It’s not the trend that you need to watch for. It’s the trend inside the trend.
Here’s a partial list of the hidden consequences inside some of the biggest trends in 2017.
It’s like when you stand against the waves at the beach.
You’re prepared for the really big ones, and you can spot them a mile away. They grow, arrive, you’re ready, and they crash through you.
And then you get sucker-punched by the hidden, smaller waves that come right after.
It’s that way with trends in marketing and ad tech. There are many big, obvious ones that continued to roll in during 2017 — AI, personalization, the criticality of good data, conversational engines, VR/AR and so on.
But it’s the secondary, hidden ones that can hit the hardest because they didn’t telegraph their arrivals.
Here, then, are seven of those secondary trends, hidden in the big 2017 waves and just itching to knock you over:
The ePrivacy Regulation
The big wave for the new era of consumer data management is the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR), which is particularly important for companies with a significant presence in the European Union or that do business with such companies.
But not long after the big GDPR wave hits on May 25 — a D-Day for the many firms undertaking compliance — the companion ePrivacy Regulation will be revised, approved and implemented. And it could hit very hard — with such requirements as default settings in browsers, for instance — in part because its final contours are not yet clear.
Connecting all those screens
In 2017, digital billboards, bus signs and other out-of-home displays began to solidify their position in the programmatic ad ecosystem. And they are becoming responsive to on-site reactions or remote data feeds.
Meanwhile, Adobe and some social management platforms allow marketers to remotely program large digital displays inside stores, as a channel alongside, say, social media or email. And connected, high-res screens are popping up on almost anything that can hold one.
To date, digital marketers have been focused on computers, smartphones, tablets, and, recently, the emergence of connected TVs and Over-The-Top TV devices. But campaigns may soon also orient themselves toward the real world’s sea of screens, in ways much more coordinated than now.
A sequence of messages stretching across highway billboards to bus stop signs to large screens inside clothing stores, to Internet of Things displays on appliances, vehicles and more.
The channels covering the real world have just started to show themselves.
Defining the line between relevant and creepy
All the pieces are now in place: AI, individualized personalization, emotional targeting, predictive marketing, automated creative generation, cross-device identity, location tracking and facial recognition.
Integrated and extended, these components could propel product offers and ad pitches that are much more personal than what we are accustomed to. Sometimes that will be exactly what the consumer wants. And sometimes it will be weird.
This can delight some consumers and freak out others. So, a key skill for the best digital marketers will be understanding when to back off.
The unpredictable effect of paying customers
Blockchain-based systems, in particular, are ambitiously offering tokens or other kinds of crypto-currency as rewards to their customers and marketing partners. Influencers get special redeemable tokens, as do viewers of ads or users of specialized platforms, such as for apartment rentals.
On the surface, these incentives seem like a great way to lock in participants, encourage certain kinds of behavior and stimulate attention.
But here’s the thing about paying people: The effects are not always linear. People often respond in unpredictable ways once there’s some payment involved.
Actual people, for instance, might end up doing more or less of something than they might otherwise do. Economies, even micro-economies, are dynamic systems.
It’s not yet clear how large, possibly interwoven platforms of paid consumers, influencers or other participants might change their behavior because of payments.
But don’t be surprised at the surprises.
In 2017, both Apple and Google’s Android added the ability to use their smartphones and tablets as augmented reality viewers. The quality of some of the AR demonstrations is already jaw-dropping and will only get better.
Virtual reality, at least for the foreseeable future, requires you to shut yourself from the world by wrapping your head inside a viewer, but AR lets you surf another layer of reality on top of the one you daily walk through.
The Pokémon Go phenomenon showed one possible socialization of AR, but others might include in-person Klingon parties, dating apps with fanciful visual additions or dog parks where the pets show AR incarnations of their owners.
Social AR could be as different from social networks as social networks are from, say, actual neighborhoods.
The spread of cross-device identities
To date, most identity graphs have been content to solve the non-trivial problem of knowing if the same person is using this computer, this smartphone and this tablet.
But intelligence and connectivity are rapidly colonizing every device I own. Identity graphs can already make educated guesses about your smart TV and your Over-the-Top TV box — which could become much more targeted if ATSC 3.0 takes hold — and Google asks you to match your Home device to your Calendar and email.
Inevitably, the identity graph will identify me with my increasingly smart car and my other smart devices.
Your cross-device identity is about to go big.
Online citizen armies engage in countermarketing in 2018
If citizens and consumers can’t trust what they find online, then democracy and free markets are threatened.
In 2017, we saw Google, Facebook, Twitter and other tech giants battling — with various degrees of seriousness — the plague of authentic-looking propaganda.
And the FCC’s decision to end net neutrality could raise suspicions about whether that product offer is the best one available — or the only one that could afford to reach you through this tier.
But this is the age of the internet, when self-organizing mass responses to shared threats rise as fast as flash mobs, as powerfully as the #MeToo hashtag.
As we in the US head into the 2018 election and the post-net-neutrality internet, expect to see self-organized mass responses that employ ingenious apps and clever countermarketing.
Hidden just behind the wave of fake news and new tiers of net service will be a wave of crowd-sourced Paul Reveres, reinventing once again how democracy and marketers should work.