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Marketers are always looking for new ways to create experiences that resonate with customers, and 2018 will be no different. And although fads come and go—think unicorn hair and frappuccinos—there are some trends that will stick in the coming year and affect how businesses interact with customers.

For CMOs, it means staying on their toes, as their roles will change in several ways this year. Experts believe that in 2018, marketing leaders will be dealing with disruption and adapting emerging technologies that are starting to mature beyond their initial hype.

Here's a look at some notable predictions about the future of marketing. 

CMOs become customer-obsessed

More than ever, CMOs need to understand the attitudes, behaviors and opinions of their customers. In fact, according to Forrester, the most customer-led marketers will be at the forefront of growth.

“CMOs will turn this [year] into an opportunity to remould their organization to be customer obsessed, prioritizing talent that can conceptualize innovation and growth, and farming execution-oriented specialist work out to partners,” Michael Barnes, Forrester VP and research director, tells CMO.

Matt James, Publicis Media A/Z CEO, agrees, saying, “CMOs are now the ultimate guardians of a deep understanding of their customers, sometimes more than the CEO. The responsibility to extract organic revenues from existing customers and understand where to drive demand for new growth has become a complex task."

Brand management becomes holistic

Thinking about the bigger picture isn’t anything new for CMOs, but Forrester says looking at their brand holistically will be imperative in 2018.

This means making sure there’s consistency between what the brand is promising consumers and the experience that's actually delivered. CMOs now have a mandate to improve the customer experience (CX), and a big part of this includes optimizing ad spend and reinvesting in high frequency, emotionally rich, connected experiences.

Experts predict marketers will bring martech and adtech together and deploy it in-house to create more seamless customer experiences across touchpoints and channels, while also meeting the demand for transparency across various levels within business.

Two key tasks for CMOs to meet this mandate will be to clean up their media supply chain, a trend already started last year by Procter & Gamble’s CMO Marc Pritchard who, in an influential speech, urged brand marketers to get out of the weeds. CMOs must also look at their brands with fresh eyes and ask effective questions that enable them to truly understand what impact ads have on their brand.

Ad spend shakes up

Forrester is also predicting that the shift from traditional advertising in 2018 will continue, leading to flat spending this year and painful corrections for the agency and adtech markets. Major brands will cut spending as customers continue to avoid ads whenever they can.

The research firm, however, says this isn’t an advertising budget crisis so much as it is about changing priorities. Just as the CMO needs to look at the brand holistically and understand ad impact, they also can’t defend underperforming media spend focused on customer acquisition.

Forrester expects that rather than plowing money into traditional ad spending, CMOs will focus their time and budgets on revitalizing CX to drive affinity and stem churn and to re-engineer loyalty programs to meet customer expectations.

CX goes mobile

Not surprisingly, many CX efforts will be mobile. But Forrester says marketers need a deeper understanding of how consumers are interacting with brands with mobile devices, including the role of voice activation. Adoption of mobile and voice-enabled speakers such as Amazon’s Echo and Google Home is set to grow rapidly.

This year will be the year CMOs tackle poor mobile CX, Forrester says, as smartphones quickly take on the role of “central conductor” across broader digital experiences. This means brands must invest heavily in the underlying technology as well as architecture, talent and process. The focus on mobile CX will not only lead to changes in marketing methods, but generate a greater understanding of the new target markets’ buying habits, InSite Logic managing director David Stewart told CMO.

But it’s not a mobile-only strategy that marketers should be thinking about. Rather, it’s about creating a better fluid multi-channel and multi-platform experience.

VR and AR steal the spotlight

Just as voice activation is becoming a technology CMOs must contend with, 2018 will also see virtual and augmented reality move beyond the hype of last year as marketers look at how they might use it to create authentic customer experiences.

VRTY CEO Kingston Lee-Young told CMO that he expects the focus on VR and AR will be on penetration and application as the big vendors drop prices and release new wireless and standalone headsets. Content-wise, big entertainment, sports and global media outlets spending hundreds of millions of dollars creating experiences for mainstream audiences will clear the path for others to create their own VR content or advertise within someone else's content.

This year will also see VR being used to improve productivity, learning and training, and save costs in areas including retail, health, tourism and hospitality, among others. For marketers, it’s an opportunity to combine VR and AR with their own creativity and intuition—skills that will continue to add value to the marketing mix, according to experts. Tonic Health media commercial director Jack Mortlock says 2018 will be more about the convergence of established formats with digital to create better experiences.

It’s still about the customer

Despite these predicted changes, disruptions and trends, for CMOs it’s still about striving to understand the customer. For marketers looking to make an impact in 2018, a focus on customer preferences and establishing a real connection is essential. Brands that don’t reflect the values and needs of customers will struggle, while those that do will thrive.

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Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria was the former Content Marketing Manager and was responsible for Vision Critical's blog and social media marketing program. Before joining Vision Critical's global marketing team, Kelvin worked at Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm. His experience includes working with lifestyle, real estate, and non-profit clients to develop social media marketing and PR strategies. Kelvin has a Bachelor of Business Administration from SFU's Beedie School of Business.
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