5 Crystal Ball Predictions for Personalization in 2018

by Kevin Lindsay

posted on 01-23-2018

Welcome to 2018. If you’re like me, you can’t help but wonder what lies ahead in the world of customer experience (CX) and marketing. Which trends will materialize, mature, or die on the vine? I’m personally very interested in the role AI is starting to play in personalization, and am excited to see marketers embrace it over the next 12 months. Every day I talk with smart people who live and breathe personalization. I hear their ambitious plans and can’t help but be impressed by how they are raising the CX bar and innovating when it comes to personalization. So, while I don’t actually have a crystal ball, here’s what I expect to see happening in the personalization space in 2018.

1. The promise of “mobile apps that wow” will be realized

Last year, our industry hit an important milestone: mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic. While much of this traffic came to your mobile websites, 2017 might also have been the year customers really started to engage with your apps. If that was your experience, it’s probably because you get that good apps have a purpose. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen asserts that we buy products to help us get a job done (and fire them if they don’t do that job), an assertion that applies well to mobile apps. This year, expect to see a lot more mobile apps finally doing the jobs they’ve been hired to do.

Companies like Marriott are leading the charge with developing apps that do their job exceedingly well. I know this firsthand. While traveling for business recently, I stayed at a Moxy Hotel, one of Marriott’s boutique brands. When I arrived, I used the digital key in my Marriott iPhone app to open my hotel room door — no front desk check-in required. That’s the level of one-to-one experience “moments” that customers expect and that companies will now deliver.

2. Personalized customer journeys will span multiple devices and screens

Customers will expect their journey to include traditional devices like laptops and smartphones, but also to incorporate Internet of Things (IoT) screens and devices. Amazon’s Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote dominated sales this holiday season, signaling this shift. IoT screens and devices of all types — whether on a fridge, or within a store, hotel lobby, stadium, plane, or car — will connect gaps in the customer journey with experiences that help customers get what they want, when and where they need it.

Interestingly, the more customers use these devices, the more data we have to work with. That’s a good thing for personalization. Think of a smart fridge — it knows what foods and brands of foods you like, so it can send you coupons and other offers for them. Maybe it also knows you follow a healthy diet, so it sends you personalized healthy recipes based on ingredients you have or like. It could even suggest foods and recipes that other people who purchase similar foods to you like.

3. Companies will test the waters of virtual and augmented reality

An Adobe Digital Insights survey of more than 1,000 people in the U.S. this past fall showed that virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technology — that once seemed the thing of futuristic sci-fi movies — is becoming mainstream. Of those surveyed, about one-third are interested in these devices, and of those that own an VR/AR device, around two-thirds use them at least weekly. Consumers are interested in these devices and are starting to use them regularly.

This year you’ll see companies trying to catch this VR/AR wave early by developing personalized experiences for these devices. You’ll observe companies seeking people with the skills to work in 3D and prepare the data critical to fueling these experiences. Many will be running proof-of-concept projects to discover how VR/AR technology can uniquely support their business. Watch as use of this technology expands beyond gaming and entertainment to training, maintenance, manufacturing process optimization, and virtual showrooming applications. For example, let’s say you need a tent for an upcoming camping trip; you might be able to virtually walk into various tent models and quickly “see” which model is the right fit.

4. Companies will apply empathy to their personalization strategy

A person who possesses empathy is one who can easily put oneself in somebody else’s shoes. As we think about great CX, it’s becoming apparent that brands able to do just that will have an edge over their nearest competitors. In 2018, companies will strive to apply the concept of empathy in their marketing strategies by using personalization to step into the shoes of their customers. It’ll start by taking data to a new level. Fortunately, we now have plenty of data from which we can derive really rich insights. In turn, this can help us glean what is going on for customers in the moment, enabling that brand to connect with them more authentically, more personally.

Brands that embrace empathy as part of their CX initiatives will not just segment customers into millennial or baby boomer, but will consider what this might mean from a life event or big-purchase perspective (first car? baby? well-earned vacation?) — and be able to pick up those signals and act on them. For example, if you’re a financial services company, you might provide experiences to customers in their early 50s with little savings that reassure them that financial stability in retirement is still within reach. Yet with a Generation Z customer, you might deliver experiences that excite those customers about beginning to save at a young age. Clearly to do this well, your brand will need to sharpen and hone its ability to observe, infer, make decisions, and take action that reflects and demonstrates empathy.

5. Companies will embrace AI to personalize accurately and at scale

This last prediction is nearest and dearest to my heart. Consumers expect personalized customer experiences that delight them wherever they connect with a brand. But does any company have enough marketers to throw at that effort? Whether a company is new to personalization and optimization or runs a highly mature, sophisticated program around it, more companies will be turning to AI-driven personalization for the higher conversions that come with personalizing more accurately and at scale. Expect also to see companies hiring for new specialized roles for this rapidly evolving AI space—for example, for a Chief Algorithms Officer role like Stitch Fix has.

Fortunately, there’s more data than ever to fuel the algorithms underlying AI — from customer analytics, to insights from website, mobile app and IoT engagement metrics — perhaps even biometrics data from wearables. As companies use AI-driven personalization, you’ll see them demanding more visibility to and insights from the machine-learning algorithm that powers it — why it delivered the experience it did, what visitor attributes it deemed most predictive, and what experience resonated best with what audience. This guides them in determining the types of experiences to create and specific audiences to target. With all that customer data flowing in, you can be sure they’ll be working to balance customer demands for deeply personalized experiences with concerns about data privacy — especially as enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) begins in May.

By the way, the Adobe Target team just launched its 2018 State of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Personalization Survey****. The survey is aimed at Adobe Target users to learn their attitudes about, uses for, and plans around AI-driven personalization. If you’re an Adobe Target user, we’d love to hear from you. Just click here to launch the survey. You can complete it in around 10 minutes.

Data reigns supreme in 2018

These are some of the forces I believe will shape personalization in 2018 and beyond. While you’ve likely heard the claim that in digital marketing content is king, these predictions show that with personalization, data actually now reigns supreme.

Topics: Digital Transformation, Personalization

Products: Target