Are we shaping technology, or is technology shaping us? The relationship between tech and human touch has changed the nature of marketing in ways that are unprecedented but still predictable. New technology motivates us to discover what is uniquely human, emotionally rich, and wildly creative. In turn, we push technology to relieve us of experiences that feel robotic, impersonal, and routine. This dynamic fuel some of 2018’s most important marketing trends.
The language of “customer experience,” “personalization,” and “one-to-one relationships” has pushed digital companies to be more relatable. A new trend is to find universally appealing character traits from mythology, psychoanalytic theory, and spirituality.
In 2018, you’ll hear brand strategists reference Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious” and 12 mythic archetypes. Others may declare their company’s “spirit animal,” an idea borrowed from animistic and shamanistic traditions. Still others will tap the resurging vocabularies of mindfulness and spirituality to create more soulful brands.
The timeless facets of human culture have a special allure amidst relentless technological and social change. Ancient themes may bring deeper clarity and meaning to marketing.
The semantic web
The push to capture brands with archetypal language has an interesting parallel. If we can unpack what a brand means to human beings in any culture, can we define what brand content should mean to machines? In this “semantic web,” a term coined by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, new metadata schemas could enable machines to “read” structured content. The semantic web would support more empathetic personalization algorithms and content analytics.
Image recognition technologies may be a precursor to the semantic web. Artificial intelligence can now recognize general keywords, emotions, demographics, colors, and famous faces in images. This AI still needs lots of human guidance because machines struggle with context and meaning.
In 2018, expect marketers to invest in structured content and “train” AI to perform more accurate metadata tagging. Initially, AI will save time for marketing operations teams. Eventually, it may power the semantic web.
Claiming intellectual terrain
The rise of automation and AI fuels an ongoing question: When does the human touch make a difference? The AI experts say that any repetitive, formulaic task will belong to machines. However, roles requiring creativity, strategy, and innovation will belong to humanity. In 2018 and beyond, many professions — including marketing — will claim automation-proof expertise.
Storytelling provides a good example. Marketers have always told stories. But, as data-driven marketing eclipsed traditional branding, marketers needed a term to champion the artistic side of the job. In 2017, “design thinking” became the trendy concept in marketing and other disciplines. It stressed that great experiences emerge from empathy, cross-disciplinary thinking, and experimentation — abilities that are uniquely human.
In 2018, marketers will claim more intellectual terrain. Evolutionary biology, psychology, sociology, and related fields could complement marketing’s heavy emphasis on automation, data, and measurement.
Blockchain’s marketing problem
In the U.S., Google and Facebook take in more than 60 percent of digital ad spending according to eMarketer’s latest data. It’s a brutal market for news sites, magazines, blogs, and other publishers. Blockchain-based advertising might level the playing field in 2018 — if the players can grasp the value.
Here’s the gist. Blockchain enthusiasts think digital advertising is ripe for disruption. Users find ads to be irrelevant or distracting. Advertisers are hemorrhaging their budgets on fraudulent impressions created by bots. And publishers lose tons of revenue to exchanges, advertising’s middlemen. Startups like AdEx, Papyrus, adChain, and Basic Attention Token say they are creating decentralized, blockchain-based networks to fix all of that. What does that mean?
The blockchain is a ledger (a record of transactions) shared among thousands of computers. It has no owner. The computers continuously reconcile the ledger to ensure that no single user can corrupt it. The best-known use case is Bitcoin, which uses the blockchain instead of banks to verify transactions and recording who owns what. Ad exchanges are the banks, and the blockchain ad networks want to eliminate them. Advertisers and publishers would interface directly via the Ethereum blockchain — a version that supports applications. More interestingly, users could control what ads they see and earn compensation for their data and attention.
What I’ve written above is an extreme simplification, and that’s the problem! The blockchain startups could take off in 2018, but their messaging is getting in the way. Maybe they need spirit animals…
A hopeful year
How do we make marketing a fulfilling career path and a source of rewarding human experiences? The above trends address that question. Archetypal branding and new intellectual terrain highlight how marketers will keep a personal, human quality in their work. The semantic web and blockchain startups can help us shed the impersonal, frustrating aspects of marketing.
As we push marketing technology, it pushes us. That cycle elevates our craft.
Recommended Read: 3 Ways to Refresh an Aging Brand