1. Learn, fail, thrive, repeat.

Whether through helping small business superheroes with genius-level digital marketing advice @ChaseforBiz conferences, or wrapping our tongues around the name of our new client’s Polish beer – Zywiec – pronounced “zhivyets” — the Zen team has humbly recognized and can’t stress enough the importance of being a lifelong (and daily) learner.

The process of learning new things, while challenging old ways of knowing and seeing the world, is critical to everything from warding off diseases, like Alzheimer’s, to staying on top of your game as a CMO, solo-preneur, or even someone just entering the workforce.

Our favorite brain food going into 2018? The annual Forrester Predictions that dub 2018 the “year of reckoning” and include stunning stats like this one:

In 2018, 30% of companies will see further declines in CX performance, and those declines will translate into a net loss of a point of growth.

2. Be agile. Think interdisciplinary.

The “connected consumer” can be a moving and elusive target and leave brands in pursuit feeling frazzled and overextended. The spotlight shifts rapidly from social media to digital customer service solutions to temporary activations that delight and inspire, and a business’s precious resources of time, personnel, and budget can quickly begin to feel depleted, if the proper priorities and perspective aren’t in place.

In the coming year, Zen invites and challenges brands and leaders to work smarter, rather than harder. Our own inception of M.A.D.E. — a business that incorporates marketing, architecture, development, and education to provide custom solutions for developers and brands — was an important step in this direction.

The future, as we see it, is as digital as it is physical. It’s about the personal and social interface of user habits, behaviors, trends, and desires. If a brand can understand this and how it applies to the services and products they offer, then they can be more efficient and profitable, as well as more liked and respected.

3. Keep it real.

The consumers of the future are nothing if not discerning. They’re also inundated. Brands that demonstrate respect for their audience’s intelligence and time will be the ones that are allowed onto news feeds and into consumers’ lives.

How to demonstrate this respect?

Don’t overlook internal alignment. Ask the big questions. What are your company’s values? How are they enacted? Marketing can’t be an afterthought; it has to be baked into how you treat your employees, how you curate your company culture, how you manufacture your product, and how you sell and promote. It’s more than just storytelling — it’s walking your talk.

Being successful in this economy requires empathy and imagination, as much as strategy and precision. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and go from there. What and how do you want to read, think, support, and/or buy? Use the answers to those questions as your starting point, and you’ll avoid the worst of the year’s faux pas. (Prepare to laugh.)