Consumer expectations are constantly evolving. As people engage with companies across industries, their expectations for what constitutes a good customer experience continue to change. But one thing is clear: they expect the experience to be relevant and helpful. They want the companies they engage with to understand them as individuals and provide them with the right content, products, promotions, and messages so they can quickly and easily find what they are looking for.

With that in mind, marketers from all industries will be leveraging personalization this year. But where will they be focusing their efforts? We compiled predictions for personalization in 2018 from a few members of the Evergage leadership team as well as experts from other companies to set you on the right path as you start the year.

Marketers Will Work Toward Realizing the One-to-One Dream

By Karl Wirth, CEO and Co-Founder at Evergage

We only have to look to the past to see that one-to-one personalization is the way of the future. In 1993, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D. predicted a world of individualized communication in their book The One to One Future. Since then, marketers have done what they could to get to know their customers as individuals and deliver personalized experiences. But the technology did not exist to make this possible in real time and at scale.

2018 is the year that marketers will become the champion for great customer experiences in their organizations — with a focus on providing relevant experiences to each individual. This year they will be figuring out the behind-the-scenes of personalization: how to bring together disparate data sources, how to leverage machine learning to power one-to-one experiences, and how to deliver one-to-one experiences across channels. Now that the one-to-one dream is attainable, marketers will be working out how to achieve it within their own organizations.

GDPR Will Be a Major Focus for Digital Marketers

By Reid Bryant, VP, Analytics and Data Science at Brooks Bell

The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) becomes enforceable in May 2018 and will have a profound global impact on how companies allow users to opt in or opt out of their data collection practices. Much of the year will be spent preparing for the new regulations and will force executives to evaluate data collection and usage protocols.

One positive outcome of the GDPR for digital optimization and personalization programs is the sheer time and attention that will be placed on understanding data collection. Robust data collection and data unification practices serve as the backbone of a successful personalization program.

With the intense focus from executives, everyone will have a better understanding of the data ecosystem and stakeholders will try to find new ways to monetize their data. After all, what is the point in collecting customer data across channels, developing a unified data platform, and complying with robust regulations if you can’t leverage those efforts to improve customer experiences and drive revenue for your organization?

More Data Will Allow for Even More Precise Personalization

By David Raab, Founder of CDP Institute

I believe the biggest change in personalization in 2018 will be incorporation of new data to allow much more precision in personalized messages. Location data will be gathered from both mobile and stable devices and will be combined with history to create a context that includes location (home? office? travel? retail store?), activities (working? lunch break? working late? vacation? business travel? grocery shopping?) and local conditions (weather, traffic, crowds, etc.) This will be combined with other information such as previous marketing messages, purchase history, demographics, and life events. Still more data will come from IoT devices including smart TVs, voice ordering systems, home monitoring systems, fitness trackers, and automobiles.

This data can only be used if marketers have powerful technology for data gathering, storage, analysis and predictions. That technology already exists (such as in customer data platforms, or CDPs), but isn’t universally deployed. It won’t be an overnight change: training, budget, and organizational roadblocks will still exist, and companies with antiquated systems will find it harder to take advantage of the new opportunities. But marketers can deploy new data and technology one piece at a time, and every new piece makes every other piece more productive. So we can expect the pace of deployment to increase over time as it becomes easier for marketers to earn a return on new investments.

Account-Level Views Will Revolutionize ABM

By Andy Zimmerman, CMO at Evergage

The concept of a customer data platform or CDP to store all relevant customer and prospect information – including somewhat messy data like digital behaviors and inferred affinities – is taking hold in the B2C community. While you rarely see the term used in the B2B world today, the concept is no less critical for B2B marketers. Customer data is often spread across systems and teams. As marketers build and expand their ABM strategies to target specific accounts with personalized experiences, having a deep understanding of those accounts is essential. Thus, this year, I predict B2B marketers will begin collaborating closely with their sales teams to create a complete picture of their accounts using a “B2B CDP” or the like.

B2B marketers will need to better track the behavior of their target accounts, bringing that data together with the data stored in other systems, and interpreting it to uncover the affinities and intent of those accounts. With that information, marketers can deliver relevant messaging through marketing channels, as well as provide sales teams with important answers to questions such as “how engaged are my target accounts?,” “what are the areas of interest for my target accounts?,” and “what stage of the funnel are they in?” When sales has this information, they can have more effective conversations tailored to each account for optimal timing and maximum effectiveness.

In-Store Location Will Play a Role in Digital Machine Learning

By Meera Murthy, VP of Strategy at Evergage

While many retailers may be seeing their in-store traffic declining, physical retail stores are still producing the majority of sales for many retailers — and with all of those sales comes a wealth of data to leverage to deliver better experiences across channels. This year, digital marketers will turn to this in-store data to better tailor their on-site, email and retargeting experiences.

The obvious first step for including in-store data in the e-commerce experience is location data. For example, shoppers in Boston may gravitate to different categories, brands, colors and styles than shoppers in Miami. While the merchandising team naturally considers these regional differences when stocking the shelves in the physical store, the e-commerce team will turn to this source of data to improve the digital experience. Machine-learning algorithms that select the best experience for each individual will incorporate these location-specific differences to deliver hyper-targeted experiences to shoppers online, via email and in retargeted ads. With this approach, the e-commerce site will take advantage of the volume data that is produced in physical stores.

Omnichannel’s Next Frontier – In-Store Personalization

By Doug Weich, CEO at Sophelle

The retail apocalypse is overstated. All stores won’t disappear, only the bad ones. Successful retailers will evolve their stores to better meet increasing consumer demands for their shopping experience. Successful omnichannel strategies are bringing advanced online solutions into the store. Personalization is the next big opportunity.

Store associates will be empowered through POS and clientelling applications integrated with cloud-based personalization solutions. Guided selling with personalized messaging will improve customer service and provide better associate training. Cross-selling and up-selling will be based on each customer’s purchase history to better inform recommendations and increase basket size. Associates will be suggested questions to ask each customer to better complete their profile.

Customer mobile applications, designed for in-store use, will autonomously track the customer’s location within the store to personalize messaging and promotions. Customers will be more likely to share their identity in the store to get this experience. In turn, retailers collect a more comprehensive view of the customer journey, enabling even more opportunities to improve the customer experience in stores and online.

Email Needs to Get Better, and It Will Get Better

By Josh Baumrind, SVP of Partnerships & Corp Development at Evergage

Email was proud to be a leader in the early days of personalization. The ability to dynamically add a first name, industry or A/B test content was praised as “cracking the code,” and all cheered, “we did it – we personalized our customer communications!”

But today, things are different, of course. Consumers have made it clear that they are experiencing email overload, and the level of personalization marketers are offering to them isn’t enough. The recent WSJ article, “Retailers’ Emails Are Misfires for Many Holiday Shoppers,” was a wake-up call to email marketers everywhere. Because the problem is not that email pros didn’t try to personalize their communications this holiday season — they spent months strategizing only to find that they had badly missed the mark. The reality is they didn’t have access to the data and technology needed to deliver effective personalization, much less individualize their emails. But since marketers are always looking at customer feedback, measuring results and making improvements, this year, I predict marketers will turn to more advanced technology to help them better tailor emails to their customers. They will aim to incorporate a person’s affinity and intent — leveraging data from multiple sources and channels to build a complete picture of an individual and use that data to trigger emails with relevant content at the right time. With this approach, they will deliver personalized emails to consumers that break through their cluttered inboxes and catch their attention.

Wrap Up

Before you can begin to realize any of the predictions these experts have shared, you need the right partner — one that will help you strategize and provide the technology to collect, aggregate and interpret customer data and act on it in real time to deliver personalized experiences across channels. Read our blog post, What to Look for in Personalization Technology for 2018, to learn more.

If you’re in Boston, join us next week to explore these and other trends at our meet-up, Personalization Trends 2018: Hot or Not. Evergage CEO and co-founder Karl Wirth will lead a discussion on hot (or not) personalization trends and will be giving away signed copies of our new book, One-to-One Personalization in the Age of Machine Learning. If you plan to attend, please RSVP here.

Looking for more predictions? You can find our predictions for 2019 here