Product Management

3 Digital Product Trends That Will Shape 2018


2017 was a big year for product teams. Designers finally got a seat at the table and brought a focus on UX with them. Big data got even bigger. And PMs continued to argue over the value of agile vs. scrum vs. waterfall vs. kanban vs. tomato timers.

So what’s in store for 2018? 

We’re calling it 'The Year of The Democratization of Product'—and we’re seeing 3 major trends in product contribute to it.

Trend #1: More and more companies will become product-led

What’s happening and why

2017 saw many companies become design-driven—and that’s a great thing. When products compete with UX, everyone gets a better experience.

The truth is, software doesn’t compete only in its category anymore. No matter what your product is, it also competes with:

  • The disarming ease of Amazon’s one-click checkout
  • The clear expectations of how far away your Lyft is and what direction it’s heading
  • Nest being able to anticipate your physical comfort—and update your environment accordingly

Customers assume products will be easy to use, clear, and make their lives remarkably better.

And they don’t delineate between the software they use at home and the software they use at work. Customers are beginning to hold enterprise products to the same standards as any other digital experience they have.

What we’ll see in 2018

Tristan—our head of product design—says, “UX continues to infiltrate the enterprise space. It’s still on the upswing and will keep growing as a differentiating factor for enterprise software. And small, pesky upstarts will be able to gain significant growth over older more entrenched players.”

Companies will continue down the path of being design-driven to fulfilling their destiny of becoming product-led—meaning they let their product be their sales force.

We’ll see the biggest shift in enterprise software companies, who have traditionally relied on sales teams to sell the value of a product to a prospect. More enterprise software companies will launch a touchless sales process—where enterprise customers won’t speak to a representative before first using or even purchasing a product.

That means the proof for customers will have to come from a company’s product itself. We’ll see enterprise products become their own salesperson through free trials, similar to what we already see in the B2C space. Companies will work to make sure their products immediately provide value, making a successful onboarding process critical for survival.

When all is said and done, companies who are product-led will win. Those who aren’t will suffer or try to pivot.

Trend #2: Personalized product experiences for everyone

What’s happening and why

2017 brought personalization in consumer products. Now, you can get personalized vitamins and even shampoo. As users begin to expect hyper-personalized experiences, we’ll see this bleed over into the digital world.

The good news is that technology is keeping up. A few years ago, personalization was limited to slapping a {FirstName} tag into an email. But now, companies know more about their users than ever before.

Knowing what job role a user has, how far into the product they’ve gotten, and what features they have/haven’t seen means companies can talk to their users in a smarter, more tailored way.

What we’ll see in 2018

Personalization will become a key differentiating factor for products, just like UX has been in the last few years. And while 1:1 communication is easy to personalize, companies will need to do it at scale. We’ll continue to see a rise in analytics tools that aid in this personalization-at-scale, like Segment,, and Mixpanel.

The rise of personalization will fuel users’ self-sufficiency.  Internally in product-led organizations, conversations will switch from “can we personalize this” to “what’s the best way to personalize this?” We’ll see more on-demand education, in-product marketing, and helpful nudges. These embedded user experiences then allow companies to analyze a user’s learning needs and goals and help them deliver a product experience that meets those requirements. As a result, customers will adopt new features faster and have higher retention rates.

Bottom line? Personalization of software experiences will become the new standard for good UX.

A woman types in code on a laptop

Trend #3: More non-product people will be shipping product

What’s happening and why

From big companies to small companies—engineering time is a hot commodity. In fact, for the past nine years, engineers have appeared on the list of hardest to fill jobs in the U.S. That means a big backlog of work to be done and no end in sight.

As companies deal with the lack of engineers, they are starting to implement third-party software that will allow folks in traditionally non-product roles to start affecting changes in product itself. We’ve started to see this with companies like Intercom, Mixpanel, and—to toot our own horn—Appcues, all of which act as a portal into the product.

What we’ll see in 2018

The rise of third-party software will free up developers to work on problems that really matter—like infrastructure updates—rather than redundant tasks.

What’s measured gets managed, and visa versa. We’ll also bet that product metrics will become everyone’s KPIs. Company-wide initiatives will be centered around the product’s performance, and all hands will be on deck.

We’ll see these product metrics—and more—become owned by non-product teams

The big picture change is that team dynamics will shift, as roles traditionally seen as non-product will start affecting real changes in the product. We’ll have to figure out who on the team regulates changes pushed through third-party software, how many people have access, and other product management things.

Cheers to 2018: The Year of the Democratization of Product

So to recap, product-led companies will deliver personalized, instructional experiences and will enlist the help of traditionally-non product people to do so. As a result, product KPIs will be everyone’s KPIs, and the cycle will feed itself.

Did we miss a trend? Or do you disagree? Tweet to us @appcues, and let us know what you’re expecting to happen in 2018.

Margaret Kelsey is a content marketer at Appcues. Before Appcues, she built content programs for InVision’s design community for 3.5 years and has roots in painting and PR. She’s a big fan of puns, Blackbird Donuts, and Oxford commas—probably in that order.

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