2017 is in our rear-view mirror, so it’s time to look upto the trends of 2018 that will change how we do business. For instance, in conventions and keynote speech engagements, it can be noticed that the participating crowds keep getting younger, smarter, innovative and focussed, regardless of the industry vertical.
While it’s no secret that millennials have taken over the workforce – according to Census Bureau data, they are now the largest living group – how we groom them for leadership is a test many of us will face in 2018. Sure enough, various reports have emerged stating that 2018 will be a disruptive year, during which many company chiefs are set to retire, leaving those jobs wide open for the future young professionals.
So, here’s the advice – plan well ahead of the curve. Give your young employees the tools and directions to be the leaders of the various emerging global businesses. Don’t wait until you have a void to fill to train them. That’s valuable time you’ll be wasting; and, in business, wasted time is hardly a valued commodity.
Here are five new business trends that will be making a significance influence in 2018.
AI driven customer experience
When you think of artificial intelligence (AI), you might think of dehumanizing interactions. Don’t confuse AI with primitive marketing automation.
As an AI expert and leading keynote speaker Christopher Penn, VP of Marketing Technology for SHIFT Communications says, “There are three levels of machine learning: AI where machines perform tasks normally performed by humans; machine learning, where the machines learn on their own; and deep learning, where machine learning chains together for rich learning.”
Leading companies are embracing AI to perform repeatable, redundant tasks and to process large amounts of data so as to not avoid human interaction, but to enrich it. AI is becoming the norm for many practical consumer experiences.
These powerful examples use AI to evaluate GPS data:
- Google Maps uses real-time customer data from our own phones.
- GPS Insight is able to help companies shorten the scheduling window for telecommunications companies. More importantly, they can allow municipalities to deploy better emergency responders and repair crews in a crisis like a hurricane.
Expect to see more highly-customized content delivery, automated to a consumer’s specific persona and lifestyle. As Penn notes, “AI is not a futuristic concept. The tools and technologies are available, accessible, and not cost prohibitive.”
Live interactions over social media
Your smartphone might make you think that people prefer social media vs. in-person interactions. However, top companies realize that building great communities engenders long-term brand loyalty. Nothing drives strong communities better than in-person and live interactions. Even live video engages better than recorded video. Just look at the popularity of Facebook Live.
Recently, there was an event in Philadelphia with 75 fellow professional speakers. Though the group started as an online community, attendees spent their own money and time away from family – to learn from and share with each other; in person.
Great community events like the B2B Forum from MarketingProfs sell-out in advance to attendees seeking high-value, face-to-face interactions that deliver community and social learning that far exceeds what’s possible with social media. You’d have an easier time attending an Ivy League university than getting invited to the annual Mastermind Talks geared toward CEOs and entrepreneurs.
Smart companies realize social media and technology do not replace the need for in-person interactions; social media can actually make in-person interactions more valuable. Since consumers are already connected in the virtual world, in-person relationships can be built at a rapid pace because you already feel as though you “know” the other person. Expect to see leading companies that cut back on live events years ago, bring them back with enthusiasm.
More live streaming
Whereas video itself has become a necessary component for successful businesses, customers are no longer content with impersonal, generic marketing. Customers demand real connections, with real people. Video is the most viewed content and live video is the most effective way to engage with your audience.
According to Nick Losq, founder & chief creative officer at StarBeast, “Video is the most easily digestible form of media in a landscape now dominated by smartphones. And when a business starts adding a “live” component, introducing real people, in real time, it has the power to connect with consumers in a personal and honest manner, allowing businesses to separate themselves from their competitors. Live video has the ability to give many businesses a face AND a soul.”
Businesses stream live video to establish real-time human connections with their audiences. Whether it’s streaming a product launch, running B2B webinars, offering Q&A sessions or streaming product reviews, live videos are becoming an established part of a business marketing strategy. Livestream research shows that 80% of audiences would rather watch live video from a brand than read a blog, and 82% prefer live video from a brand to social posts. And 73% of B2B organizations report positive ROI from video marketing.
Companies who plan for and dedicate resources to live stream videos will dominate their industries.
Serve community, not just buyers
The notion of the buyer’s journey was used to describe the path that your potential customer would take when making a purchase. However, today’s customers are sophisticated, savvy consumers who do their research. They vet companies by scouring their websites, reading online reviews and putting feelers out to their social networks. By the time consumers reach a salesperson, they are fully acquainted with your company’s product features, options and prices. They have done their due diligence and narrowed down their options.
As a result, the old ‘buyer’s journey’ has given way to more realistic models that takes into account this new reality. The journey buyers and prospects take is no longer linear or even neat; it’s more unpredictable and fluid which poses a big challenge to marketers. As we enter 2018, we will continue to see these models get updated.
Analyst Jon Reed writes marketers also “should be thinking in terms of “buyer’s community” or “buyer’s network.”” Reed notes that “buyers aren’t always buying but they are always learning” and “we shouldn’t only be targeting buyers.”
“Today’s informed buyers get better at their jobs by building “trust networks” of experts inside and outside of their company,” Reed writes.
Therefore, it behoves marketers to be where their prospects — and their prospects’ friends — hang out. Leading wealth management firm, Glassman Wealth, holds events for travel safety and responsible philanthropy. Though his firm doesn’t sell those services or profit from them, Barry Glassman, the firm’s founder says, “We seek areas where our clients have questions, and we strive to provide the single-best resource available to address their inquiry. Our clients don’t have questions limited to investing. They have questions about life.”
Savvy companies realize that the best thing they can do is to serve their community, irrespective of whether or not someone is in a buying cycle. When you deliver consistent value, you engender trust. Then, when they are actually on a buyer’s journey, you are already a trusted resource for them.
Problem focused marketing drives
Marketers used to espouse the features and benefits of offerings. However, B2B customers have learned to ignore features/benefits. In fact, your ideal client may not even realize that they could benefit from your product or service. Top performing companies focus on the problems you solve, and the anticipated results you deliver.
When approving purchasing decisions, executives consistently ask “What problem does this solve for us?”, “Why do we need it?” and “What is the likely outcome or result if we make the investment?”
Put it another way, the client might not care about your solution if they don’t realize the problem you have solved for them. Companies like E Group and Catapult New Business have seen explosive growth by focusing sharply on the challenges that they help their clients overcome, instead of focusing on the products and services they offer. This shifts the focus where it should be – to the customer.
Expect to see companies shift their marketing messages to the problems they solve instead of their features. Measure and be accountable for success to outpace your competition.