A new decade is upon us, and while it’s nice to reminisce about all that we have accomplished in the past year and in the last decade, I prefer to look towards the future. There are undoubtedly lessons for us in the bygone years; but looking through the kaleidoscope of the past, it’s difficult to predict what the future of marketing will look like five, or ten years down the line. A new wave of marketing reforms and technologies could sweep us off our feet, and compel us to adapt and adopt quickly, or force us to perish trying. Okay, that sounded a bit too ominous, but you catch my drift, don’t you?
While it may be difficult to predict the future, it is certainly possible to identify some key trends that marketers are most likely to adopt in 2020, based on empirical evidence. Following are seven pivotal trends that I believe will steer marketing-driven short-term brand wins, over the course of this year:
Customers are exposed to thousands of marketing messages each day, whether they choose to step out of their homes or not. We as marketers, tend to conveniently ignore the impact of our marketing campaigns as long as our messaging has a ‘wider reach’ – because obviously, quantity is everything, right? Wrong. When we inundate our customers with a gazillion messages across touchpoints, it will only prove to be counterproductive. Once a customer develops a bad taste towards a brand, it is hard to win them back.
But with the emergence of contextual customer data and AI technologies, it is now possible to hyper-personalize messaging to customers. Numerous studies and surveys have proved that customers react positively towards brands that deliver personalized experiences.
Hyper-personalized marketing or contextual marketing, looks at customer interests, usage and interaction patterns, and leverages the AI capabilities of marketing automation tools, to send out extremely customized marketing messages depending on where the customer is in the customer lifecycle.
While customers appreciate immersive experiences, they don’t take kindly to ‘Big Brother’ brands who do not respect their privacy. Hence it is critical that our data privacy policies are reader-friendly, and it is even more important that we act ethically and transparently.
Of all the marketing trends listed in this article, hyper-personalization will be the most prominent in 2020.
2. Conversational Marketing (Chat + Voice)
We typically relate conversational marketing only to chat-based interactions with customers. But I think that it’s more than that. Conversational marketing allows customers to interact with brands at a time of their choosing, and enables them to converse with the next best thing to humans – chatbots or dialogue systems. Customers don’t want to fill-out lengthy forms or scour through an FAQ maze, hoping to find an answer at the end of it. They want what they want, when they want it. They couldn’t care less about our manpower constraints or our ‘workforce optimization’ measures.
This is why, I would like to expand the scope of conversational marketing, to include voice-based systems as well. Both chat and voice technologies leverage the power of conversations to drive real-time customer engagement. This powerful combination can be tag-teamed to capitalize on customer micro-moments, be it when they are parked in front of the television, or when they are approaching a fast food giant’s drive-through.
Conversational marketing is much more than chatbots and voice assistants, it is about contextual interactions at the moment of truth. Today, most conversational systems have more canned responses on the other side, which adds zero value for the customer. For conversational marketing to really work, the customer engagement interface must comprise of a shiny-looking UI at the front, and a powerful AI engine at the back. This AI system must be capable of understanding the customer query, and coming back with a personalized response. Not only does this boost customer-experience, it also provides us additional opportunities to collect contextual data about our customers.
2020 will see voice assistants catch up to chatbots.
3. AI Powered Marketing Automation
AI or Artificial Intelligence may sound like the flavor of the season, like Big Data Analytics and Business Intelligence (BI) used to be at one point in time. But here’s the thing – these are all separate disciplines that co-exist even today, though they may go by different names. AI systems mimic the cognitive capabilities of a human brain using technologies such as Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP), and Deep Learning (DL), to dig through large data sets and deliver actionable intelligence/insights.
This is highly relevant in marketing, and isn’t some fancy, hyped-up buzzword that will lose prominence in a year or two. If anything, it will evolve to include more capabilities that we can’t even begin to imagine at this stage. The reason AI is so crucial to our marketing efforts is because it helps us augment Customer Experience (CX), through immersive and hyper-personalized drip marketing campaigns (no, we are not just talking about emails/newsletters).
AI powered marketing automation tools helps us take the insights derived from customer data and use it to run bespoke automated marketing campaigns, based on user patterns. Most of us already use a few marketing automation tools, but we probably haven’t really understood the full extent of its capabilities yet.
2020 will see the rise of many more marketing automation tools, with advanced AI capabilities, that address specific needs of marketers.
4. Lean Marketing
While Hyper-Personalized Marketing (HPM) and Account Based Marketing (ABM) is set to take-off this year, it will bring with it a new set of challenges for marketers. In a bid to stay ahead of the curve, we will go on a spending-spree, assessing and implementing multiple marketing automation tools, which will deplete our marketing budgets and make us sluggish in adopting to market changes.
Eventually, we will realize that we need to trim our marketing excesses, and concentrate on tools and platforms that enable us to be agile. This means that we will be forced to take calculated risks at regular intervals, but it will also mean that we will be in a position to make necessary iterations without facing major setbacks further down the line.
Another challenge that we will be up against owing to the use of multiple marketing automation tools, is that none of them are designed to play well with other tools (and especially not with their competitors). This means that each of these tools have different sets of insights about our customers, existing in silos. Unless we find a way for these systems to talk to each other, we will never really have a complete and accurate view of our customer data. This is where we will need the help of system integrators who can bring our entire MarTech (marketing technology) stack together, and provide us with a unified view of actionable customer intelligence.
MarTech System Integration (MSI) is an uncharted space, but with the help of advanced CDM (Customer Data Management) and CDP (Customer Data Platform) technologies, we will see MSI gradually taking shape in 2020.
5. Influencer Marketing
People tend to trust other human beings more, than they would trust a faceless brand. That’s why if there’s a marketing strategy that’s giving Content Marketing a run for its money, it’s Influencer Marketing. The reason for this is because influencer marketing takes good content and attaches an influential face to it, which helps disseminate the messaging around a product or service, in a much more effective fashion. And yes, this is very similar to celebrity endorsements, only that it isn’t just celebrities endorsing the brand, it’s also regular people who have built a brand for themselves on social media.
Influencer Marketing has found tremendous success in B2C, especially with story-based content on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, which are designed for storytelling. In fact, certain B2C brands have announced that they will be allocating more than 50% of their marketing budget towards influencer marketing in 2020. That demonstrates how much brands are banking on influencers.
B2B however, hasn’t been able to cash in on this trend yet. It’s probably because, as B2B marketers, we have failed to think outside the box. A lot of marketers may be apprehensive about finding the right target audience on social media channels such as Instagram and TikTok. They are not wrong; over 70% users on Instagram are below the age of 34, and over 60% TikTok users are less than 24 years old. This means that the ‘Ok Boomer’ generation which makes up most of the CXO level decision-makers TG, is not on these platforms. But this could be a chicken and egg situation – are B2B decision-makers not on social media sites like these because of a lack of relevant content, or is it that there’s a lack of relevant content on these channels, because B2B decision-makers are not on them?
But look at it this way – Influencer Marketing is not all that different from Advocate Marketing. Our biggest advocates are our customers and employees, and that is a resource pool that we have to tap into. We need to first identify micro-influencers on established B2B channels like LinkedIn and Twitter from within this advocate group, and then work on building a relationship with these advocates to get them to talk about our brand. From a content standpoint, we need to re-imagine the format in which testimonials can be published. Also bear in mind, influencers/advocates need not talk only about our products/services, they can shine a positive light on our leaders and our company culture as well, which will go a long way in boosting our brand reputation.
2020 will witness Influencer Marketing soaring to greater heights in B2C, and it will slowly start taking root in B2B.
6. Visual Storytelling
A DemandGen report reveals that over 91% of B2B buyers prefer visual and interactive content, as opposed to text-based content. There are countless other studies that share similar findings, and they all vouch for the fact that users interact more with visual content.
Visual Storytelling is about finding resonance with our customers and prospects, rather than just driving website visits and CTRs. It is about building a narrative that will help our customers relate to our brand, and identify with what our brand stands for. This strategy may not necessarily work for marketers looking for short-terms gains, but it will help build brand loyalty, which would amount to much more in the long-run.
There are no surefire techniques to visual storytelling. Every brand has to go through a trial and error phase to find a style that works for them and connects well with their audience. Customers identify with how a brand chooses to narrate its stories, and they can easily tell if a brand is faking it. Marketers however need to be on the money, because unlike text-based storytelling, there’s no room for error with visual content. All it will take is one ill-conceived visual to damage a brand’s reputation. Therefore, it’s best to enlist the help of visual communication designers for our visual storytelling needs.
2020 will see more marketers turning to visual storytelling to connect with prospects and customers.
7. Full Stack Marketing
Every organization wants to be profitable, and aspires to achieve meteoric success, in a very short span of time. This has given rise to several marketing niche like growth hacking, performance marketing, product marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, e-mail marketing, SEO, corporate communications, strategic marketing, T-shaped marketing, so on and so forth. Most organizations have marketing teams that is coming apart at the seams because it has way too many ‘specialists’.
The advantage of hiring Full Stack Marketers is that they are knowledgeable about the overlapping disciplines of marketing, including communications, content development, sales enablement, events and conferences, marketing operations, demand generation, ORM, digital PR, HTML tweaking, project management, and more. Full Stack Marketers will be able to deliver greater value to organizations of all shapes and sizes, since their learning-curves are significantly lower and because they can get well-adjusted to any situation they are put into. Unlike specialists, Full Stack Marketers don’t have their blinkers on – they can see the bigger picture, which allows them to make more holistic marketing contributions.
2020 will be the year when CMOs and marketing heads realize that what they need is Full Stack Marketers, who are essentially jacks of all marketing stacks, but not necessarily masters in any one area. Marketing teams will also begin to let go of vanity marketing. Where there is a need for specialist-knowledge for certain projects/campaigns, they would bring in external partners on a project basis.
Like each year, it’s up to us whether we choose to take the blue pill and be blissfully ignorant of the changing market dynamics, or we take the red pill and be ushered into a new reality where marketing is constantly evolving to address customer and brand needs while tiptoeing around the quagmire of data-privacy. But it is more important to remember that what we choose to do this year could set the course for the next decade. There are no silver bullets to cut through the myriad of challenges that marketers face today, but we can take solace in the fact that irrespective of what our competition may make it seem like, nobody really has it all figured out. So, here’s to a fantastic 2020, and the beginning of an epic new decade – wish you and your brand, all the marketing success.
(This post was originally posted to my LinkedIn profile – view here)