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Pandora's box

2018's key marketing trends: The year Pandora’s box was opened

3rd Dec 2018
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What trends and developments have characterised the marketing landscape in the last 12 months?

It may seem trite but it’s hard to look back on 2018 and not ruminate over certain stories relating to the salacious pillaging of data.

For all the excellent work marketers have done over the last 12 months, it’s likely we will forever reflect on the year as one where we not only witnessed the opening of Pandora’s box, but the scraping of Pandora’s personal data and its sale to an unscrupulous third-party. 

Cambridge Analytica

The Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal, first revealed in March, was a seminal moment for marketing professionals. Why? It brought the topic of consumer data into the mainstream, revealing the true power of targeted data and the ethical concerns surrounding those that were flagrantly exploiting it.   

“By far the biggest story this year concerned Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and American voters,” says Glyn Cartwright, Liveryman for The Marketors.  

“It highlighted just how easily markets can be manipulated through the use of personal data. For marketers, it raised the question; does the story represent a threat or an opportunity? From the malaise of what happened it was an important point to recognise that when used in a responsible and ethical way, data can still offer huge potential for marketers to better understand different markets and learn how to interact with customers through the best possible methods and channels.” 

Customer experience author and expert, Colin Shaw, says we are entering an era of intense behavioural micro-targeting, and that the Cambridge Analytica story simply highlighted what happens when an organisation fails to be explicit with its customers about how their data is used:

“It’s fast becoming an accepted fact that if it’s free, YOU are the product. Facebook collecting that data on its users is not illegal; it wasn’t even wrong to do so. Not controlling the data with app developers and third-parties is where Facebook went wrong. The most significant issue is that they are not transparent with their customers about how they collect and use the data.

“The reality is there are wider marketing trends at play; psychographic targeting, behavioural targeting and micro-targeting are all methods marketers will begin to use as standard in order to be able to profile their best customers, by personality and behaviour…From a customer experience perspective, we see how the practical use of micro-targeting can influence behaviour based on data collected from users.

It’s fast becoming an accepted fact that if it’s free, YOU are the product.

“It also portends how big data can take micro-targeting to the mainstream as the way to get customers to make decisions in our favour. The Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal is a glimpse into the future - whether we “like” it or not.​”


Deeply aligned with the scandal was GDPR, which brought mass panic to marketers in May of this year, but with it, a warning that for those unwilling to learn from the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica revelations in March, there were some potentially devastating sanctions and fines on the horizon.

It’s no coincidence that the first official fine sanctioned by the UK’s data commissioner, the ICO, was a Canadian company with direct ties back to Cambridge Analytica via a Brexit Vote Leave firm.

However, GDPR represented more than a sudden fear of fines to most marketers; it represented a spring cleaning exercise for customer databases. An opportunity to reset the thinking around what customer data really meant to a business, and the value of communicated more effectively with it.  As leadership trainer, Helen Green so eloquently explains:

“All that effort, all that intensity of activity and what have we got to show for it? Well okay, we now may be GDPR compliant but have we really expended all of that effort only to slide back into a silent relationship? Well in part, maybe yes we have. All of those individuals who ticked a box confirming that they were happy to stay on your database may not be so enamoured if you then start bombarding them with email copy.

“But if you see customer relationships purely in terms of maintaining a database then maybe it’s time for a very big overhaul of your organisation’s culture and outlook. For the rest of us, GDPR provided a fantastic opportunity to add impetus to the customer relationship. After all, the message has been ‘we don’t want to see you go’ and many people have responded positively. So our challenge to leaders is ‘what you going to do to build on that and turn GDPR from a database exercise into a positive experience’.”

All that effort, all that intensity of activity and what have we got to show for it?

GDPR was THE acronym of 2018, so much so that BBC radio announcer Peter Jefferson was commissioned to record audio of him reading the legislation for But in terms of its implementation and its true worth to organisations, it may be that we’ll be looking at 2019 as THE year of GDPR.   

"In the GDPR-age, customers have more power over their personal data and the value it has," says Richard Ferrar, head of marketing at Peak. "Customers will expect more meaningful interactions, less often. Therefore, retailers need to focus on highly personalised interactions so they don’t lose their valued relationships while also driving revenues and profits

Influencer marketing

How many articles have marketers read proclaiming the death of influencer marketing? In 2018, influence may have been scrutinised more forensically than ever before, but marketers established new methods of reaping the rewards from influence this year – way beyond the Kim Kardashian or Logan Paul effect.

“Micro-influence is marketing’s current big thing,” says Amir Jirbandey, head of inbound marketing at Pulsar Platform.

“Although there is no specific definition of a micro-influencer, they are generally regarded as someone who has around 10,000-50,000 followers on social media, compared to the millions that macro-influencers have attracted.

“But while micro-influencers have a smaller following than macro-influencers or brand ambassadors, that smaller following is normally more loyal, engaged and often shares a common interest or passion. Brand ambassadors might have a huge reach, but that audience is likely to be disparate, and made up of many different types of people and therefore less engaged with the content the brand ambassador publishes.

Research from Markerly shows that as an influencer's number of followers increases, the number of likes and comments they get from those followers decreases; Instagram users with fewer than 1,000 followers generated likes 8% of the time, whereas users with 1-10 million followers earned likes only 1.7% of the time. Micro-influencers tend to have very specific niche audiences and as a result they have a deep connection with them. And this is what has captured the attention of marketers.”

Authenticity for ‘macro’ influencers has been of key concern to marketers in 2018, with an Econsultancy survey saying 90% of marketers saw it as the chief concern for them when deciding how to spend on influencers. With continual criticism aimed at the ‘macro’ level, 2019 is likely to see a continual focus on how micro influencers can bring brands better ROI.

As an influencer's number of followers increases, the number of likes and comments they get from those followers decreases

No more middle of the road in retail

Finally, it would be remiss to discuss 2018’s marketing trends without shining a spotlight on the retail sector.

Way before an Elton John-fronted John Lewis advert came into our lives, retailers the world over were experiencing the aftershocks of what has been a major shift in consumer buying patterns.

“Consumers have been flocking to both the budget retailers and the high end retailers in their droves this year,” says Cartwright. "But it’s the generalists that sit in the middle and try to cater to all markets that are losing out. Consumers aren’t necessarily choosing to buy high end or budget products exclusively but choosing to buy their high end products from retailers dedicated to the high end market and low end products from the retailers focused on lower cost items.

“Primark is one retailer that is thriving in the budget fashion market. Consumers aren’t necessarily sourcing their entire wardrobes from Primark but shopping there for their fashion essentials while choosing higher end fashion retailers for items they’re happy to spend more on. The same can be said for supermarkets. Consumers like quality and they like value and lower end supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi are excelling alongside the higher end supermarkets like Waitrose.

“Those occupying the middle ground aren’t seemingly doing as well as those occupying the value and quality ends of the spectrum.”

This trend is also evident in the restaurant market with the middle-ground chain restaurants losing out to those that cater specifically for higher or lower end markets.

“Marketers must learn that consumers are becoming more discerning and there is a greater need for more differentiation,” adds Ferrar.  

“Identify as high end or low end, but don’t sit in the middle. This should actually make a marketer’s job easier as it means brand identity becomes more refined and easier to convey when it’s focused on one end of the spectrum.”

There’s no excuse for being average in 2019; whether it’s your approach to branding exercises or your approach to customer data.

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Picture of Daniel Foley
By Daniel Foley
07th Feb 2019 02:44

The old saying goes that nothing is for free. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter generate revenue from ads, which, can be conveniently shown to people who get a "FREE" platform to use.

I think people need to be made more aware of how their data is harvested - I don't believe GDPR fully solves this issue.

What Apple has done with the latest iOS privacy updates is a step in the right direction.

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