Over the past year, we’ve seen many marketing trends come and go from live streaming to chatbots to virtual reality. It’s certainly been an exciting and dynamic year. Many traditional and interruptive marketing methods (i.e. banner ads) have continued to decline in effectiveness and more transformational approaches to engagement have been gaining steam (i.e. content marketing).

The popularity of the Pokemon Go augmented reality (AR) app may have waned, but the number of brands experimenting with AR and virtual reality (VR) to enhance their marketing efforts has skyrocketed. In hindsight, 2017 was a year of transformational change and experimentation for marketers.

Now looking forward, what does 2018 hold for transformational marketers?

Here is my takeaway from the past year and what I believe will continue in 2018:

Contextual marketing has become such an onerous task for marketers. We expect that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will transform the discipline of marketing in the immediate future.

I’ve asked my colleagues at TopRight—a brilliant team of marketing experts—to tell me what they’ve learned from the past year and what to expect for 2018.

“Marketers will be required more than ever to focus on their value in terms of what is important to their target audiences. The definition of what value means and how to deliver that value is changing.” –Russell Harrell, Principal

Business customers and individual customers define value more than ever in terms of saving time, energy and resources. In over 100 independent interviews with customers, commercial and individual, almost none cited price as a determining factor in their buying decision.

“It will be more important than ever that we, as Marketing Leaders, don’t lose focus on developing real and authentic relationships with customers.” –Judi Friedman, Principal

Data and information are only that. It’s relationships that have the ability to overcome apathy. People will spend money on brands they truly care about and that care about them.

“In a time of eroding perceptions of objective truth and ‘fake news,’ Marketing Leaders need to be thinking about new strategies that build trust and authenticity at every customer touchpoint.” –Bruce Carlisle, Partner

Customer-centric strategies and Voice of Customer (VoC) are key ingredients to marketing success. In 2018, consumers will demand honesty and relevance in all marketing efforts, while challenging brands to ensure that what they’re actually saying is genuinely aligned with their story.

“From President Trump’s unprecedented tweets to the groundbreaking movement that was incited from the two simple words of the #MeToo campaign, the power of the written word demonstrated its ability over and over again to stir overwhelming emotion and even change the course of history. For marketers in particular, we can reflect on the magnitude that words carried in 2017 and its implications for 2018 and beyond.” Deborah Kuo, Principal

As the amount of content continues to proliferate in our daily business and personal lives, run-of-the-mill writing and content won’t be enough. Finding relevant ways to write in a manner that rises above the noise is both harder and more important than ever. The impact of words reminds us that as marketers, the crux of our trade is communication and our tools and skills need to be continually sharpened.

In order to resonate with target audiences, marketers must have a deep understanding of customer needs and pain points. VoC should be ongoing and in-depth, and the ways in which we build understanding must be constantly evaluated.

“In this age of constant political vitriol and spin, consumers will be looking for a clear and simple message.” –Chris Weissman, Partner

Communication tone and the message will be more important than ever. It will be key to keep the message simple, easy to understand, and consistent, to convey the message successfully every time.

“With the continued controversy surrounding cultural diversity, organizations will be looking to marketers for assistance in understanding the importance of incorporating inclusivity into their internal and external marketing efforts.” –Lisa Cronin, Principal

What does being inclusive truly mean to your organization? Should we incorporate it into our brand, story and message? If so, how? These are questions that brands will continue to tackle in 2018.

“Marketing and Sales Leaders focused on transforming the current status quo should recognize the dirty little secret of change management—it is now a requirement and it’s paying dividends.” –Bill Stone, Managing Partner & CRO

Designing, executing, and sustaining change management is part of continually improving the health of your organization. In order to drive transformation, executive visions for change and the promise of the brand must be fully aligned with leadership and communication styles.

“Marketing Leaders need to shift their Go-To-Market Strategy from a product-centric to a customer-centric or solution-centric strategy in order to drive the best results.”-Siva Kandaswamy, Principal

Nearly one-third of CMOs polled cited a lack of buyer insights as one of their greatest challenges. Most marketers are developing buyer persona framework to target their messaging, improve campaign performance, and to rationalize the sales cycles. Transformational marketers are changing their Go-To-Market Strategy by developing content that is customer-and-needs oriented to clearly define how to showcase their product and service offerings to buyers.

“In 2018, we’ll see how the CMO has emerged as key executive driving the company’s technology agenda.” Stephen Tarleton, Partner

As marketers build their technology roadmap, not only will they need to assess the traditional players in the MarTech landscape (over 5000 now!), plus new technologies that are still developing, such as big data, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, geolocation and augmented reality. Embracing these developing technologies provides news ways for marketers to better tell their brand story and engage customers.

“The story, your story, matters more than ever, and that will continue to prove true in 2018.” –Bill Fasig, Managing Partner & COO

There is a myth in marketing today that if you only find new ways or new channels to reach your customers, they will somehow feel the message is for them because it reaches them through all the noise and follows them around. Absolutely untrue.

The average consumer gets hit with over 3,000 types of marketing messages daily. That’s an overwhelming, even absurd, amount of messaging. And what happens? Consumers continue to filter and tune out those 3,000 messages. So how do you make it through that minefield?

Your story.

We have learned that now more than ever, in a sea of confusion and chaos of marketing messages, that what people really want to know is your story. Why you do what you do. What is your purpose? And how do you bring that solution, product, service to your customer in a way that tells them, shows them, why it matters.

What difference do you make in your customers’ lives? Show them that. Tell them that. And they will not only want to learn more, they will want to engage, buy and make your story their own. The art of the story is more important than ever. Because that story, your story, is the difference between someone caring, listening, engaging, buying, and staying.