2018 is about recognising the tough choices ahead

With the world evolving at a rapid pace (AI, big data, facial recognition, etc.) marketers are caught at the centre of tough choices that will have an important impact on our future. But which ones will be crucial in 2018?

2018 is about recognising the tough choices ahead

During 2017, you probably heard at least one of the following stories:  Cambridge Analytica and their role in Brexit and Trump’s presidential campaign;The Secrets of Silicon Valley from the BBC; ‘Homo Deus’ the (amazing) novel by Yuri Noah Harari about what the future holds, and/or the backlash against Silicon Valley and the big four.

And given it is January, you probably have also read some articles on trends for 2018. After reading some of them myself, reading ‘Homo Deus’ (after savouring Sapiens), and researching some of the topics above, it really brought home that the year ahead will have marketers making tough ethical, personal and business choices. Although the list is continually growing, here are the four choices that I believe will be the biggest we face. 

Big data = big responsibility

Using data ethically is continually becoming tougher, the lines are a bit blurry, but never have they been more important – each one of us needs to make sure we understand and can deal with the consequences of our data decisions. 

Cambridge Analytica, the amount of data they have on US and UK voters, and how they can target fake news was a big story in 2017. Ethical and moral choices on how, when and to what extent we use personal data in marketing will continue to get tougher.

With facial recognition (e.g. iPhone technology but also implemented by others like Disney, airports, etc.) and biometric technology improving and become more commonplace in the near future, this will be more important than ever. Imagine having the capability of knowing all about someone by simply scanning their face (in nanoseconds)? That’s power and responsibility (and it so reminds me of the movies 5th Element  and Gattaca which I love). And although there are laws that regulate it’s use, technology is moving faster than lawmakers.

The tough choice: We cannot stop the culture and value of data and its usage, but we can make an effort to better understand the implications of our ‘data’ actions; so that we can also get better at explaining them to our clients whether they are internal or external. At some point, you will have to say no to them.    

The Marketing Melting Pot = evolution & revolution

Market research, data analytics and consultancy continue to merge at a rapid pace and we, as marketers need to evolve equally fast, regardless of whether you work agency or client side.  

Where does insight end and strategy begin? Should there be a difference? 2017 saw great change in this space across London (as well as across the world): insight businesses are becoming consultancies (e.g. FreshMinds, Flamingo); big consultancies have started to change their models (e.g. Accenture’s Growth Studio); and data companies have started to take over both insight and strategy (e.g. Black Swan, Cambridge Analytica, among others). 

In order to be of value to both clients and businesses, we marketers, have to become either more specialised in specific areas of marketing (neuro-scientists, ethnographers, avant-garde data scientists, etc.) or become real ‘alchemists’ that can merge strategy, advertising, quant and qual, and can mix numbers with psychology in a matter of second.

The tough choice: in which direction can and should you and I evolve, and how do we stay true to who we are, no matter if you work agency or client side? Furthermore, how do we ensure we’re meeting clients and customer needs more thoroughly and more humanly?

We cannot stop the culture and value of data and its usage, but we can make an effort to better understand the implications of our ‘data’ actions.

Wealth distribution = business choices count

The big four (Facebook, Amazon, Google/Alphabet, Apple) and society in general (as each one of us has a role to play) are placing more money in fewer hands (when compared to the Fords and GMs of yesteryear) and although there is a backlash against them, there is no sign of this changing.

Scott Galloway, a professor at NYU Stern is a great person to read and watch on this subject (Ted talk included). In his words, Amazon and Apple ‘avoid taxes, invade privacy and destroy jobs’.  Add to this big tech’s fight against fake news, their harassment scandals and their ‘boys club’ image, and you can see a world-wide problem that’s escalating, with no sign of stopping, and very little in their way.

Ethically responsible investing, founder social responsibility and consumer buying power are huge forces that will come into play. VCs need to carefully choose which businesses they invest in. Business founders have to be more than mindful when it comes to how their business positively impacts communities and the world. Consumers will exercise their collective power by choosing what to buy – or rather, what not to buy. 

The tough choice: do you want to help change this? If so, what can you, your business, your family and your community do about it? Every choice we make, every platform we use, giving business to smaller businesses and supporting start-ups can make a difference.  

Safe AI = Learning what it means to be human

Automation and AI will continue to grow in 2018, and so will the sense of isolation, lack of interaction and lack of inhibition (as social media has shown already), all of which is already starting to have a profound impact on our society, culture and the service industry in particular.

I can start with a debate on whether automation and AI are one and the same, which now a days, they might as well be, as most automation is done through intelligent systems. More and more often we talk to chatbots, use Google’s algorithms, and many of us have Amazon Echo or Google Home (essentially an inhome AI system) or use Siri or Google Now etc. As a result, we talk to people face to face less; we speak to each other on the phone less, and overall have less human interaction. For some, this can have tremendous impact on isolation but also, as social media has already shown, the lack of inhibition resulting in trolling, bullying, harassing – it’s all easier when you’re not seeing the person face to face.

As humans, as homo sapiens, we are social animals that need connection, and society around us. We also need to see the impact and the result of our actions to learn from them. So it will be incredibly important that marketers get a better understanding of what it means to be human and choose how we can promote services, brands, products, websites and other communications that support this humanity. 

The tough choice: how can we make sure that we make automation and AI consumer-focused and ultimately, human in its processing (understanding emotion, having a need for connection and understanding basic social needs). In other words both we, and our businesses, need to better understand what it means to be human so that we can align AI to this and to our goals. 

Things will continue to change and I'm certain there will be more tough choices ahead. The world, and the tech around us, is changing at a fast pace and that's something we cannot stop; but to echo the author of Homo Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, we need to be talking about all these issues in the day to day. Having these conversations is vital - without them we will have no control over our future.

What are the choices that concern you, your business? I would love to discuss them further with you and to continue to add to this list. Feel free to email me at danielaf@theleadingedge.com