The year 2016 was a year of turbulence and change, and the ramifications will be felt long after the calendar has been turned over to 2017.
So CMO.com asked senior marketers what they thought their peers should be looking out for this year. The trends they identified fell into three areas: social, technological, and marketing, itself.
John Allert, group brand director at McLaren Technology Group, described 2016 as “a year of upsets and loss, when seemingly all that we took for granted was turned on its head.” And he warned that the aftershocks for marketers would be many and varied.
“The world has told us it no longer trusts the people we once blindly looked up to, nor the institutions they belong to. Brand owners who fob this sea change off as one of politics and socio-economics should think again. They may well be next,” he said.
The Power Of Brand Purpose
Allert predicted that, as a result, brand purpose will become more important than ever in 2017.
“People in 2017 will have more knowledge, less time, and less brand loyalty than ever before,” he said. “In a contradictory age of increased extremism and secularity, more and more people are using their own inner filters to inform choice. People recognising a brand’s genuine purpose and resonating with it will be as close to loyalty as we can expect to get.”
Simon Carter, vice-president & head of field marketing for sales, EMEIA at IT giant Fujitsu, also warned of a potentially bleak future for brands.
“I think the role of the brand will come into question, as falling barriers to entry create a proliferation of new entrants competing for a customer’s attention. This will leave incumbents to defend their heritage solely on the basis of years of brand investment, name recognition, and loyalty,” he said. “With customers evermore fickle, and technology moving so quickly, it may be that those easy to find, do business with, and deliver satisfaction win through. This will also be reflected in more big brands disappearing as they fail to transform fast enough.”
Into The Mainstream
Other marketers predicted that 2017 would be the year when a number of much-talked about technologies would enter the mainstream, with significant implications for marketing. Nihal Pekbeken, CMO at Rated People, an online marketplace that connects homeowners to tradespeople, highlighted the potential for augmented reality to build on the success this year of Pokémon Go and extend far beyond gaming.
“It’s important for businesses to look closer at AR technology to harness the opportunity of delivering greater reach, engagement, and awareness for their brand, and, in particular, of delivering an experience between physical and digital worlds,” she said. “The mistake is for businesses to use AR as a gimmick, which means that, once the novelty has worn off, there is nothing of substance left to continue driving quality of experience.”
Craig Hepburn, global vice-president, digital marketing & brand at TATA Communications, also cited the potential of virtual reality and augmented reality to create new immersive experiences.
“Samsung in VR and Microsoft around AR have made huge strides forward in both the availability of technology but, more importantly, in the use cases and the user applications,” he said. “We are also seeing a rapid rise in agencies specialising in developing VR and AR experiences for brands, so I would expect to see a vast majority of brands harnessing the technologies and skillsets to deliver the next wave of brand and marketing experiences.”
Smart Uses Of Artificial Intelligence
Hepburn also picked out artificial intelligence and bot technology as an area that’s moving quickly from the domain of tech geeks to that of CMOs.
“I’ve probably had more conversations regarding the use of AI and bot platforms than any other subject over the past six months,” he said. “Not only can this technology provide huge opportunity for companies to scale their customer engagements in the areas of customer services and communications, but it will become the back-office brain of marketing automation, website and content delivery, CRM, and content experiences.”
Blake Cahill, global head of digital and social marketing at Philips, was also excited by the rise of AI, which he described as the most significant trend for 2017.
“In 2016 we saw artificial intelligence start to make an impact on our lives; just about all industry sectors started investing in the technology to improve efficiency, reduce costs, increase revenues, and boost customer satisfaction,” he said. “It’s this latter potential that marketers need to pay the closest attention to.
“In 2017, I expect to see the launch of an intelligent chatbot that learns your likes, dislikes, preferences, and location. Using AI and deep learning, this tool will not only enable a persuasive two-way conversation in real time, it will ultimately help marketers to understand and even begin to guide consumer behaviour.”
Fujitsu’s Carter agreed, seeing the use of AI as part of the continuing trend for marketing automation.
“Largely driven by a demand from our finance colleagues to cut costs, we will see a splurge on marketing automation systems to nurture customers with minimal human involvement,” he said. “In some cases, this will be shrouded in a belief that it all supports a drive to “mass personalisation,” with technology being used to give people a greater feeling that they are the only customer in the world, but, really, it is clever algorithms that are pretending to be your Westworld-style new friend.”
The Internet of Things is another technology expected to move into the mainstream in 2017. Aside from the much-touted connected fridge and the car that tells the breakdown service what’s gone wrong, Cahill at Philips highlighted the potential of the IoT in the collection of customer data. He described using social listening and product tester platforms instead of the traditional focus groups and surveys, resulting in “a more immediate perspective.”
“We can automate that process and deliver insights into the product development more rapidly by analysing the habits, attitudes, and behaviour patterns of our customers—all of which will lead to a rise in “right-time” rather than real-time marketing.”
Tipping The Balance
Julia Porter, chair of the U.K.’s Direct Marketing Association, also predicted continuing adoption of marketing technology, but saw in that a change in the balance between marketers and agencies.
“The desire for marketing automation will continue apace, with marketers increasingly managing their own DMPs rather than relying on their agencies or media owners to deliver relevant audiences for them,” she said.
Denise Kuschewski, head of digital content at logistics giant TNT, saw this trend developing in content marketing too. She told CMO.com she expected to see self-sufficient in-house content factories taking over from external agencies, driven by the need to scale content production for the global market.
“Scaling high-quality, localised, culturally fit content will require a highly efficient centralised content production engine enabled by technology,” she said.
Fujitsu’s Carter took the in-sourcing idea further.
“We will see the role of the marketing agency ever more threatened, as brands take more content creation and asset production in-house, with the big four management consultancies—plus a few IT consultancies—vying for the Holy Grail of being the trusted strategic adviser.”
The Future Of Marketing
Porter also highlighted a growing skills gap at the top of the profession.
“There is a continuing shortage of talented ‘whole brain’ marketing leaders; the ones who can understand strategy and the brand as well as optimising all the data-driven channels,” she said. “Without these leaders, marketing teams are becoming tactical, channel-led comms teams.”
But Carter stressed the fundamentals of marketing would not change.
“Customers still want to buy products and services from trusted organisations that deliver what they need at an acceptable price. It is our job to ensure that this happens—we mustn’t get seduced by the latest fad or agency recommendation.”
Follow the links for CMO.com’s previous interviews with marketers who shared their view of trends for 2017: John Allert, McLaren Technology Group; Simon Carter, Fujitsu; Nihal Pekbeken, Rated People (formerly at Ticketmaster UK); Craig Hepburn, TATA Communications (formerly at Nokia); Blake Cahill, Philips; Julia Porter, Direct Marketing Association (formerly at Guardian News and Media); and Denise Kuschewski, TNT.