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.
“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.”
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.
4.Loyalty programs and leveraging data get even more important
Experts agree the best loyalty programs are not about discounts, advocacy or loyalty, but about gathering data about consumers in order to personalise and upsell. And in 2018, that quest to utilise loyalty-based customer intelligence for action will be an imperative.
“While ‘data’ seems to be the default answer to pretty much any marketing question, I do believe those brands that best collect and integrate their often disparate data sources will be the ones that flourish in the loyalty space,” The Works creative partner, Paul Swann, says. “The ability to achieve a more comprehensive view of customers’ current and likely behaviour will enable brands to better personalise offers and messages.
“More importantly, it will also mean they can respond to increasingly nuanced triggers in the customer’s life, demonstrating that the brand truly understands them and builds towards the ultimate ambition of predicting their needs before they even arise.”
As many marketers now realise, getting to this point is no mean feat. Even the more sophisticated brands often still wrestle with making data from different sources work together, let alone applying the learnings at speed and scale.
“Therefore, rather than loyalty sitting within one team, increasingly there needs to be a broader loyalty culture instilled throughout the organisations which takes it seriously, with each department needing to understand the role they can play in collecting data and activating the insights that are derived from it,” Swann says.
Geekie points out brand advocacy stems from an emotional connection to a brand and its products that goes far beyond points and rewards.
“Truly showing a customer that you ‘get’ them is far more powerful but it’s a complex business,” he says. “Brands that will win here are those embracing complex algorithms and AI to capitalise on their data and drive their marketing interactions.”
Mobecom CEO, Neil Joseph, believes the future should be focused on millennial loyalty, because they are the advocates of the future. While willing to give their data to brand owners, managers of loyalty programs will need to rethink how they actually use this data because millennials expect to be valued beyond just a simple transaction, he says.
“From a rewards currency perspective, trust, transparency and sincerity are key,” Joseph says. “With membership to multiple loyalty programs each with their own rules and limitations, the landscape is potentially ripe for a digital currency that can consolidate rewards into a single currency to provide instant redemption and exchange opportunities.”
The future of loyalty programs as we move into 2018 will be about rewarding behaviour, transacted over an agnostic platform that’s not actually led by brands, Unlockd global chief creative officer, JC Oliver, predicts.
“For example, I use a pair of Nike trainers when I run, and I earn Nike points as I’m part of the brand’s membership program,” he says. “The more I run, the more I earn. But this locks me into that ecosystem. The future of this behaviour will allow me to earn ‘agnostic jogging points’ which I can spend on any fitness brand that I want. So the ownership moves from brand to the person. It will be the user’s behavioural loyalty that will win, rather than the closed brand loyalty. It’s already where the world is moving.”
To achieve this, MullenLowe Profero head of product for ECD, Ashadi Hopper, predicts 2018 will see partnership of loyalty programs with blockchain technology, opening up significant opportunities for marketers in Australia.
“We believe traditional points-based loyalty schemes are ripe for transformation using blockchain or digital currency,” he says. “Australia leads the world in cashless payments, and we’ve also got a number of latent loyalty programs so the opportunity is significant.
“Loyalty programs and their partners would benefit from blockchain technology to eliminate the delays and expense associated with running redemption and rewards schemes. IBM’s Hyperledger platform is powering one of the most interesting startups in this space, Loyyal – and that’s certainly a company to watch.”
5.Prepare to face the realities of Blockchain hype
Which leads to CMO’s fifth prediction for 2018: Blockchain, both in terms of hype as well as reality.
According to Forrester’s 2018 predictions, CIOs further exploit the potential of blockchain technology in the New Year. But don’t expect a major leap in technology maturity. Security, fraud management and identity verification are among the more pressing issues for future blockchain adoption that still need to be thoroughly addressed.
“2017 wasn’t a great year for trust,” Swann admits. “The misinformation peddled in political campaigns has made us question our leaders and institutions; the validity of academic and scientific research was frequently questioned; and a consistent stream of data breaches eroded confidence in many commercial organisations. All of this opens the door for a big year for blockchain in 2018.
“As we have more digital relationships with brands, their ability to convince us that their products are genuine, our transactions are secure and our data is protected, will become increasingly important. I can foresee brands putting more emphasis on telling consumers what they are doing to keep them and their information safe.
“If blockchain technology can overcome the confusion about how it works and clarify its benefits it has the opportunity to position itself as a tool for brands to achieve greater consumer confidence.”
Sales and marketing director of security consulting firm CQR, Mark Telkes, worries that in the age of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, blockchain is a technology concept that gets thrown around far too much with almost no real understanding of what it really is or application.
“There has been an exponential increase in interest in the term over the last five years and there is no evidence that this has peaked,” he says. “It’s a race between the blockchain bubble bursting, and someone coming up with a practical use for the technology. This won’t happen in 2018.”
Wong agrees while there has been much buzz, prototypes need go live and prove blockchain’s suitability for business for it to really take off.
“We can agree that the decentralised nature of blockchain and the restriction to data manipulation makes it safe,” she says. “Not to mention the anonymity allows people to transact in the digital space securely. That anonymity is a double-edged sword. The rise of cryptocurrency has seen a rise in ransomware attacks as well. Cyber attackers can now demand money knowing that they can receive it anonymously.
“As more people jump on the bandwagon, educating them on the differences between a public and private blockchain will be important as well. We must learn our lessons from implementing new technology in the past and ensure that educating the masses remain a top priority so that they won’t jump into it blindly.”
Marketo VP of sales for A/NZ, Nic Dennis, points to a major speed challenge hindering blockchain’s application in martech. In 2018, there needs to be further development to facilitate significantly more interactions per second on a blockchain in order to keep pace with bigger systems and competitors.
“It has been predicted that blockchain technologies have the potential to disrupt how digital advertising is measured, purchased and delivered – giving consumers more control over what personal data is available to an advertiser,” Dennis says. “With technology budgets in 2018 set to include more martech and adtech solutions, it’s clear that next year CMOs need to look to the technology they have and invest in developing solutions to cope with the sheer volume of customers and organisations they will interact with in 2018.”
6.Virtual reality, augmented reality hit the trough of disillusionment
Virtual reality is another much-hyped technology, and the application of mixed reality as a whole gained a few headlines in 2017. In 2018, Lee-Young predicts the focus on VR and AR will be on penetration and application, with the big VR players, such as HTC Vive, Oculus and Playstation, finally bringing down prices and releasing new wireless and standalone headsets.
“From a content perspective, the big boys are invested with Disney, Hollywood, NBA, MLB, and global media outlets spending hundreds of millions of dollars creating experiences mainstream audiences would want to watch more regularly,” he says. “This will lead the way for others to create their own VR content or advertise within someone else’s content.
“Away from the obvious gaming, entertainment, real estate and porn industries, 2018 will also see VR being used to improve productivity, learning and training, and save costs in areas such as education, medicine, health and wellness, tourism, hospitality, sports, retailing and charitable causes. Once you realise its capability, there will be endless application ideas and opportunities for marketers.”
Yet Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies has AR sitting in the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ and at least 5-10 years away from success. Ipsos director, Kirsten Riolo, and director of behavioural science, Pascal Bourgeat, both think uncertainty remains around VR and AR as to what the possibilities and opportunities are in this space.
“AR and VR offers huge scope to change what [and how] shoppers process decision-making as well as transforming their impressions and levels of engagement,” the pair comment. “The downside is that as VR and AR more routinely shape our perceptions and impressions, the technology becomes less transformative and differentiating and just par for the course. The next stage will be to add other sensory dimensions to these experiences: The digitisation of olfactory experiences.”
Marketers will and should embrace these technologies but they must harness them in conjunction with their own human-based skillsets such as creativity and intuition, as these which will continue to add value to the marketing mix, Riolo and Bourgeat say.
“They will also need to appreciate how behaviour works, knowing that while we can create new environments in which to interact with brands, the undying traits we all have are still the same. As these technological advances start to merge, honing our marketing skills to really know what they can affect will be pivotal for the marketer of tomorrow.”
Tonic Health media commercial director, Jack Mortlock, also saw too much hype around virtual and augmented technology, and said 2018 will be more about the convergence of established formats with digital to create better experiences.
“If the medium requires the consumer to do something that they’re not going to do anyway, it’s not going to work unless the payout is extraordinary,” he says. “When great creative is combined with digital and outdoor, brands can create an amazing experience for consumers without them having to go out of their way, and I think next year will see further convergence of established formats with digital to create better experiences.”
7. Amazon will disrupt retail
Another major disruptor on the retail front in 2018 is Amazon’s arrival finally in Australia. Experts agree the digital juggernaut’s local launch places increasing pressure on local retailers to transform digitally or be left behind, with fragile, smaller businesses at particular risk of disruption.
“Unfortunately, many are still lagging behind and struggle to offer experiences that match customer expectations digitally,” Cyara CMO, Linda Chen, says. “Brands must bear in mind the power of the customer voice – where one wrong move can alter mass perceptions of a brand overnight.
“And with global giants like Amazon now here, who are leaders in the CX game, demand for omni-channel customer experiences will be higher than ever before.”
As a result, Chen predicts the focus in 2018 will turn to customer experience assurance, and how measuring CX technologies can ensure brands are preventing failures before they even occur.
“We will see customers engage with organisations in both multi-channel and cross-channel journeys more than ever. Therefore, staying ahead of the curve and delivering consistently perfect CX is pertinent for organisations to survive,” she adds. “In order to achieve omni-channel CX success and retain customer loyalty in 2018, brands will need to have the right measurement technologies in place to protect and future-proof themselves by ensuring nothing is unpredictable.”
Ipsos managing director of loyalty, Richard Korn, says convenience, simplicity and ease are key. “This also requires empathy – looking at the world through the eyes of the customer to understand what’s working for them and their pain points,” he says.
“This, however, is not a one-off exercise but something that must happen on an ongoing basis. To this end, businesses must have the right systems in place to capture feedback from their customers, which can then be used to address inefficiencies and optimise customer experience on the fly.”
Marketo director of customer success, Mike Handes, says all CMOs should be thinking of future proofing their customer journey with technology such as AI, to ensure ongoing audience engagement.
“AI gives marketers the tools do this at scale and more CMOs will begin to leverage AI technology to serve personalised content to customers across their digital assets,” he says. “Ultimately in 2018, AI will allow CMOs to boost engagement metrics and begin capitalising on the resulting data to deliver revenue growth.”
8. The divide between adtech and martech narrows
According to Raab Associates founder, David Raab, the safest prediction to make is always that current trends will continue in 2018. “That would mean more new marketing technology, more technical focus among marketers to use it, more convergence of martech and adtech, and more integrated, personalised experiences as a result,” he says.
“But I think we may be at a turning point where those trends shift into something else entirely. A likely cause would be stock market decline, whose effects are magnified by malicious incompetence in government to create a full-blown financial crisis. Domestic or international political crises could yield a similar financial result. The impact of such crises would be profound and marketing technology would be the least of our worries.”
Assuming things don’t get too far out of hand, Raab sees all signs pointing to an inflection away from higher martech investments and towards consolidation as marketers focus on making better use of the tools they have purchased already. It’s a view supported by Gartner’s recent CMO survey, which found martech spending is actually expected to drop next year.
“This could mean more spending on training and analytics but mostly it will just mean marketers working harder to get better results with existing resources,” Raab says. “It will also mean marketers look for places to save money, and continue to cut costs by bringing ad buying and related functions in-house.
“But better data will make marketing outcomes more meaningfully measureable, so we can expert investments in attribution and even more pressure on CMOs to use attribution-based analytics to guide their choices and prove their financial benefit.”
Datarati’s Taylor said he’d love to predict a date for when battle lines between adtech and martech are withdrawn and teams just get on with improving the value and effectiveness of their work.
“Martech has in many ways already been consumed by adtech, and in 2018, we will continue to hear arguments over who owns what data, and when and how it should be used,” he claims.
“Transparency, viewability and brand safety concerns, coupled with the marginalisation of agencies has also fuelled the rise of martech,” Bonzai vice-president of sales, Rupert Pay, says. “In 2018, CMOs will be looking to reduce the number of platforms they use, simplifying their lives in what is an already complex ecosystem.
“We’ve already started to see this trend in the US, where brands on average are now using less than three DSPs, two of which are accounted for by Google and Amazon.”
MediaMath country manager, Yun Yip, doesn’t see adtech and martech being consumed by each other.
“The key is to break down the barriers between the two systems, resulting in more relevant, consistent consumer experiences across channels,” he says. “The integration of the two will enable a complete view of the customer journey and more efficient, meaningful conversations with customers.”
Penso CEO, Con Frantzeskos, sees three martech-adtech trends coming to the fore 2018. The first is “muddling through”.
“CMOs won’t commit to a philosophy or single platform but simply muddle through, looking for flexibility and options, shipping and deploying if and when necessary,” he says. Secondly, adoption is ‘Soviet-style’, with the majority of marketers choosing one of the major platforms such as Salesforce, Marketo or others, and build teams around these.
As a last point, he notes the rise of “Sexy Stacks”. “CMOs will look to build a unique technology stack based not on a particular marketing automation ecosystem, but on ‘best-in-class’ delivery for category and industry needs,” Frantzeskos concludes.
This article was first published on cmo.com.au