The State of Digital: 2018

Greg Kihlström

Now that we are a few months into the year, it gives us an interesting opportunity to both look back at the previous year and ahead to the rest of the year to see what trends to watch. As with any annual recap or predictions, if you’ve been in the industry long enough, you’ll likely see the same trends appear every so often with new labels. Because, while technology continues to evolve, some aspects of marketing don’t change so quickly (or at all).

Which brings us to the current state of digital. I’ve identified four aspects of the digital landscape and where each currently stands, with a focus on strategy rather than specific platforms or tactics.

1 - Digital is Everything; Everything is Digital

In a few years, the term “digital” will probably be unnecessary. Even today, it’s difficult to define marketing tactics as either digital or not. So instead of trying to make a distinction, let’s agree that everything has a digital aspect. Moreover, consumers don’t distinguish between desktop, mobile, or other devices anymore.

Thinking “digital-first”, has helped some brands (and even some agencies) think more like consumers, but that philosophy still assumes a distinction between digital and traditional. Instead, adopting a design thinking approach creates solutions based on the customer journey, meaning the customer experience is valued above all else.

Marketers and agencies who become channel-, platform-, and device-agnostic will succeed well beyond their competition. With digital now ubiquitous, it’s time to focus on the customer experience.

2 - Think Customer Journey, Not Personalization

A lot of attention is being paid to artificial intelligence, personalization and other methods of connecting more meaningfully with customers using data. These can be invaluable tools to engage and build relationships with consumers. Implementing them, however, requires rethinking the way you create and distribute content.

Inevitably, this will lead to creating a strategy and then efforts to create personalized content across your digital marketing channels. Don’t get me wrong—this is a good thing, but you shouldn’t think of personalization as simply as a tactic to drive more engagement. Instead, think of personalization as a key component of a larger, broader, deeper strategy of optimizing your customer experience. Tailoring your customer journey or experience will get you ahead of the pack.

Brands that have strategically mapped out their customer journeys will flourish with happier customers and relevant data to analyze and optimize.

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3 - It’s Okay to Pay (for Social)

We are, conservatively,15 years into the evolution of social media, though some would say that modern social networks have existed for more than 20 years.

In that time, we’ve seen a lot of VC money come and go, brands rise and fall, and witnessed several methods through which social media properties have monetized their platforms. What seems inevitable is that, regardless of platform, organizations start by growing an organic user base, then find ways to allow brands to advertise and reach those consumers. While that happens, the social networks also make it harder for brands to reach audiences without advertising.

Instead of fighting this, brands and their agencies need to embrace the fact that paid social is here to stay. Just like its cousin, Search Engine Marketing, organic growth is great but dependent on the whim of the platform and its algorithm. Advertising is dependable, targetable, and actually works, too!

No social media marketing strategy should be employed without a robust paid component. Content will always be king, but boosting your efforts with an advertising budget is now a requirement.

4 - Small Data is the new Big Data

Big Data is still very important. With 2.3 trillion gigabytes of data and growing, usable quantum computers on the horizon, and billions of dollars invested, data of all kinds are here to stay. Using all this data meaningfully, however, has presented a big challenge to big data proponents. While it is seemingly possible to measure anything now, which metrics are valuable, and which simply take up storage space?

With the rise of big data we’ve seen that while it’s great to have the ability to collect, store and analyze this wealth of information, the valuable insights exist in much smaller subsets. Enter small data, which couldn’t exist without its larger sibling, yet provides more actionable (and often more affordable) recommendations for brands.

Smart brands will focus on the metrics that matter most by asking great questions and building their data analysis around answering the challenges that truly affect their customers’ experience and their company’s bottom line.


2018 will be remembered as a key transitional year when the term “digital” itself becomes less meaningful, and a channel-agnostic focus on customer experience continued to grow in importance. Focus on the customer journey, and the meaningful metrics that help you solve their challenges and answer their questions, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful year.


Greg Kihlström
Greg Kihlström
SVP Digital

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