Marketing Challenges

Why 2018 Will Be Known as the Year to “Stand for Something”


Each year for the past decade I’ve written a post that focuses primarily on technology predictions for the industry as a whole. This year, as usual, I sought input from a diverse group of people I respect regarding what they think the major trends in technology, as well as business in general, will be in the coming year. I’ve consolidated these conversations and my own POV into three topics: People, Privacy, and Personalization. What I find interesting, beyond the important topics themselves, is the potential interplay between them—which I hope you’ll comment on after you read.

Finally, before we get started, I don’t think calling these points “predictions” does them justice, as they carry an incredible amount of weight. I will simply say that these are things I feel strongly about, assertions if you will, that I believe will transpire in 2018 and undoubtedly catalyze significant societal change.


The first point almost universally made to me was that gender and diversity, along with decency and respect for all, need to be at the top of everyone’s corporate agenda. Personally, as I have watched movements like #MeToo unfold in 2017, I don’t know how anyone can’t help but feel compassion for victims of any form of harassment or discrimination and feel a call to lean in, now more than ever, to make things better.

As the father of a daughter who will be a senior in college in 2018, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the kind of corporate world I’d like her to enter. I’ve told her for nearly 21 years of her life that she can be anything she wants to be…and while I still firmly believe that’s true, it’s clear there are headwinds and hindrances she will face that I will never fully appreciate. Whether it’s gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic that makes each of us special and unique, it’s clear to me that leaders in positions of power have a responsibility not just to shareholders for profits and a safe and engaging workplace for the people they employ, but to act for the betterment of society as a wholeLeaders, in any capacity, must hold themselves and be held to a higher standard.  

To that end, we will witness massive organizational change as dignity, equality, and respect in the workplace for all supersede performance and popularity. Too often we see leadership turn a blind eye to unacceptable behavior in favor of monetary gain. How people are treated behind closed doors matters just as much, if not more, than what is done or said in public. Organizations must clearly communicate what they expect from everyone in their organization regarding what is and is not acceptable behavior and act with a zero-tolerance policy.


Data privacy has transcended “hot” button status. To clarify, I’m talking about the constant, almost sadly expected, parade of news about privacy breaches we see weekly. This isn’t to say that organizations don’t work hard to protect consumer information, but I believe that the bad guys are working harder than ever, and it’s just too tempting for them to do so. Corporations must (minimally) have a data privacy plan in place that they can produce for any customer on demand, and, frankly, data privacy should be the central design construct for any cloud solution going forward.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), enacted by the European Union, will officially be enforced starting May 25, 2018. If you aren’t familiar with GDPR, you should be, and fast. Any organization not in compliance with GDPR in the European Union will face heavy fines and potential restrictions to their business practices for continued infractions. This, to me, is just the tip of the iceberg regarding regulations to come protecting personal data, and I believe in 2018 we will see more and more citizens hold their elected leaders accountable for not enacting legislation to enforce better data protection.


Here at Marketo, I’ve noticed an interesting statistic in 2017. Organizations who rely solely on email as their main engagement medium with customers and prospects have seen a nearly 20 percent higher opt-out rate for all communication versus organizations who engaged with people across multiple digital channels. Sobering at a minimum. It’s the clear effect of organizations who are being impersonal and careless versus thoughtful and caring.

Furthermore, the more personalized content is for a specific individual or business, the higher the engagement rate, again in double-digit percentages versus generic content. Intuitively that makes sense, but with 4 BILLION digitally connected humans on the planet, and infinitely more devices, personalization is not as easy in practice.

What does that mean? It means that organizations must find ways to personalize experiences at scale. If they don’t, they will fail. This is where the “robots” come in. You see, I believe that AI will enable organizations to understand us better, as individuals, and enable delivery of the right content to the right person at the right time. Organizations will begin to leverage AI more and more in the front office, specifically sales and marketing, to understand what you care about and how you want to be engaged.


I will end where I began—which is that 2018 is the year to stand for something. If we choose to stand for people, privacy, and personalization, I think we can take much of what we learned as a society in 2017 and emerge as something better, more unified and good in the new year.

All the best,


One response to “Why 2018 Will Be Known as the Year to “Stand for Something””

  1. Naval Gupta says:

    Steve – Could not agree more. Great article!

    I especially think your two assertions about personalization and privacy are inextricably linked, and for good reason. Think about it… the more personalized the content, the more the engagement. But if trust in the consumer’s mind is eroded by lack of privacy concern or bad execution by the marketer, that same personalization now becomes creepy, scary and unwanted. Privacy and personalization go hand in hand, and performance in privacy protection enables us to reap the results of personalization because the consumer is welcoming. If that is true, regulatory compliance with GDPR and being at the forefront of protecting privacy isn’t just something to comply with and a cost of doing business to protect us from reputational harm, it actually increases business. What do you think?

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