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5 Marketing Trends to Watch in 2018

Do you remember the scene in Minority Report when Tom Cruise walks into a shopping mall and he is bombarded with “personalized” holographic images for a variety of products? Brand stories and offers popping up all over the place interrupting him and attempting (unsuccessfully) to get his attention.

Is this where technological innovation will lead us in marketing?  If so, we’re looking forward to an inefficient and pretty creepy future! A flood of annoying imagery, irrelevant and conflicting messaging, sensory overload, ad nauseam.

Of course, this type of real-time, personalized marketing is with us already, in a much more efficient – slightly less creepy – manner. For example, consider web retargeting.  You visit a website and a cookie is left on your computer.  That cookie triggers targeted display advertising on other websites as you continue to browse online.  In this way, a brand can attempt to win back your attention, remind you to go back to their website, and perhaps even convince you to make a purchase. This is still an interruptive tactic, but if the brand story is simple, authentic and relevant, a retargeting strategy can be an efficient way to nurture your target customer and give them a reason to engage with you.

That said, retargeting still doesn’t address the underlying problem with digital advertising: very few people click on traditional banners. Most people have been conditioned to tune out noise as we browse the web.  This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as “banner blindness” – people almost never look at anything that looks like an advertisement, whether or not it’s actually an ad. Website visitors just intuitively avoid display ads when browsing their favorite website destinations.

A study conducted by Google’s Doubleclick team in March 2017 found that across all ad formats and placements, the click-through rate (CTR) is just 0.05%.  That equates to just 5 clicks per 10000 impressions!  This fact alone should give entrepreneurs pause as they consider the potential futility of driving direct response from online display or banner ads.

So, what does the future hold for marketing? How will marketing shift from interruptive technical tricks to truly transformational innovations for their customers?  How will entrepreneurs stand out from the crowd, break through the clutter and authentically connect with their customers?

Equipped with information, enabled with mobile devices and linked through social media, customers will only continue to gain power and learn how to exercise it.

Looking ahead to 2018, marketers will need to balance this shift in market power, anticipate customer demands and evaluate how these five trends could pose threats to or represent opportunities for their business:

1. “Mass Marketing” will take on an entirely new meaning as the masses will control much of the dialog and all of the authentic advocacy about brands and their reputations.

While you may think you or someone at your company manages your brand today, it is really the external perception of your target customer audience that defines your brand. Making matters worse, social media channels give your target customers an easy way to share opinions about your brand with thousands of others in an instant. This powerful and ubiquitous communication channel has the potential to put your brand in constant peril and make your firm’s reputation vulnerable to rumors and viral misinformation.  How will you manage a brand in a world where so many of the success variables are no longer in your control?

2. Connected Customers will demand full control over the timing and process of communications and consumption, so businesses will be expected to meet customer needs as soon as they materialize via whatever channel the customer has chosen.

Marketers must recognize that they can’t possibly control the myriad of conversations about their brands.  Moreover, unlike campaigns, conversations are often not even initiated by the brand.  The most successful entrepreneurs will deploy marketing automation tools to enable that conversation both internally and externally so they can engage their customers with the right things in the right way at the right time to drive results. To enhance this capability, marketing automation vendors will begin integrating Smart Bots and Intelligent Agent technologies into their platforms to manage continuous, real-time conversations with customers.

3. Marketing campaigns, once thought of as one-way communication paths from brand to customer, will truly become two-way streets. Conversations and continuous engagement will be the norm and episodic campaigns will be in the rear-view mirror for most companies. 

Traditional outbound marketing campaigns demarcated by periodic sales seasons, budget cycles and responses to competitor moves will be insufficient to engage customers. If you keep thinking about marketing campaigns as your one-shot at broadcasting promotional content, you will miss the bigger opportunity to connect with customers. By contrast, conversations are continuous, adaptive, and ad hoc. They take advantage of the immediacy and reach of social media channels to communicate with an audience repeatedly and meaningfully, targeting messages by media type and inviting the recipients not just to listen, but to engage with and respond to your valuable content. In 2018, successful entrepreneurs will be building brands and driving revenue growth with tools that facilitate continuous, relevant and meaningful conversations with customers.

4. Company marketing processes and the insights and intelligence embedded within them will coalesce. Not just because they overlap so much, but because the customer experiences them as parts of the same interaction.

The goal of marketing and customer experience design is not just to promote the brand, but rather to engage the customer. What the company says in the conversation should stand out and make sense, but just as important is how well the company listens and makes sense of what the market is saying. We’ve stressed the contrast between campaigns and conversations to call attention to the challenges and opportunities associated with the latter. As a practical matter, the two should go hand in hand. Any marketing campaign today should incorporate and encourage ongoing conversation with customers and analysis of these conversations should reveal opportunities for innovative campaigns.

5. Static “rules-based” processes will just not be able to keep up with the pace of market change. Faster, smarter and more predictive marketing processes and decision-making will be required.

Marketing leaders and their teams are going to find themselves struggling with unwieldy and cumbersome “marketing and customer rules” management processes – especially as the data changes faster than one can keep up with the rules. There is a tremendous opportunity for innovators to establish the best practices to tame this burgeoning complexity and then to fundamentally create a better solution.  The introduction of Machine Learning will be a game-changer – giving entrepreneurs the ability to learn, grow and change their marketing programs without being explicitly configured or programmed by users. Simply put, machine learning will remove the manual task of classifying and tweaking rules each time new information is captured about a customer.  As opposed to rule-based decision systems, which follow an explicit set of “if-then-else” instructions known by the developers in advance, machine learning algorithms are designed to analyze data and discover patterns that people cannot find by themselves. In other words, machine learning leverages the massive power and objectivity of computers to see things in big data that slow and biased humans cannot see, enabling the use of insights to accurately predict results.

All of these trends raise an interesting question for entrepreneurs in 2018.  How do we keep up?  The short answer is: you can’t do it using traditional sales, marketing and brand management techniques – you’ve got to reframe the problem.

Marketing Technology Enables Smarter Marketing by 2020

New marketing technologies and tools will empower entrepreneurs to actively monitor social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as track blogs, forums and online communities where conversations about the brand may occur. Whether the customer conversation is positive, negative, humorous, or just sarcastic, you track the sources of such content and gauge the sentiment and underlying emotions in order to protect and enhance reputation. Without Machine Learning, it will simply be too difficult to compile and process the huge amounts of data coming from multiple sources. However, when all of this data is made available to marketing platforms programmed to perform data mining and machine learning, very timely, accurate and profitable predictions can be made.

By 2020, we predict that marketing technology innovation will literally transform how your customer experiences your brand, converses with you, and dynamically interacts with you.

With the right brand story, the right strategy, and the right systems in place, entrepreneurs will capture the customer’s attention, make an authentic connection and give them a reason to care and a reason to listen.  Provided that your brand story resonates with the recipient’s needs and wants, you’ll give them a reason to engage.  If the experience you create for them based on your brand story is remarkable, you’ll give them a reason to buy, and most importantly, a reason to stay.

The future of marketing is now. And it’s going to be much better than what was portrayed in Minority Report

To learn more, check out the TopRight eBook: Transformational Marketing: Moving to the TopRight.
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