If the calendar new year hasn’t heralded enough in the way of predictions, Chinese New Year gives an exhausted audience one last chance to look at what lies ahead. But rather than simply joining the AI chorus, the voice fan club or the Facebook lynch mob, what follows is an attempt to cast a wider lens, review some of the underlying trends likely to shape 2019, and preview their expected outcomes for the digital marketing community.
In the Chinese zodiac, 2019 ushers in the year of the Pig, an animal historically associated, amongst other things, with the values of pragmatism and conscientiousness. With the regional economy likely to see slower growth in 2019, on the back of China’s expected slowdown, these same values are likely to characterize some of the region’s attitudes to digital marketing investment. Echoing the comments of analysts, such as Forrester, we think marketers are likely to double-down on driving tangible returns from their adtech and martech investments of recent years, and focus more of their efforts on increasing value from existing customers. The outcome is that the principles of CRM – those misunderstood and sometimes maligned three letters which hark back to the 1990s – will be back in vogue, albeit labelled with one of the many synonyms for relationship marketing, whether that’s account-based, journey-driven, automation-oriented or omnichannel-focused.
Digital content overload will also ensure that personalisation remains a key goal for many marketers. Whilst this is hardly a modern marketing phenomenon, hero case studies of brands doing anything more than the most basic level of personalisation are still few and far between, despite the prevailing evidence of its merits. According to Epsilon, 80 per cent of consumers are significantly more likely to make a purchase when brands provide personalised experiences. And our own Truth About Global Brands study found that nearly half of consumers in APAC think brands should help them express their individuality.
So 2019, we suspect, will be the year that companies begin to fully leverage the increasing array of technology at their disposal and start to better connect data and content. However, as AI becomes increasingly mainstream, we also expect to see what McCann Worldgroup’s Chief Strategy Officer Suzanne Powers has called “a spirited defense of all things ‘human’”. 2019 might also be the year when the most advanced brands start to move beyond the painfully transparent, cold logic of algorithmically-driven experiences and start to create a more meaningful and intuitive level of relationship with their customers.
GDPR, Cambridge Analytica, and multiple data breaches have helped put the matter of data privacy under the spotlight. In our Truth About Privacy study, 55 per cent of people globally would go so far as to say that they would wipe all of their personal information off the internet if they could. One consequence of this within the marketing community is that we are likely to see greater value placed on first party data. Couple this with the increasing drive for data-driven personalization, and the net outcome is that a company’s owned customer data – and how it’s collected, stored and leveraged for the purposes of marketing activities – will increasingly be perceived as an ever more precious resource. We expect to hear greater demand for initiatives aimed to better harness and manage what IPG’s Data Chief, Arun Kumar, referred to as ‘that ethical data diamond mine’, whether that’s through the creation of customer data platforms or through the development of new roles, such as Chief Data Officers.
Whilst there’s no stopping the tide of data and technology, the modern consumer isn’t just looking for a product, a piece of content, or a solution to a problem, they’re also looking for brands to build meaningful connections and take meaningful actions. As consumers’ priorities continue to evolve, it’s more important than ever for brands to connect with audiences on a deeper, more personal level – which APAC consumers define (again, according to our Truth About Global Brands study) as trustworthy, creative and authentic. Brands need to develop (and more importantly demonstrate) a forward-looking, aspirational voice of their own, and while data, technology, personalization and predictions based on past behaviours can be very useful, they will only be able to help so much. As marketing technology starts to reach a point of universal adoption, we expect that the bigger prize will lie in what we call “informed creativity” – the intersection of everything the brand knows about its customers’ past behaviour with everything it believes it should do in the future.