Raj Balasundaram
Raj Balasundaram 22 February 2018

2018 – the year AI matures, small business packs a punch, and the customer is still always right!

As we roll into February and planning for 2018 is well under way, I just wanted to put pen to paper to outline what marketers should be watching out for this year, if they haven’t already got them in their sights:

AI will continue to dominate in 2018

AI will be a key focus for how marketers can make the most of budgets, improving both the efficiency and creativity of campaigns. Global tech heavyweights are throwing their weight behind marketing AI and machine learning initiatives at scale. We’ll see smaller brands use the technology to deliver campaigns previously only accessible to big-budget companies.  

Smaller marketing teams will use AI expand their operations at scale and focus on the quality of their communications. That’s why businesses should get on board now – enabling them to quickly differentiate themselves and wow their audiences, driving engagement with AI-enabled output surrounding creatively developed campaigns.

Marketing AI has hit a sweet spot in its maturity where it can be effectively productised, but is still innovative and new. That said, there remain significant barriers to mainstream adoption of AI. Our recent study, published with Forrester earlier this year found that, although marketers are enthusiastic about the benefits of AI, 70% of business decision makers don’t think their marketing team has the technical skills to leverage AI marketing technology. In 2018, we expect uptake to increase as marketers gain confidence in introducing AI, reflecting the maturity of the technology in this space.

Remember David and Goliath’s story? AI is David’s new slingshot!

Change the channel – SMS makes a comeback

While there is – quite rightly- much excitement around the rise of different channels like Instagram, we’re beginning to see SMS come back on the marketing scene in a big way. Despite it being more expensive, brands are seeing results. Email will still form the core foundation of marketing campaigns, but we’ll see brands experimenting with alternative channels to find the best fit for each customer. Personalised Direct Mail will attract younger millennials. Yes, you heard it right! Highly personalised direct mail will excite younger millennials because they usually don’t receive letters.

The idea of buying directly from Instagram is becoming hugely powerful for fashion brands, and we’ll see Facebook and Instagram working more closely with marketers to help them reach their customers. We’re seeing that people increasingly want to communicate with businesses in a more informal way, the relationship is beginning to look more direct and personal. Expect to see social media be exploited even further in 2018, with more small businesses experimenting with alternative channels like Instagram.

GDPR – work with the customer to take away some of the grey

Data is the cornerstone in modern advertising and marketing and GDPR will have a huge impact on how brands can gather data. While the regulation is set to have a detrimental impact on unprepared businesses, those who have done their homework to understand how to manage initial interactions with the customer stand a better chance of earning customer trust.

In a broader sense, the increase in high-profile data breaches in recent years means that online data privacy is and will continue to be a sensitive topic. Whilst you can’t predict who will be the next victim of a data breach, there are ways to give your brand the best chance of coming out unscathed. If you haven’t already, use the new year to kick off a detailed plan of how you plan to integrate the necessary changes ahead of the May deadline.

If you are planning to mix and match your 3rd party data with 1st party data, think twice!

Giving your customer a voice

Aside from AI, voice activation is an area of great potential and will redefine how customers search and shop online. Brands will be focusing on how they can get their business into the fold. Thanks to the Amazon Alexa’s of the world, voice has brought the interaction between brand and consumer to the home in a casual and friendly way. Voice has also impacted the type of search queries, the questions become more detailed, like, ‘what will the traffic be like this afternoon?’, giving greater context and more opportunities for brands to find their way into searches.

On the downside, a person is less likely to ask for a specific brand when using voice search, leaving the decision making up to the search engine. This will leave brands with the challenge of staying visible when the lure of convenience is trumped by conscious choices. Machine to machine marketing is not far away with your very own Siri buying goods directly from Alexa.

We’ll see brands shift their approach to content in an effort to make it mimic natural language and re-evaluate SEO. It’s a fantastic opportunity for experimentation and will challenge brands to explore the way they communicate with customers.

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