For the fifth year, business consultant and Forbes magazine contributor Ian Altman compiles his annual list of business trends that represent bold and innovative moves that leading companies around the world are making to drive success. Some of this years’ trends are in the fledgling phase, while others have already taken root.
1. Artificial Intelligence Drives Customer Experience
When you think of artificial intelligence (AI), you might think of dehumanizing interactions. Don’t confuse AI with primitive marketing automation. As AI expert and leading keynote speaker Christopher Penn, VP of Marketing Technology for SHIFT Communications says, “There are three levels of machine learning: AI where machines perform tasks normally performed by humans; machine learning, where the machines learn on their own; and deep learning, where machine learning chains together for rich learning.”
Leading companies are embracing AI to perform repeatable, redundant tasks and to process large amounts of data not to avoid human interaction, but to enrich it. For example, Google Maps uses real-time customer data from our own phones GPS Insight is able to help companies shorten the scheduling window for telecommunications companies. More importantly, they can allow municipalities to better deploy emergency responders and repair crews in a crisis like a hurricane.
Expect to see more highly-customized content delivery, automated to a consumer’s specific persona and lifestyle.
2. Communities Embrace Live Interactions Over Social Media
Your smartphone might make you think that people prefer social media vs. in-person interactions. However, top companies realize that building great communities engenders long-term brand loyalty. Nothing drives strong communities better than in-person and live interactions. Even live video engages better than recorded video. Just look at the popularity of Facebook Live.
Smart companies realize social media and technology do not replace the need for in-person interactions, social media can actually make in-person interactions more valuable. Since consumers are already connected in the virtual world, in-person relationships can be built at a rapid pace because you already feel as though you “know” the other person. Expect to see leading companies that cut back on live events years ago, bring them back with enthusiasm.
3. Millennials Welcome Generation Z
According to analysts at Goldman Sachs, America’s youngest generation, “Gen-Z” (those born after 1998), are now entering their formative years and rising in influence. At nearly 70 million strong, the eldest of which are now entering college and/or the workforce, this group will soon outnumber their Millennial predecessors.
Millennials are not children anymore. In fact, the oldest of them are now 35. Millennials are increasingly taking leadership roles within organizations. In addition to managing their peers, Millennials will soon be managing Gen Z employees. Will Millennial managers complain about Gen Z as much as Baby Boomer managers complained about Millennials? Only time will tell. Gen Z is the first generation born with devices in hand and are radically different than Millennials. Smart companies and brands are working quickly to understand this next generation as an employee as well as consumer.
4. Wages And More On The Rise
Dr. Mary Kelly, a PhD economist and leadership advisor, shared great insight about what to expect in the coming year’s economy. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, Human Resource managers should expect a 3% increase in wages across all sectors. In high demand jobs such as health care, elderly care, and physical therapy, expect wage increases to be higher. We’ll also see wages likely increase in engineering, drone technology, and virtual reality.
Wages have been stagnant for a few years, and with the unemployment rate at almost record low of 4.1% of the labor force, employers will feel pressure to adjust compensation to attract and retain quality workers. As we’ve seen in recent years, large organizations will see health care costs rise by more than 6% from 2017 to 2018. At the same time, coverage is declining.
Smart employers are looking at their health care plans now to minimize the financial increase while improving cost transparency to help drive down future costs. Talented employees seek salary, benefits, flexibility, and autonomy. Smart companies know that flexibility and autonomy might beat out just pure compensation for many employees.
5. Social Learning Outperforms Remote Learning
As more professionals work remotely, companies have found creative ways to keep employees connected and develop their talents outside of the office. One way that has gained popularity among corporate training programs is social learning. Social learning is the process of learning through peer social interaction.
“Social learning can take place in informal one-on-one encounters, among teams in the course of real-time problem-solving, communities of practice, through social software, expertise directories, and more,” notes a Bloomberg study on social learning. The study estimates 50% of companies already use social learning in some way, and two-thirds plan to use it in the future.
It’s easy to understand why. Social-learning promotes autonomy and self-direction, increasing overall learner engagement. It can also be a welcome departure from online courses which can be lonely, isolated experiences that lack engagement. Learners do not feel the presence of other learners in the experience. The most successful online learning programs include a digital community where participants can share their experience, ask questions of each other, and engage in social learning that goes beyond the course curriculum. As companies adopt more social learning, so too will they adopt tools that support mentoring and coaching that leverages the internal expertise organically.
6. Live Streaming Video Content Gains Momentum
Whereas video itself has become a necessary component for successful businesses, customers are no longer content with impersonal, generic marketing. Customers demand real connections, with real people. Video is the most viewed content, and live video is the most effective way to engage with your audience.
According to Nick Losq, founder & chief creative officer at StarBeast "Video is the most easily digestible form of media in a landscape now dominated by smartphones. And when a business starts adding a "live” component, introducing real people, in real time, it has the power to connect with consumers in a personal and honest manner, allowing businesses to separate themselves from their competitors. Live video has the ability to give many businesses a face AND a soul.”
Businesses stream live video to establish real-time human connections with their audiences. Whether it’s streaming a product launch, running B2B webinars, offering Q&A sessions or streaming product reviews, live videos are becoming an established part of a business marketing strategy. Livestream research shows that 80% of audiences would rather watch live video from a brand than read a blog, and 82% prefer live video from a brand to social posts. And 73% of B2B organizations report positive ROI from video marketing. Companies who plan for and dedicate resources to live stream videos will dominate their industries.
7. Serve Your Community Not Just Buyers
The notion of the buyer’s journey was used to describe the path that your potential customer would take when making a purchase. However, today’s customers are sophisticated, savvy consumers who do their research. They vet companies by scouring their websites, reading online reviews and putting feelers out to their social networks. The journey buyers and prospects take is no longer linear or even neat, it’s more unpredictable and fluid which poses a big challenge to marketers.
As we enter 2018, we will continue to see these models get updated. Analyst Jon Reed writes marketers also “should be thinking in terms of “buyer’s community” or “buyer’s network.”” Reed notes that “buyers aren’t always buying but they are always learning” and “we shouldn’t only be targeting buyers.”
Savvy companies realize that the best thing they can do is to serve their community, irrespective of whether or not someone is in a buying cycle. When you deliver consistent value, you engender trust. Then, when they are actually on a buyer’s journey, you are already a trusted resource for them.
8. Marketing Drives Results With A Focus On Problems
Marketers used to espouse the features and benefits of offerings. However, B2B customers have learned to ignore features/benefits. In fact, your ideal client may not even realize that they could benefit from your product or service. Top performing companies focus on the problems you solve and the anticipated results you deliver. Expect to see companies shift their marketing messages to the problems they solve instead of their features. Measure and be accountable for success to outpace your competition.
9. Subject Matter Experts Open Doors
I noted in my 2017 Trends article that subject matter experts (SMEs) are the new rainmakers. As technology continues to expand and disrupt industries, companies and clients rely more and more on SMEs to educate, guide and advise. Whereas your client can get information about your company’s products and services on your website, they can’t figure out how your solution might fit their needs. SMEs provide a valuable resource to discuss industry trends, share best-practices, and delve into detailed discussions about how one solution might perform better than another. This leads smart companies to take two critical steps: 1) Provide training and support to SMEs to help them navigate complex sales environments; and 2) Develop expertise in their sales organizations to build industry or application expertise within traditional salespeople focused on customer results vs. product sales.
10. Blockchain Embraced By Big Players
If you had invested $1,000 dollars in Bitcoin back in 2008, you’d have more than $40,000,000 today. Bitcoin is based on the blockchain protocol. Blockchain originated in the technology space, which explains slow adoption rooted in its techno-babble jargon. Marketing and business strategist Clay Hebert sees a familiar story playing out differently this time compared to how many companies were late to the party when social media emerged. “In the mid-to-late 2000’s, big companies missed the social media train. They couldn’t see how Twitter or Facebook would immediately impact their business, so they were slow to adopt these technologies. They don’t want to play catch-up again.”
Similar to the Internet itself and social media, blockchain will enable new digital transactions that will disrupt traditional businesses like document authentication and title searches. Smart companies will build skills around blockchain technology to ensure they are the ones doing the disrupting rather than the ones being disrupted.