The Road Ahead: Three 2018 Trends that will Revolutionize Digital Marketing

Ashton Howe  /  
January 30, 2018
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With holiday post-mortems now neatly behind us, our focus turns excitedly toward 2018.

The road ahead is curving exponentially, and marketers are watching a digital revolution occur at an unprecedented rate:

  • 2017 saw adtech normalize marketing system automation and user-centric measurement
  • 2016 saw a hard pivot toward data infrastructure and real-time marketing
  • And 2015? Well, it seems so far away now that it’s hardly worth mentioning (but it was certainly the year of mobile)

Each year the thesis remains the same: advertising technology that was otherwise unknown two years, last year, six months ago is now intrinsic, and has become so at a rapid rate of change that won’t slow anytime soon.

So what do we expect 2018 success to look like in this machine-driven field of digital marketing?

Surprisingly enough, we expect it to look a lot more Human.

Data Transparency and the Great Consolidation

The oft-attributed quote to a mid-90s Bill Gates is almost cliche: “Content is king”; and the ongoing consolidation within the publishing space we’ve seen with oligopolists Google, Facebook, and Amazon would certainly agree. But there’s a complementary element that’s been equally responsible for squeezing small and medium-sized publishers out as these walled gardens grow: the notion that “Data is king (too).”

And while operating an online behemoth that quietly collects a bounteous amount of data each and every second is certainly an advantage, publishing success does not rely exclusively on data volume. Instead, the emphasis will shift in 2018 to data accessibility — specifically, how readily a platform’s marketing data is made accessible and actionable to end clients.

On the burgeoning horizon of data activation, black boxes are out. With native integrations, drag-and-drop architecture, and user-friendly front ends making adtech highly approachable for the everyday marketer, brands are decreasing their reliance on tech-savvy vendors for navigation around technical complexities. Increasingly, marketers want to navigate themselves, and in order to do this they’re demanding increased data transparency.

The oligopolists are winning this race not only because they have an enormous amount of data, but because they’ve met this shift in client identity with a toolset that empowers discovery and clarity. It’s data democratization on an enormous scale, and it will make or break publishers in 2018.

Human, Machine, and the Marketing Revival

With these advancements in big data, marketing automation, and user-centric measurement, digital marketing is becoming strongly — more than ever — a symbiosis between human and machine. As technologies empower marketers, and marketers empower brands, this relationship is evolving into a powerful interdependence that yields greater control, greater efficiency, and greater results.

And this will continue: moving into 2018, market evolution will see Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence become concrete products available to the public. Marketing Automation will mature toward self-learning models that minimize maintenance and maximize scientific rigor, while still holding space for the human art of analytical storytelling.

This will drive improved CPMs, lowered CPAs, more effective CPCs. It will leverage the intellect of pure, unadulterated logic to increase budget efficiency and ROI. Marketers will be empowered to meet their audiences where they know they are and not where they think they are, and automation improvements will give them the ability to implement dynamic creative that self-adjusts based on individual user signals, statistical wants, and captured needs.

With automation taking over repeatable tasks, marketers will move their focus back to strategy, partnership, and innovation, and let the technology deliver rigorous efficiency previously unmet by manual analytics.

Audiences are Humans, Too

And when this machine begins to learn and efficiency hums along in a self-correcting ebb and flow of statistically-significant optimization, marketers will be free to be marketers again. Or, that is to say, marketers will become even more responsible for infusing the human element into their work; humanity can’t be automated, afterall. Beginning in 2018, marketers must embrace the human and the machine, valuing both technology and human understanding for their parts in the digital marketing landscape.

User-centric targeting will continue to reign, with a more humanizing turn toward the phrase “people-based marketing.” Semantics aside, 2018 marketing success means moving from an abstract persona to the specific needs of actual, living and breathing people who engage — or would like to engage — with your brand. It means leaning on technology to help deliver your story, but crafting that story up front with the same heart you always have. It means architecting campaigns to optimize themselves, but remaining deeply embedded in the overarching narrative as it develops. It means automation of hyper-personalized and -adaptive creative, but an ongoing commitment to integrating human feedback on elements that do and do not work.

In 2018, marketing is a conversation. As a marketing leader, you must be ready to lean into the human emotions that machines leave behind — listen to, empathize with, and build qualitative responses to the people — not the cookie pools —  your brand wants to reach. With great technology comes great responsibility to retain an element of humanity imbued. This is your art; paint it with pride.

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