What Marketers Should Do Differently in 2018 — or Not
By Ginger Conlon
Each new year brings with it a litany of marketing and consumer trends to watch, as well as many that marketers feel compelled to act on.
With so much happening, it can be hard to prioritize where to focus. You need maintain the precarious balance of executing your foundational strategies and tactics as you test new approaches, all to optimize your marketing, please customers, and help grow the business. Based on advice from more than a dozen industry insiders, key areas that marketers should address in 2018 include understanding and embracing AI, optimizing the customer experience through personalization, and driving attributable revenue.
But it’s not just important to know what you should do. Being clear on what to avoid will help you to avert distractions and keep you focused on the activities that will be most useful and effective and will deliver the best return.
Read on for recommendations on what marketers should focus on in 2018—as well as what avoid, as tempting as it may be.
Ric Elert, President, Conversant
I’d like to see marketers change their approach to measuring marketing performance in 2018. More...
Debbie Qaqish, Chief Strategy Officer, The Pedowitz Group
The most important change marketers should make in 2018 is to build a strategic marketing operations (SMO) function focused on driving business results. More...
Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D., Thought Leadership Principal and Director,
BP Qualitative Insight Services, Beyond Philosophy
Customer experience (CX) has taken center stage. So, marketers need to work in closer partnership with HR. More...
Alicia Wiedemann, CMO and Chief Experience Officer, Drum Agency
Marketers need to reevaluate and clean up their data in 2018. More...
Kara Trivunovic, VP and GM, Client Services, Global Industry Evangelist
In 2018 marketers should not change their investment in email marketing and their focus on delivering personalized experiences in the inbox for every customer. Where marketers can change to improve their email investments: Put customers first. More...
Kenneth Hein, Global Chief Communications Officer, gyro
Marketers, especially those in B2B, may be targeting key influencers far too late. Instead B2B marketers need to target influencers early, often, and with emotion. More...
Jamie Gutfreund, Global CMO, Wunderman
The biggest “bang for the buck” marketers can get in 2018 is to completely rethink the idea of “change management.” More...
Patrick Tripp, VP of Product Strategy, RedPoint Global
This year, marketers should make it a priority to ditch generalized segments and focus on zero-segment marketing to drive more efficient, effective, and personalized customer experiences. More...
Lidia Lüttin, CMO, Bynder
2018 is the year marketers need to embrace AI. More...
Manny Medina, CEO and Cofounder, Outreach
One thing marketers should not change in 2018 is trying to get the most from their data. But this year marketers should advance their data game with machine learning. More...
Bob Shullman, Founder and CEO, Shullman Research Center
Marketing leaders must start listening to their customers again. More...
Amy Pressman, Cofounder and President, Medallia
Digital transformation often puts technology between companies and their customers. Marketers need to get closer to their customers in 2018. More...
Jason Beckerman, CEO and Cofounder, Unified
To be successful in 2018 and beyond, marketers need to take back the keys and own their data. More...
Mark Portu, CEO, HapYak
In 2018, marketers need to treat online video with the same rigor as other marketing media. More...
Mike Herold, Director, Global Marketing, Inkjet Solutions, Ricoh
Avoid jumping on the latest social media platform as the "must have"; instead take time to audit where you’re already spending time and money in social and whether your investments are paying off. More...
I’d like to see marketers change their approach to measuring marketing performance in 2018.
Marketing measurement is always evolving. As an industry we started with metrics such as cost per click (CPC) and cost per acquisition, then moved to return on ad spend (ROAS) and incremental ROAS. CPC and ad spend don’t tell the full story anymore. To drive the best performance and efficiency, marketers need a more holistic approach that looks at their investments as a whole: return on marketing investment (ROMI).
ROMI entails tracking and reviewing every expenditure involved in running marketing
of a solution, campaign, or whatever else is being leveraged. This can encompass anything from the cost of talent to the cost of building or implementing technology. As an example, engaging an external partner for identity resolution costs more than just that partner’s fee. There are other resources that go into identity management, such as hiring IT talent to run the tools and spending on servers. Marketers need to account for these factors to get an accurate ROMI calculation; otherwise ROMI metrics will be flawed and create a false sense of efficiency.
The best place to start is with existing partners and solutions: Take an honest look at where spend is going and the results being generated. Ask specific questions to gain a better understanding of what it actually costs to work with specific partners or use certain solutions — and to then determine whether it’s worth the investment. Is the investment increasing marketing performance? Is there too much waste? The results may be surprising, but efficiency needs to be top priority as marketers drive toward business outcomes. Back to Contributors list
Chief Strategy Officer, The Pedowitz Group
The most important change marketers should make in 2018 is to build a strategic marketing operations (SMO) function focused on driving business results.
Marketers still struggle with reporting financial impact. Only a third of CMOs report long-term financial measures, yet more than 80% feel high-level pressure for these numbers. In my opinion, too many marketers have tried to use existing right-brain approaches to a left-brain problem. Getting serious about SMO makes the difference in the performance and credibility of marketing. It brings organization, insight, respect, and validation to marketing and delivers on the promise of what we call Revenue Marketing™.
SMO teams are characterized by cross-functional value creation and transformation through operations. The SMO function is a shared service that revolves around three mandates: accountability, digital transformation, and customer intimacy.
The SMO function is essential to marketing achieving financial accountability, which is the ultimate litmus test for marketing success in 2018 and beyond. As such, SMO is responsible for enabling the whole of marketing to drive ROI by contributing to revenue, increasing margins, and improving customer acquisition, customer retention, and shareholder value. The SMO leader must think and act like a VP of sales; everyone within the SMO function must be committed to directly contributing to quantifiable revenue.
Marketing is often a key element in a company’s digital transformation plan because marketers have been working with digital technologies for years. And digital transformation requires running marketing be run like a business, which is where SMO comes in. Responsibilities for the SMO team related to digital transformation should focus on revenue-based and cross-functional activities such as annual planning and budgeting and project management.
Marketing owns reams of data about prospects and customers, but often this information goes untapped. The SMO function must educate the rest of the organization about how prospects and customers are changing and recommend how to solve real customer problems. So, SMO should be responsible for collecting and analyzing prospect and customer data, as well as sharing insights it uncovers throughout the organization for better decision making – all in real-time.
Marketing leaders can take their first step toward building a strategic marketing operations function by appointing someone with exceptional collaboration and knowledge management skills to oversee or directly handle the collection, analysis, and sharing of key prospect and customer insights. This is an essential element of a marketing organization focused on driving business results. Back to Contributors list
Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D.
Thought Leadership Principal and Director, BP Qualitative Insight Services,
Customer experience (CX) has taken center stage. So, marketers need to work in closer partnership with HR. The reason? CX efforts will fall flat without engaged employees. Engaged employees are more loyal to the organization than employees who are merely satisfied, and that engagement also contributes to overall customer satisfaction.
But the general approach to employee engagement that focuses on fit, productivity, and alignment is no longer sufficient. Many studies have shown (and marketers, CEOs, and
HR professionals are learning) that there is only incidental correlation between employee engagement and customer advocacy behavior.
Consequently, marketing and HR must partner to emphasize on employee experience (EX). Focusing on EX, especially emotional drivers and employee ambassadorship (i.e., commitment to the organization, the company's value proposition, customers, and fellow employees) is a different concept that emphasizes employee value, employee contribution, and customer experience optimization.
A key element of EX is voice of the employee (VOE) programs. Marketers can apply insights from employees who are visible to customers, as well as from those who are behind the scenes (i.e., all employees), to directly impact the customer journey and CX initiatives. Through such programs, employees can suggest ideas for improving the customer experience, offer perspectives on others’ ideas, and help track these ideas from the first spark to final implementation.
Innovative, social techniques are core to VOE programs. For example, just as customer market research online communities (MROCs) can provide excellent insight, much the same can be said for employee MROCs. Very often, building and running an employee MROC is a partnership between marketing and HR — and if it isn’t run that way in your organization, it should be. Employees MROCs represent tremendous, cost-effective learning and insight potential.
Successful stakeholder-centric companies invariably have, and keep, employees who are invested and enthusiastic about optimizing customer experiences, whether or not they are frontline staff. Tapping internal knowledge and expertise through VOE programs is essential to creating the type of employee experience that retains exceptionally customer-centric staff.
CMO and Chief Experience Officer, Drum Agency
In 2018 marketers need to reevaluate and clean up their data. At the most basic level this includes: an assessment of what data they have and how “clean” it is; an appraisal of any data gaps; an evaluation of how different data sources connect (or could connect); and a review of any missed data opportunities. Ideally, marketers go further and develop a formal data onboarding process that establishes a customer identity they can use as the foundation for cross-platform targeting and personalization.
As technology evolves and IoT grows in prevalence, marketers need to make sure they’re
also using the data they gather strategically. Too many marketers today are reporting on the data, without offering real,
tangible insights into what their findings means and how to potentially use them to optimize their marketing efforts or
Going into 2018, we as marketers need to learn how to use all the data we have — this includes the channels we use, the timing of the communications, and the messages we put out there — to inform our strategic plan. Most important, we need to view the data holistically. We can’t adjust media campaigns without first looking at the reasons behind the results we’re getting from those campaigns and then turning those insights over to the planning and creative development teams.
This will become more important as more brands integrate AI technology into their toolset. The technology will be invaluable, but only if its fed the right data. The brands that can truly marry data, strategy, and technology and weave that into the entire communications plan — not just the convenient pieces — will take a big lead over the brands that are still operating in a dated, fragmented environment.
Remember, it’s 2018 and data = money. If you don’t believe me, just ask Jeff Bezos. Back to Contributors list
VP and GM, Client Services, Global Industry Evangelist, Epsilon
In 2018 marketers should not change their investment in email marketing and their focus on delivering personalized experiences in the inbox for every customer. Why? Engagement rates for the email channel have remained mostly consistent (declining slightly in certain scenarios). And email marketing continues to deliver the highest ROI of any marketing channel for many brands.
Where marketers can change to improve their email investments: Put customers first.
Delivering the right message to the right person at the right time has been the battle cry for email marketers for two decades, but few brands actually accomplish this. As consumers have gotten savvier and their expectations around receiving personal, unique experiences have increased, email marketers need to focus on messaging in the moments that matter to the customer – not to the brand. Consider: According to recent research from Epsilon, consumers prefer to receive personalized communications via email from providers across industries, including travel (81 percent), grocery/drugstore (63 percent), and retail (64 percent); and consumers who believe brands are doing very well on offering personalized experiences shop more than three times more frequently. And the benefits of personalization in the inbox are clear: increased marketing ROI and increased revenue.
Continue to optimize your investment in the email channel with these three strategies:
1. Understand consumer preferences
Not every customer responds well to brands sending multiple messages a day. Understanding how consumers engage, the content they interact with, and what drives conversion is critical — at an individual level and over time. Brands need to have a dialogue with an individual, adjusting their responses and messaging based on each recipient’s actions and inactions. It’s critical to recognize that what consumers say and what they do may be different, so use a combination of self-reported preference data and customer behavior to paint a clearer picture of optimal interactions in terms of aspects such as email frequency for each customer.
2. Maximize inbox placement
Maintain a focus on deliverability performance and inbox placement. Getting to the inbox can be difficult for some brands and the reasons for that can vary greatly — from data acquisition challenges to messaging strategy to data management. But the fact remains that maximizing inbox placement increases exposure to your message and positively drives revenue.
3. Use data to fuel decisions
Activating data is critical in 2018. Many marketers have an abundance of data available to them, but no real mechanism to analyze, understand, and, ultimately, activate it. Focusing on putting the data to work for your email program this year will help deliver against the expectation of increased personalization. Understanding your customers, how they behave online, and their level of interaction with your brand are all critical in making decisions on how to message, when to message, and what messaging to share. Back to Contributors list
Global Chief Communications Officer, gyro
Marketers, especially those in B2B, may be targeting key influencers far too late. Instead B2B marketers need to target influencers early, often, and with emotion. Consider: 97% of decision makers say they are likely to have a preferred vendor in mind before the purchase group is established.
This was the key finding from a report entitled, “Group. Mind. Set. How Group Dynamics Impact B2B Decisions,” conducted by B2B Marketing magazine and gyro.
The study also found that in 84 percent of cases the buying group contains an individual who acts as a champion for the
winning vendor. This means that marketers need to reach these key influencers much, much earlier in the buyer journey
than many have anticipated.
Fortunately, we as marketers now have the most powerful precision analytics tools ever for at our fingertips. And, thanks to account-based marketing, we can target like never before.
But while today’s technological trappings give us the ability to target at the highest level, it’s important to remember that it isn’t all about the data or providing vital bits of information. It’s about making the buyer feel something.
Specifically, they want to feel like you are bringing innovative thinking to the table, as well as a strong, like-minded culture.
More than two thirds of respondents cited relevant content, research, and expertise as the most likely way to influence decision makers prior to the group’s formation. Additionally, 83 percent say they are more likely to buy from a business whose culture and personality closely match that of their own business.
While there are many other aspects of the report to dig into, the takeaway is clear: Know that potential clients are out there researching your capabilities, your core values, and your culture as you read this very article.
Make sure you are not only targeting with the latest and greatest precision tools; that’s only half the equation. The other half, the most important half, is to make certain that prospective buyers actually feel something about your business and your brand.
Do that and you’re going to have a successful 2018! Back to Contributors list
Global CMO, Wunderman
The biggest “bang for the buck” marketers can get in 2018 is to completely rethink the idea
of “change management.”
Change is not something to manage – it’s a catalyst that can inspire and drive the entire organization. The most successful companies today, whether they are legacy brands or disruptors, see the future as an opportunity and they win because disruptive thinking
The reality is that many brands today aren’t playing the long game. In fact, our recent research study “Future Ready” found that although 72 percent of global decision makers say they are future focused, 70 percent won’t sacrifice short-term gains in exchange for long-term benefits. And, while data and technology are critical elements of inciting change, technology alone is not the answer: 74 percent of executives acknowledge that they currently have access to a full stack of integrated marketing tools, yet 68 percent still struggle to bring data, creative, and technology together.
One of the major obstacles these leaders face is the lack of innovation in organization structure. Nearly three quarters of respondents (73 percent) agree that they’re still organized vertically —i.e., in silos. But in today’s digital landscape, people naturally experience a brand horizontally. This misalignment often leads to a disjointed or inconsistent experience for many consumers.
Marketing leaders need to face reality: If they don’t activate their technology investments to become future-ready now, they will be left behind. Back to Contributors list
VP of Product Strategy, RedPoint Global
My prediction: 2018 will mark the death of segment marketing.
So, this year, marketers should make it a priority to ditch generalized segments and focus on zero-segment marketing to drive more efficient, effective, and personalized customer experiences.
Traditionally, marketers have created multiple customer segments to deliver personalized experiences based on what they thought they knew about the customers in those segments.
But, we all know stories of segmentation failing brands because of some marketers’ dependency on broad segments and on what many consider to be traditional customer journeys.
The reality is, using traditional methods, marketers will never be able to come up with the number of segments needed to execute against what satisfy today’s consumers’ need for granularly personalized interactions. The traditional customer journey is dead — and gone are the days when generalizing customers, which leads to poor interactions, is acceptable. Today customers expect individualized experiences by channel that are tailored to their specific interaction history, behaviors, and preferences. For marketers, this shift means embracing advanced analytical approaches that can automatically score and suggest appropriate audiences and content.
As customers hop in and out of channels, machine learning and AI are the only means for creating all the possible scenarios for marketers to achieve next-best interactions and personalization at scale. From there, marketers can pay attention to the context, cadence, and activity on digital properties to further ensure that each interaction is accurate and ready at the very millisecond it’s needed, and on the right channel or touchpoint. Back to Contributors list
The applications of AI are endless, and marketers have only just begun to scratch the surface of AI’s benefits. A recent study by Accenture Analytics uncovered that only 30 percent of marketers see AI as a priority in 2018, and only 19 percent of marketers strongly agree that AI will change B2B marketing. That mind-set needs to change.
2018 is the year marketers need to embrace AI. AI capabilities have the potential to act as a virtual extension to the marketing team, arming professionals with the tools they need to be more efficient every day.
Many marketers might be surprised to learn that AI is already making an impact in the workplace. For example, AI is helping marketers work smarter and faster by streamlining monotonous administrative tasks, saving time, and enabling marketers to focus on what they really want to do: lead creative and strategic initiatives.
Let’s say your company is preparing for a new product launch and needs to tag thousands of photos with metadata and various keywords. Traditionally, someone would have to review, process, and prepare each image and make sure the right department has the right access to their relevant materials. But with AI-powered image recognition technology, thousands of photos can be automatically tagged with the proper information and efficiently organized in a fraction of the time.
It’s important to remember that marketers will always be needed as the chief creators, directors, and architects of great campaigns. Relieving them of time-consuming administrative duties will only help power more creative campaigns.
One thing marketers should not change in 2018 is trying to get the most from their data. But this year marketers should advance their data game with machine learning as it moves from the realm of science fiction to reality.
Machine learning has been working behind the scenes in marketing for years. Until recently, however, few companies have had access to enough high-quality data to move machine learning to the forefront to use for advanced analytics. Today, marketers are sitting on a treasure trove of data, so it’s time to put it to better use.
Use machine learning to identify patterns that impact the bottom line, such as sequence of marketing activities that accelerates conversion, and make them repeatable and scalable. Snatch up a data scientist while you still can and have her start modeling and testing hypotheses: When is the ideal time for a sales touch? Which prospects are most likely to buy a product? Answer those types of questions and build best practices into your marketing and sales processes.
But don’t be tempted to hard wire these new processes into your marketing playbook right away. Many people don’t yet trust machine-learning-based recommendations, especially salespeople. So, treat machine learning as an experiment. Once you have data that proves taking action A over action B or C yields the best results, suggest next actions to salespeople based on your findings and run internal PR campaigns around your best success stories. But by all means, don’t enforce new processes as gospel. The first time a machine learning recommendation fails, and a rep thinks it cost him a deal, your program could derail and take ages to recover.
Even so, it’s time to use machine learning to get more from your data. Marketers who start now will have a significant edge over those who wait. Back to Contributors list
Founder and CEO, Shullman Research Center
As a result of today’s disjointed, multichannel shopping experiences, too many marketers have lost touch with their customers. That’s why marketing leaders must start listening to their customers again.
There are myriad ways senior marketers can listen to their customers. We’ve found that the most relationship-centric marketers go onto their selling floor themselves to ask customers about their recent experiences — and ask them to be blunt about “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Other marketers use Net Promoter Score (NPS) or similar surveys. But without the
right follow-on questions these surveys may not deliver essential insights; for example, the annoyances customers may experience when searching for, purchasing, or returning an item on a brand’s website. Not corrected, these issues could
lead to attrition.
What marketers assume is important based on their perspective of the customer’s point of view is just that: an assumption. What’s critical is insight directly from customers: what they actually see and experience when they shop a brand.
So, in 2018, speak directly with customers. Ask them what, if anything, your brand does or delivers that annoys them or is problematic from their point of view. You’ll be surprised with what you learn — instead of being surprised when you don’t see your customers again. Back to Contributors list
Cofounder and President, Medallia
Marketers need to get closer to their customers in 2018. Over the past decade, as companies have invested heavily in digital transformation, they’ve put more and more technology between them and their customers. In so doing, all too many companies have lost direct contact with customers — at their peril.
As Christof Binder and Dominique M. Hanssens show in a recent study, customer relationships have become twice as valuable as brands over the past 15 years. Reviewing more than 6,000 mergers and acquisitions spanning 2003 to 2013, the researchers found that
the value assigned to brands dropped by nearly a half over the decade (from 18 percent of enterprise value to 10 percent), while the value of customer relationships doubled over the same time period (from 9 percent of enterprise value to 18 percent). They concluded that “strong relationships trump powerful brands.”
I’d take it one step further… In a world where people share their customer experiences with one another at scale — and make purchase decisions based on that shared knowledge — a company’s brand is what its customers say about it.
Customers are talking, but not enough brands are listening. Companies need to reconnect directly with their customers and truly understand them. Feedback and voice of the customer initiatives are highly effective ways to do so. But whatever approach companies choose to take, the outcome should be the same: In 2018 marketers need to engage directly with their customers.
CEO and Cofounder, Unified
Data ownership significantly impacts a brand’s ability to foster true transparency and, ultimately, drive performance. The “business as usual” mentality of many brands, where agencies exclusively hold the keys to ad accounts that contain financial and performance data, means that marketers are beholden to their partners with no way to hold them accountable.
To be successful in 2018 and beyond, brands need to take back those keys and own their data. Fortunately, some brand marketers have started to wake up to the importance of
data ownership: According to World Federation of Advertisers, 38 percent of marketers polled have added clauses to agency contracts to secure data ownership and cite which technologies can be used on their behalf. Back to Contributors list
With people consuming video at much higher rates than ever before, arguably video is the future of marketing. Yet, many marketers don’t tend to apply the same measurement standards to online video as they do with other content types.
So, in 2018, marketers need to treat online video with the same rigor as other marketing media. This includes expecting video management tools to provide meaningful data on viewer behavior. "Visitor X watched 28 seconds" is not the insight most marketers require; and, while somewhat valuable, neither is total number of plays or the times in the video
where viewers leave. More informative are engagement-related metrics based on interactivity – which serve the dual purpose of engaging audiences through more relevant, personalized experiences.
Interactivity within video allows marketers to track every action in terms of conversion, preferences, and intent. Marketers can use interactive video platforms with HTML5 overlays to make their online video clickable, trackable, and personalized. Each click represents a data point that marketers can use to understand buyer behavior across the customer lifecycle.
Many of these clicks, such as click-to-shop, are another step in the customer journey. In fact, options such as in-video calls to action can perform four times better than traditional CTAs, according to research from KISSmetrics. And with video proven to provide shopping cart uplift, increasing average order value (AOV) by as much as 50 percent, tracking video KPIs is marketing measurement everyone can get excited about. Back to Contributors list
In 2018, marketers should avoid jumping on the latest social media platform as the "must have" channel in their promotional strategy. Instead, take time to audit where you’re already spending time and money in social and whether your investments are paying off. Recent research shows that some of the most popular social media platforms are not as effective as we once thought they were as marketing platforms.
Most likely, you’re using social for more personal, targeted outreach to customers. As you dig into the data to audit those efforts, make that your first step to extending your capabilities in
a growing area: quantitative or "quant" marketing. Industry insiders often refer to quant marketing as leveraging big data, or data-driven marketing. Quant marketing involves leveraging a blend of data science technology and human skill to pinpoint marketing activities to audiences of one. Marketers who are able to do this, while adhering to information privacy and security regulations, will lead the pack in their respective markets. Back to Contributors list
About the Author
Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.