February 12, 2017

9 Top Trends for Marketers in 2017

Top 9 Trends for Marketers in 2017

We're living in an era of commercial transition: where marketing used to be a 'soft' discipline with a return being difficult to measure, it is becoming an increasingly technical domain: programming skills can no longer be ignored or fully outsourced to IT, data science is no longer preserved for BI-teams. Blasting customer experiences are the holy grail. It requires dropping the boundaries between marketing, IT and BI. In this article, we describe the 9 trends that will impact your marketing agenda in 2017: live with it, or live towards it. The choice is yours!

1. From omni-channel to omni-experience

Customers expect a pleasant, relevant and memorable brand experience. It has become a condition to play in an economy with overwhelming choice and transparency. Luckily, it may also serve as a point of differentiation. While it is important to set the basics right via traditional communication channels (such as paper, e-mail, web and social media), companies should strive for blasting experiences that go beyond the functional purpose. As Ramon Weterings (VP Benelux & France at Sitecore) states: "customer experience is not about what you do as a brand, but how customers perceive your brand during interactions over time; it's about how these interactions make them feel at a certain moment in time". A related research by Traffic Builders (2017) points out that a desired brand experience is not that obvious to realize: while 95% of branded websites state to focus on customer centricity, only 8% of their customers experience this.

lasting brand experiences can be created in any industry. For example, even the traditional food & beverage industry has successful examples. Oil & Vinegar transforms the buying process for basic products as oil, herbs and spices into a fun activity. Red Bull creates an enormous buzz with actions like Red Bull Stratos that bypass the essence of their product: an experiential marketing stunt resulting in priceless brand exposure & PR. As we evolve, also smaller companies are pursuing experiential marketing, albeit on a smaller scale. Think about your coffee bar around the corner. Whatever you're ordering, context is what brought you there ;-)

The more touchpoints you create (such as apps, physical points-of-sale, brochures, websites, ...) the greater becomes the challenge to align them for a consistent brand experience that is channel agnostic. First of all, you need to determine your ideal customer journey, and map the contribution of each touchpoint in this journey. Second, there is the visual component, which requires strong efforts from your designer team: only 7% of brand recall comes from content, 38% comes from tone-of-voice and the largest part - 55% - comes from the body language of your brand. This is one of the reasons why at KWARTS®, we collaborate with PSG Group to create blasting visual identities across the various creative deliverables for our customers: from a catchy housestyle to graphic online & offline design, tailored photography and video.

2. New technologies: VR & AR

As a marketer, it is crucial to keep up to speed with the newest technologies. Exactly 10 years ago, the first iPhone was brought to market. Over the last 10 years, an ever-increasing amount of apps has been built: plenty of companies have grabbed the opportunity to increase their brand exposure throughout the customer lifecycle, and thereby capturing customer-level data of unseen granularity.

Today we are at the forefront of the next technological wave, one that responds to the need for more experiential marketing: virtual and augmented reality applications are growing and this trend is expected to continue further in the upcoming years. While this technology requires expertise on graphics creation and programming, it harvests new marketing opportunities. Companies are now able to capture behavioral data and to test market acceptance of new solutions in a virtual environment, before heavy costs are incurred in real-life. On top of that, it is a nice gadget to alter promotional actions and to create a blasting brand experience across touchpoints.

3. Personalized marketing

With an ever-increasing amount of touchpoints and information about your customer, comes a growing responsability to apply this knowledge into your marketing operations, in order to improve the relevance of your customer communication. Customers appreciate personalized marketing. The principle of customer segmentation is not new. However, its sophistication and the extent to which it impacts the customer journey is changing:

  • Until the 1980s, customer segmentation was only considered on a strategic level for yield management purposes. After the era of standardization (e.g. Ford Model T), companies were extending their products & services portfolio to maximize the odds for conversion over a wide range of possible target groups, each with different interests & characteristics.
  • Over the last decennia, improved communication technology has enabled companies to segment the entire customer journey, not only matching specific product variations to specific customer types, but also adapting the customer conversation by finetuning content & media to each segment.
  • Nowadays, as the granularity of customer insights goes up, the segment size goes down to ultimately equal one. A Forrester Consulting study points out that 94% of marketers believe the personalization of the customer journey is important to realize their marketing objectives. 75% of them will increase their investments in this domain. However, a lack of budget to fully comply is listed as the top challenge in this personalization exercise. Aside from putting into place a content operating model that scales (which is a one-off effort), marketers often underestimate the volume, cost and complexity of recurring content they need to create & maintain this personalized experience (Forbes, 2016).

Personalized content gives customers a feeling of control, increasing the conversion odds by 19%. New combinations with interactive creative formats such as video, make you stand out on brand experience. The hardest challenge is to keep on feeding this system with fresh content. It requires dedicated resources, a strong execution discipline, and a clear view on the business case. Customer centricity is key indeed, but never lose sight of the yield management purpose as key motivation for any segmentation...

4. Data science & predictive analytics

Marketing personalization relies heavily on data science. The topic is increasingly popular among business disciplines. Data science skills are scarce. That's why companies are preserving large budgets to grow in this domain, either via educational programs or via outsourcing. There has been an evolution in data-driven techniques moving from the strategic level (mostly processing 'small data' for segmentation, targeting and positioning purposes) towards the tactical and eventually the operational level (mostly processing 'big data' for individual marketing purposes). Early adopter industries include banking & insurance, telecom and utilities. In these industries, applications such as churn prediction models, next-best offer models, and RFM models (recency, frequency, money) have become mainstream. Other industries are rapidly keeping up, e.g. matchmaking solutions are being built in HR analytics, personalized video suggestions are being explored by mainstream media companies (inspired by Netflix), and a growing focus on individual patient experience is rising in the pharmaceutical industry.

Top challenges that are listed include data cleaning & processing skills, as well as matching the data infrastructure and architecture to business needs:

  • Marketers need to get a grip on IT processes to prepare for the future, as their actions will rely more and more on the seamless intersection between business- and technical requirements.
  • Marketers need to grow their data affinity: data processing can no longer be isolated in BI departments, as the commercial performance will depend on each's flexibility to quickly identify new insights, and opening up for serendipity. Before going out & exploring your data, you need to make sure you understand the basics of data preparation & -mining in order to draw useful conclusions and to define value-adding, relevant actions.

Provided you put some efforts in building the right skills (finding the right talent will be difficult due to its scarcity), this is one of the 'easiest' trends to keep up with for 2017. It is also one of the most crucial ones, since other trends use it as input to operate.

5. Data privacy: prepare for 2018

On 25 May 2018, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will turn into practice on European level. The text has been approved by the European Parliament in April 2016, and will be interpreted in detail during the course of this year. As from 2018, the first fines for violations against this law will be applied. Therefore 2017 should be used to reflect on a strategic level how to deal with privacy and transparency. We agree this may take some efforts, but the consequences of this regulation are positive: Europe will gain a stronger position towards the United States. Today we are reliant on the EU-US Privacy Shield, which is a doubtful juridical framework for safe storage & processing of personal data of European citizens in the US.

Recently, it has been revealed that Japan and South Korea will act as 'adequate countries', meaning that data exchange with them will be similar as with the EU countries, facilitating business ventures to the East. There are some uncertainties with regards to the Brexit: will the UK go for the 'adequate country' option? Plenty of business deals are involved, so the evolution has to be closely monitored.

Another evolution is on the new European e-Privacy Directive with regards to cookies: no specific approval needs to be asked anymore for standard functionalities such as session cookies and shopping basket cookies. This remains the case however for third party cookies and tracking cookies.

6. Content marketing ROI

Content marketing will remain a hot topic in 2017. Where the focus in 2016 was on content creation, more efforts are expected to be spent on content governance this year: what are the mechanics to boost conversions? A wide variety of media is involved in content marketing, ranging from volatile channels (e.g. social media, Google Display Network, affiliate marketing, etc.) to content longtails (e.g. blogsites, micro-content sites, etc.). As companies spend more budgets in online advertising, so increases the need to optimize these budgets towards channels with the highest ROI. Advanced attribution modeling is a quite unexplored discipline, and consists of determining the true conversion of each channel. Due to its high cost, it is preserved for companies with big marketing budgets. Players such as VisualIQ are specialized in this area. Most digital marketers use more basic methodologies in Google Analytics to attribute a conversion to a channel, for example the 'last visit' modeling or multichannel funnels estimating these assisted conversions.

7. Cross-departmental data architecture

As content marketing delivers conversion in terms of warm leads, many companies are facing the challenge to complete their reporting throughout the entire sales funnel. How many of these leads are actually converted into real customers? Today there is a rupture between content marketing reporting platforms on the one hand, and sales reports on the other. There is no integration between these two environments, and this is just the top of the iceberg. Most legacy data architectures are siloed and not prepared for the more exigent demands of modern business life, where the departmental dots need to be connected to end up with one single view on prospects and customers. Therefore we expect many companies to engage into IT transformation programs, often in the context of new CRM systems that enable a full integration for personalized marketing automation along the customer journey.

8. Agile marketing

We are heavy advocates of replacing the traditional performance marketing approach by a more agile marketing approach. Create a product alpha, test it with your first customers, learn, improve and iterate. We have written an entire blogpost dedicated to this topic.

9. Hard marketing KPIs

The described evolutions (focus on brand experience throughout an increasing variety of digital touchpoints with new technologies such as VR and AR, data-driven personalized marketing, attribution modeling on content marketing actions, and creating a single view on prospects and customers) lead towards the digital transformation of marketing. This new marketing environment has one big advantage compared to the more traditional environment: all actions are measurable. KPIs can be defined and traced easily. This enables marketers to prove the ROI of their actions, which can be advantageous and scaring at the same time. At KWARTS® we are happy with this evolution.


Plenty of seminars and educational programs are focused on the above trends. We would advise marketers and business owners to take benefit of them. Even if you have no ambition to become a domain expert, it gives you the opportunity to understand and connect the dots in this new marketing ecosystem. It might facilitate you to reach business objectives, or even guide you towards a more sustainable business model. To put it short: disrupt or be disrupted, that's the question! Even if you are subject to the second option, it would be worthwhile to understand why ;-)