'Tis the season to reflect and express gratitude.
So, what should marketers be thankful for this year? Which evolutions, tactics, and trends impacted the field positively in 2018?
There are countless options to choose from, but these five in particular stand out for both the scale of their influence this year and for their potential to continue to affect marketing for years to come.
1. The GDPR Data Regulation
At first glance, Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) seems like something marketers should lament, rather than be thankful for. This sweeping legislation, which went into effect in May, gave consumers much more control over their own data and required businesses to disclose their data collection practices as well as ask for explicit consent to utilize information. Although the regulation was enacted by the EU, it impacted firms of all sizes across the globe.
Why was this good for marketers? Because for years data had been collected, used, and stored sloppily: too many firms had embraced the power of data without accepting the necessary responsibility. This was leading to ever-increasing distrust and anger from consumers.
Essentially, GDPR forced businesses to take much needed steps that had been avoided for far too long. While this brought some short-term pain, it made the long-term future of data-based marketing much more secure.
2. Voice Search and Natural Language Processing
While search engine marketing and search engine optimization have been powerful tools for businesses, there has also been a largely unacknowledged flaw: the way search platforms are used and they way operate has not matched real-life behavior. Specifically, the keyword-based approach to search hasn't been a good fit with how people naturally use language.
Two trends are changing this. First, thanks to the popularity of tools such as Siri and Google Assistant on smartphones and devices enabled with Alexa-like helpers, consumers are increasingly using voice to search instead of typing. Second, search engines like Google are utilizing approaches such as natural language processing (NLP) to better understand how humans communicate. Essentially, people are searching more conversationally and search systems are simultaneously getting better at deciphering conversational language.
For marketers, this combination means that trying to anticipate stilted consumer queries is becoming increasingly less important. The major benefit of this is that efforts can be focused on targeting what people truly want — not the keywords they happen to use in a search engine.
3. Account-Based Marketing
While new technologies usually get most of the buzz, sometimes changes in approaches can be just as transformational to marketing.
One prime example is account-based marketing (ABM). This framework, which transitioned from a buzzword to a mainstream strategy this year, is used to market to firms or even individuals with specific messaging, rather than lumping them into segments. While this may not sound revolutionary, its impact is: some 97% of marketers say ABM has a higher ROI than any other marketing initiative.
Why is ABM such a big deal? Because it's an example of an approach maturing at the same time as the tools needed to execute it properly. Thanks to sophisticated marketing platforms, marketers and salespeople can now to highly tailor messaging, advertising, and content at scale. This means each target is delivered the most effective materials, resulting in higher engagement and revenue.
What if there was a social network that was based on the visual content types audiences love (images, videos, ephemeral posts), that was adored by valuable audiences, that wasn't tainted by scandal, and that had highly-effective advertising capabilities?
There is: Instagram.
The platform now has more than 1 billion active monthly users, is catching up to Snapchat in popularity with young consumers, and has avoided the controversies surrounding parent company Facebook while still utilizing its incredibly powerful advertising engine.
Basically, this was the year that Instagram became the Goldilocks network: just big enough, just popular enough, just trendy enough, and just sophisticated enough. In a time when audiences are increasingly wary of big social platforms, it has become a much-needed haven for marketers.
Finally, this year marketers should be thankful for a demographic that has been much maligned: Millennials.
For years, businesses have been struggling to understand this group, which is expected to overtake Boomers as the largest age cohort in the United States in 2019. Unfortunately, much of the coverage has been alarming: supposedly these younger consumers want firms to be hip and political by diving into cutting-edge technologies and controversial causes.
The data, however, paints a different picture. As with all other groups, Millennials' top concerns with products/services are cost and quality. Beyond that, this group doesn't necessarily want companies to take stands: just 15% say they pay attention to brands' political and ethical positions. Rather, what they care about are authenticy (97% value), trustworthiness (77%), loyalty (74%), and responsibility (73%).
Fundamentally, Millennials are simply pushing brands to ditch artifice and focus on providing authentic messaging, high-quality service, and good value. That's a positive shift that both consumers and marketers should be thankful for.