2018 in lights
While mobile first, the internet of things and artificial intelligence are nothing new to marketers, new approaches offer ways to refine their use PHOTO: Carl Raw

The marketing landscape has changed so much that today’s approaches would be unrecognizable to a marketer of 30 years ago. Fully digital customers, automated processes, agile marketing, influencer marketing and an increasingly vast array of marketing technologies continue to challenge marketing teams to do things better, faster and with greater impact.

Each year, analysts, influencers and brands embrace new buzzwords that represent the latest and greatest approaches. Like many in the marketing discipline, I’ve been finding myself increasingly immersed in the terminology of this next digital age. Some of the popular catchphrases are older terms that are gaining increased play in response to new best practices and changing markets. These include mobile-first, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and the internet of things (IoT).

Mobile-First Again?

If statistics are to be believed, almost all internet users (either 80 percent or 94 percent, depending on the source) own a smartphone, 48 percent of consumers start mobile research on a search engine but 33 percent go directly to the site they want, 70 percent of people dislike mobile ads, and 57 percent of users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site.

Today, grandma has a smartphone, Generation Z digital natives reportedly spend more time on phones each day than on all other devices combined, and AdWeek reports that a major Chinese corporation is going to focus on mobile development and innovation exclusively as of 2018.

While mobile sites and apps have now become standard for many businesses, mobile websites based only on adaptive design and barebones approaches to mobile with “good enough” mobile experiences will not harness the potential of quickly growing markets or reach new consumers or for whom mobile-first is a reality.

Here are my recommendations for addressing the mobile market in 2018:

  • Design with a mobile-first approach that is based on your target audience’s preferences. Rethink first iterations of mobile sites and app content to truly take full advantage of all of a device’s features and all of the ways people use their devices.
  • Deliver mobile content in your customer’s local language. Language is the first touch of personalization that will matter.
  • Remember that mobile is personal. Mobile encompasses an individual’s social interactions, banking and day-to-day business activities, musical and entertainment preferences, and travel and shopping habits. Invest in the digital experience in a way that is in keeping with the immensely personal nature of the mobile platform.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Not a day passes without us hearing about yet another company releasing, researching or using AI or machine learning systems. All the tech titans are there: Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and other companies are actively developing and using some form of AI, including voice-activated assistants, cars with diagnostic capabilities and self-driving features, ecommerce algorithms, machine translation and social network news feeds.

In the Artificial Intelligence Index’s 2017 Annual Report, artificial intelligence expert and Harvard University professor Barbara Grosz emphasizes the recent attention on developing, “AI capabilities that complement or augment people’s abilities rather than aiming to replicate human intelligence.”

How will that play out in 2018? Despite massive investments in AI research, brands that want to deploy AI systems still face challenges, such as insufficient IT infrastructure, a talent shortage and tight budgets. But those that began investing early will begin to see the benefits of implementing AI-assisted personalization, on-demand content and even content generation. As Grosz says, “It is important to take on the challenge of identifying success measures for AI systems by their impact on people’s lives.”

Here are my recommendations for companies considering AI initiatives:

  • Manage your data. We’re all still reeling from the emergence of big data. Before you can leverage AI, you need to understand where you can best hook in to organizational data sources.
  • Prepare your content. Structured content approaches enable organizations to create and manage their content so that it’s findable, reusable and adaptable, preparing it for future solutions.
  • Find out where the benefits lie. As new technologies emerge, prepare to investigate where your organization will truly find a ROI in terms of operational efficiency (cost savings) or external effectiveness (new revenue).

The Internet of Things

Related to AI, but not directly, the internet of things has been a buzzword for a few years, with new incarnations of connectivity via any device, any path and any business anywhere at any time. Research firm Gartner predicts that there will be nearly 21 billion IoT-connected devices in use worldwide by 2020. Just as we have grown accustomed to mobile connectivity via our phones, we are increasingly seeing connectedness through everything as an assumption rather than a novelty.

The FCC’s recent changes to U.S. net neutrality rules could have serious implications for IoT traffic both in terms of speed and access tied to specific carriers. In addition, observers are divided in their opinions of how the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect in May, will affect IoT innovation: Some argue that the IoT will make it impossible to enforce the GDPR, others say the reverse is true — that the GDPR will slow the progress and use of IoT technology.

What the advent of IoT technology really represents is a continued increase in the amount of data businesses can gather. Given that we have not yet come to terms with the promise and potential of big data, this new data surge highlights the need to harness the analytical capabilities of AI and machine learning — in addition to raising new concerns about data security risks, and new hopes about hyperpersonalization rewards.

Here are my recommendations for dealing with the advance of IoT technologies:

  • Remember: Like the mobile platform, the IoT is inherently personal. Make sure that consumer interactions with devices come with a direct value-added benefit to individual. The companies that succeed in enriching the customer experience will differentiate themselves.
  • Look for new ways to generate revenue. Consider how you can integrate IoT-generated data into potential upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

Everything New Is Old Again

For each opportunity and each buzzword, organizations need to examine both the promise of increased internal operational efficiency (doing things better, faster and most cost-effectively) and the external customer-facing benefits (improved digital experiences, higher revenues and increased market reach).

Every hype cycle, new technology, vision and reality results in new discussions about how we are going to manage the related content, the experience and the implementation. Today’s novel opportunity will become tomorrow’s standard process and tactic.

Adopting new technologies necessarily involves change management: a redefinition of roles, integration points and processes. But legacy technology and internal structures remain the biggest speedbumps to change. I for one look forward to seeing how we will take advantage of these technologies in 2018.

What are you doing to prepare for the future?