When The Wall Street Jour­nal first had the audac­i­ty to cre­ate a mag­a­zine and event series called The Future of Every­thing, I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes. But then my curios­i­ty got the best of me and I start­ed read­ing about every­thing from the prob­lems with ful­ly autonomous vehi­cles to the new jobs being cre­at­ed as the era of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence shows up in the next gen­er­a­tion of soft­ware.

All of this got me think­ing about the future of mar­ket­ing. Hav­ing been in the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing indus­try for the past 24 years, I’ve wit­nessed the utter chaos that has plagued the indus­try (and some would argue it still does). When I first start­ed my career in 1994, all the indus­try pun­dits were advo­cat­ing that tele­vi­sion was dead and that broad­cast media would soon be replaced with on-demand pro­gram­ming.

Twen­ty-four years lat­er, tele­vi­sion still com­mands more than 30% of total U.S. media ad expen­di­tures, accord­ing to eMar­keter, despite the decline in gross rat­ing points and incred­i­ble frag­men­ta­tion. Time-shift­ing DVRs haven’t stopped the siz­able invest­ments in tele­vi­sion ads, and yet all of the net­works are scram­bling to cre­ate their own apps that force view­ers to watch ads in order to stream con­tent. Mean­while, ad-free Net­flix con­tin­ues to be the plat­form of choice for cord-cut­ters. Or at least, that’s what investors believe accord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal. And accord­ing to Pew, 61% of young adults in the U.S. main­ly watch stream­ing TV.

What’s Next For Marketing?

In my last arti­cle, I ques­tioned the pow­er that con­tent mar­ket­ing still holds as we reach a sat­u­ra­tion point. We already have a sea of con­tent avail­able today, with more being pub­lished every minute of every day. While it took a quar­ter cen­tu­ry longer than the pun­dits of 1994 thought it would take, we are start­ing to see some fun­da­men­tal changes in the way busi­ness­es go to mar­ket. A num­ber of impor­tant themes are emerg­ing:

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Despite all the hype, machine learn­ing and intel­li­gent sys­tems enable real-time deci­sion mak­ing and are becom­ing more afford­able and acces­si­ble to all busi­ness­es. If we take a cue from Wall Street, the stock exchange floor traders sim­ply couldn’t com­pete with machine learn­ing, capa­ble of ana­lyz­ing more data points than a human brain can wrap its mind around. Mar­ket­ing is already in the throws of this dis­rup­tion path and will be fun­da­men­tal­ly trans­formed by AI.

Automation, Chatbots And Growth Hacking

As busi­ness­es con­tin­ue to mine their own data, they will begin to auto­mate more of their process and become more inter­est­ing and rel­e­vant to their best cus­tomers. While chat­bots today are still clum­sy, they are get­ting bet­ter and will even­tu­al­ly become an expect­ed tool for solv­ing prob­lems. The spir­it of growth hack­ing will remain strong as busi­ness­es look to do more with less, lead­ing to more tech­nol­o­gy-dri­ven solu­tions to com­mon busi­ness prob­lems.

Blockchain And Cryptocurrency

For mar­keters, blockchain has the poten­tial to build back trust, secu­ri­ty and a more trans­par­ent and cus­tomer-dri­ven val­ue chain. For all the nefar­i­ous play­ers that made their way into the Ini­tial Coin Offer­ings (ICOs), cryp­tocur­ren­cy still has incred­i­ble poten­tial to impact every­thing from how con­sumers take back con­trol of their data (and mon­e­tize its val­ue) to chang­ing dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing com­pen­sa­tion mod­els. As the kinks get worked out, the under­ly­ing tech­nol­o­gy frame­work will like­ly lead to some new inno­va­tion and much-need­ed trans­for­ma­tion in advertising’s data secu­ri­ty and com­pen­sa­tion mod­els.

Deep Personalization

Ever since Pep­pers & Rogers envi­sioned The One to One Future in their ear­ly 90s book, com­pa­nies have worked hard to bet­ter seg­ment their cus­tomer per­sonas and speak dif­fer­ent­ly to these groups. How­ev­er, only recent­ly has the tech­nol­o­gy actu­al­ly caught up to deploy the true vision for a 1:1 future. And it doesn’t just stop with mar­ket­ing, as we’re see­ing the rise of prod­ucts being built on-demand (and not just with 3D print­er pro­to­types). We’re mov­ing away from the one-prod­uct-fits-all mod­el in favor of a build-me-a-prod­uct-just-for-me mod­el.

Gig Economy

The very nature of work has changed. Accord­ing to a Gallup study, the State of the Amer­i­can Work­place, there are rough­ly 100 mil­lion full-time employ­ees and 51% are not engaged at work. That is, they don’t feel a con­nec­tion to their jobs, so they do the bare min­i­mum. Anoth­er 16% are “active­ly dis­en­gaged.”

When you cou­ple that with agency retain­ers being replaced with project work, what you get is a grow­ing free­lance pool of resources and a host of com­pa­nies and web­sites cater­ing to the gig econ­o­my. This work­force on-demand changes the nature of how agen­cies can and will be able to ser­vice their clients going for­ward. There’s no indi­ca­tion this will change any­time soon.

Privacy And GDPR

This will mark the year that con­sumers begin tak­ing back a degree of con­trol over their per­son­al data, thanks large­ly to the Gen­er­al Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion (GDPR). As con­sumers take back this con­trol, com­pa­nies are going to have to reeval­u­ate how they charge con­sumers for pre­vi­ous­ly free ser­vices when no data is pro­vid­ed. This also has the poten­tial to become an online ver­sion of the “Do Not Call” list for tele­mar­keters.

Virtual (And Augmented) Reality

While still strug­gling to find crit­i­cal mass, the ear­ly vir­tu­al real­i­ty (VR) work has been impres­sive. How­ev­er much I loved Charity:Water before I was trans­port­ed to Ethiopia, their VR expe­ri­ence was the first time I felt like I could tele­port and actu­al­ly be in the moment when a well was installed for an extreme­ly appre­cia­tive vil­lage in Africa.

And yes, of course, there’s so much more that’s hap­pen­ing in the field of mar­ket­ing. With 6,829 mar­ket­ing tech­nolo­gies avail­able today, dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing can be over­whelm­ing. What hasn’t changed is the need to map your customer’s jour­ney and under­stand how you can con­tin­ue to add val­ue (rather than just sell). It’s an excit­ing time to be in mar­ket­ing despite the mas­sive upheaval of so much of how we used to do things.