Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet Trends Report: What Matters for Marketers

Jun 04, 2018 Ed Harrison

At last week’s Code Conference, venture capitalist Mary Meeker released her eagerly-anticipated annual look at all things tech — the 2018 Internet Trends Report. Covering a broad range of issues of importance to consumer and enterprise tech communicators, from smartphone behavior in the U.S. to tech company competition in China, Meeker’s report serves as a unofficial kickoff to summer, alongside Memorial Day barbecues and an increased hankering for soft-serve ice cream (the latter at least for me).

It’s also a harbinger of the year ahead in tech — and many of 2018’s trends build on previous years’ topics, such as trends in mobile, customer data and consumer choice.

We took a pass through the 294 slide presentation (you’re welcome!) to highlight three key takeaways for public relations in the coming year.

1. Solving the “Privacy Paradox” with Trust

InkHouse’s CEO Beth Monaghan identified trust as 2018’s PR theme and we haven’t yet likely reached the bottom. Particularly since the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, consumer trust in Facebook has plummeted by 66 percent.

Meeker introduces the “privacy paradox,” which is particularly important in the wake of Facebook, Equifax and the litany of breaches and misplaced trust.

Meeker’s equation neatly encapsulates the state of consumers and tech companies in 2018: Tech companies need to use more of their data to enrich their customers’ services, but this is only possible if they maintain their customers’ trust.

Consumer tech companies are caught between using data to provide better consumer experiences and violating consumer privacy. This is because increased adoption relies on better usability, which relies on the data collected from each click. Users were historically driven to click based on perceived value — without recognizing the exchange they made (their data) for usage. But this trust is waning, and without it, the promise of personalization and digital marketing — and the trade of better user experience for more access to more data —  falls apart.

In today’s environment of rampant mistrust, consumers are much more aware of their role in Meeker’s equation — if they don’t like something, they can simply take their personal data elsewhere. Or opt-out all together.

Tech companies today compete on trust. The privacy paradox could undo the model that has driven the era’s great technological advancements — especially as consumers are more wary and more likely to change their habits than ever before. Trust only survives when companies are honest, responsive and transparent — and above all, authentic.

2. Mobile’s Dominance Drives Post-Text Storytelling

Mobile devices are our preferred entry point to online content — according to Meeker’s report, we are spending 5.9 hours each day online, up from 5.6 in 2016, and mobile is our gateway.

As such, journalists and communicators are changing their storytelling to keep apace with consumption habits.

Earlier this year, I wrote about telling stories in the post-text future, a concept outlined by the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo. Media is adapting to our changing consumption habits — on a phone, readers graze the stories that enter their feeds rather than searching for what’s new. Mobile has driven post-linear journalism, and the half-life of a story has moved from hours to seconds. Alerts have become a major news source — or one that drives us one or two clicks further. Stories need to have audio and video elements — and be packaged for seamless consumption through a feed, story, alert or voice command.

3. “Alexa — Does Voice Needs to Be a Part of the Marketing Mix?” 

(For the record, she responded, “Hmm … I’m not sure.” Later, she was more than happy to beatbox, tell me an endless string of knock-knock jokes and confirm her love for Seattle’s pro sports franchises.)

Voice technology has hit an inflection point — Google’s Home has hit the 95 percent word recognition benchmark, and the Amazon Echo has sold more than 30 million devices. Increasingly, we’re interacting with our devices with our voices — and marketers are racing to reach these growing audiences with branded skills, and publishers with unique “flash” content. There is a huge huge opportunity for marketers and publishers looking to reach audiences on these devices — an opportunity that requires some caution and adaptation. Marketers are treading with caution — consumers are trusting brands and publishers with the opportunity to enter their home through smart speakers, trust that can be easily erased through overbearing sales pitches or any breaches in privacy.

The potential is huge, though — Jupiter Research forecasts that 55 percent of all households will have a smart speaker installed by 2022, and marketers’ spending on such assistants is expected to reach $19 billion by the same year. While the possibilities are immense — personalized, highly-contextual messaging to consumers directly into the home— the pitfalls are significant.

While we’ve squeezed what seems like a dozen years of news into the time since Meeker’s previous report was issued last May, it was striking to notice how many of 2018’s trends are continuations and refinements of things she noted in 2016 and 2017. It will be fascinating to see how companies traverse the significant opportunities technology brings while navigating its potentially dire pitfalls.

Topics: privacy, Trust, Trends, Mobile, Marketing
Ed Harrison

Ed Harrison is a senior vice president for InkHouse and leads the east coast's enterprise technology practice. He has led B2B tech PR programs for clients large and small since 1996.

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