Businesses will probably spend more on advertising in 2018 than they did last year. But that doesn’t mean they’ll have an easy time connecting with consumers, according to marketing trends revealed at the Adobe Summit.

In an era of ubiquitous connectivity, consumers increasingly insulate themselves from opposing points of view. They favor podcasts over radio broadcasts and value user-generated content more than paid media.

They’re also intrigued by transformative technologies — ranging from automation and personalization to virtual reality, augmented reality, and cryptocurrencies.

According to Constellation Research founder R “Ray” Wang and Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst with the Adobe Experience Index, those are the realities of marketing in 2018.

2018 Marketing Trends

Wang and Gaffney shared their top 10 predictions during a session at the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas last week. The three-day conference drew more than 10,000 digital marketers from around the world with an interest in customer experience strategies and insights.

At one of the event’s most popular sessions, Wang and Gaffney collaborated for the third year on a shared vision of marketing trends.

In 2016 they predicted trends including more voice recognition technology, wider adoption of biometric authentication, and rapid growth of the Internet of Things. Last year they talked about Blockchain, automation, and the idea of brand promise — that is, the necessity of maintaining post-sale relationships with customers.

This year they painted a mixed outlook of higher marketing budgets, flat consumer spending, disruptive technologies and stabilization of traditional TV … at least “for a while.”

They based their predictions on responses from 1,000 US survey respondents.

Acknowledging Privacy Issues

Gaffney and Wang also addressed digital privacy — not as a trend, but as a reality at the core of the best brand experiences.

Wang alluded to Cambridge Analytica, the political data firm hired by President Trump’s 2016 election campaign. The company gained access to private information on more than 50 million Facebook users.

“Pure politics aside, I think we woke up over the past five weeks realizing personal data and data privacy are extremely important. We might give (our data) away for free, and now we’re wondering how that data is being used, how it gets monetized and whether we get paid when people use our data.

“That’s going to be the number one issue all the way into 2019. People are now starting to realize the implications of their data,” he said.

Citizens are increasingly trading privacy for security, privacy for convenience and, in some cases, trading privacy for freedom, Wang continued.

Privacy is also a key component of the European Union’s Global Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect May 25.

Top 10 Predictions

So what are the key marketing trends in 2018? Here are the predictions Gaffney and Wang shared.

1. Higher Marketing Spend

Wang and Gaffney kicked off their predictions with a forecast of higher marketing spend. Wang estimates American businesses will gain $350 billion to $400 billion because of recent changes in the federal tax code.

“We expect some of that cash will fall into marketing budgets,” Gaffney said.

That windfall could manifest in higher budgets for advertising, they said. As ad demand outpaces supply, the cost of buying premium, targeted, digital media will likely rise, Gaffney said.

2. Blockchain-Based Commerce

Most Americans — 95 percent — are now aware of cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin. That awareness will pave the way for faster adoption of Blockchain, the technology at the heart of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies.

About 52 percent of companies are starting to think about blockchain, and 9 percent of early adopters have a blockchain running in some sort of business model, Wang said.

3. ‘Social Echo Chambers’

But neither money nor technology is likely to resolve the problem of “social echo chambers.” More people are disconnecting from different opinions, thereby discouraging diversity of thought.

Wang said people are building echo chambers on social media, where their own points of view are reinforced and supported.

“We are living in some kind of reality bubble with only the people we want to hear from,” he said. The challenge will be pulling people out of those echo chambers and getting them to rely less on crowdsourced opinions than trusted sources.

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4. Automation Redefines the Workplace

Demand for automation will climb, primarily for low-complexity but rogue work and extremely complex tasks. But humans will still be needed because they “break the rules, have free will, and think outside the box,” Wang said.

Humans supply experience, intuition, ingenuity, and the creativity. They handle the parts of tasks that are not meant to be automated, he added.

“If we let the machines do everything, we will lose the intuition,” Wang said.

5. People Will Accept Automated Personalization

People want personalization (78 percent) and prefer interactions with humans over machines (53 percent). But personalized service doesn’t always need a human on the other end of it, Wang said.

“Essentially, there needs to be a value exchange,” Wang said. “Orchestration of trust happens when you get it right. That’s what every (artificial intelligence) AI-driven smart service is going to do, and it is going to get smarter over time.”

6. Entertainment Fueled by Virtual- and Augmented Reality

Demand for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)experiences will be higher and faster than expected.

Already, 43 percent of all adults have tried on a VR headset and 47 percent have had an AR experience on their phones. The numbers are higher for 25- to 34-year-olds.

Most adults would be willing to pay around $20 for VR inspired entertainment, she said.

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7. Cable Cutting Stabilizes

Fewer people will drop their cable TV subscriptions. Today more than half of the people in every age group have a pay TV subscription, including 25- to 34-year-olds (51 percent).

But streaming video will retain its appeal. Adults surveyed rate the most popular services as Netflix (77 percent), YouTube (75 percent), Amazon Video (48 percent), Hulu (33 percent), Roku (19 percent), HBO Now (15 percent), and Sling TV (5 percent).

Product placement in premium video will become increasingly important.

8. Podcasts Are the Preferred Audio Format

Forget radio. People today prefer podcasts for audio listening. It’s second to only streaming music services.

Companies should look for ways to provide thought leadership or sponsorship opportunities via podcasts. These podcasts can potentially build brand awareness, Gaffney said.

9. Paid Social Dwarfs Paid Search

People tend to prefer paid social (social media ads and online video ads) to paid search (search engine results pages).

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10. Influenced Media Is Respected

Friends, reviews by journalists and, to a lesser extent, social media influencers are preferred to paid media as sources for new offers. The key for businesses to treat their influencers as partners,” Gaffney.

Wang said it’s essential for influencer partnerships to be authentic.

“When they lose authenticity, they go bust. People see right through it,” he added. It’s also important to partner with influencers that align well with your brand.

Bonus Prediction: Experiences Are Everything

Experiences will either be your faucet or your drain, Gaffney and Wang said.

“Everything about your brand – its mission, its purpose, its ethos — has to be reflected across all of your touchpoints,” Wang said.

Gaffney said companies should be sure to speak in a singular voice across channels. “There needs to be that level of brand consistency,” she said.

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Want to stay ahead of the marketing curve? Email Arke CMTO Chris Spears or VP of Strategy Margaret Wise for more information.

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Atlanta-based Arke develops strategies and implements digital technologies for better brand experience for your customers.