2018 Predictions from the Brightest Minds in Marketing

Blog Post
December 12, 2017


The customer experience and customer loyalty. Artificial intelligence and machine learning. eCommerce, digital and social media. Changing C-Suite dynamics.

With all of the continual evolutions and revolutions in marketing, marketers have a lot to think about in the coming year. That’s why we asked some of the members of the Harte Hanks Marketing Advisory Board for their insights and predictions on what will matter in 2018. Read on:

Corporate Social Responsibility Finally Takes Hold

Ken Bernhardt, Regents Professor of Marketing Emeritus at Georgia State University:

For years, consumers talked about how important what they put into their mouths was, but continued to eat hamburgers and French fries at Burger King, Wendy’s and McDonald’s. That eventually changed. Then consumers talked about how important the environment is but continued to ignore recycling programs and failed to buy products that were environmentally friendly. That eventually changed. Employees talked for years about how important a company’s social responsibility is, but ignored that once it came time to accept a job offer. Thanks to Millennials, that has changed as well.

Consumers have also talked for years about how important it is to buy from companies that practice social responsibility (including the way they treat the environment). My prediction is that 2018 will be the year that consumers’ behavior changes and they begin to actually take how a company behaves (including how they treat their workers, how they treat their customers, how they treat the environment, and how they interact with their local communities) into consideration as they make their buying decisions.

Marketing Trends Will Rise From The East

John Deighton, Baker Foundation Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and Past Executive Director, Marketing Science Institute:

My prediction is that by the end of 2018, China (Alibaba and Wechat/Tencent in particular) will be a force in the U.S. marketing landscape. Notably, they will be a lot more consequential and more positive than Russia has been in our political markets.

Kim Whitler, Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business:

In 2018, CMOs in the West will look to the East for insight and learning. As a mobile-first market, China’s experience and, in many ways, more sophisticated approach to developing content that is based on storytelling (and not promotions), will garner interest from CMOs around the globe. As a historical net importer of talent and marketing theory, Chinese marketers have found that the rules in the West don’t apply—and they are starting to build their own theories and rules. Western marketers who want to learn how to build deeper relationships based on something other than price and promotion will begin looking eastward for insight.  

Increased Data and Analytics Focus for CPG Companies

Kay Lemon, Accenture Professor, Carroll School of Management Boston College and Past Executive Director, Marketing Science Institute:

Consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies have been using data analytics for many years in many applications—for example, in channel strategy, for pricing strategy, and for sales and promotion strategy. In the continued quest for growth, I see an increased focus on individual-level consumer data insights and CPG manufacturers focusing on individual consumers like never before. With the availability of individual-level transaction data, social media data, media consumption data and location data, CPG companies can begin to (slowly) gain traction in understanding who their best consumers are, in addition to who their best retail customers are.

I don’t see this trend leading to a significant shift in power between manufacturers and channel partners yet, but given the significant changes happening in this space across channels (think Amazon and Walmart as two examples), CPG companies may have a lot to gain from getting better insights about who their power shoppers are and how to reach them anytime, anywhere.

Increasing Cost of New Customer Acquisition

Kay Lemon, Accenture Professor, Carroll School of Management Boston College and Past Executive Director, Marketing Science Institute:

Customer decision-making continues to change and morph with the digitization of everything—for B2B and B2C. Consumers and decision-makers attend to what they want to attend to, and firms need to adapt. Couple this trend with firms across all industries and all geographies embracing the power of hyper-targeted digital marketing (regardless of device). The consequence: it may become increasingly difficult and much more costly to acquire new customers/consumers.

Firms using programmatic buying approaches to target segments very narrowly are finding that this practice, while effective, is increasingly more expensive. Maintaining sufficiently “fresh” content to attract customers across mobile and web will also continue to require time and effort—and therefore cost. The best defense against this? Knowing the true value of an acquired customer, in terms of that customer’s overall lifetime value to the firm. If you know the potential customer’s (or potential segment’s) CLV, you are unlikely to spend more than the CLV in customer acquisition efforts.

The Evolution of eCommerce (a.k.a. eTail) 

Scott Neslin, Albert Wesley Frey, Professor of Marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College:

Product returns will be recognized as a major issue for eTailers. Returns aren’t glamorous, but they create huge inefficiencies and decrease profits. eTailers are caught between price competition and consumers’ negative reactions to shipping fees. To address consumers’ concerns, eTailers offer free shipping promotions, and some make free shipping on shipments and returns their everyday policy.

Free shipping, however, comes at a real cost and should push up prices—but the online landscape is so competitive it’s difficult to raise prices.  With the market demanding both low prices and free shipping, something has to give. I recommend eTailers learn how to decrease returns. Two suggestions:

  1. Make the online shopping experience as informative as possible. This means more emphasis on user recommendations, chat features, videos, etc.
  2. Open physical stores. This obviously is expensive, but Bonobos is the poster child for this. You can go to the store, get fitted, and then order the clothes.

The Harte Hanks Marketing Advisory board is a group of academic and C-level professionals who focus on emerging marketing issues and progressive marketing practices. With ties to the real-world issues facing today’s CMOs, the advisory board offers insights and thought leadership commentary on key industry issues, trends and technologies.