There is no question that 2020 has been a pivotal year in history, but how it will affect the future largely remains to be seen. In digital marketing, we are noticing the continuation and acceleration of many trends. Marketing professionals believe that the digital transformation boost represents the biggest opportunity born of the current situation, giving us an indication of what the future might look like.
Which trends are changing the face of the marketing industry? This question is no less relevant in 2021 – especially now that the pace of digitalization has accelerated in many sectors as a result of COVID-19. Marketers are increasingly switching over to online marketing. Many marketers plan to focus on communication platforms, online lead generation and marketing automation to a greater extent in the future, and believe that virtual events will continue to supplement traditional trade fairs and events for a long time to come. In the T-Systems Virtual Innovation Center, for example, customers can take part in interactive workshops as 3D avatars for realistic interaction experiences despite social distancing. No marketer can afford to ignore digital technologies these days. This impacts sales, customer and event communications, and is also driving the spread of technologies such as AR, AI and digital signage. At the same time, consumer demographics, media use and buying behaviour are changing, opening up new opportunities to shape digital marketing in the near (and distant) future.
You may think that digitalization has made everyone a marketing expert – and anyone who has ordered a product from Amazon knows how e-commerce works. But it’s not that simple, because the marketing landscape is becoming increasingly diverse and specialized. There are more than 8000 martech solutions according to ChiefMarTec’s figures for 2020. That’s up 13.6% over the previous year and an impressive 5233% over the past ten years (2011: 150). The figures for the category of Data, with tools for data collection and analysis, demonstrate the fastest growth rate (+25.5% since 2019), followed by digital applications for Projects & Workflow and Social & Relationships. The latter also had the biggest subcategory growth in Conversational Marketing & Chat (+70%).
As a result of the increasing number of solutions available, it seems that digital marketing is becoming less and less expensive. That may be broadly true, but the experts are also aware that while targeting and marketing automation solutions as well as the AR/VR apps or 3D worlds are becoming increasingly user friendly, the latter in particular require a comparatively high resource expenditure. This poses a challenge in times of cost-optimized marketing budgets. Enterprises are planning higher investments in digital channels in 2021, especially in search engines, social media, audio/video platforms and editorial websites.
In 2020, global growth in the use of AI software was 154% versus the previous year. It’s difficult to make any future prognoses at this time, but the use of AI for marketing applications is likely to become more widespread once the financial and legal issues have been clarified. One of the applications is marketing automation and its advantages extend from automated content creation to personalized ads and 24/7 shopping. Experts are also predicting that most customer service processes will be performed by chatbots soon.
It is widely assumed that AI eliminates the need for human personnel – but that isn’t true. A successful marketing automation concept is reliant on competent specialists who understand and exploit all the digital touchpoints in the customer journey. The lack of qualified AI tech personnel is one of the main reasons why enterprises are hesitant to invest in AI technology.
Households of the future will all have AI-supported smart speakers such as Amazon Alexa or Telekom’s Hallo Magenta. Thanks to smartphones, virtual assistants are our constant companions, and they are continuing to conquer new areas of our lives. For example, Amazon is working on the integration of Alexa into vehicles. Voice-driven services can proactively suggest facilities in the area, such as restaurants at lunchtime.
There are many opportunities to merge the real and digital worlds. Smartphones can interact with digital signage at local retailers to display personalized live product advertisements based on Google or Amazon data combined with gender, body shape or clothing style recognition technology. AR marketing tools are also gaining in popularity. They show smartphone users live information or 3D maps to help them find their way around the local shops. Soon we’ll be seeing AR ads, like Google View 3D ads, on a more regular basis. They provide customers with a 3D experience of products in their current environment, using smartphones as AR viewers.
At some time in the future, we will be able to project products in front of our eyes with AR goggles and lenses. When you factor nanorobotics and computer-brain interfacing into the equation, these visionary concepts take on an entirely new dimension. Perhaps one day it will even be possible to stream music straight into our brains or take a dream vacation while we sleep.
Let’s come back to the present day, though, and consider the solutions that marketers are already using to get ready for the future. Many of them are investing their time in search engine marketing (SEM). One of the goals should be to deliver specific answers to specific questions – also for Alexa and other smart speakers, because customers generally only ask them questions to which they want an immediate answer. It makes sense to aim for something like Google’s ‘position zero’. This is a featured snippet, the information that Google offers at the very top of the search results above the organic ones.
In the case of ‘traditional’ (corporate) websites, the focus isn’t on key words such as product names, but on customer benefits or the value proposition. Context is King and the new approaches will be more significant because even the best online advertising isn’t immune to ad blockers. They cause a financial drain amounting to billions of dollars every year. One reason why people say they use ad blockers is that they feel ad-free websites are easier to use.
Although we have experienced a shift towards digital channels triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, we still face the challenge of how to effectively manage the ever-growing volume of data and content. Marketing professionals are the people who have to analyze and make use of this information density. Bearing that and the above-mentioned options in mind, a solid technological framework is of elementary importance – for the smooth functioning of marketing tools and a seamless customer experience in digital applications on mobile devices or in digital stores. Professional cybersecurity protection is essential.
It is also becoming more difficult to make products, brands and companies stand out in the mass of information and, as a result, marketing campaigns have to be even more impressive to capture the attention of the target audience. Also, the ‘new normal’ can soon become ‘yesterday’s news’. For example, a corporate digital event that initially has high innovation value can soon sink into obscurity as a multitude of similar digital events emerge. The goal in the ‘epic marketing’ sense should be to enhance the quality and visibility of all marketing measures – and to stay receptive to new ideas.
Context is King – Analyze your website and social media profiles, and ask yourself why customers would want to visit them. Adapt the content to the target audience’s needs and demonstrate your solution’s tangible benefits. This will improve your SEM and voice search success rates.
Technology first – Make sure you have a technological infrastructure that guarantees the smooth operation of your marketing applications, with the data privacy and cybersecurity mechanisms to instil the necessary confidence in users. The sooner you invest, the better prepared you will be for the digital future.
Test for the best – Review your marketing and sales data on a daily basis and regularly test your own and new marketing technologies to identify more efficient tools and measures that will boost your sales.
Epic marketing – Make sure your company tells a different story with epic marketing content that attracts new customers, inspires existing ones and ensures the long-term loyalty of both.