There’s something inherently sentimental about the new year. As the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve, we gift ourselves a blank slate with a side of newfound optimism, and naturally we like to make predictions about what the future has in store. 

Much of these visionary predictions relate to things that are already happening in the here and now. With 2017 now in full swing, here’s a quick look at five trends I noticed from last year that will likely gain momentum as the year rolls on.

The value of customer insights

Your customer should always be at the center of every business decision you make. We’ve seen that customer-centric companies can be 60 percent more profitable than companies that put the customer on the backburner.

Customers are the heart and soul of your business; without them, you don’t have a business; therefore,it only makes sense that business decisions need to revolve around the wants, needs, and expectations of the people who do business with you.

Using data intelligently will make it a lot easier to influence internal teams to support marketing efforts or other business initiatives, and by creating that bullet-proof correlation, you’ll have a better shot at success because you’ll be able to rely on real data to prove your strategy is working.

Long live data science

Marketing is a mix of art and science blended with some creative risk-taking. In recent years, we’ve seen marketing shift towards the science end of the spectrum, thanks in part to all the data available to us.

This has led to the rise of data scientists: people who not only make sense of the data in front of them, but also use those insights to make marketing teams smarter and more effective.

So, knowing that the fire hose of data isn’t slowing down anytime soon, if you don’t have a data scientist on your marketing team, it’s about time you did.

Being agile is table stakes

There was once a time when you could plan for a full year and, more or less, stick to it. Given the rise of data-driven insights and pretty much real-time everything, planning a year out can feel like a fruitless effort. Having a general roadmap is a good thing, otherwise we risk short-term thinking or executing on tactics that fall short of our marketing goals, but we need to be aware that deviations from that plan are bound to happen – and that’s ok.

We must be quick, nimble, and always ready to pivot at the drop of a hat, and while this may seem exhausting just thinking about it, it’s the reality of the always-on marketing world we live in. Campaigns today can be created in hours, if not minutes.

The way we plan, operate, and execute needs to be just as nimble and a lot less complicated. The good news: this flood of actionable data we now have access to makes it a lot quicker and easier to adjust our marketing tactics in real-time.

The pros and cons of bots

Bots are everywhere. Just recently I discussed the need to find a balance between technological automation and the human touch in response to the rise of bots.

We’ve come a long way in building smart technologies that alleviate the pressures put on customer service teams. However, technology lacks empathy and the ability to understand nuance.

Bots are ideal for information-gathering and other simple tasks, but we need to perfect this use case first before deploying bots across the entire array of customer service queries. So, while there’s tremendous value in using technology to augment and improve the customer experience, we still need to monitor it closely, otherwise, all the hype will eventually amount to nothing more than a fad.

Extreme expectations and social commerce

I talked a lot about extreme customer expectations, and funnily enough, what was once thought of as ‘extreme’a couple of years ago, is now proving to be common consumer behavior. Many people will search two to three sites before making a purchase. They want to see product information, online reviews (preferably from people they trust within their own social networks), images that link directly to shopping carts, and more.

In fact, in the U.S., over 70 percent of adults have said they won’t make a big purchase if the accompanying online reviews aren’t positive and 68 percent said they are influenced most by family and friends (vs. online advertising). As marketers, we need to take this insight to heart.

The buying experience must be fully integrated between your website, social channels, and other media related to the products and services you offer and the shopping should never be more than a click away.

We need to ‘beef up’ our social commerce efforts to make it easier for consumers to find the information they need so they can make an informed purchase decision, fast. This is what consumers expect, and what brands need to deliver accordingly in 2017.

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