The marketing industry has been talking about disruption for years, but 2018 is looking like a year for rearranging the decks.
In the past 12 months we have witnessed many developments that will surely shape the future of marketing. First, artificial intelligence—along with its promise to spark a creative revolution—will lead to more out-of-the-box marketing programs. In addition, the fact that now nearly every consumer carries a smartphone will influence strategies for 2018 and beyond. New consumer behaviors and expectations will also play a role, making personalization strategies a must in 2018.
Our discussions with industry executives uncovered the following 10 trends for the year to come.
1. Tech-Enabled Creative Renaissance
Wrapped in all of the talk about artificial intelligence, the use of the technology to free marketers of some of their more mundane duties is expected to bear fruit in 2018. Brands and agencies have been experimenting with using machine learning to process data and handle repetitive tasks so that their teams can focus on driving insights and more creative work.
“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 renaissance that’s informed by data and, perhaps, more meaningful than ever before,” said Amy Inlow, CMO of digital agency Albert.
Mark Asher, director of corporate strategy at Adobe, echoed her sentiments. “The glass-half-full version of this is: AI, robotics, and bots are going to free me up—whether I’m a marketer or a creative or whoever—from doing a lot of mundane work to be able to spend more time doing the highly creative, wisdom-based work around the art of what I contribute,” he said. “The wisdom-based decision-making falls to human beings.”
2. Mobile Speculation
As we approach mobile saturation, the industry has begun to think about what will come next. Some foresee a future of zero UI, where screens are used less and elements of the smartphone are absorbed into devices embedded everywhere.
“We have to believe that at some point the [mobile] experience needs to change,” said Shelly Palmer, CEO of consultancy The Palmer Group.
Of course, consumer adoption of voice technology is absolutely key for zero UI in mobile to become a reality, as voice commands would be one of the main ways that consumers would interact with their devices.
“Today everyone’s walking around with a smartphone in their pockets,” Asher said. “But the future version of the smartphone might look very different from what we are used to today.” It could be some new, improved version of smart glasses, he said, or an “atomized experience” that breaks the mobile interface into various components worn more discreetly, in different places of the body.
3. Platform Dominance
The concentration of consumer time spent on a few platforms—namely, Google and Facebook—continued apace in 2017.
“When it comes to connecting with modern, mobile-first consumers in 2018, marketers’ starting point will be the digital super-platforms that are Google and Facebook,” said James Connelly, co-founder and CEO of mobile agency Fetch.
But industry watchers speculate that a third party—Amazon—is poised to shake things up—thanks to its growing ad business, which reached $1 billion in revenue this year. Could Amazon disturb the Google-Facebook duopoly? The industry will have to wait and see, but the present-day concentration in a handful of dominant platforms could be bad news for smaller digital networks, Connelly said.
4. Retail Shakeup
There’s no denying that technology is disrupting retail. Even though brick-and-mortar sales continue to account for the larger portion of retail, online shopping will continue to grow exponentially.
“E-commerce is here to stay,” Adobe’s Asher said. “What you’re seeing is a shaking up of retail.” As a result, merchants will have to reconsider their unique offerings and improve their value propositions to survive, he said.
Meanwhile, retail marketers are trying to co-opt some of the disruptors’ features or lean into some of their best-defining traits. Walmart, for example, has been adding on to its acquisition of Jet.com to compete with Amazon in the home market. And following Macy’s early-2017 announcement of a large reorganization around its digital operations, expect other department stores to follow suit.
“The anxiety around retail is real,” said Sumaiya Balbale, VP of e-commerce at Walmart. But, she added, it’s “fairly unproductive” and retailers are adapting. “Everyone has a shot at the future of shopping,” Balbale said.
5. Distinctions Blur
Partnering while competing will become a way of life in marketing, as everybody will be in everybody else’s business. The distinctions between marketing consultants, creative agencies, advertising holding companies and designers are blurring as marketing becomes more focused on user experience and less on advertising executions.
Advertising Age’s recently released annual agency report found a handful of consultancies had cracked the top 10. For the first time, the marketing services units of Accenture and Deloitte, among others, came in just behind advertising holding companies including WPP Group and Omnicom.
“They represent a new type of player,” said Dana Anderson, chief transformation officer of MediaLink (and former CMO of Mondelez). Each one has strengths, and while marketers want to reduce the number of partners they work with, no one type can address all of their needs.
“You really must learn to dance with them all,” Anderson added. “Marketers today need to understand the sweet spot that each brings to them.”
6. The Living Room War
Legacy media is not giving up their place in the American home, despite news that digital ad sales worldwide will pass TV this year (PDF), according to Magna. Yet companies have their work cut out for them as cord-cutting and cord-never audiences grow.
“More has changed in the past three years than in the previous 60 years,” said Dave Morris, EVP for advanced advertising and client partnerships at CBS.
TV is counting on data and technology to bolster its market share. “Smart advertising has only just begun,” said Donna Speciale, president of Turner Ad Sales. Some observers say programmatic TV buying—which can count viewers instead of households and connect buys to their behaviors—is not only possible, it’s here.
Personalization is making inroads, too. “The household is one thing, but who in the household is consuming it? Is it your 13-year-old? Is it you? Is it me?” Asher said. “That will be the next big wave of personalization in media.”
Also, expect to see measurement capabilities that enable brands to attribute TV viewership to specific offline behaviors, said Kevin Kohn, CEO of iQ Media.
“When digital hit the scene nearly two decades ago, TV was simply left behind by an industry that assumed it would eventually be obsolete,” he said. “In 2018, TV will join the ranks of digital channels. As a result, marketers will stop treading lightly when it comes to their TV strategies.”
7. Mini Ads
Master Lock made the news with its one-second ad in the Super Bowl years ago. But what was a stunt then—tied to the sky-high price tag for spots on the game—could become standard in the age of fragmented media and pea-sized attention spans.
YouTube introduced a six-second ad format last year to general skepticism, but it took off anyway, despite some advertisers who said it was hardly enough time to say anything. Fox brought the format into live events, such as awards shows, over the summer, and viewers can expect to see them in Super Bowl 2018.
“We’re big fans of six-second ads. It’s a challenge to brands, but it’s a good challenge,” said Victoria Vaynberg, head of digital U.S. at Anheuser-Busch InBev. People are often surprised by how creative they can be in such a small window, she added.
You can tell a story in six seconds, agreed Scott Spencer, director of product management at Google. The ads are very effective on a dollar-adjusted basis, he said. But this will be a debate throughout 2018.
8. Multilevel Adulthood
Every marketing conversation and media plan over the past five years has focused almost obsessively on Millennials. But in 2017, the first signs of fatigue appeared, with marketers beginning to acknowledge that they can’t lump college freshmen with 30-somethings. As a result, they are reorganizing the generation to break out older Millennials from the younger end of the demographic. Expect efforts to segment them to continue as they hit more adult milestones.
We could even see a blurring between generations. JWT Intelligence launched a report in late 2017 that segmented a new cohort: “Xennials,” which combines the younger Gen-Xers in their 30s and 40s with the older Millennials who are now “adulting.”
The new segmentation also reconsiders Gen X as more than a lost generation between the Baby Boomers and Millennials, said Lucie Greene, worldwide director of JWT Intelligence. She noted that Gen Xers earn and spend money out of proportion to their share of the population: They earn 31% of the U.S. income but are only 25% of the population.
She noted many of the same trends apply to older Millennials and Gen X; both groups were shaped by the experience of uncertainty during the 2008 recession and want stability now. Xennials are careful with their money, unlike the stereotype of Millennials, and are entrepreneurial, resulting in “a more nuanced approaches to adulthood,” according to JWT’s research.
9. Brands With A Mission
Companies are becoming more confident about taking stands on social issues—a trend we expect to continue throughout 2018. “Eighty-four percent of consumers agree brands have a responsibility to make the world better,” said Arvind Raman, senior brand journalist of McCann Truth Central.
And that figure will go up, he added: The agency’s “Truth About America” study noted that while only 19% of all consumers said brands should make political statements in their marketing, the number among Millennials went up to 30%.
Companies need to stand for something with purpose, and CMOs need to evolve into “chief making a difference officers,” suggested Roy Spence, founder of GSD&M.
“We can’t just be driven by data or analytics,” he said. “In the end game, if we don’t have a real strong purpose, a higher calling, and inspiration, you can analyze and data yourself into oblivion.”
10. Advertising That Surprises And Delights
As the industry continues to move toward a more customer-centric business approach, advertising, too, will evolve in accordance. Campaigns will become more entertaining to evoke emotion from consumers.
“As marketers, it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking consumers want to hear what we have to say,” said Josh Line, EVP of marketing and creative at Comedy Central, in a previous interview with CMO.com. “We forget that we have to earn their time and attention. So we need to create advertising—content—that’s legitimately entertaining. And we need to make sure it reaches the right people in the right context. Those things seem basic, but they’ve become so much more complicated with the proliferation of platforms.”
To better engage consumers, many companies are going the route of entertaining advertising experiences. L.L. Bean, for example, placed an ad in The New York Times that was invisible unless viewed in the sunlight. Its goal? To get people outdoors. Target’s TV commercial that aired during the 59th Annual Grammy Awards show earlier this year was a music video with Carly Rae Jepsen and Lil Yachty. And Topshop used VR in its flagship store in London to celebrate the return of summer.
Expect more brands to follow suit in 2018, with even more immersive experiences. “I would argue advertising will be better and more valuable in the hearts and minds of consumers—and, as a result, more effective,” Line said.