Every "_____ trends of 2018" article is built on biases, and mine is no different.
So here's a brief disclosure.
- I spent much of the year thinking about the changing media landscape—how technology is shaping it, how marketers and journalists are navigating it, and how content consumers of all types are responding to it.
- I also spent much of the year working in the data visualization space, thinking about the role of data, how it's displayed, and how greater levels of KPI transparency can impact both the company and the departments within.
- The last quarter of the year I was deep into the retail technology space, where I watched webinars and probably read a few hundred articles each month about how artificial intelligence and empowered consumers are changing the industry.
Based on those experiences this year, here are 19 marketing trends (among many others) that are worth keeping an eye on in 2018:
1. Reduced marketing budget opacity
$7.8 billion. That's how much money marketers "totally wasted" from 2016-2017 according to Melissa Parish of Forrester. This number is expected to reach nearly $11 billion in just a few years if efforts aren't made to address it.
What's the problem? Partly fraud, but also a complete lack of visibility into what metrics such as "impressions" and "engagement" actually mean.
Platforms with users (and therefore audiences for ads) are notoriously bad at providing the details and statistics necessary for marketers to make informed ad spend decisions, but in many cases marketers have simply had to accept it.
In 2018, I see platforms competing in the predictable ways, but also in regards to providing transparency around ad spend. There's a rising group of data-native marketers who aren't willing to tolerate opacity. They'll cause some interesting changes in what has been a wild and wasteful system.
2. Voice commerce & voice search take off
The U.S. will have 67 million voice-assisted devices in use by 2019, according to AdWeek (Amazon's Echo Dot was the best-selling product on all of Amazon this holiday season). And ComScore predicts that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches.
Voice is set to reach that critical point of mass adoption where it takes off. It's like those early days of GPS, where it went from a big Garmin cool-to-have to I won't drive without Waze app must-have.
The skyrocketing adoption of voice-enabled devices is paired with advances in Natural Language Processing, and it's all leading to a point that will change commerce and SEO (especially long-tail and local) throughout 2018.
As I wrote earlier this year, voice commerce is set to go mainstream.
3. The normalization of conversational chatbots
The question in 2017 was: "Did you engage with one?"
The question in 2018 will be: "How many did you engage with?"
Conversational chatbots are becoming a normal part of the digital customer experience. Facebook Messenger of course generates much of the attention and will continue to be a powerhouse in the space, but keep an eye out for newcomers such as Landbot.io.
Here's a glimpse of what it can do.
Their creators are hungry and thinking differently about truly optimizing conversational experiences.
4. More brands taking stands
Empowered consumers have little tolerance for the traditional interruptive marketing experiences offered by the (mostly) long-standing brands. They want brands to deliver relevant offerings and take a stand on today's pressing societal issues.
Patagonia, to name one example, is shining in this regard.
Sure, this is partly because those empowered consumers forced marketers to act differently, but it's also because such brands are standing for something positive and meaningful—which is to say something vulnerable and that can be exploited for profit, which is to say something at risk of being completely destroyed by the current political establishment.
Simon Sinek's now ubiquitous quote will continue to ring true in 2018:
"People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."
5. HTTPS or die
To put it simply: you're losing valuable traffic if your site isn't HTTPS.
Making the move to HTTPS can be a massive undertaking if you have a site with a complex architecture and a ton of content, but Google is essentially punishing those without it.
As Dr. Peter J. Meyers wrote at Moz:
"...the data suggests that HTTPS could hit about 65% of page-1 results by the end of 2017."
In other words, even great content that by all other variables should rank on Page 1 will increasingly be pushed to Page 2 if it's not HTTPS.
6. eCommerce individualization spreads everywhere
Digital retailers that create individualized experiences are seeing dramatic increases in the ecommerce metrics that matter most. As such, more will embrace individualization in 2018. Their adoption will lead to a cross-sector spillover effect—after all, clickstream analysis and transactional patterns aren't limited to the retail space.
Because purchases in this space happen so quickly, ecommerce has proven to be the perfect training ground for how treating customers as individuals rather than segments can pay off.
This will be a win for the retailer and a win for the customer, although this isn't without its challenges (see number 19 below).
7. Data visualization & storytelling
In 2018, there will be more beautiful collaborations between data analysts/visualizers and storytellers. Check out Bussed out: How America moves its homeless for a glimpse into what's to come. Here's a screenshot of one data visualization from that article:
Such publications set new bars for what content consumers expect. The days of dumping mounds of interesting data into an article are coming to an end. Data must be visualized, and it must be integrated seamlessly into the story so that one doesn't feel right without the other.
This will obviously impact journalism, but it will also impact content studios, marketing agencies, and brands everywhere that have built out a content-first marketing strategy.
8. The increasing difficulty of organic social media reach
"Good luck running any meaningful strategy purely around organic reach."
All social media platforms that have fulfilled their mandate of developing a massive audience will eventually feel the pressure to monetize. The easiest and most obvious way is to decrease organic reach so that even reaching your own "subscribers" becomes impossible unless you pay for the privilege.
Facebook set the precedent, and others will follow the lead in 2018.
9. Experience to conversion
"Unified customer experiences" will finally walk the talk in 2018.
For years, personalization platforms in a variety of spaces have talked about how they are creating "unified" experiences both on-site and off.
First, they really weren't. They were creating disjointed experiences that felt similar.
Second, all sectors have finally realized (certainly thanks to Amazon) that reducing paths of friction and showing relevant offerings is the path to better conversion.
This mindset shift is subtle, but thinking customer-first rather than conversion-first will have major ramifications in 2018.
For more on this, including some practical examples, see From Site to Email: Ecommerce Individualization Across Touchpoints.
10. The ripple effect of Amazon's continued dominance
You know the statistics about Amazon's dominance. So let's go beyond that into two points worth thinking about for marketers.
First, marketing dollars are likely to shift from Google Ads (whose revenue is expected to remain flat) to Amazon because its deeper customer profiles allows for far better targeting. This will mean yet another layer to Amazon's dominance.
Second, smaller brands will continue their struggle to either give in to Amazon or work hard to establish new marketing models so they can engage and maintain their own audiences. Giving in essentially means going blind because Amazon becomes the data collector.
Consider this: A customer purchases through Alexa, the transaction routes through to PayPal, and then the smaller brand receives only the invoice and shipping information.
All clicks, swipes, and other on-site activity is captured by Amazon, leaving the brand in the dark about what would have been critical insights into their customers' preferences and intent.
11. The scramble to keep empowered digital subscribers happy
Talk about "empowered consumers" was everywhere in 2017, and these customers are expecting more from every interaction with the brands they choose to engage with.
This includes those who are subscribed to brand-related content.
For years, digital subscribers have stuck around and put up with segmented drip campaigns for the sake of receiving content they felt they needed to have.
No longer. As we addressed earlier, customers are increasingly aware/sick of being treated like segments, and they will demand more from the brands who are gaining their attention on a regular basis.
Content will have to go completely above and beyond expectations—going from a weekly blog post to, for example, bite-sized but high-quality lessons delivered to their inbox.
Highbrow set the bar for this, and companies like Klipfolio are seeing incredible results with it. Here's an example from their site:
12. Pureplay eCommerce soars... into brick-and-mortar stores
Thriving ecommerce companies will increasingly wade into the physical world as a means of expansion in 2018.
This comes with its challenges, however. On the marketing front, many of these companies grew purely through brilliant digital marketing.
They'll now need to expand their marketing game to include many on-the-ground marketing elements that they haven't had to think about before. And they'll need to create omni-channel marketing campaigns that feel like one cohesive experience.
13. The "Retail Apocalypse" continues
Retail stores that have been household names will continue closing while others open up at a slower pace.
This will continue forcing traditional retail marketers (even those who have long been in the digital space) to experiment with innovative new ways of gaining attention and trust.
The alternative, as we've seen, will be a complete lack of relevancy for the brand.
14. Journalism <---> Marketing
Journalists will continue joining tech companies, forming a kind of hybrid journalist-marketer that is capable of researching, writing, and editing in ways that strike a balance between seeing the potential customer as both a reader and a potential customer.
In higher education, marketing and management departments at universities are finally starting to teach the fundaments of digital marketing (which includes parts of the journalist's toolkit).
I've heard plenty of good about the Digital Marketing Certificate program at the University of Ottawa. Students learn about Google Analytics, SEO, and developing content strategies, among other critical elements of modern digital marketing.
In 2018 we'll also see The Washington Post continue to reap the benefits of being rooted in the ethos of journalism while it grows into a technology company. And we'll see other technology companies buy up media outlets.
15. Human 🧠 + Machine 🤖
“Human + Machine” was the theme for this year’s CXSF 2017, held October 19-20 in San Francisco, and it’s going to be the topic of conversation for decades to come.
AI will accelerate in 2018, although many conversations will to continue to polarize it as the greatest/worst thing ever.
Many habits in our lives will be assisted and entirely shaped by artificial intelligence as that 51% statistic in the figure above climbs rapidly.
16. Relationships will cut through the noise
Conference and tradeshow relationships will continue being an important way to cut through the digital clutter.
Unlike the other topics here I haven't found the data to back this up, but as the SaaS competition heats up (see number 18) and as digital marketers keep... digital marketing... I can see deep and meaningful relationships stepping in to be the variable that allows customers to choose one product over a variety of awfully similar products.
This idea of "relationship-building" can of course still exist in the digital sense, and it'll come through, you guessed it, incredibly helpful content.
Credit Karma is a great example of this. According to Bloomberg, they've claimed almost half of all U.S. millennials as members. They also happen to create an immense amount of incredibly educational content. Coincidence? I think not.
Lastly, world-class customer service will shine in 2018. This year, the small team at Encha treated me far better than any company I've ever made a purchase from. I'll never forget it, and in 2018 I can see more brands doing something similar for their customers.
17. The return of print
Everything digital means there's a rising interest in receiving print publications, even longform print publications. Here's an issue of Chief Content Officer, the fantastic print magazine of the Content Marketing Institute:
I personally look forward to receiving print magazines far more than yet another email in my inbox.
While data visualization + storytelling (number 7 above) provides a great experience, digital-first and digitally-native content consumers seem to be enjoying more than ever the tactile experience of shutting down and turning pages.
In 2018, we'll likely see more brands thinking seriously about creating high-quality print magazines as a marketing collateral.
The model can be an expensive one, and even award-winning magazines such as Lucky Peach haven't been able to sustain it. It'll be interesting to see what new models arise.
18. The monthly SaaS hustle intensifies
It's easier than ever before to leave one monthly product subscription and move to another, especially because products are getting easier to use, users are more adept at making the switch, and competition in a global world means that apps can essentially be replicated and then improved upon faster than ever before.
All of this means the monthly SaaS hustle of trying to acquire new while maintaining old will become more and more of a challenge.
19. The impact of GDPR
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is expected to be a game-changer for many companies that have become reliant on collecting data and then acting on insights from that data.
Acting in real-time and in meaningful ways, of course, demands loads of data, and GDPR as it stands places a premium on obtaining consent prior to the collection.
How will companies respond? Will consumers opt-in? What role will the marketer play in educating the general public that they should opt-in, and how will they change their strategy if consumers choose not to?
I didn't cover VR, blockchain, or many other elements (including political ramifications) that will undoubtedly shape marketing in 2018, but I'll certainly be following them.
I'd love to hear what marketing trends you'll be following in 2018.
Lastly, this collection of thoughts didn't arise miraculously. I'd like to recognize a few thinkers and marketers who have helped inform my thinking over the years:
Jiaqi Pan, Li Gong, Kurt Heinemann, Aidan Hornsby, Mychelle Mollot, Mark Schaefer, Rand Fishkin, Mari Smith, Jonathan Milne, Andy Crestodina, Lance Jones, Robert Rose, Joe Pulizzi, Jason Miller, Phil Gamache, Whitney Johnson, Jonathan Taylor, Aaron Orendorff, Vala Afshar, Harsh Narvar, Adam Grant, Tham Khai Meng, Valerie Hamilton, Charulata Ravi Kumar, Vishal Khanna, Melanie Deziel, Umang Bedi, Chris Wolski, and many others I've surely missed here.