founding partner, Something Massive

"Where we used to have a social good corner where brands did things like a partnership with St. Jude and that was their separate cause marketing initiative, now consumers are starting to really look at how a company transacts all of [its] business along the production line," she said.

"Especially in the current political climate, there are a lot of consumers that are trying to use their wallets to make an impact," she said. "There's going to be a big push to integrate this social good at every step of the production process for a product as opposed to just having [it] separate."

Quality content becomes king
"Content is king" is a stale adage, but changing perspectives on how to create resonance with consumers and also deliver results are redefining what desirable content looks like. Taking things like cause marketing in-house to integrate them into a brand is just one example of how marketers will start to put an emphasis on quality as shotgun approaches continue to falter in 2018.

Executives like Procter & Gamble's Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard for years have hammered the industry for churning out too much "crap," but the strides that have been made with transparency — and the premium now being placed on brand-safe content — might be steering more marketers to refine their approaches.

"Advertising formats that are useful to consumers — I think there needs to be a lot more innovation on that front," Pritchard told Marketing Dive in November. "The good news is with the advent of augmented reality, virtual reality, machine learning and those things, I think there's a potential to make that happen."

Recent findings from Ascend2 showed marketers will place content marketing only behind social media in terms of effective tactics to deploy this year. With new AR development kits from Apple, Google and Facebook, along with a proliferation of connected devices and a ramp up in the popularity of mobile channels like messaging apps, brands have plenty of areas to specialize in.

"Businesses and third parties are now able to integrate themselves into the user experience, creating an entirely new consumer portal," Tom Edwards, chief digital officer at Epsilon, said in emailed comments on social messaging. "As we move into 2018, expect this trend to continue as the likes of iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Slack, WeChat and more attempt to consolidate services through APIs and downloadable 'mini-apps.'"

One-to-one marketing at scale edges closer
Better apps, devices and artificial intelligence-driven solutions like machine learning, combined with a more transparent digital media pipeline, signal that marketers are gaining access to more granular data that's easier to apply across platforms. One-to-one marketing personalization at scale has been a holy grail target for the industry for awhile, but 2018 will be the year that savvier marketers start to tap into its potential.

"When it comes to owned channels like email, push notifications and in-product messaging, many leading brands have already broken down their data silos and are leveraging new software to deliver personalized cross-channel experiences to their customers," Bill Magnuson, CEO and co-founder of Braze — formerly Appboy — said in a statement. "So, for their existing customers, one-to-one digital marketing is already happening at scale."

Marketers that don't focus on making their brands personal stand to lose out: Lack of trust and poor personalization cost businesses $756 billion in 2016 and led 43% of consumers to switch companies, according to Accenture. The challenge of achieving personalization only grows more daunting as customer acquisition and retention will become more complex.

"In 2017, the journey length for customers that [had] already been acquired reached an average of 20 months, versus 10 for an acquisition journey," Mark Smith, president of Kitewheel, said in a statement citing data from his organization. "While a customer can be won or lost quickly, retaining and growing a customer relationship takes time and cross-channel effort. With the rise of new technologies and channels, 2018 will see even more complex journeys and longer journey times."

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