It’s fair to say that professionals of all stripes have been and continue to be massively impacted by a wide range of changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, circumstances fraught with both opportunities and challenges.
Marketers, arguably, could take a place at the top of the list of professions impacted by these factors. So what are these impacts and how will they play out this year and next? What trends are emerging that marketers need to follow as they seek to set themselves and their products and services apart from the competition? There are a number—some that will require significant investments, others readily accessible to even the most budget-constrained marketer. When it comes to trends in the marketing space, there’s ample opportunity for everyone.
“Content is king.” It’s a tried-and-true sentiment originally coined by media magnate Sumner Redstone in 1974 (and later put forward by Bill Gates in 1996). And it’s just as relevant today as it was then.
The trend has certainly been fueled by Google, the leader among search engines, and marketers’ desire to leverage search engine optimization (SEO) to craft content designed to attract the attention of both bots and potential buyers.
When it comes to the go-to tactic used by most marketers today, written content tops the list. It’s closely followed, though, by video.
Like written content, using video for marketing is not new. Video, however, remains hot and is getting hotter. The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) has been doing research among business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers for several years now.
In 2022, when asked which content assets had been used during the past 12 months, video showed up in the number two spot for B2B marketers (at 66 percent compared to 90 percent for short articles/posts of less than 3,000 words), and for B2C marketers (at 61 percent compared to 83 percent for short articles/posts of less than 3,000 words).
This popularity is likely driven by the popularity of video-powered social channels.
“The world is becoming more visual when it comes to consuming content, which has made visual-driven platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok gain popularity,” says Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a strategic marketing consulting firm. “With the rise of a generation that would much rather watch or look at something vs. sit and read, there is going to be a growing trend of more visual content, including pictures, long- and short-form videos, memes, diagrams, and infographics.” As people shifted more to digital channels during the pandemic, she says, live streams also have been used more broadly to host public events and meetings on platforms like Twitch.
Omnichannel marketing has been talked about for some time but has yet to reach critical mass, although marketers are quite keen to leverage its potential.
Omnichannel marketing, says Daniel Tejada, cofounder and chief learning officer at Straight Up Growth, an Amazon-focused growth agency, is “fast becoming the way brands create a personalized experience to suit each customer’s individual needs and preferences as they move from channel to channel, device to device.”
For instance, he explains, suppose you’re on your phone checking out camping gear. Later, you’re watching how-to videos on YouTube and an ad pops up featuring the same six-person tent you were looking at earlier. The next day you receive an email with an offer of a 15 percent discount and free shopping for that same tent. The success of these efforts, Tejada says, “comes down to how well you know your customer and how they interact with your business—both online and off. By leveraging these insights with customer data, you can craft relevant and timely messaging appropriate to each channel.”
Even in the digital space, omnichannel marketing is still not at the level it could or should be.
Matthew Post, cofounder of digital marketing firm SEM Dynamics, says the move to omnichannel marketing is the most significant trend he’s seeing. Companies, he says, are moving increasingly in this direction. “Most businesses now recognize that omnichannel marketing casts a broader net and offers safety through diversification.” This is true for both large and small companies that are recognizing “the benefits of cohesion in their digital and physical marketing efforts,” Post says.
However, he acknowledges, while using multiple channels can be more profitable than “going all-in on a single channel,” return on ad spend can be difficult to calculate. “As this trend continues, the need to shore up attribution will increase,” he says. “We anticipate growing cross-platform attribution capabilities where decision makers can better analyze a return on ad spend at each touchpoint.”
The potential of omnichannel marketing can also be aided by chatbots and conversational AI.
CHATBOTS AND CONVERSATIONAL AI
Digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri really aren’t “trends,” but they’re being used by content marketers in 2022 to engage customers and drive them down the path to purchase. They’re also serving as a cost-effective means of communicating with customers. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning improvements are driving their increased use.
The pandemic has been a big driver of the adoption of this technology, even among smaller companies. As they were forced to scale back physical engagements with customers during the pandemic, companies had to quickly pivot to new methods of interaction, and chatbots were one of the most important and impactful among them.
CAUSE MARKETING AND ESG
A number of companies have been recognized in the media for their involvement in cause-related marketing. Some recently in the news include Disney, Coca-Cola, Uber, Starbucks, and JetBlue. The idea is becoming more mainstream, though, both as organizations begin to recognize the importance of various environmental, social, and governance (ESG) causes, and as governments agencies like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have begun to build in ESG-related requirements for companies.
As Max Hauer, CEO of Goflow, an automated command platform that helps multichannel sellers manage their e-commerce activities, says: “Consumers have become more conscious of environmental and social issues, and they favor brands that are environmentally and socially conscious. Begin your business to adhere to all rules and laws. Go green, respect the environment, donate to organizations, and never engage in practices that are detrimental to society.”
And, of course, make sure you are continually informing your customers and prospects of your efforts through all your ongoing communications so you’re gaining PR and marketing value from them.
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are digital assets that represent “real-world objectives like art, music, in-game items, and videos,”according to Robyn Conti and John Schmidt, writing for Forbes Advisor. They’ve actually been around since 2014, they say, but have been gaining popularity recently. In fact, they note: “The market for NFTs was worth a staggering $41 billion in 2021 alone.”
NFTs are built like cryptocurrencies but are not the same. The difference lies in the word “fungible.” Fungible tokens can be exchanged for something else. NFTs are unique and have a unique digital identifier that can’t be copied or exchanged.
David Farkas, founder and CEO of the Upper Ranks, a links-building company, says NFTs are digital assets that can be traded. “Each NFT has a unique token that indicates that it is an original and that you own it.” They have, he says, “not only disrupted the art and technology worlds, but they have also begun to infiltrate the marketing world.”
Clearly there are a lot of things going on in the digital marketing world. So what does the future hold? Digital marketing experts are optimistic and looking for more and better ways to engage with their audiences and track their success.
One trend emerging in 2022 but anticipated to have greater impact on marketers in the future is the move away from cookies as a means of tracking consumer behavior online to provide key insights to marketers.
“According to my view, the most cutting-edge marketing trends and technology include a world without cookies,” says Edward Mellet, director at WikiJob, a website for job seekers to share information about finance careers and companies. Privacy concerns have grown over the past few years, he notes. “By 2023, Google plans to provide a cookieless future in advertising technology, which it claims will revolutionize the business. Toward the end of 2022, Google will begin implementing new technologies that will promote the removal of test cookies.”
While Google anticipated the potential for others to step into the gap that will be left when they no longer provide this data, these efforts are likely to be both challenging and stymied by consumers’ growing trepidation about companies’ abilities to access their personal data. “Unlike cookies, which rely on information provided by the client, cookie substitutes will need troves of first-party data to be successful,” Mellet says.
Still, all is not hopeless for marketers when it comes to tracking the effectiveness of their efforts and gaining insights into consumer behaviors that can help them fine-tune their marketing efforts, says Will Yang, head of growth at Instrumentl, an online fundraising tools provider.
How will it work? Yang says this technology trend is already under way “with the advent of fingerprinting and device tracking.” With fingerprinting, he says, “a company inserts a small piece of code into its website that reads and saves visitors’ unique browser fingerprints. Then, when they return to that website, it can identify them immediately, even if they’ve deleted cookies.” Device tracking is similar, he says, but uses information from the devices people use, like IP address or operating system, instead of a browser fingerprint.
Recognizing the massive potential future of what has come to be called the “metaverse,” Facebook changed the name of its company to Meta in 2021, saying: “The metaverse is the next evolution of social connection. Our company’s vision is to help bring the metaverse to life, so we are changing our name to reflect our commitment to this future.”
The metaverse, Farkas says, “is commonly referred to as a world within our world.” It’s a concept likely most familiar to those in gaming, where in-game immersion into virtual worlds has become increasingly sophisticated over the years.
But the metaverse holds promise for marketers as well. Again, the pandemic brought this potential to light as companies needed to quickly find new ways of offering consumers insights into what they had to offer. Consider the plight of real estate companies during the pandemic, for instance. Or even HR recruiters hoping to give potential employees a look into what a “day on the job” might be like.
With Facebook as one of many significant players in this space, it’s something to watch moving forward.
The flip side of immersion in a high-tech virtual world might also hold increasing promise to marketers, though.
FROM HIGH TECH TO HIGH TOUCH
Although perhaps counterintuitive to the massive impact technology is having on marketing, moving toward more high-touch strategies holds a lot of promise and potential. As many marketers have moved to the digital environment and leveraged technology to connect with consumers, especially during the pandemic, the field of personal outreach and high-touch has become far less cluttered. This might leave the door open to marketers who want to zig while others are zagging—reaching out to make personal connections with prospects and customers to stand apart in what has become a digital-first environment.
It doesn’t have to become an either/or endeavor, of course. Even high-touch marketers can use technology behind the scenes to better understand customer needs and then deliver on those needs in very personal ways that help them stand out from the digital masses.
As marketers look forward to 2023, there are a number of options to consider—some old but reemerging in new ways, some new, and some still on the horizon. There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all silver bullet solution for marketers. What works for one might not work for another. And, of course, what works today might not work or even exist next year. That is, perhaps, what makes the field of marketing so continually exciting and compelling for so many in the field.