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In the tech world, today’s developments are old news, and expectations for tomorrow were best discussed yesterday. Consider how heavily the industry is buffeted around by everything from new discoveries to the whims of Google, Amazon, and other juggernauts. No one with any meaningful ambition is afforded the luxury of being reactive.
The marketing industry, however, is a little more sluggish. It’s still fast-paced relative to many other fields, but the sheer breadth of marketers — huge agencies down to freelance workers — ensures that fresh developments gently ripple out (for a spell, at least, until the tipping point is reached and they suddenly feel mandatory). This affords the average marketer (anyone part of an SME, really) great opportunity to spot what lurks over the horizon.
Am I contending that the key to success is being the farthest ahead of the curve? No, certainly not — trying to get ahead of everyone else might just sink you, like a 1975 business investing everything in the freshly-released Betamax. But anticipating what’s to come, concentrating largely on safe bets, holds a lot of value in helping you prepare.
Supposing you’re a tech-savvy marketer with an interest in doing just that (a safe bet, given the context of the site), you’ll be eager to contemplate the future of the marketing — so let’s do just that by looking at the trends likely to prove impactful in the next year. Here are the things you should be thinking about as 2020 draws closer:
While there’s a lot of value in viewing target audiences as collectives when developing strategy, it’s never been advisable to treat them as collectives. People have always liked to feel catered to when making purchasing decisions — to feel that their singular needs are being recognized and seamlessly met. Think of the razor-sharp salesperson switching up their patter based on the evident preferences of the shopper they’re addressing.
The reason that this hasn’t been widely done before in the digital space is that it introduces enormous complexity. Once you start customizing UIs for specific users, you exponentially increase the number of things that can go wrong. That said, we have seen account-based marketing (or ABM) become prominent (and greatly successful) in the B2B world where clients are fewer and hold decidedly more individual value.
In the end, mastering sophisticated marketing personalization is about using advanced systems to not only populate custom fields but also deploy and track them throughout extended user journeys (so that someone who makes certain choices on one of your sites will have those choices reflect on your other sites, for example). With the growth of machine learning, this is now readily achievable, and set to prove highly influential in the coming years.
Ethical business practices
You’ve surely already noticed the gentler approach that many businesses are taking to cultivating their public images. CEOs now linger on Twitter instead of berating employees, offering carefully-cultivated social commentary. Brands focus entire marketing campaigns on issues pertaining to the environment and/or sustainability, taking pages out of the charity marketing playbook. It’s too late to get ahead of this trend (much too late), but if you’ve missed it thus far, it’s time to make it a core priority.
Here’s why: at the moment, many business owners live in fear of saying the wrong things and being caught out by the denizens of social media, but they can mostly fly under the radar. The more businesses make a show of creating ethical commitments, the more of a spotlight will be placed on those that don’t — and it won’t be long before simply having a business without making mention of moral codes and values is taken as implicit wrongdoing.
Fortunately, this is a trend that is easy to deal with. Simply set out a basic ethical code for your business and try to live up to it (something that you should be doing regardless), and be prepared to field relevant questions. Avoid any obvious slip-ups, and you should be able to keep your brand image unsullied.
The digital marketing industry has always had major issues competing with in-person spectacles when it comes to attention-grabbing power. Looking at something on a computer monitor or smartphone screen doesn’t fully engage your senses or your mind — but this is something that technology is steadily changing, seeking to close the experiential gap.
Think about how cinemas have been pushing CJ E&M America’s 4DX standard since 2014, pairing classic movie experiences with myriad environmental effects (smells, additional lights, simulated wind and rain, moving seats, etc.) to make it easier for people to imagine that they’ve been transported into the movie worlds. This is the type of thing that experiential marketing aims to one day achieve.
Key to this are the twin tactics of immersion and interaction. Digital immersion is increasingly achieved through the deployment of virtual reality (VR) technology: instead of just looking at a commercial, you can experience it around you. This is far from reaching the mainstream, but interaction through the use of augmented reality (AR) technology has already become popular.
Indeed, we can already see AR tech in use for marketing purposes throughout the ecommerce world: for example, makeup company Sephora developed an AR makeup preview app to promote its makeup range, and ecommerce platform provider Shopify added to the core appeal of its storefront design system through investing in AR product previews. Through allowing people to virtually place products in their homes (or on their faces, as the case may be), AR tech is helping to bridge the gap between in-person and online retail.
Sometimes mistakenly thrown around with generic buzzwords, customer success actually involves a significant change in how customer support systems are viewed and designed. The core is simple: when assisting a customer (or even a shopper yet to buy from you), you can aim merely to help them achieve the goal you have for them (buying your product, for instance), or you can aim to help them achieve their overall goal — whatever that may be.
For instance, suppose that someone wants to buy a ceiling fan from you — you can complete that order as promptly as possible to hit that basic goal, but that’s not all you can do. You could also think about why they might want a ceiling fan (e.g. it’s too hot in their house), and come up with additional things you do to help with that, such as arranging priority delivery and installation, or pointing them towards other heat-reducing products you sell. Earning plaudits and repeat custom this way is a fantastic way to scale.
It may be unintentional, but Amazon’s automated product recommendation system does this very well through sheer numbers, not actually knowing what a customer wants but knowing what similar customers have wanted before and being able to help as a result. You can do more than this: you can actually speak to your customers to find out what they really care about, and identify various ways (big or small) to make your service more useful for them.
Multi-channel content distribution
Producing effective content in an efficient way is a major matter for most modern marketers. Internet users (mostly everyone by now) consume content voraciously, so saturation is never a realistic possibility. If you want to get somewhere through content marketing, you need to have a plan to reach as many people as possible with every piece — producing a quality piece of content takes time and skill, so failing to max out the performance is being wasteful.
These days, this performance-maxing process ideally involves omnichannel intent: creating content that can be tweaked, compressed or expanded to suit any format or channel. That’s absurdly complicated, though, so you should simply aim for multi-channel content: content that you can host and post in several places to pick up more attention and drive more interest.
For instance, you can write a blog post that would also be effective as a podcast or an infographic, then adapt it into those formats, and give each one a small blurb for use across social media. In the end, you’ll have turned one piece of creative content into three or four distinct pieces submitted to distinct audiences through distinct platforms. This efficiency is what makes it possible for a small business to punch above its weight.
Live video streaming
In some ways the opposite of the type of content produced for experiential marketing, video streams are increasingly popular for two reasons: they (ostensibly) provide raw insight into how companies operate, and they’re compelling to follow because they’re live and often go unrecorded (meaning you need to watch them while they’re on or miss out).
Just look at the advertising appeal of a platform like Twitch. Recognizing the diminishing returns of conventional online advertising (banner ads, pop-ups, etc.), companies have started spending more on both video ads (played at regular intervals, as on YouTube) and influencer marketing relationships (getting streamers to promote products during their streams).
Whether through committing to advertising through existing live streams or producing original live streams to promote their teams, offices, products, services, events, or even ethical commitments, modern businesses need to take advantage of the power of live video. With mobile data consistently getting cheaper and faster, it won’t be long before average consumers are able to consume video content all day.
Is this a comprehensive list of marketing trends to consider as we head towards 2020? Absolutely not, because such a list would be exhaustingly long — but these trends are both notable and provide viable additions to mid-range marketing strategies. Think carefully about how you can adapt your operation to keep up.