Marketing and the communications industries never stand still and 2018 is no exception. As we cast our eye forward, the MercerBell team give their predictions for the trends, buzzwords and game changers for the year ahead.

A commoditised industry will lead to more personal 1-to-1 comms

Nick Mercer, CEO –

I see four key areas that the industry will need to dramatically move towards. Firstly, the communications industry is increasingly going to become more commoditised, and this will move into TV and video. Companies are putting more money into technology platforms and talking to customers through digital channels and inevitably a lot of this will be automated and data driven. This means in a commoditised market we need clever creativity that goes beyond just a gut feel that we’ve seen in the past. That means using data insights, testing the message and the way it’s delivered. All of this has to work hard to make our clients stand out.

Secondly, the ability to truly understand data and apply it will be crucial in 2018. If I were to be critical of the industry, we’ve probably tried to run before we can walk when it comes to data, with many companies not really harnessing data to its full potential. First, second and third party data is becoming increasingly prevalent and companies are starting to understand how to assimilate, aggregate and understand the insights this data gives them – whether this is visitors to their own website or credit card transactions.

This leads into the third point, which is that we’re going to see greater personalisation of not just the message but the experience across many channels. This won’t just be email and websites – it’ll go all the way through to addressable TV, which will be able to be built and served to individuals as opposed to mass TV broadcasting. We’re moving from a world of communications to experience, and those experiences are where people are interacting with brands through digital channels, meaning the product can often become the channel. That leads into the work we’re doing in customer experience communications and CRM planning, which should lead to a bigger growth in 1-to-1 communications.

Finally, the role of voice activation is potentially the biggest shift in 2018. Voice activation technologies will become the surrogate advertising medium. This requires a change from treating advertising as a broadcasting medium to considering it as a listening medium. Will people be swayed by a TV advert when they can just ask Siri? It opens up massive opportunities but also a lot of pitfalls for those companies who are not yet clear on how they want to use voice.

Facial recognition, GDPR and Amazon will shake up the industry

David Schneider, Group Account Director –

Facial recognition with new smartphone devices such as the iPhone X are going to open up a whole new era of personalisation. This isn’t just going to impact on the way an individual can unlock their phone – it has implications for paywalls, apps, and even in-store communications and experiences.

There are also two major changes that will shake up every industry in Australia, not just retail. The first is the arrival of Amazon in Australia. The tech giant has been slow to arrive down under but now that it’s here, we’ll see quite a few industries and companies being shaken up. It’s changed every market it’s entered, and Australia will be no different.

The second is the General Data Protection Regulation which comes into force in Europe on May 25th and updates EU law to give people more control over how their data is used and processed with hefty fines for data breaches and non-compliance, such as contacting a customer on your database without their permission.

Just because this is being enacted on the other side of the world, this doesn’t mean it’s just a European issue. Everybody I spoke to in the industry towards the end of 2017 was talking about the implications of GDPR and any company that handles EU citizens’ data needs to prepare itself, if they haven’t already.

Brands will need to become more responsible in tech usage

Tina Johansen, Digital CX Production Lead –

One thing I’ve noticed both in the media as well as my own social circle is that my generation is “falling out of love” with technology, which several media commentators have already started to pick up on. That is to say, a lot of my friends have started deleting their social profiles and apps and just have a group chat on something like WhatsApp with just their closest friends, rather than sharing their life with the whole wide world.

There’s increasing awareness of the negative, addictive effect of smartphones on mental health and our ability to stay present and interact properly in real life, which makes me wonder if we’re going down a path of more conscious, limited use. This, in turn, could lead to brands becoming more socially responsible in the way they advertise or use tech and social media, marketing themselves as not being too intrusive and using what would be considered CSR policies as their point of view in their advertising. There’ll be more expectation on brands being responsible in their usage but also setting boundaries.

Separately, I’d also expect to see more done on a 1-1 level with Augmented Reality. In a quest to create personalized experiences for users, we’ll see a lot of experiences with a digital layer on the real world. At a basic level, we’re all familiar with Pok√©mon Go, and using Snapchat filters to add animal ears to our faces, and now several brands and companies are experimenting with holograms. This has potential for 1-to-1 experiences both big and small, from an artist who personally guides you through a museum exhibition using AR to the personal trainer who can run you through a workout in your living room.

UX to be considered through the whole customer journey

Abi Williams, UX/UI designer –

User experience (UX) was a buzzword in 2017 and the natural evolution for a lot of clients is to take UX further than just a direct product. This means looking at the customer experience from the initial brand discovery point through to customer retention experiences.

Take airline customers, for example. We need to understand how they feel when they’re first targeted by, say, affiliate banners, through to their first search for flights, through to taking a flight, through the deciding to take out additional services, such as insurance, through to third party partnerships to collect points. Rather than defining UX for one product, which can result in a potentially disjointed overall experience, the industry is starting to look at the bigger picture.

We’ll also see conversations around UX/UI expand into other areas. For example, voice user interfaces (VUIs) used as an alternative to graphical interfaces, with voice commands used for a variety of different purposes. Thanks to Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, this is likely to be a growing market, albeit one that’s more likely to be used at home rather than in public. It’ll be interesting to see what products emerge that combine VUI’s with graphical elements to account for both settings.

A change in strategy for branded content through Google and Facebook

Gary Andrews, Managing Editor –

There’s a couple of trends in the editorial space that will be fascinating to follow in 2018. Firstly, it’s going to be a fascinating year for anybody who works in or has any contact with SEO. Google is clearly upweighting mobile as a ranking factor, and getting a lot more precise on ranking for intent behind the search.

This requires strong strategic thinking as there’s a huge difference between somebody looking to buy a product, looking for inspiration for a purchase, or looking for information around a subject matter.

Search by voice, meanwhile, is no longer a trend, it’s already here, which means a slightly different lexographical approach SEO principles. The way we type searches is very different, linguistically, from how we use voice commands.

Secondly, I’d expect a re-evaluation of video strategies from both publishers and clients. Much of the growth in video has been driven by Facebook prioritising video in its news feed and paying publishers to create content.

Increasingly publishers are realising that an over-reliance on Facebook as a platform can leave them a little vulnerable and those who’ve partnered closely with the social giant haven’t always seen good ROI. The phrase “pivot to readers” was used a lot towards the latter end of 2017 as publishers focus on their core audiences. This, in turn, could lead to partnerships becoming more attractive, especially among premium publishers.

At the same time, Facebook’s experimentation with removing publisher and branded content from the news feed in a handful of countries suggests the time of zero organic reach on the platform can’t be far away. Many brands will be asking if it’s worth paying to produce video content for Facebook and then paying again to promote it.

Expect fewer, bigger, better to be a mantra when it comes to branded content on Facebook, as brands look to diversify their publishing operations across other channels, including eCRM, Google and YouTube, and partnerships.

Brands finally making peace with what constitutes customer “loyalty”

Clare Webber, Senior Strategy Planner –

In 2018, I think it’s about time that we as an industry make our peace with the idea of how we use the word loyalty. It’s seen as a bit of a holy grail, we talk about it a lot, but it doesn’t really exist, so why spend our time and effort seeking it out.

In the past, brand loyalty was more commonplace – you may have only ever used Pears soap or got behind the wheel of a Ford – but as brands become cluttered in their features, they become more alike and it’s hard to connect to a specific brand.

In this era, we can be tied to a brand, like a bank, for example, but that’s entanglement, not loyalty and we’re not really engaged. However, we are more likely to connect with a category – for example, you love your morning cup of coffee, always take your family on a cruise and would never consider buying anything other than an SUV.

So it’s really hard to let the idea of loyalty go as it’s much easier for us, as marketers, to believe that it exists. Consumers will claim that they’re loyal to a brand and often have a solid, rational reason to justify it – for example, you may always buy a Sony TV because of the superior quality – but once you’re faced with a category choice other emotional drivers can be far stronger.

So, in 2018, hopefully there’ll be a shift for the better and the industry will become more effective by putting the pursuit of loyalty to one side and concentrating instead on meeting the needs of their wider audience – are they prospects, repeat purchasers or even lapsed customers and what can we do to help them convert or grow?

Essentially, by putting your audience’s needs first, you’ll continually be putting in the effort to win them over, so when they re-enter the category to make a purchase decision, your brand is near the top of the heap. By continuing to think of your core audience as loyal customers in this day and age, there’s a real risk you end up taking them for granted.

But this doesn’t mean we should all be abandoning brand “loyalty” programs this year. Instead, we should be thinking of them in terms of better understanding your audience’s needs. The data and behavior from these type of programs help us to produce more effective, personalised marketing and get first-hand feedback. And if you’re concentrating on giving your customers what they want, combined with a great experience, that at least will build a more emotional affinity, which should count for something at the point of purchase.