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The Future of Marketing: Five Marketing Megatrends for 2018

There is no doubt that we are in the next great Golden Era of Marketing. And with this new era comes an entirely new set of possibilities—along with commensurate consumer demands.

Here are the five megatrends marketers need to be aware of as we move into 2018.

1. Context replaces advertising as a growth lever

Tesla sold three times as many cars as its closest competition, but spent just 1/190th of the advertising budget. Airbnb used native conversations within Craigslist to create its user base and expand its services.

Advertising is a one-way communication, and consumers don't like it. In fact, the world's largest boycott is currently in effect, with over 600 million consumers using ad-blocking technology. Consumers are demanding a better way.

The future of marketing is about context. Advertising is designed to distract away from the task at hand, while context matches it. Advertising simply can't stand up to consumer demands, and some of the fastest-growing mega brands of our modern time have proven context to be the solution.

Look at Airbnb again. Its messages were sent to users on Craigslist who were looking to rent or lease a room. Airbnb leveraged Craigslist's own messaging capability to solve the consumer's individual problem the moment it arose, in the way the consumer was asking for it to be solved. It was native, personal, authentic, and purposeful.

Airbnb now does rely on advertising, yet it still obtains drastically different results based on its context-based approach. Airbnb is on target to book over 100 million stays in 2017 while spending only $23.5 million on advertising, while Hilton Hotels is on target to book more than 140 million stays on an advertising spend of $188 million.

That is the power of contextual marketing, and why it is the future of growth.

2. Purpose becomes the heart of marketing

The Libre sweater is one of Cotopaxi's recent hits. It's a brand you're not likely familiar with unless you're an adventurous outdoor lover, like me. Cotopaxi is also a genius at marketing and sold over $900,000 worth of a single sweater in less than 30 days. Then, the company turned around and did it again a few months later with a backpack!

The secret to its marketing? Purpose—not promotion.

Recently, I worked with a team of researchers at the Economist Group to conduct a study, and we found that 79% of consumers prefer to purchase products from a company that operates with a social purpose. The role of purpose also goes far beyond just consumer preferences. During the same research we also found that 83% of junior staff would prefer to work for a company that operates with a social purpose (the data will be published by the Economist Group Insights Team in early 2018).

The modern marketplace demands that we rethink what drives our businesses and the profits we create.

Cotopaxi considers its "profits" to include the welfare and education of its workers and those in its supply chain; it also includes the creation of sustainable living conditions for the farmers it sources materials from. With those considerations driving its actions, Cotopaxi is able to create authentic experiences its customers are looking for, allowing it to break through in the highly competitive outdoor-sports business.

"Business profit" should be expanded to include the interests of stakeholders such as employees and communities. That change would help brands to relate to their (and our) world in new and powerful ways, allowing them to break through where other methods can't.

3. Public relations gets participatory

Traditional propaganda and PR work when publishers control the narratives. In our modern era, however, people—not the publishers—have greater control. And, in the future of marketing, the key to setting the narrative is participation, not publication.

Following the 2016 US presidential election, a fake news site held the top search result for "Election Results," and the article stated (falsely) that Donald Trump had won the popular vote. That article had over 325 backlinks, hundreds of comments, and over 450,000 shares on Facebook; the CNN "Election Results" page, on the other hand, had only 300 backlinks, no comments, and 1/10th of the shares on Facebook.

Proving that participation is more powerful than publication...

Alica Wanless is the queen of "participatory propaganda," and she has shown that it is the key reason Brexit, Trump, and ISIS have been so successful as of late.

PR is about controlling the narrative, and in our modern world collective engagement has proven to be a more powerful at narrative-setting than placement or coverage. The future of PR is participatory.

4. Automation 2.0 will be on the rise

When I wrote Marketing Automation for Dummies, marketing automation focused only on behavioral driven marketing across two channels (email and the company website); there were only three data sources (CRM, Website, MAP); and there was only one execution point (the marketing automation platform).

Today, however, best-in-class marketing organizations use 14 tools, on average, the 2016 State of Marketing report from Salesforce found; it also found that creating a cohesive customer experiences requires integration and automation across dozens of channels, data sets, and applications.

We are now in the era of Automation 2.0, where the marketing automation platform is just a node in a connected network of automations—not the only place automations happen.

In a recent conversation, Brendon Ritz, growth hacker and marketing operations lead at AdRoll, explained to me that the marketing tech company uses multiple tools to source individual and behavioral data, and multiple middle layer applications to then run logic and automate the execution of experiences across a web of applications. Its marketing automation platform is now simply a node in the network, not the central processor. With this new connected network, the company increased its sales team appointments 30%.

Experiences, not messages, are the future of marketing, and growth hacking is the discipline of using data and testing to create optimal experiences. Because of the variances in tools, data structure, and workflows, only an Automation 2.0 framework of a web of data and tools can support this future.

Marketing automation 1.0 is the tool of choice for the demand-gen/lead-gen expert. A network of data and connected tools are creating an Automation 2.0 environment, which is the choice of the growth hacker.

5. Chatbots take over

In 2015, consumers came to use messaging applications more than social media. And according to a 2017 study by Myclever, over 70% of consumers would prefer to engage via chat rather than use an app. 2018 is the year businesses catch up, because the same study showed consumers consider chatbots the fastest way to access content, get help, and receive answers to their questions.

For example, by using chatbots, AdRoll has empowered its sales development rep (SDR) team to increase the number of qualifying calls roughly 13%; the team now sets up almost half of all appointments via chatbot. And marketing consultant and best-selling author Jay Baer told me in a recent conversation that he has begun using a chatbot to communicate with his audience as well. Comparing email engagement rates to chatbot engagement rates, Jay and his team are seeing almost a ten-fold increase in open rates and a five-fold increase in clickthroughs.

Chatbots are also benefiting from the Automation 2.0 framework and are able to combine data from lots of different sources to figure out when to engage and how to personalize the engagement when it happens, thus allowing for the experience to be native, personal, authentic, and purposeful—and highly contextual.

* * *

As we roll into 2018 and beyond, learn to focus on context and find more than financial profit from your efforts. Modern marketing execution will require a network of tools, creating contextual experiences across many different mediums. Brands that are able to create native, personal, authentic, and purposeful experiences will become the bastions of success.

The future is here, and brands like AdRoll, Cotopaxi, Airbnb, and Tesla have shown us the path forward. It's time to catch up.

If you want to dig deeper, check out this SlideShare presentation covering these topics (fair warning: it's still in draft form and contains typos).

The Future of Marketing 2018 from Mathew Sweezey


  • by Marcia Yudkin Wed Nov 29, 2017 via web

    In Part 3, where you talk about "Election Results," did you really intend to put forward making false claims as an example for marketers to emulate? I hope you will clarify this.

  • by Mathew Wed Nov 29, 2017 via web


    Not at all am I suggesting we emulate creating fake news or false claims but we must realize how the game is now played, and why our old idea of PR will not work. Often times new ideas come from the fridges and this is a very specific example of how participation was greater than publication. We must realize the propaganda is the province of public relations, and now modern propaganda shows us the new pathway of media manipulation. I'd highly suggest reading the linked article about this topic in further detail.

  • by Gene Wed Nov 29, 2017 via web

    I'm with Marcia in that i'm not a fan of a presentation with political bias. Using political PR shadiness in a regular business not advisable and not even relevant. The presentation is heavily skewed and i'm not even sure it belongs on this site.

  • by Catrin Wed Nov 29, 2017 via web

    The article is interesting and triggers some entirely new thoughts, thank you for that!
    For the presentation, however, I have to agree with Gene. This powerpoint puts a pretty hard stop to the initial excitement. Aside from a lot of typos in there (the miracles of proof-reading), the content of the presentation is in parts very "controversial" - unfortunately, not necessarily in the best sense...

  • by Mathew Wed Nov 29, 2017 via web


    If I have offended you I am honestly sorry for that. I had no motives other than honestly showing you what the future of marketing looks like by using real examples from our very recent past.

    In the example in the article, a very small publication was able to control the narrative and beat the Goliath of their industry. How they did that is very interesting. This wouldn't have been possible 5 years ago. It is the future of how we create and control narratives, business or political. That is what PR is, which is what I tried to showcase.

    All the examples in the presentation are 100% factual, not slanted or biased. They tell the story clearly and accurately which is meant to be eye-opening, not offensive. We must be aware of the processes of modern propaganda and how to apply them. Applying them does not mean creating fake news, but it does mean understanding how to analyze your audience, understand the type of content required to keep them engaged, and the importance engagement, not publication as a way of narrative control.

    Thank you for taking your time to read and learn. I wish you the best of luck in your marketing efforts.

  • by Marcia Yudkin Wed Nov 29, 2017 via web

    "Modern propaganda shows us the new pathway of media manipulation."

    Wow. No wonder so many people have qualms when it comes to following the lead of expert marketers.

  • by Richard Sharp Fri Dec 1, 2017 via web

    "Business profit" should be expanded to include the interests of stakeholders such as employees and communities. That change would help brands to relate to their (and our) world in new and powerful ways, allowing them to break through where other methods can't."

    I couldn't agree more with your statement above.

    Our business has taken this to a level where we work directly with the the stakeholders, customers and employees of our clients to help them transform their brands.

    We find by co-creating with the audience in the first instance, before any rebrand work is started, that the strategies and purpose line up with their interests. This working methodology is proving highly effective for our clients, and I think as consumers crave more involvement with brands they respect that brand co-creation will continue to grow in 2018.

  • by Paul Berney Fri Dec 1, 2017 via web

    Thanks Matthew - an interesting piece.

    I am surprised by people complaining about the political content - which was clearly very neutral. Marketers could learn a lot from the way that the Trump and Brexit campaigns were conducted last year in terms of clarity and simplicity of messaging, control of social media etc. Whether you agree with the messages is immaterial.

  • by Mathew Sat Dec 2, 2017 via web

    Richard -

    You are 100% correct, and the research I'm working on with The Economist Group will feature those topics and research supporting those points. I didn't want to dig too deep into it since the research isn't out yet. I'll be doing another whole write up of that research when it comes out. So stay tuned.

  • by Lorena Harris Tue Dec 5, 2017 via web

    As readers often do, I couldn't help paraphrasing your excellent article and adding a few thoughts. As I wrote in my blog, https://leadingwithc... I think one of your five megatrends is not like the others. I argue that what you call "Automation 2.0" is really a fact of doing business. Businesses have to factor in MarTech upgrades and interoperability on an ongoing basis in order to compete. Thanks for your thought-provoking article.

  • by Odile Streed Sun Dec 17, 2017 via web

    Thank you for your article. I was particularly intrigued by your mention of "participatory" propaganda. I will definitely read what Alica Wanless is writing on the topic. Odile Streed