Letting the dust settle on 2018 predictions

It seems the turn of a year inevitably and reliably brings us as many predictions and prognostications as it does resolutions. This is particularly true in the undoubtedly volatile and complex world of digital, marketing and communications. 

In December and January I spent time perusing a number of trends and prediction papers, including our own excellent Edelman Digital 2018 Trends Report. Other worthwhile reads included the eMarketer 10 Key Digital Trends for 2018 as well as a report co-authored by my former boss and always mentor, Marshall Manson. I also enjoyed these roundups from PR Week and Forbes. 

Now that we’re fast approaching the end of the first quarter of the calendar year, I started to take stock of the things that I find are actually coming up in my conversations with business leaders, marketers and communicators across brands, agencies, platforms and partners. 

Transformation: Transformation, digital and otherwise, of business, media, technology, culture and consumers (and the list goes on) continues to pose both existential and real challenges to brands, agencies, organizations, platforms and business. Agencies are grappling with the convergence of technology and marketing and communications services and brands are experimenting with bringing certain functions “in-house” for the first time (e.g. media buying). Amazon is changing the way that all marketers think about e-commerce, often resulting in entirely new teams. Remaining fundamentally rare are the marketers, communicators and business strategists who have the foundational marketing and business acumen and fluency to interpret and analyze all of this change through a business lens. I’m seeing this play out in the war for talent as well as in org-charts, technology and operations across brands and agencies alike. 

Layers: Advances and scale in technologies like augmented reality (AR), facial and image recognition and artificial intelligence (AI), specifically with voice-related natural language processing (NLP) are creating new experiential, data and transactional layers across our offline and online worlds. There seems to be little skepticism that we are in the midst of a real paradigm shift in the way we search, buy and unlock as well as in the way that access and use technology to interact with the offline world. Voice-activated home assistants were some of the most popular holiday sale items and the new wave of mobile phones are unlocked through facial and/or iris recognition, as two examples. While my colleague David Armano, writes thoughtfully about the “Audible Brand” in AdWeek, this isn’t just about marketing and communications, either. These technologies will transform the way that products are researched and bought and the way that services and information are delivered. Rather than being disintermediated by these technologies, every business or organization should think about how these layers can be harnessed. 

Evolving approach to digital media: In an era of algorithms, large advertisers are fundamentally questioning and, often, outright changing their approach to media buying, earning media and audience building and targeting. Amazon is emerging as a potential third major player in digital advertising. Advertisers are reducing the number of sites where they advertise (for simplicity or for brand safety) or shifting to sites that allow for more targeted, niche audience impact vs. broad reach (a colleague even argues, persuasively I think, that the Internet itself is a niche vehicle not a reach vehicle). Many brands are building more sophisticated CRM, loyalty or web platforms to create more direct relationships with and understanding of their customers. Business models and societal impact are being questioned and ROI is being examined under a microscope, creating more accountability and transparency in the advertising and media supply chain and resulting in shifting investments. Many brands are looking at a nirvana of personalized, mass one-to-one marketing at scale with improvements in marketing automation and artificial intelligence powered tech. The only thing that seems categorically certain to me amongst all of this change is change itself. But, if more transparency, stronger accountability, deeper societal purpose, increased impact and a better user experience continue to be some of the outcomes, I’m all for it. 

Privacy: The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), coming in to effect in May, is a comprehensive and categorically serious regulation for the handling of consumer information. This impacts business in Canada and globally since, as written in this useful overview from the Canadian Marketing Association, as of May 25, 2018 “…the GDPR will apply to any organization, wherever located, that uses the personal information of EU residents to market products to them or to ‘monitor’ their behaviour.” 

In Canada, reaction is well underway, with many businesses and organizations assessing the impact of GDPR on the way that they store and collect information as well as market and sell. At the regulatory level, The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics just released a report Towards Privacy By Design: Review of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act with recommendations for updating PIPEDA given the surge in interest in and scrutiny of privacy and consumer data. The Globe and Mail has a write-up here. The process of assessing what all of this means for your business or organization has to be a cross-functional group from your Legal support, IT, Security and Privacy, Compliance and functions like Marketing, Web and Loyalty that are on the front lines of customer engagement. 

There are certainly other things that are coming up in my conversations, including, but not limited to, implications of fake news and how to better leverage data. My reaction to all of this disruption is a mix of awe and imagined opportunity. And, as always, I am grateful to be navigating this change at a private, independent agency with a heritage and belief in Communications Marketing. That anchor provides us with the fundamentals required to interpret all of these trends through the prism of helping our clients be earned-centric and social by design in the pursuit of truth, purpose and business outcomes.