I am imagining all the agency teams and directors of marketing who have been busy for the past few months compiling their 2018 trends. Those trends will make their way into quarterly business reviews, presentations, and all sorts of reports. And what wonderful trends we must include! Artificial Intelligence, Geofencing, Bots, Augmented Reality, Big Data… the list is long.

But I wonder how many of these things will make their way into a marketing plan this year? 1, maybe 2? Certainly, not all. Probably none. Trends are the future, and an amazing future they will be. AI and AR alone will be changing everything.

My 2018 list is not wishful thinking or 180-degree change in product capability. My list are the things that are required to get moving on, if you don’t have them or they need updating:

1.      Database: Data must go somewhere to become an asset; somewhere where it can be organized and mined. Customer profiles should be accessible across the organization, where every division can get what they need and add more relevant data. You can’t begin to think about big data until this is working smoothly.

Why?  It is increasingly important to recognize the customer at every step in their experience, from marketing campaigns to contact centers to social response.

What to do? Take a hard look at your data structure, your ability to see the customer at all their touchpoints, and see what it will take to get to a universal customer profile, if you don’t already have it. Then make sure that the data is readily available in real time to the internal teams, partners and agencies that need it.

2.      Analytics: Marketing analytics requires the data, along with a good sense of the customer and the business problems that need to be solved. Excel files and huge binders are the output of the analysis, but the real benefit is the insights – what did it all mean? What’s missing? What do we do now?

Why? Mining for gold in data can bring out amazing insights; what customers care about, their buying patterns, the channels they are using and their value.

What to do? Look at the output/reports and see if there are recommendations and insights that came from the data that was analyzed; not opinions, but facts. Look for trends in buying patterns, based on every aspect you can think of – geographic, demographic, etc. If not there, question it and get answers. Dust off that segmentation and see if it’s still relevant in today’s mobile-first, connected world.

3.      Testing Environment: Cultures that embrace testing usually win in the end. Piloting new ideas, with careful testing methodologies, isn’t being too safe or careful. It’s bringing a new concept or channel to market that everyone is confident in, as an element of their plan. It is much easier to get budget backing when it’s proven to work.

Why? Jumping into something without piloting first could be embarrassing, for marketers and for clients. Just because it worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it works for everyone. By testing and piloting first, you’ll be able to ramp up quickly and won’t waste money trying things that you would have tested in your pilot with smaller budgets.

What to do? Make sure testing methodologies are in place and that they are equally applied across the organization. Create a “lab” environment, and make sure resources are put behind it.

4.      Optimization:  I think most marketers would agree that this is a required part of marketing. Then why does it get removed in so many contract negotiations with agencies? And why is there a belief that once a year is good enough to make a change to that recurring email or direct mail? The answer is obvious. It comes down to budgets. But it’s also a failure to recognize that an asset you already have is easier to improve than creating a new one.

Why? Continually going back to the drawing board is ignoring all the data and insights that could have been gained by existing campaigns. What worked 6 months ago may not work now, but the changes to those assets could be minor. And finally, our world changes every day. Nothing should be on autopilot. What if a keyword you are buying has suddenly become a popular hashtag, and you are paying for a huge volume of unqualified traffic? What if iOS makes an update that makes your emails turn into gibberish?

What to do? Using testing methodologies, which include A/B and multivariate testing tied to revenue or conversion, monitor your campaigns every day or at least every week. Don’t forget to look for the longer-term trends. The money saved by not paying to make changes won’t likely make up for the loss in revenue or conversion when customers turn away from your marketing content when you weren’t looking. Or better yet, proactively solving for changes.

5.      Attribution: One of the most argued aspects of marketing, attribution decisions impact many marketing departments and not always in a good way. What do you use? Single source – last touch, first touch? Fractional – equal weights, multi-touch models? Algorithmic – using models, machine learning?  None?

Why? We are always looking for the silver bullet, and we want to give credit to it. Unfortunately, customers and prospects receive information along their customer journey and make their decision based on a combination of factors.

What to do? We can tag and measure as much as we can (and we should), and try to make media decisions based on what mix is working best. Whether using third party software, internally built models, or testing spend, the first thing to do is make sure that teams are educated on attribution and understand that customer behavior defines the “winning” ingredient, especially if you use a single source model. The best example: if the customer searches to find the product after seeing banners, TV ads, and referrals from friends, it would be a mistake to use last touch attribution and decrease other channels, since those channels led the customer to make the search. Keep in mind the big picture, and find your secret sauce.

I’m stopping at 5 because this is plenty to think about for 2018. Let’s put all those 2017 trends behind us, and get moving toward being the best we can be!

AuthorJeannette Kocsis