The digital marketing landscape changes so much and so frequently that it’s almost impossible to imagine what the future of digital marketing may offer in terms of opportunities.
During the last year or two, we’ve seen new technologies, a backlash of sorts in social media, and influencer marketing maturing from its early days as a viable and powerful marketing channel in its own right. What do I see as the biggest content marketing trends for 2020 and beyond?
My 2021 Marketing Predictions
There are 2 major trends in the digital marketing industry I think everyone will be talking about. The first is AI. We will begin to realize the opportunity of an AI-driven content marketing strategy. If 60-70% of the content we create goes unused, AI will begin to force us to reconsider what we create and why.
The second is employee activation. AI will tell us what to create, but our best storytellers are our existing employees from across the business. Every company needs a strategy to activate these employees as both creators and as the most effective distribution channel to share that content.
This is the paradox of AI. The more the robots tell us what to do, the more we will need our internal experts to create and share that content.
There are a few things we’re pretty clear about. Content marketing isn’t going to go anywhere for a while for sure. But what other digital marketing trends might we see as we head towards 2020?
Smart speakers and “assistants” have been around for a while but they really started to take off in 2017 and 2018 as people have lost the self-consciousness of talking to their phones and a range of new consumer devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home have appeared on the market.
There’s no reason for the trend in mobile to stop growing, and this hands-free technology will become an increasingly standard way that users choose to interact with their devices. It’s estimated that over half of all search queries are powered by voice search.
With this growth in voice search powered smart devices will come more opportunities to market to the people that own them. Amazon already spotted this opportunity when it started offering cheaper Kindle devices in exchange for agreeing to receive marketing communications. Targeted Alexa ads are already in the pipeline and the other devices will be sure to follow.
Advanced AI Technology
Artificial intelligence has been expanding what’s possible in the world of digital marketing for quite a while now, but we’re going to see exponential leaps in what this technology is capable of over the next few years.
Chatbots will become a customer service standard and start replacing live agents more and more frequently as machine learning algorithms grow more complex and are able to emulate human beings with almost spooky accuracy.
Marketing is becoming more conversational and personalized and chatbots enable you to take advantage of this trend without additional strain on your manpower and resources.
AI is also being used in advertising. While it hasn’t quite achieved human levels of creativity, Google is already running ads powered by AI to optimize campaigns by identifying the best-performing ad designs and copy and automatically adjusting based on user engagement.
Social Media Takes Over The World
You may think social media is already pervasive, but as they say: “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Social media will continue to make its presence known in every area of our lives and become truly integrated with both on and offline services.
In an episode of the dystopian Netflix series Black Mirror, social media has spilled out of the screen and into the real world as individuals rate their interactions with others and are awarded better housing, jobs, and social status based on their overall rating.
Science fiction? Maybe for now, but the future probably isn’t so far away. Most of the apps on your phone are probably already sharing data with your social media networks and it’s now common for employers and recruiters to screen social media profiles before interviews.
What does this mean for marketers? A deeper understanding of each customer as an individual and the opportunity to offer highly targeted offers and services, as the AI algorithms used in social media grow increasingly sophisticated.
The Rise of Micro-influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing has already grown huge in recent years with top influencers on platforms like Instagram and YouTube attracting millions of followers and making a six-figure income from their deals with brands.
However influencer marketing is still in its infancy and while it offers great ROI compared to more traditional advertising channels, there are some issues to be ironed out.
Fake followers are currently a problem that’s still being resolved, and there have been some notable occurrences when brand/influencer relationships have backfired in a bad way.
Big name influencers are also starting to lose their power as they take on more and more sponsored posts, reducing the authenticity and impact of their recommendations.
As consumers continue to value individual recommendations over being marketed at, it’s going to make sense to invest more in “micro-influencers” – those social media users who have a much smaller but dedicated following and can deliver truly authentic marketing messages to a trusting audience.
Influencers’ power will be measured not by the sheer number of followers they boast, but their personal relationships with each individual follower.
Augmented Reality Becomes Commonplace
Remember the Pokémon Go craze of 2016? The mobile game was not only a great example of how augmented reality can be used in video games, but also a marketing opportunity, as businesses jumped on the chance to sell to customers trying to catch a Pokémon or two on their doorstep.
Augmented reality is not just a fun gimmick for gamers. It’s being used more and more as a tool for brands to reach customers. Ikea now offers a virtual reality catalog where you can place pieces of furniture in your own home, and fashion brands are starting to use augmented reality to allow their customers to try on outfits virtually in the comfort of their own homes.
Expect to see more brands jumping on the augmented reality bandwagon, and the technology slowly becoming a more common occurrence with serious marketing goals, rather than a cute trick.
Video Overtaking All Other Digital Channels
Savvy marketers have recognized the power of online video for years – back in 2015; The Washington Post predicted that video would account for 80% of all online content by 2020.
We’re not quite there yet, but video is already proving itself as a powerful medium, and we’ve seen a massive rise in live streaming video in particular over the last year or so.
Video marketing can be incredibly effective at boosting engagement levels and the consumer appetite for video shows no sign of slowing down – YouTube is already overtaking Facebook as the second-most visited site (Google is number one, naturally).
If you’ve not fully embraced video in your brand marketing, you’re already lagging behind, but it’s not too late to jump in. With the combination of live video and augmented reality, exciting things are becoming possible and original and creative videos are sure to be the big content channel winner as we head into 2019.
Going Back to Basics with Employee Activation
Of course all these advances in technology are very exciting, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the basic principles that make for a great marketing strategy, and a great company.
Employee activation will enable your organization to get the best out of every employee, who will act as ambassadors for your brand and grow sales and conversions in a genuine and authentic way that’s more effective than any advertising campaign could ever be.
Referring back to the trend of micro-influencer marketing, when your employees are engaged they will themselves act as micro-influencers for your company. If you are successful in employing individuals who align with your brand values and help their passion what you’re trying to achieve to grow, they will act as your most dedicated cheerleaders.
As our reliance on technology grows, more and more organizations are also realizing they need to be more “human” and must activate the storytelling and organic sharing power of employees – this is the “paradox of AI” as we learn to take our place alongside machines in this brave new world of opportunities.
Where Do You Think Marketing is Going?
Some time back, the amazing team at Velocity Partners designed this “Future of Marketing” slideshow, based on quotes that I got from several B2B marketing leaders. These words ring so true, you can watch this future unfolding in 2021.