Five Marketing Musts for 2018

Five Marketing Musts for 2018

Our annual outlook for clients

by Ronald L. Burgess

Trends tend to be slowly emerging changes, rather than more quickly occurring fads resulting in a molasses-like tide that can take some by surprise if not trained on the slow movement.

This year may break out of that stable axiom. While not fads, the big changes this year may, indeed, be more apparent. Why? Several reasons. First, love him or hate him, Trump has rocked the economy, not only with the tax reform which will be a help to most Sub-Chapter S  businesses, but by the changing regulatory environment. Business owners rarely have had the current optimism about growth.  Helping Trump is a general momentum coming out of the worse economic times since the Depression.

Second is the intersection of business growth, tough hiring, and technology. Hiring is tough because it has its own perfect storm: Fewer working people, too few qualified–skilled workers, and hyper employment (my term, less than 4% unemployment). In California this is not true now but will possibly happen prior to year-end, but in states like Colorado, the unemployment rate is already below 2.2% unemployment in the metro Denver area.

Finally, the general move to a “digital” technology that will speed up as labor costs increase. The term “digital” is slightly different than computerization or the Internet but is driven by both. It is the much more integrated use of digital technology to do more and more functions traditionally done by humans or more manual systems. Digital has been happening for decades, but the now mature Internet is causing disparate computer systems to be linked together to take friction out of transactions, manufacturing, and customer experience. Of course, the best example of this is Amazon. But they (and many more) are not done yet!

The transformation to digital will be the overriding trend for all five trends this year. Almost strangely, marketing is already more digital than almost all industries. For one that used to be driven by creative, the transformation to performance measurement due to digital data has been the fastest change in the history of the marketing industry. Even so, according to a recent paper by McKinsey Consulting, the marketing industry is only 47% digitized so far.

So here they are, recognizing that in each area transformations will take most companies years to make a large impact or integrate all the pieces. But setting up pieces of each of these systems will increase your future compatibility between marketing and sales. Failure to move along the digital path may not be noticed in a boom economy by some, but it will break those who get too far behind in the transformation down the road.

  1. Sales — the relationship team, CRM
  2. Inbound
  3. Advertising
  4. Customer experience
  5. Distribution Disruption


Inbound Marketing – Shortly after Google took control of Internet search, webmasters began to track which pages managed to get listed on the first few pages of the search. It wasn’t long before we knew that the vast majority of clicks was on the first page only, and the majority on just the top three listings.

This led to a huge (and still continuing) push to do SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This was a combination of theories about all kinds of tricks that could make a difference on Google search. The truth is that most of these didn’t work well as Google just wanted to find the best answer to the search question. They slowly eliminated any “tricks”. The solution it turns out, was very specific, careful, and authoritative content. This trend which showed more promise was adapted to Inbound, where pages are written in specific ways to attract the very prospects that companies want. Additionally the Internet has most product answers, so buyers wanted to do research themselves. They recognized that sales people have an agenda, and buyers wanted more of an unbiased viewpoint. This, in turn, led to people seeing ads as interruptions in their lives. Most advertising, sales calls, and direct mail are now considered interruption. Tolerance for direct selling, pop-up ads, and TV ads are becoming less tolerated than in the past.

Inbound Marketing solves this problem by providing information to the ones most ready to buy — Internet searches. It is both a digital revolution and a huge swing in free market social behavior, one that put companies in peril if they don’t adapt.

Sales — Digital is dramatically changing how human sales interaction is brought to the close. Those skilled in this human interaction will not lose their jobs, but new skills will need to be learned by those who do make the transformation. One client has seen that traditional, outside salespeople are not necessary for strong growth, and another was told in a customer survey we did, that they prefer not to have salespeople visit personally.[i]

A new approach to sales is unfolding that more closely combines marketing and sales as an integrated function. This is happening due to the exploding “Inbound” movement, promoted mostly by Hubspot.[ii] When buyers are on a Web site and have interest in a product or service, the site must have the capability to answer questions, solve problems, and have near instant access to low pressure sales and service.

In the old days (a decade ago), salespeople often had all the up-to-date info for each industry and product. The sales person was an integral part of the information stream that kept companies aware of competition and changing industry trends. This is rarely true today as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Web site blogs respond almost instantly even to small market niches.

Today due to this change, only 19% want to talk to a salesperson in the awareness stage, 80% are ready to buy or check on a price by the time they will talk to a salesperson[iii]. So while closing skills are important, the old salesperson must adjust to the phone, chat, and e-mail format. Smarketing is a Hubspot term that makes marketers, those who provide leads, and the sales group focus on sales support and closing these sales-qualified leads.

Customer Experience

While the term is a new catch word for the process of constructing a digital online experience, it also includes the whole customer journey; from awareness to the buy.

The customer experience can be illustrated partially by “performance selling”. This is not a measurement of compensation, it is performance art, as in a performance of a play. I first wrote about this in the late 1980s. It was the idea that Walt Disney had set the standard for customer experience in his parks. Millions know how powerful that can be. At the same time McDonalds provided decent, cheap food in seconds after ordering it. (McDonalds isn’t so good at the fast part today but still run a very lean shop.) I argued that the combination of performance art (Disneyland) and very fast delivery and decent food at ridiculous prices gave most Americans a heightened expectation of experience and service.  Today almost three decades later, this process has just started in earnest.

My comments were directed to retailers in the article, but it applies to all today. Some have stepped up.  Bass Pro Shops is a combination of Disney experience and strong merchandising today. However, their Web site is little more than a vanilla shopping cart, instead of an extension of the stores. They have a long way to go online, as do most Web sites.

Even industrial companies should consider how their customers experience buying from them. It may not be as “performance” as consumer industries, but I will never forget calling on small manufacturers in downtown L.A. Where a security room was more like a sell with two electronic doors on each end. A grumpy old lady watched through one way glass as I sat in what was like a cell instead of a reception room. How much was I supposed to put up with to buy something?

The best action approach to customer journey awareness is simply to diagram all the steps it takes for a customer to become aware of your product, develop interest, do research, find it and finally buy. The process is more complex than the old top down selling pyramid, and can uncover areas of shortcoming.

Disruption in the Distribution Channel

Amazon has a Web site that works; that’s all. It is not the most artistic Web site, and the experience is not the best. But they have delighted millions just by making whatever you want available very quickly. While they are not the cheapest, one does have the sense of fair pricing. They compete using digital technology applied to Internet search, warehousing, and delivery. Thus, a paradigm shift of how people  buy. They appeal to 85 percent of items we buy most, and while not perfect under pressure, they have made returns and credits easy, setting a standard up there with Nordstrom’s.

What they have really accomplished is an easy, fast way to buy physical (and digital) products as if they were the McDonalds of old. The new paradigm reaches into a vast number of industries, real products, music, movies, electronics, electronic and paper books, and easy to reorder buttons in your laundry room. Many think that they will not be affected by Amazon, but ignoring the example of how they employ digital to attract and keep customers could be at your peril.

Expect to respond faster, deliver sooner, replace and install quicker, and almost always do it better than most, or your competition will do it for you. We have studied this subject extensively.  See our white paper here.


Making prospects aware of your company and products is still an important part of marketing. What has changed is how you determine to spend your ad budget. If you buy radio, newspaper, outdoor ads, you will need to make sure it is getting the most bang for the buck.  In this world of measuring everything, if your competitors make more sales per dollar of marketing, there is a good chance you will continue to get outspent, not just dollars, but efficiency of the budget. Combining and measuring your traditional media using digital response mechanisms will assist with how you spend on advertising in the future.


Understanding these five trends can lead to the digital transformation that will be needed by nearly all businesses still standing in a decade. Fortunately, many new digital solutions are being invented every day. Fully integrated digital customer journeys will not be required to succeed, but pieces of the digital journey will. Weather a selling Web site, shopping cart with invoicing and/or customer service. From the first awareness of a product to the receipt of the same, a digital solution can be pieced together now, and better integrated later.

This year’s initiative cannot complete the entire digital path, but just like climbing a mountain, you can start by taking a few steps. Take them this year.

[i] This survey did have just a few customers say it would help, but most said it would just be nice, but not necessary. 25% said they preferred no visits. (It is just not as productive and takes too much time).

[ii] RedFusion is a certified partner with Hubspot. We strongly believe in the tools that have been developed over the last decade in the area of inbound. After much study we selected HubSpot as our primary tool for clients.

[iii] Hubspot, Buyers Speak Out: How Sales Needs To Evolve, April 27, 2016