December has been a busy month! Last week we hosted our annual Marketing Reimagined event, getting together with our partners, clients and industry thought-leaders to hear about and discuss the burning issues of the day. The next morning we began the process of moving the whole team from our Clerkenwell offices to our new HQ in Camden, where we have joined colleagues from the WPP family so that we can work even more closely together across the client portfolio. Finally, with the dust barely settled on the last of the packing crates, we gathered to celebrate a phenomenal year as a team at our Christmas party.
As we pause for a breath before the festive break, it seems a good time to reflect on the past year and look at what the key trends in 2018 might be.
At the end of 2016 we anticipated many organisations embarking on the process of restructuring teams and processes across disciplines and silos and focusing on scalability in order to amplify opportunities across their business. Disruption was set to be the watchword of the year.
As we close 2017 it is clear that this shift has already begun with many of the clients we work with and we will see this process accelerate in 2018. Technology is not just driving, but forcing change - which brings new challenges to those who might prefer a cautious approach. Aside from technology, factors such as security, organisational change and legislation, in particular GDPR, will force action in areas where we might traditionally be tempted to adopt a wait and see approach.
1. Technology won’t just be a tool, it will be at the heart of the customer experience
Marketers all use technology in their day to day roles but most aren’t geared up to create IT platforms that can support future innovation and be built on seamlessly. The challenge in 2018 and beyond will be to recognise the critical role that technology has to play in the customer experience age and to have the vision to invest in the right technology from a platform perspective.
In order to embrace the experience age, neither marketers, nor IT, can afford to work in silos.They need to embrace an agile approach, working closely together, to engage and offer value to the consumer across a unified platform, delivering a consistent experience wherever they join the customer journey.
2. AI will come into its own
Our resident AI expert, Jedrzej Osinski predicted some key areas for development in 2017. It’s fair to say that AI, while much talked about, has yet to make the momentous leap from high level theorising to mainstream implementation. In 2018, we believe that the shift will happen and we will see AI enhancing business processes and enabling new marketing capabilities.
This is an opportunity to be embraced rather than feared. The automation of monotonous tasks will free up resources for human innovation and creativity to be applied to the customer experience. This will drive change across the marketing function and a natural evolution from traditional campaign cycles to real time, agile working.
For customers, this will lead to a more frictionless journey from search to the shopping cart and more relevant, targeted messaging. Voice recognition will also be a key part of the customer experience with technology improving to the extent that there will be little or no difference in the quality of our interactions with chatbots or voice recognition software versus call centre staff.
3. Purpose-led brands will win the customer
Thirty years on from the release of Wall Street and the old adage “Greed is good” no longer rings true for today’s millennial audience. The age of experience will be rooted in purpose, to satisfy the desire and demand from consumer for a personal affinity and connection to a brand.
Brands that want to succeed will need to be outward-looking and wear their hearts on their sleeves, embedding their mission into their organisational DNA. Purpose, combined with digital experience will create the new brand experience.
4. GDPR will force new data behaviours
From May 2018, GDPR regulations will come into force and fundamentally change how we use customer data. This is a challenge for marketers as the truly personalised experience that is desired currently uses huge amounts of personal data to power it. Marketers need to understand the issues around consent and use and ensure they are fully prepared.
They will need to move away from relying on personal data and put more emphasis on behavioural data and sentiment analysis. Teams, enabled by automation, will need to process this information quickly and efficiently in order to deliver relevant, timely messaging.
5. Getting personal with personalisation
Personalisation will become a must-do rather than a nice-to-have. We are already seeing more resources committed to producing and targeting content for very specific buyers based on their buying behaviour, geography, personal interests and preferences.
With the progression in AI this will be become even more fine-tuned, with machines reading and reacting to consumer behaviour as they make their journey. Add voice to this mix and perhaps not in 2018, but in the not too distant future, this could mean that highly personalised personas will front brands. It will be more about voice and less about screens, using smart AI to create characters based on behaviour, sentiment and interactions. These characters will be our “friends” and our interface with brands.
We’re excited about the challenges that lie ahead in 2018. There’s a lot to look forward to, as organisations embrace platform technology and agile ways of working , transforming to become experience businesses. Technology, properly harnessed and channelled through a platform approach, has the potential to enhance our interactions and connection to brands and make them an integral part of our everyday lives.