I'm calling it – the time for future-gazing articles is over. At time of writing it's already the end of January. If you're still preparing for 2018 then you must have had a heavy New Year's Eve.

Nevertheless, I thought it worthwhile to look over some of the prediction pieces we have published thus far (as well as some from Marketing Week), and produce a practical list of questions that marketers should ask themselves, this year or any other.

It's not an exhaustive list (in fact it's littered with holes), so feel free to cajole or barrack me in the comments below.

Are you on first name terms with the finance dept?

The issue is outlined most eloquently by Helen Edwards in Campaign who says marketers need Finance, Ops and HR – and vice versa. “Yet wariness characterises the interactions between disciplines,” Edwards writes.

She continues, “the best marketers I know build deep connections with these power functions and involve them in new ideas early.”

The wooing starts now.

What personalisation do your customers value?

Personalisation is a word that gets chucked around a lot in marketing, until it starts to lose its meaning somewhat. We all agree it is good, and vital for a great customer experience, then we remember that Amazon’s product recommendations aren’t always helpful, and that cart abandonment emails don’t always make us feel special.

We need to get back to the traditional meaning of personalisation, one that conjures excellent customer service, rewarded loyalty and tailored products.

What can you automate?

To avoid all the hype around machine learning, marketers should simply be asking “what should I automate?”

‘AI’ solutions can be more realistically thought of as ‘automation plus’ (but with some decision-making capability thrown in). This thinking is what will get most value out of the tech in the first instance, such as KLM’s augmented customer service, rather than trying to bring some truer or more explicit form of AI (chatbots that don’t hit the mark).

Do you actually have an objective this year?

A shocking question? Maybe not. As Mark Ritson has often pointed out, marketers have a penchant for getting carried away with tactics, such as new channels and new tech.

Ritson's recent article argues marketers should set time aside for strategic thinking and beware the distractions of agile methods and predictive analytics:

Whenever I hear a client cry out for greater agility I wince, because invariably they are intent on jettisoning even their vaguest strategic principles for a roll-with-the-punches approach to planning. And of all the manifest attractions of AI, surely the most entrancing one for marketers is the idea you start with a random approach and let the machine winnow out the possibilities to reach the optimum approach through infinite testing and learning protocols. Who needs a strategy when you have the machine down in the basement learning as we speak?

How does your team learn?

Econsultancy managing partner Richard Robinson shares some stats from Econsultancy’s How Marketers Learn survey. They may startle, depending on what you’ve seen of the industry.

  • 60% of marketers say they spend two days per month or less on any form of professional development.
  • 56% say their organisations have little in the way of a formal strategy towards learning.
  • Only 14% claim their marketing training is led by someone in marketing.
  • 67% say they have an ad hoc approach to their professional development.

The most revealing stat it seems, to me, is that just 27% of brands have well-considered learning and development strategies for marketers, endorsed at the highest level.

Surely, given the widening skillset of marketers, there is an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage here?

Are we meeting user needs?

It's the question that should guide search strategy, content and service design, segmentation, product design and more.

It's not a revolutionary way of thinking, but too often a myopic view of conversion and revenue can put user needs in the shade and jeopardise UX and marketing strategy. The most obvious example of this is perhaps in web design and the use of dark patterns.

With the advent of new martech such as AI-powered software, marketers have an even greater duty to put users first, lest they champion faddy tech over their customers.

Do you have an analytics dashboard that actually helps?

Thanks to David Wharram from Coast Digital who, in our data and analytics predictions for 2018, points out that "the introduction from Google of Data Studio set out with the ambition of making analytics data easier to interpret for users. We have seen many cases where it’s been possible to remove the need for custom dashboards – a time save and positive for any agency. This has allowed us to present strategic findings without getting into the weeds of showcasing how Google Analytics works and explaining its quirks."

This is a big deal if the impact is as Wharram describes.

A bigger deal is Google's Analytics Intelligence, which was launched in July 2017 and aims to make it possible for analysts and business users to use plain English to obtain analytics data. Though some may argue such intuitive access to data could reduce rigour and understanding (a churlish argument?), the main point here is that marketers will soon have no excuse not to be better abreast of visitor behaviour.

Is there really any point in you posting that to Facebook?

In our social media predictions for 2018, Will Francis (founder of digital agency Vandal) highlighted the dwindling importance of 'traditional' social media posts – the sort of text and imagery you might post to a Facebook News Feed.

He said "As more people and brands adopt Instagram Stories and Snapchat, these fleeting photos and videos become increasingly the default language in digital. 2018 may be the year that ‘traditional’ social media posts start to feel stiff and corporate - just another marketing channel - whilst disposable content is where brand personality is crafted and true love and engagement earned."

Marketing consultant Matt Owen, commenting on Facebook's changes to its News Feed algorithm to prioritise content from family and friends, says "it’s safe to say that a lot of organic reach declined because we just weren’t providing content that was ‘social’ enough."

If your social bods are blindly posting updates on Facebook every day, maybe you need a rethink.

Where is your data? Where did it come from? What do you do with it?

The provenance and processing of personal data have come under the microscope recently thanks to the GDPR. But the questions marketers should be asking themselves about their data are nothing new.

There's more than a privacy angle (cleaning data, renewing consent, organising it), there's the question of trust and transparency (will we see a shying away from commoditised 3rd party data), there's realtime data (how to act on it), and plenty more, as discussed by Econsultancy founder Ashley Friedlein in his terrific 2018 trends.

Friedlein sums up the current data focus:

Just as digital became a ‘thing’, with its own teams, plans, budgets, job titles and board positions (Chief Digital Officer), in earnest around a decade ago, the same thing is happening with ‘data’ now. CDO is as likely to be Chief Data Officer as Chief Digital Officer. Expect dedicated data roles and teams and expect the same challenges around talent, silos, integration and matrix-working, that we have experienced, and continue to have, with ‘digital’.

What can Amazon do for you?

If you’re in ecommerce or retail, Amazon will be near the front of your mind this year. From its retail acquisitions, to dynamically-priced partner pop-up stores, to new advertising products, Amazon is shaping up to be a platform marketers can’t ignore.

Ben Davis

Published 24 January, 2018 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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