2018 Digital Forecast

Predictions are easy to come by toward year's end, but it does not make them any less valuable to consider.

As Web professionals, we can fall into the same patterns and work under the same priorities. Turning to our peers to evaluate our practices based on their expertise and analysis can help break open our minds and businesses to new possibilities. Let's take a look at what 31 professionals have to say about what 2018 will have in store when it comes to acquiring and retaining customers and the strategies and technologies needed to do so.

ed-kennedy“In 2018, we’ll see more retailers adopting advanced, intelligent personalization engines that recommend products to shoppers based on their previous purchase history, email clicks and Web browsing behavior during individual sessions. Expect to see retail websites that know exactly what you’re browsing for and who you’re shopping for, whether it’s a birthday gift for a friend or an anniversary gift for your spouse.”

~ Ed Kennedy, Senior Director of Commerce at Episerver

khogenson_L"Our research shows that for 2018, brands should dedicate more resources to understanding customers' values and preferences at an individual level, and then leverage that data to deliver great customer experiences. Some customers value a brand being easy to do business with – ensure those customers have easy intuitive access to experiential features such as click-and-collect in-store or mobile ordering. Those experiences make choosing your brand automatic and habitual for them. Make sure that their experience goes smoothly because customers who value convenience defect quickly after mistakes. Other customers value receiving special invitations to events and early access to new merchandise or sales. They also value personalized rewards or a relevant choice of rewards from a digital catalog over receiving just another coupon offer. For these customers, those are the memorable experiences that create an emotional connection with the brand. Both approaches can work together as brands vie for the hearts and minds of highly connected consumers."

~ Kate Hogenson, Senior Consultant at Kobie Marketing

Dan-Wilkinson"While brands and retailers tend to bombard consumers with pictures, multiple specs, customer reviews, and everything else in between to ensure consumers are informed, this can overwhelm many shoppers. Brands and retailers will shift away from this all or nothing approach in favor of quality over quantity, providing information that fits a shopper’s specific search needs instead of throwing everything at them and seeing what sticks. As brands and retailers continue to upgrade their digital capabilities, they'll be able to move into more personal, targeted engagements with their customers."

~ Dan Wilkinson, CCO of 1WorldSync

igor"The main theme for 2018 is 'more', meaning we'll see retailers facilitating a much higher and more meaningful level of engagement with their customers. As online shopping hits record numbers and customers continually shop across channels, the lines between mcommerce, e-commerce, and brick-and-mortar will blur for more connected, relationship-driven commerce experiences. With multiple channels integrated into a single customer-brand experience, brands must treat each channel as part of a whole, and not a distinct path." 

~ Igor Gorin, CEO of Astound Commerce

photo-04“Retail brands, much like other industries, are struggling to generate more comprehensive consumer insights that drive better decisions. In 2018, you’ll see more marketing tools looking to solve this pain point through the aggregation of online and offline channel insights to show a 360 view of consumer opinions.With the sheer magnitude of second screen viewing in the US today, retail brands need to glean consumer insights from the aggregate of TV viewership and social mentions to develop the most effective strategies possible.” 

~ Mohammed el Haddar, CTO and CEO of the Americas at Digimind

sara“Gen Z consumers are coming of age and they command $44 billion in buying power. In 2018, marketers will need to pivot their 'marketing to millennials' mindsets to reach this younger audience. Generation Z is value-oriented, inclusive and socially conscious. Rather than marketing to 'all about me' consumers, companies need to adapt to Gen Z’s 'all about us' mentality and reflect that in their business practices and brand messaging to earn their attention and loyalty.”

~  Sara Spivey, CMO of Bazaarvoice

matt_headshot"2018 will be the year of loyalty marketing through mobile, whether it is an app or texting. According to Mobile Marketing Watch, SMS marketing has a 98 percent open rate, while email only has 20 percent.

In 2017, Smashburger embraced loyalty with an improved SmashClub — a mobile app where customers earn one point for every dollar spent and received a $10 reward at 100 points. Also, the popular fast-casual burger chain launched its Smash Pass where loyalty club members can purchase $45 pass to receive $1 entrées every day for 45 days starting Jan. 1-Feb. 14, 2018. Social is now pay to play, so if brands can get around their algorithms and directly reach people on their phones outside of a social network like this example, they can start to see gains in customer loyalty."

~ Matt Hensler, President of Hensler Agency

sara"Departments within the modern enterprise can no longer work separately from one another when it comes to dealing with cybersecurity issues. Cybersecurity must be addressed holistically as it’s no longer a matter of 'if' a company will be breached, but rather a question of 'when.' While it’s up to the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) to be employing a company-wide defense plan, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) has just as much responsibility to develop an outward-facing response in the event that their organization is breached. We’ve seen firsthand that when a cyberattack occurs, brand reputation incurs one of the biggest fallouts. The CMO and CISO must work collaboratively in 2018 to both protect the company and prepare for an inevitable fate.

  ~ Sara Ayoub, Senior Director of Marketing at ZeroFOX

ankur"The reality is that we can expect data breaches to only increase in frequency and scope in 2018. Collaboration between nimble private companies and the behemoth Blue Chip tech players will happen on how to make the cloud more secure, including an increased focus on hybrid clouds, multi-cloud management and a modern container-based approach will become the rule instead of the exception."

~ Ankur Laoria, Strategic Solutions Leader at Alfresco

colin“Artificial intelligence (AI) and voice search will require more careful strategies for marketers in 2018. These advancements will turn content marketing upside down. People speak and ask questions in natural language, not keyword-based searches, which means your content will either have to include frequently asked questions (FAQs) or be peppered with questions and answers.”

~ Collin Holmes, Founder and CEO of Chatmeter

aaron“One trend that will continue to have an impact on social is the production of original content for Facebook and Snap, as well as the licensing of premium content and live sports by Facebook and Twitter. For one thing, it’s moving massive video ad budgets to our platform and others like it. For another, it’s giving the social platforms rich levels of data on what people like to watch that can be useful for targeting. Finally, it’s creating very brand safe inventory for advertisers.”

~ Aaron Goldman, CMO of 4C Insights

craig"In 2018, we are going to see a variety of industries implement more AI-powered solutions in the B2B sales process. Machine-guided algorithms will play a prominent role in automating and analyzing opportunity detection, which is a better and faster way of uncovering previously hidden opportunities. This will enable sales teams to more quickly and intelligently identify hidden growth opportunities across their accounts, alert them to potential customer churn to avoid potential losses, and personalize recommendations for prospects. We also anticipate a spike in customer demand for interactive, personalized, self-service experiences, which will drive the adoption of AI-powered pricing and sales tools in the year ahead."

~ Craig Zawada, Chief Visionary Officer at PROS

scott-andereson“According to recent research, up to 86 percent of customers see personalization as a critical factor when making a purchase, yet a third of brands admit they lack the skills and tools needed to properly provide the experience customers desire. As we look to 2018 and beyond, these pressures and demands will only continue to grow stronger. Research also finds that consumers see value in providing personal information so that marketers and brands can use it to interact with them when and where they want. By establishing a closer relationship via all the digital channels at our customers’ fingertips, changing our mindset and processes, and implementing the right technology and tools to build those relationships, brands will quickly find themselves in a better position to provide exceptional, personalized customer experiences.”  

~ Scott Anderson, CMO of Sitecore

tom“Between calls, texts, chatbots, and emerging voice assistance channels like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, customers have more options than ever to interact with brands.

We can expect even more communication channels to emerge in 2018, adding to the complexity of how brands serve their customers. A breaking point is imminent for the front line contact center agents who are on the receiving end of increasingly complicated customer issues. New research shows that 56 percent of agents are already challenged with complex issues. What’s more, 60 percent of agents say that their companies don’t provide adequate technology to handle these problems, leaving them stressed out and increasingly unengaged.

In order to continue to deliver on the promise of a great customer experience, brands must refocus on their people and technology integrations. In doing so, employees become empowered to quickly make informed decisions and deliver on the service modern consumers expect.”

~ Tom Goodmanson, President and CEO of Calabrio

amy"Over the last decade, big data has swooped in and dazzled companies with unprecedented access to customer and industry information. It also allowed marketers to address their audiences on deeply personal and individual levels. As marketers began tailoring their strategies around this abundance of insights, something got lost: the creative. The demands of data gathering and analysis overshadowed the need for meaningful and engaging content to share with consumers. Now that autonomous technologies are emerging to do the heavy lifting around data management and campaign execution, marketers will be freed up to return to creative—sparking a creative renaissance that’s informed by data and perhaps more meaningful than ever before."

~ Amy Inlow, CMO of Albert

matthew"In 2018, brands will step out of their online comfort zones to meet consumers offline. Even online-first brands will feel pressure to commit to the physical versions of themselves, so that consumers can experience them 'in the flesh.' But they’ll do it the digital way, using tech to bridge their online origins with their newfound physical personas. Brands’ foray into the physical could take shape as something as small as a single tech-driven installation to something as large as a completely experiential narrative environment. These experiences will be designed to drive consumer engagement and loyalty rather than in-the-moment sales (think: Refinery 29’s '29 Rooms'). In all cases, tech will be the Lynch pin that weaves together a consistent narrative between the digital and physical."

~ Matthew Haber, Managing Director & Co-Founder of BeSide Digital

chris“Businesses have talked the talk about analytics, now they will finally walk the walk. Businesses will automate certain contact center processes and give employees better insights into customer history so they can make informed recommendations and offer faster resolutions. Analytics-based routing backed by advances in natural language understanding will be leveraged to get the right call to the right agent with the right information.”

~ Chris Bauserman, VP of Segment and Product Marketing at NICE inContact

lori“In today’s digital era, consumers are no longer satisfied with the traditional shopping experience. Whether searching online or in stores, consumers expect personalized, convenient and entertaining shopping journeys. In 2017, leading retailers have evolved to include a mix of both commerce and entertainment, and in 2018 we’ll see the rest of the industry implementing similar tactics, utilizing technology. Next year, we’re going to see more retailers invest in augmented and virtual reality, offering mixed reality experiences both in-store and online”

~ Lori Mitchell-Keller, Global General Manager of Consumer Industries at SAP

ben“Expect 2018 to be a year of reckoning. In our experience, marketers are increasingly seizing the reins and taking control. As they do, they’re asking hard questions of themselves and their vendors and many times the answers aren’t pretty. In 2018, we’ll see more adoption of self-serve platforms that allow marketers to know exactly how much of their budget is spent on media, as well as a return to basic marketing metrics. In particular, we believe the 'incremental lift' measurement will become the standard for the smartest performance advertisers in 2018. With incremental lift, randomized control trials compare the revenue from an exposed group (that sees ads) to a control group (that does not see ads), which provides marketers with a true measurement of how effective their ads are.”

~ Ben Tregoe, SVP at Nanigans

"Brands that haven’t gotten real yet are going to have to finally cave in 2018. Specifically, luxury brands that have positioned themselves as serving the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent, while selling wallets to middle-class kids in the burbs, are actually going to have to start talking (and listening) to the burbs. Even more, they’re going to have to start reconfiguring their brands to cater to them—or at least abstracting their messages with bold color choices or whatever else their real audiences like. Commonly available 'luxury' brands will continue to go the way of the travel blogger, getting a little more tattered than they’d ever intended and talking about life. That will come with grittier media engagement and online presence. Even the more couture brands will be subject to this. Unfortunately, not that much of life is spent on the deck of a yacht, and we're all going to have to start marketing to that."

~  Phillip Gulley, Chief Creative & Co-Founder of BeSide Digital

ashley"Content is still king, but in 2018 context will become crucial to its continued rule. The last two years have seen advertisers make the shift away from transactional relationships and toward omnichannel customer experiences, designed to drive brand loyalty. Next up is seeing these customer experiences served up to consumers in the right context, on any medium—much in the same way they’re already receiving their go-to editorial content. Advertisers have to step up and do the same, by knowing what customers are seeking right now, where they like to communicate, and how to speak their language (literally). The rule for 2018 will be: No matter how good your content, the right experience delivered out of context, is the wrong experience."

~ Ashley Deibert, SVP, Marketing & Customer Success at Grapeshot

cohn"When digital hit the scene nearly two decades ago, TV was simply left behind by an industry that assumed it would eventually be obsolete. In 2018, TV will join the ranks of digital channels by finally introducing measurement capabilities that let brands attribute TV viewership to specific, valuable offline behaviors. As a result, marketers will stop treading lightly when it comes to their TV strategies. Its relevance will extend well beyond exposure and all the way to in-store or digital purchase events. TV’s move into the digital age will ultimately lay the groundwork for unified measurement across all channels, acknowledging once and for all that advertisers, like their audiences, want to move freely between the many channels they're active on." 

~ Kevin Kohn, CEO of iQ Media

Copy-of-nick"True social commerce: As our social media feeds become the de facto on-ramp to the Web, it’s no surprise that they are increasingly the place in which we discover new brands and products online. Social content has become the new storefront—stopping people as they scroll through their feeds, bringing them inside to learn more about something that caught their eye. Customers increasingly expect the visually compelling posts they follow from influencers, brands, and advertisements to seamlessly connect them to the right products and recommendations. Social giants recognize this, and are rapidly leaning into commerce, giving brands a chance to build seamless paths between discovery and purchase. This will quickly become the most important and most efficient acquisition channel for brands looking for Gen-Z."

~ Nick Shiftan, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Curalate

lynn-batson-amplero"While the gaming industry has utilized non-player character-based AI for decades, 2018 is the year that AI will finally transform the way the gaming publishers interact with their player base.  In 2018, the lines will also totally blur between mobile, desktop and console. Gaming publishers will get the hint: gamers expect integrated experiences across devices."

~ Lynn Batson, Sr. Director of Gaming Customer Engagement at Amplero

glenn-pingul-amplero-1"For years, marketers have predicted it was the year of personalized marketing but in past years that it was more a wish than a prediction.  This year will truly be the year of hyper-personalization.  Hyper-personalization will be driven by hyper-competition (facilitated by failed mergers) and pressure for wireless carriers to hold on to their customers.  The only way to do that economically is to meet each customer’s needs.  And finally technology exists – AI marketing – to finally deliver true hyper-personalization."

~ Glenn Pingul, VP, Scientific Marketing Strategies at Amplero   

curtis“Consumers will expect even more value from brands, restaurants and retailers – getting access to relevant savings, convenience and an easy shopping experience. It will be critical that marketers improve consumers’ shopping experiences – both online and in-store. This also means they need to have a consumer-centric approach to marketing – blending first-party and third-party data to reach, engage, influence and activate consumers.”

~ Curtis Tingle, Chief Marketing Officer of Valassis

greg“We’ll see the continued growth of data, stemming from Internet of Things (IoT) devices, expanding media options and the low cost of storage to the point where marketers may feel overwhelmed. The expansion of data engineering teams, more sophisticated data mobilization, and the continued growth of analytics, data science and AI tools – that will become the norm rather than the shiny object – will help guide marketers. As innovation continues, change will be constant, markets will be disrupted and consumers will have more options and want more control. Marketers and advertisers may face an additional challenge as consumers become more hesitant to share personally identifiable information (PII) data unless brands can better provide well-defined value propositions.”

~ Greg Green, Chief Data and Analytics Officer of Harland Clarke Holdings

2016-11-November-Pehr-Luedtke“We expect the AI market will continue to evolve as advertisers increasingly understand how the technology can fit into their customer engagement plans and consumers seek more engaging and convenient brand interactions. A prime example can be seen with Valassis’ chatbots which empower brands to have direct, automated conversations with customers 24/7/365. The key is to deliver relevant messages and engagement through this new media (chatbots, or voice recognition devices) as part of a holistic consumer-centric approach that includes audience understanding, targeting, delivery and measurement. Next year, marketers will test and learn even more in order to integrate these programs naturally and effectively into their omni-channel initiatives.”

~ Pehr Luedtke, Senior Vice President, Business Development at Valassis Digital

Rajiv-InMobi"In 2018, marketers will leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to bring to life a better brand experience to engage with consumers across many channels. Specifically, marketers will adopt these next-generation technologies to understand influence and attribution at a user level to improve click-through rates and conversions. Specifically, machine learning for video will be a key focus, and in the New Year marketers will understand the type of video ad content that users will engage positively with."

~ Rajiv Bhat, Senior Vice President, Data Sciences and Marketplace at InMobi

 Laura-Carrier-MediaMath“In 2018, marketers will understand that experience and service are what sets brands apart. This will mean that there will be a re-engineering of the retail space for experiential offerings and a continued spend on experiences over products. There will also be a shift in brand definition. We have already seen the popularity of private labels and in 2018, we’ll see companies shift even further to the ‘brand-less’ approach.”

~ Laura Carrier, MediaMath, VP of Vertical Strategy/Measurement at MediaMath

elias“Political elections around the world are influenced by them. Half of all Internet traffic is made up of them. It's time for marketers to realize that the technology that has the biggest impact on marketing is not some new cool app, or groundbreaking functionality from a vendor. It's the effect of bots on their business. 

Bots, at their core, are pieces of software that crawl the Web and perform automated tasks at a volume and speed beyond human capability, and they hit every website in the world. 

‘Good bots’ can deliver useful services for your website such as a virtual assistants (chat bots), search engine indexing and website performance monitoring. Marketers are also big consumers of bot-driven services that can help them improve search engine optimization (e.g., SEMRush, Moz), and ensure their pricing is competitive (e.g., Import.io, Upstream Commerce).

‘Bad bots,’ on the other hand, are used by hackers, fraudsters and cybercriminals to conduct a variety of harmful activities, including Web scraping, click/ad fraud, account takeovers and data theft. On top of this, they can also have residual effects such as poor website performance (and therefore a poor customer experience) and skewed web analytics. 

In fact, over 93 percent of websites were hit by bad bots that trigger marketing analytics trackers and performance measuring tools in 2016. This means that A/B tests could lead to choosing the wrong winner, skewed conversion rates could result in shifting budgets away from an effective strategy, and website engagement metrics could lead to focusing on optimizing the wrong content. 

A new report on martech hiring trends revealed that data/analytics experts are expected to earn the top salaries in the industry. Considering this skill set has become so central to the marketing profession today, it's more important than ever that marketers can trust the numbers they're looking at. 

For these reasons, bot technology – both good and bad – will have the biggest impact on marketing in 2018.”

~ Elias Terman, VP Marketing of Distil Networks

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