Who got 2018’s marketing predictions right – and absolutely wrong?

The Promotion Fix is a​n ​exclusive biweekly column for The Drum from Samuel Scott, a global keynote marketing speaker who is a former journalist, newspaper editor, and director of marketing and communications in the high-tech industry. Follow him @samueljscott.

Photo by Muhd Asyraaf on Unsplash

Bob Hoffman once wrote that 'the great thing about talking about the future is that you don't have to know anything. You just make shit up and nobody can refute it.' Well, I will do my best.

Since the end of 2017, I have collected every report that I came across with predictions for 2018 for the purpose of writing this column. Below, I judge whether the forecasts from Deloitte, Forrester, Gartner, Gartner L2’s Scott Galloway, HubSpot, and Salesforce were correct.

Why? There is significant money in futurism. Businesses pay a lot to receive reports and listen to speakers such as Shingy, Oath’s 'digital prophet'. But what if that money is completely wasted?

Before my evaluation, some notes. I included only forecasts that were specific and quantifiable. (Most were too vague to be proven or disproven – a qualification that eliminated Shingy from consideration.) If I could not find good, independent information on a given topic, I cut the prediction and neither credited nor penalised the company. And obviously, not all data from 2018 has been reported yet.

In addition, Tom Goodwin had a similar idea in August 2018. I would say that great minds think alike, but he is much smarter than I am. I hope he will also give some interesting insights soon.

Now, in alphabetical order, the professional analysts and marketing software companies.

Deloitte

Here were the 2018 forecasts (the PDF source is here).

“50% of adults in developed countries will have at least two online-only media subscriptions.”

“A fifth of adults in developed countries will pay for or have access to at least five paid-for online media subscriptions.”

Verdict: Far off. According to this year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report, the percentages of people paying for even one news outlet range from 30% in Norway to 16% in the US to 7% in the UK. Result: 0/2.

“There will be about 150+ million music subscriptions.”

Verdict: A bit late. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s report this year, there were 176m at the end of 2017. Result: 0.5/1.

“10% of North Americans over age 18 will be engaged in four or more multiple, simultaneous advertisement-blocking behaviours.”

Verdict: I could find any other independent data on the use of multiple ad blockers. But according to information collected by Statista, almost 28% of Internet users in the US blocked ads on their devices in 2018. That’s good enough for me. Result: 1/1.

“The total percentage of homes subscribing to one or more SVOD services will increase.”

Verdict: Correct – but a softball prediction. The Leichtman Research Group found this year that 69% of US households now subscribe to a service such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. Result: 0.5/1.

“Traditional TV viewing among 18-24-year-olds will decline by 5 to 15% per year in the US, Canada and the UK.”

Verdict: Nope. According to Nielsen’s Q1 2017 Total Audience report, US adults aged 18-24 on average watched 14.5 hours of live plus time-shifted TV per week. That statistic in Q1 2018 for those aged 18-34 was 16 hours. (Nielsen has not yet released later 2018 data and did not include the exact same demographic for the two reports that I mention.) Result: 0/1.

Grade: 33%. That’s a failure.

Forrester

The 2018 predictions are here and here.

“A consumer brand will lose 20% of its revenue due to a privacy ethics violation [due to GDPR].”

“In 2018, a Fortune 1000 firm will face regulatory action from its identity resolution tactics.”

“GDPR will check marketers' AI initiatives in Europe and beyond.”

Verdict: Close, but not yet. GDPR enforcement has only begun – and so far against only the Canadian company AggregateIQ Data Services and the French startup Vectaury. These are good predictions for 2019. Still, GDPR has indeed cast a shadow over the European ad tech market. Result: 1/3.

“More than 50% of enterprises will leverage AI in 2018 within at least one component of their marketing technology stack.”

Verdict: Correct. Econsultancy found that 80% of digital advertisers planned to use Ai this year. Result: 1/1.

“GDPR restrictions on behavioural targeting, predictive modelling, and cross-device recognition will lead to public investigations and record-breaking fines for ad giants Google and Facebook.”

Verdict: So achingly close. Facebook and Google are facing a growing number of investigations from governments and journalists throughout the world, but no significant fines have appeared – for now. Stay tuned for 2019. Result: 1/2.

“Amazon will own 50% of US-based eCommerce by 2021.”

Verdict: much more quickly than that – this year. Result: 1/1.

“Major holding companies will consolidate their media agencies further in the next year.”

Verdict: Absolutely true. Just see The Drum’s Business on the Move section. Result: 1/1.

Grade: 63%. Much better than Deloitte, but still a failure.

Gartner

The 2018 predictions are here and here, but it is difficult to quantify the public statements exactly because they focused on the future beyond 2018.

“75 of the top 100 global consumer brands will lose 20% of their brand equity value to declining brand perception and loyalty by 2020.”

Verdict: Not yet. According to this Forbes list, only 12 of the top 100 brands declined in value this year. Result: 0/1.

“90% of brands will practice at least one form of marketing personalization, but content will be the bottleneck and cause of failure by 2020.”

According to a PDF report this year from personalisation platform Evergage, 98% of respondents said that personalization helps advance customer relationships but 55% do not feel they have sufficient data and insights for effective personalization. Works for me. Result: 1/1.

Now, Gartner is a special case. I found three other relevant predictions:

“40% of specialized mobile and social marketing jobs will be absorbed into generalist roles or replaced by automation by year-end 2022.”

“AI embedded in analytics and other marketing software will displace more than a third of data analysts in marketing organizations by 2022.”

“By 2021, more than 50% of enterprises will spend more per annum on bots and chatbot creation than traditional mobile app development.”

These forecasts extend to 2022 and are very precise. I could find no independent research covering such results this year. For this reason, it would not be fair to assign a total score and grade for only two predictions.

Gartner L2 and Scott Galloway

Professor Galloway made these 2018 predictions.

“Amazon Media Group revenue surpasses Twitter and Oath (already bigger than Snap Inc.), signalling the end of the beginning of the internet era.”

Verdict: Correct. Amazon is now the third-largest digital ad platform. Result: 1/1.

“20–25 US brands and retailers launch online marketplaces to tap into the long tail. 95% fail, as they have overestimated the power of their brands.”

Verdict: Apple, Disney, Nike, Louis Vuitton Gucci, Saint Laurent and Cartier as well as several cosmetic brands are just a few of the companies that have added direct-to-consumer distribution channels. But it is too soon to judge the success. Result: 0.75/1.

“The ad tech landscape goes from bad to worse as the duopoly, Facebook and Google, cements the industry’s structural decline. Large communications conglomerates shed 20–50% of their value.”

Verdict: Spot on. 90% of the recent growth in digital ad spend has gone to Facebook and Google while investment in other ad tech has been slowing rapidly. The recent cheap sale of Mic is just the most recent example of ad-driven media companies underperforming as more publishers look towards subscription models. Result: 2/2.

“Disney will offer a Prime/Netflix-like member offering that will include a fat bundle of video programming and preferred access to other assets — cruises, parks, etc.”

Verdict: Yes, we will soon see Disney+. Result: 1/1.

Grade: 95%. Gartner L2’s Scott Galloway is the true digital prophet of our time. Not Shingy.

HubSpot

The 2018 predictions are here.

“Live video content will only continue to grow.”

Verdict: Yes, but with a caveat. According to this Yahoo PDF ad sales deck, live online video watching increased this year on all devices, and the growth outpaced all types of non-live video. However, a recent Facebook scandal called into question whether the “pivot to video” has been worthwhile.

Plus, the long-term benefit is questionable. As Simulmedia CEO Dave Morgan said in a recent episode of the Recode Media podcast: “Judge Judy today, in 30 minutes, will deliver more people-watching-advertising-time than all of the videos, all day, on YouTube.” Result: 0.5/1

“Messaging apps will become a critical communication method.”

Verdict: “Critical”? Nope. At least in Australia and New Zealand, only 10% of companies use mobile messaging in marketing campaigns. Fewer than 50% of people use a smartphone at all in the buying cycle and only 10% use it when making purchases. Result: 0/1

“Virtual reality will find its way into more and more marketing experiences.”

Verdict: Wrong. VR headsets were released in 2016, and Econsultancy reports that sales declined in 2018 and have been an overall disappointment. Joshua Topolsky wrote an excellent overview of the death of the virtual reality dream (outside of the world of Ready Player One). Result: 0/1

“Voice search and AI will change the way users discover brands and content.”

Verdict: Mostly incorrect. Voice search: Only 2% of people who own Alexa-equipped devices have ever made a purchase with Alexa, and 90% of that 2% never made another. Econsultancy did find that 80% of marketers are indeed using AI – but primarily for audience segmentation and targeting rather than brand discovery itself. Result: 0.5/2

Grade: 20%. If you believed HubSpot’s predictions, you probably also think that “inbound marketing” is a sound strategy. (Spoiler: it’s not.)

Salesforce

The 2018 predictions are here:

“Purpose becomes the heart of marketing.”

Verdict: Seriously? Yes, there have been single, high-profile examples such as Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign this year. But for every “cause marketing” advertisement, there are untold thousands of others that are not. And see Pepsi and Kendall Jenner for what commonly results when you try to incorporate a political or social issue. Result: 0/1.

“The Future of Public Relations is Participatory.”

Verdict: Yes, the public image of a company is affected by what people say on social media – that is obvious. But social media networks are useless for brands because a miniscule percentage of a brand’s customers follow or engage with them. The most significant results of PR are primarily from marcom in the real world. Result: 0/1.

“The Future of Marketing Automation is More.”

Verdict: Yes, the percentage of marketers who automate something increases every year – but that is another softball prediction. Result: 0.5/1.

“The Future includes Chatbots.”

Verdict: Chatbots are the new QR codes. They were hyped at Mobile World Congress in 2017, but Facebook Messenger’s chatbots have had a 70% failure rate. While no data for this year is available yet, the near-consensus I have seen is that virtually no one is using them. Result: 0/1.

Grade: 13%. Salesforce, I award you half a point – and may God have mercy on your soul.

What I may do next year

Originally, I had collected dozens of 2018 predictions from individual, prominent marketers as well. I did not have room for all of them, so I cut that entire section and included only analyst firms and marketing software companies. But I might just make that my focus next year. (Marketing influencers, be forewarned.)

Lastly, I wanted to commend Rand Fishkin because he is the only influential marketer I know who has the guts to score his annual predictions from the prior year. I wish more people would do so. (I am sure that people will ask for my forecasts, but the only specific one I have made in this column is that social media platforms will face more regulation. And I just thought it was obvious.)

After all, as Hoffman also wrote in one edition of his email newsletter: “No one has the slightest idea what will happen in the next year – or in the next 10 minutes, for that matter. But that doesn't stop them from writing dumb articles.”

The first principle of marketing has always been customer orientation. That means focusing on what your target audience is doing today – not what you think the people may possibly do next year.

In my work as a professional marketing speaker, I gave a keynote talk at Emerce Performance in Amsterdam a few weeks ago on how blockchain might bring transparency to the adtech world. During the Q&A, someone predictably asked what I thought would happen in the marketing industry in 2019.

My response? “Marketers will stop making stupid predictions.”

The Promotion Fix will return in January 2019.

The Promotion Fix is an exclusive biweekly column for The Drum contributed by global keynote marketing speaker Samuel Scott, a former journalist, newspaper editor and director of marketing in the high-tech industry. Follow him on Twitter. Scott is based out of Tel Aviv, Israel.

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