For decades, marketing was seen as a cost center. In the past few years, however, marketers have been gaining insights into campaign ROI and the true costs/benefits of their efforts. A large aspect of this is advanced reporting systems and new marketing technology.

Marketers are getting smarter; they are adopting new technology that improves their lead generation and revenue capture efforts. In addition, they are being rewarded by their organizations with a larger share of the budget. For example, 2017 was the first year that CMOs overtook CIOs as having the largest technology budgets in most organizations.

If you evaluate the full marketing budget and not just the share of an organizations technology budget, you’ll see a that there was a fair amount of budget upheaval in 2017. According to Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey, 2017 budgets slipped from 12.1% of company revenue in 2016, down to 11.3% for 2017.

This 6% fall in marketing budgets is due to companies needing to see the fruits of marketing labor. Marketers are now, more than ever, on the hook to demonstrate ROI. To keep up with this increased need for transparency and ROI reporting, marketing technology (martech) providers have been getting more sophisticated in their product offerings, allowing marketing leaders to pick the right solution that can be proven out with ROI reporting.

Top Martech categories: changes from 2017 to 2018

In keeping up with martech, it is especially important that marketers understand what their peers are doing; not so that you can copy their every move, but so that you can learn from them and develop your own set of marketing best practices.

One area of interest to most marketers are the up and coming tools available to them. A 2017 survey by Walker Sands Communications of more than 300 professional marketers revealed some useful insight into the martech tools in highest demand last year. The 5 hottest martech categories for last year, based on that survey, were: social media marketing, email marketing, ad technology, analytics and content marketing.

While there are several media sources that have completed surveys and made their predictions around which marketing technology categories would be the most relevant in 2018, there are two sources I’ve closely evaluated and see as being accurate predictors of this year. The first is Smart Insights, which has been collecting data for years on martech trends. The second source is collaborative work, highlighted on Forbes, between Assistant Professor Kimberly A. Whitler (at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business), and the Data & Marketing Association (previously called the Direct Marketing Association).

Between these two sources, there is a general consensus that the top five marketing technology categories for 2018 include: content marketing, big data, machine learning, social media marketing, and analytics.

Martech categories that blossomed in 2017

Even though we’ve moved beyond 2017, it is still valuable to see which categories saw some of the greatest growth so that you can learn from that and adopt any necessary marketing practices you may me lagging in. Below are five martech categories that were highlighted to be big last year, and actually were.

1. Social media marketing. Thirty-two percent of marketers surveyed indicated they would be purchasing a martech solution or service within this category. These tools include the likes of Buffer, Followerwonk and Hootsuite.

2. Email marketing. With 27% of marketers intending to purchase an email marketing tool in 2017, this category was poised for growth and feature improvement. Some of the feature improvements we saw are big data improving email engagement, improved segmentation, and expanded options for personalization.

3. Ad Tech. Advertising technology solutions were poised for accelerated user-base growth in 2017, where 28% of marketers planned on purchasing a new ad tech tool. A few leaders in this space that had great years in 2017 included AdRoll for remarketing, StartApp for more effective native mobile ads, and MediaMath for expanded advertising reach across networks.

4. Analytics. Twenty-four percent of those surveyed in late 2016 indicated they would be purchasing a marketing analytics solution in 2017. Among the movers and shakers in marketing analytics were predictive analytics and machine learning. While these have been buzz words for several years now, 2017 saw them begin to be loaded into marketing tools as major features. For example, Marketo’s marketing automation suite introduced an add-on that uses predictive analysis to serve up predictive content.

5. Content Marketing. As content marketing continues to rise in importance to marketers, it was no surprise that 21% of those surveyed indicate they would be purchasing a content marketing solution or service in 2017. Yours truly, ClearVoice, is leading the charge in content marketing with a software solution and service that allows you to more easily hire vetted freelancers and generate content that will amplify your brand.

Martech categories set to explode in 2018

1. Content Marketing. It comes as no surprise to see content marketing at the top of the Smart Insights list. It has been the top category for several years running. It also is mentioned as one of the main focuses of the Forbes article’s top category. One element that Forbes focuses on is the importance that marketers be agile since consumers are more demanding for fresh and updated content. Smart Insights introduces an important trend they are seeing in survey results about the importance of integrating content marketing into the customer journey to better engage prospective buyers.

2. Big Data. Big data, identified by both sources as a top area of focus for marketing technology professionals in 2018, is best summarized as the effort of marketers to capture more consumer data points to create a better focused and more relevant marketing touch point. One example of a big data marketing campaign comes from New Zealand health insurance company Sovereign, which integrated a variety of datasets into a campaign that drove new customer signups. Sovereign integrated new data streams from activity trackers, gym networks, and retail shopping stores to reward their consumers for healthy behavior. The data collected allowed Sovereign to provide timely and closely tailored notifications to users, which greatly increased policy renewals.

source: Sovereign

3. Machine Learning. Machine learning is a large category that includes aspects of natural language processing, and Adwords search marketing algorithms, and has crossovers in categories such as artificial intelligence. The two areas I think you’ll see the greatest changes for machine learning in 2018 are algorithm and marketing automation improvements. We’ve already seen Google change the Adwords algorithm for better-automated bidding using target CPA as a basis. We’ve also seen Facebook make dramatic algorithmic changes to the way it shows more relevant content in users news feeds. Marketing automation tools are also poised to see great benefits from machine learning, as they will better learn which people to put into specific segments, what content to push out to whom, and discover email marketing optimal timing.

4. Social Media Marketing. Social media marketing is another martech category that continues to make it to the top of many annual lists of hot martech. In 2018 you can expect to see greater social media integration with other marketing channels such as web, search and email. If you’d like to see more about the trends in social media marketing, and how it is likely going to be changing this year, I recommend you read this Smart Insights recap of London SMW.

5. Analytics. Most marketers are well informed about the importance of measuring their efforts. Yet, when you ask a marketer about analytics they often think only of web analytics solutions such as Google Analytics. Trends for 2018 are pointing towards more advanced analytics, such as predictive and integrated analytics. Integrated analytics is when you tie digital marketing efforts (which are generally easy to track) to more traditional marketing means, such as outdoor and direct mail. The inline graphic highlights the current efforts of marketers attempts at integrating analytics.

Experience new solutions!

I hope this list of top martech categories for 2018 motivates you to try new tools of the trade! While it is important to not become a “jack of all trades, expert at none,” you should still be well versed in multiple martech solutions to help you get the grandest exposure, leads, and sales for your company. In fact, 9 out of 10 marketers surveyed use more than one martech solution on a regular basis.

For myself, a few martech solutions I’ll be onboarding in 2018 include chatbots, machine learning, and ABM (account-based marketing). What martech solution will you be adding to your quiver in 2018?