Consumer behavior and technology are evolving faster than most brands can keep pace. There is a constant stream of new channels, platforms, emerging technologies, search algorithm updates, data points and trends that marketers need to keep up with, many of which can be difficult to predict and costly to adopt. Consumers are now digitally fluid and mobile-first. They expect a consistent brand experience across devices and physical locations, with 49% reporting that they frequently shop on mobile and at least a third reporting that they research online before visiting a store. They also expect immediate results and are accustomed to having infinite options literally at their fingertips. We've evaluated the top trends we've seen emerge and narrowed down the ones that are here to stay into three main themes worth investigating for your business. Here are the most prevalent and impactful digital marketing strategies to consider in 2020:
1. Advanced Analytics
In an omnichannel world with nearly 50 billion devices connected online, where the average consumer engages across six touchpoints before making a purchase, most brands struggle to organize and use the increasingly high-volume influx of data. Brands are bogged down in legacy systems and siloed databases. They, therefore, have trouble extracting useful information that can help identify gaps, and give them the knowledge needed to make important fundamental decisions, let alone leverage newer technology and tactics. Google Analytics is great for specific use cases, but it does not provide the depth nor breadth of information needed to compete in today's competitive landscape. Brands should evaluate and invest in their business intelligence as the top priority in 2020.
The first step is building reliable data infrastructure and integrating systems, then defining a measurement framework that aligns with business outcomes. Once that foundation is in place, brands can then transform and activate their data, including evaluating campaigns, extracting useful insights, and uncovering stories across channels. Then, brands can develop a testing strategy to interpret the incrementality of marketing efforts as well as form a deep understanding of how various channels affect others. Lastly, brands can then start to leverage AI-powered predictive and augmented analytics solutions, such as customer propensity modeling and churn prediction.
The benefit of better analytics is simple: better ROI. It is not enough to simply collect more data since it is the application of that data that will actually apply meaning and dictate action for your business. For example, a brand may know that a customer named Jane Doe clicked on a retargeting ad from campaign A on December 8, 2019, and spent $100. They probably also know that Jane has made three purchases in the past two years and overall has spent $400, each time after clicking a retargeting ad. But what if this brand was also aware of Jane's behaviors and interests and that 60% of their customer base shared these same behaviors and interests? What if their analyst then discovered that half of these people, including Jane, initially discovered the brand after a popular Instagrammer reviewed their product and streamed it on her stories and Youtube channel? What if they also knew the majority of these customers watched multiple Youtube videos, interacted with two of their social media pages, and visited specific pages on their website 3+ times before receiving a remarketing ad and making a purchase? You can see how that first piece of data about Jane doesn't tell the full story, and by analyzing trends, including all of their audiences and touchpoints, the brand now has the knowledge to make decisions across channels and marketing tactics. Now, imagine this brand has this information in realtime: the opportunity to instantly connect with Jane, and people like her, is limitless. On the contrary, imagine this brand only has bits and pieces of this information, and has no system or strategy in place to use it effectively, but their main competitor does. Who do you think will be able to effectively reach Jane and provide her with a better customer experience? Additionally, who will be able to identify and target similar shoppers who are likely to become loyal, high-value customers, and ultimately scale this method to achieve a better and more sustainable ROI?
2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Marketing
AI marketing is a natural next step from better analytics, as it is most powerful when algorithms can learn from organized, high-quality, useful data. AI already works in the background of most popular products and services, including Netflix, Amazon, Google, and Facebook, and in recent years has become more prevalent in marketing, helping brands improve the customer journey and create more effective touchpoints to boost ROI. Most brands are leveraging AI already if they are running programmatic advertising and customized email campaigns, but there are several newer applications rapidly gaining popularity and proving themselves valuable.
Natural language processing (NLP) has evolved drastically, and two interesting applications for marketers are voice search and chatbots. The way people search for information and products is changing, as are consumer expectations around customer support. It is predicted that this year, 30-50% of searches and web browsing will be screenless and that in 2 years, voice will be a $40-billion channel. Additionally, 85% of customer service will be powered by chatbots, and several brands already report improved conversion rates and ROI since implementing these customer service bots in Facebook messenger. The fast growth and adoption make a powerful statement about how speech recognition and natural language generation will impact brands. Marketers have been using sentiment analysis for years to enhance customer service channels. This technology is evolving rapidly, as well, with newer applications like social listening and mood-analyzing messenger bots. The best way for marketers to prepare for this advanced communication is to understand their customers' behavior, including how they are searching, the types of needs they're looking to fulfill, and the common questions they're asking, and create content and systems that proactively address these needs. Additionally, marketers should be actively testing NLP technology to respond to changing consumer expectations around receiving instant results and 24/7 support.
Another significant way that AI is affecting marketing is through automated bidding and targeting on ad platforms like Facebook and Google. Google Smart Bidding, for example, is a machine learning technology that makes bid optimizations based on a variety of signals, to achieve the advertiser's target efficiency. Similarly, Facebook Campaign Budget Optimization allows advertisers to set a budget and goal at the campaign level, and then Facebook's algorithm will optimize performance automatically across all sets. Many agencies and third-party platforms, including Adlucent's Deep Search, successfully incorporate proprietary data sets, historical product performance, data from networks like Google and Amazon, and more, to achieve optimal performance at scale using machine learning (ML). Leveraging AI/ML in ad serving has significant benefits, including the reduction of human hands-on keys, which not only saves resources but minimizes human error.
"Machine Learning, when implemented appropriately, is extremely powerful at achieving results in advertising. An algorithm can process millions of data points and produce an output in an instant, reducing human bias as well as overcoming the limitations on how much information the human brain can process."
– Sebastián Muñoz Toro, Lead Data Scientist at Adlucent.
Brands and advertisers can test, iterate, and learn quickly using this technology, freeing up their resources to work on strategy, insights, and other marketing efforts that require more of a human touch. Additional ways most marketers are already using AI, which will continue to pick up speed this year, are content generation and personalization, dynamic web pages and pricing, and product recommendation engines. These methods not only improve customer experience but are extremely valuable for SEO purposes.
3. Multipurpose Social Media
Social media has expanded well beyond its original use of sharing posts with friends and is now completely intertwined in most people's daily lives. In China, WeChat has over 1 billion monthly active users and is one of the main ways people communicate. WeChat evolved from a messaging platform into a one-stop-shop app where users can do everything from play games to make payments almost anywhere, book flights, read restaurant reviews, hail a ride, shop, and more. Sound familiar? That's because Facebook is closely following suit. Facebook's suite of apps, including Instagram and WhatsApp, serves as many people's main form of communication with friends and brands alike, as well as offering dating services, payments, ecommerce options, a marketplace, reviews, entertainment, and more. It is rumored that, as Facebook's growth begins to slow, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is attempting to diversify the company's revenue beyond advertising, which makes up about 98% at the moment.
Additionally, coming out of numerous scandals regarding data privacy, Zuckerberg announced earlier last year that the network would increasingly shift toward encrypted, ephemeral communications across its apps. This shift doesn't necessarily mean monetization of user data will diminish, it just means advertisers will be privy to less of it and will need to adapt to the ways users engage on Facebook's apps. And, as social media, in general, becomes more multipurpose and interwoven into people's daily lives, brands will become increasingly creative in how they reach and captivate users across social touchpoints and content.
The lines between social media and ecommerce are becoming increasingly blurred, as traditional customer engagement tactics shift. Accordingly, the top two themes for brands to adopt in the evolved social world of 2020 are social commerce and realtime consumer interaction.
With over 1 billion monthly users and a steadily growing micro-influencer network, Instagram presents a huge opportunity for brands to engage with audiences in untraditional ways for social media, including social commerce. Specifically, brands can find success with Instagram Shopping, which creates a virtual storefront on which users can learn more about products just by tapping on a post, and Instagram Checkout, which allows customers to shop without leaving Instagram. The platform also boasts a seamless retail experience with features like product stickers in Stories, augmented reality filters to "try on" products, and the shopping tab in Explore, which is browsable by category, similar to any website or marketplace. These features can shorten the path to purchase as well as encourage sharing products with friends or saving product ideas for later. The marriage of shopping and social networking is significant for brands. It illustrates how essential it is for them to meet their customers where they are not only spending time but also making decisions. 130 million Instagrammers monthly are already utilizing shoppable posts, and brands are reporting incremental traffic and revenue increases.
Other newer ways social platforms are facilitating interaction between brands and consumers, in addition to the chatbots previously mentioned, include features like interactive content and live streaming. As both mobile video and ephemeral content gain popularity, brands have an opportunity to get creative with these formats traditionally used for personal interactions, as long as it's done so in an authentic way. For example, brands can leverage stories to poll users on everything from asking about product preferences to helping inform upcoming decisions, sharing values, and encouraging followers to unite on important causes.
Brands can livestream on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and niche social platforms like TikTok to show peeks behind the scenes or share special events. Pinterest is expanding its interaction opportunities with features like visual search and custom content, including the "Built-In Pins" on which they partnered with Home Depot. In 2020, we can expect faster evolution of paid advertising units on these channels as well, such as Shop the Look Pins and more creative ways to use promoted Stories.
Social media now presents a digital atmosphere between the world of the consumer and of the brand. Both parties see social platforms as an extension of their daily activities and, ultimately, a way to remain connected in every facet. This new virtual world is now a second home for most people and presents itself with endless applications. The opportunity is vast for brands to innovate and create compelling new ways to engage with people in realtime, at scale, while still making it feel personal and authentic.
Mastering these themes and leveraging other current digital trends is paramount to remaining competitive, especially as new digital-first brands emerge, and younger generations have increased buying power. With an overwhelming amount of data, channels, technology, and tactics available today, these themes should help you understand the current and upcoming state of digital marketing, even while the specific tactics will differ across brands based on industry, budgets, and goals. Brands should strategically plan for the year and create both foundational plans for data analysis and revenue-driving channels, as well as test plans for newer methods. Reach out to Adlucent's team of digital experts for consulting and execution on these strategies and more.