We all start each new year with noble resolutions to change for the better. In years gone by, carbs were off the table as you went all in on the superfood train. Now keto recipes are completely on fire while juice cleanses have gone the way of shoulder pads and acid-washed jeans. Either way, the empty champagne bottles (and unfulfilled resolutions) of New Years past are far in the rear-view mirror and the months ahead are overflowing with limitless potential, hope, and yet another high pick in the NFL draft if you are a long-suffering NY Jets fan like myself.
But while most people are making solemn promises to transform aspects of their lives that they’ve strategically ignored for years, most marketers are still executing virtually the same strategies they deployed last year. Don’t worry, though: there’s good news.
You are not most marketers.
After all, you’re here, and our readers tend to be the sort of people that are agents of change and innovators in their organizations. Whether it’s keeping up with Google’s newest [insert-adorable-animal-name-here] algorithm update or ensuring that your organization is answering the most relevant and current questions your customers are asking, you already know how to take advantage of seismic shifts in the digital landscape.
Those shifts are accelerating rapidly. A quick look around shows that we are on the verge of a truly incredible time in marketing. Larger screen sizes, home assistants, and wearable devices are transforming how people receive information. Innovations like AI and chatbots can provide far better experiences than ever before. Always-on high-speed connectivity allows for more information to be delivered, in new forms, than ever before, on computers, smartphones, televisions, and beyond.
Marketing is evolving too.
What follows are some of the most impactful trends in the digital landscape for 2019 and beyond. I’ve often taken to heart GI Joe’s famous axiom that knowing is half the battle, but the reality is that strategy without execution leads to false starts and frustration.
Arming your organization with the right strategies as well as the underlying tactics to take advantage of these trends can give you a significant competitive advantage while your competitors are busy playing catch-up, which is just about the worst game of all.
Influencer Marketing Rises In Influence
Many readers can vividly recall the famous television commercials of Michael Jordan promoting Hanes, Lebron James proudly representing Nike, and Walter Brimley endorsing a line of diabetes products (well, maybe you really only remember the time Family Guy spoofed it). Influencer marketing has been around for generations, but it’s gotten new life recently in digital and targeted forms.
Given the reach that working with influencers can give you access to, it is becoming a critical element of many organizations’ marketing mix. That said, putting all of your eggs in one celebrity’s basket may not be the best approach, especially considering the dollars that top celebrities can command for a single post. According to Vice, Kendall Jenner was paid $250K for an Instagram post to promote the infamous Fyre Festival to her millions of followers.
That number actually pales in comparison to the average amount that Selena Gomez is able to command for a post. According to HooperHQ, Ms. Gomez charges a whopping $800K per Instagram post. I wouldn’t want to try to justify the ROI on that investment when questioned by my Board of Directors, especially when those dollars could be allocated far more effectively elsewhere.
Given these hefty numbers, micro-influencers are becoming increasingly more popular to partner with. Not only are they less costly, but they also allow organizations to better connect with the niche audiences that their offerings will resonate most with.
To execute on a micro-influencer strategy, you must understand who those popular influencers are across social media, blogging, and YouTube for your particular market. Local targeting is also an effective strategy for marketers in some industries to reap powerful awareness benefits across their target audiences.
You should start by discovering which authors are ranking well for terms that your audience is searching for and courting these critical content influencers. The key is not to stop only at the writers who are ranking highly for the terms that your audiences care about today. Top marketers are also keeping track of which content influencers have been rising in the rankings so that they are able to partner with them before they hit the competition’s radar. Diving into page 2 and 3 of the SERP can help your organization foster partnerships with authors before their rates soar.
Similar strategies apply to YouTube as well. Make sure to target both influencers who have been consistently ranking high in popularity with your audience as well as those who are gaining traction. The power of connecting with YouTubers cannot be understated, especially for those targeting younger audiences.
The study also found that 70% of teenagers on YouTube are more influenced by popular YouTubers than celebrities. Seems like the $250K spend for Kendall Jenner to promote the Fyre Festival could have been better invested after all… perhaps on actually, you know, funding the festival.
The Meteoric Rise of Voice
When I was an undergrad at the University at Albany (go Great Danes!), the school permitted us to take certain Linguistics courses for credit in our Information Science program. Their very forward-thinking reasoning was that the spoken word would be how humans would interface with computers in the future and that keyboards would eventually become obsolete. Nearly two decades have passed and that prediction is coming to fruition.
According to Mary Meeker at Kleiner Perkins, the Amazon Echo base is already installed in more than 30MM households in the US alone, armed with over 30K skills (and counting). As increased functionality combines with greater market penetration, the new normal will include a mobile assistant helping us with everything we do, from scheduling appointments to ordering our groceries.
What functions can you offer your clients that are voice specific?
Think outside of the ecommerce box (at least for now). We’ve seen this story play out before – it may be some time before customers feel comfortable transacting via voice. Mobile and tablet commerce were both massive laggards in conversion rate before shifts in customer behavior eventually culminated in mass adoption of commerce on these platforms. Voice will be no different.
The thing to watch: voice is changing how we discover and consume information.
Perhaps Google left the “I’m feeling lucky” button underneath their ubiquitous search bar for this very reason. A list of links doesn’t really work when you’re hearing it out loud. But a single relevant search result does.
Optimizing for answer boxes and local results is more important than ever because they are both important sources for voice search results and will stay that way for many years to come. Ensuring that you have a strong strategy in place to take advantage of this shift will keep your organization well ahead of the pack.
Those Extremely Chatty Bots
Your customers need information and they want it now. It’s amazing how even a few seconds of delay, like using a credit card with a chip instead of just swiping the old school magnetic strip, can lead to irrational frustration (especially for us legendarily patient New Yorkers!). Businesses large and small have been trying to keep up with rising customer expectations by investing in customer service, call overflow centers, and online chat.
Questions in those channels vary from order status updates to return policies, but it’s amazing just how many identical questions online chat reps field in just an hour. Enter chatbots.
That number is sure to rise. These smart bots are rapidly changing the game. Much like a slot machine is a 24/7 money-making machine that doesn’t know the word sleep (and in almost all cases also doesn’t know the word jackpot), chatbots can help you service your customers while your finite resources are redeployed elsewhere.
We are approaching an intersection where the cost and availability of chatbots mean they are increasingly feasible for most companies to use while the level of service chatbots can provide to customers continues to improve.
Chatbots are not limited to operating on a brand’s website. With the massive rise of messaging applications, brands can now have true 1:1 conversations with their customers where customers are already spending their time. On platforms like Facebook, organizations can deliver relevant information to their customers in a way that was only available via phone (with a live person) a few years ago.
Getting ahead of this trend now isn’t just important from a customer service standpoint. There’s incredible potential for ecommerce here as well.
Video Killed The Limited Data Plans
The first video ever played on MTV was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles in 1981. That moment ushered in a revolution in how people consume music – combining visuals on the television screen with the sound that was primarily available on the radio in a brand new way.
We recently witnessed a similar breakthrough with live digital video. Now individuals and organizations can reach massive audiences with the right timely content with live videos that spark and breed conversation in ways that prerecorded videos never could. With live video, audiences can interact with all of the other people sharing the experience in real time.
The popularity of live video has exploded for several reasons: the near-universally available devices that can produce quality video, constant connectivity, the decline in mobile data rates, and, probably most importantly, the defining quality of these videos: authenticity. Authenticity is what led to the success of reality TV over the past decade and it’s something that audiences crave.
To take advantage of this trend, your organization should consider what authentic and timely videos make the most sense for your audience. Product sneak peaks, live Q&As, real-time trainings, behind the scenes content, and demos are just some of the many concepts to start with. Featuring live video as a major part of your integrated video strategy alongside video marketing, recorded content, and testimonials is the key to earning attention in a world filled with an ever-increasing array of distractions.
Content Essentially Becomes The Entire Kingdom
With CPCs on the rise, digital marketers are looking for other more cost-effective means of reaching their target audiences.
That’s no surprise given how effective everyone has gotten at optimizing their paid media campaigns. Thankfully your organization has unique offerings, experiences, and perspectives that your competition doesn’t have, and there is no better medium to showcase these differences than with quality content. The author Lee Odden once said “Content isn’t king, it’s the kingdom,” and he couldn’t have been more right.
It’s important to note that producing high volumes of content doesn’t automatically guarantee you more eyeballs. Google and other search engines aim to provide users with the best experience possible and so should you. The right article or video can have the reach of an extremely well-funded advertising campaign, and a lot more longevity.
Great content has evergreen value that can reap traffic benefits for years. Compare that to most forms of direct marketing in which the majority of impact is lost immediately after the dollars have been doled out.
That number will continue to rise.
Leading marketers are refreshing their existing content while also generating new portfolios of content. To set your content up for success, it’s important to understand how your audience is searching and then leverage that information to provide them with the best possible experience.
You should not only create content around critical topics but also dig deeper into related subtopics. This approach will not only attract wider audiences but also keep them engaged longer. Leo Burnett once said, “What helps people, helps business.” It helps search ranking, too.
Let’s Get Personalized… And Automated
Personalized marketing has been getting a bad rap lately and it’s pretty easy to understand why. At one point or another, each of us has looked at a pair of shoes online only to find those hot kicks stalking us around the internet for the next month. Reading a story about tax cuts expanding the national debt? Spy those sweet shiny soles over in the corner of the page hoping to catch your glance. Checking out an in-depth op-ed about the NY Jets hiring the wrong coach? There they are again, laces practically waving at you to grab some attention.
The experience can get even worse: let’s say you did actually purchase those sneakers in the first place but that information didn’t get recorded properly and you were labeled a “cart abandoner.” Ouch. Now imagine looking down from your screen at the shoes on your own feet while the internet continues to shame you for abandoning them, lost and lonely in their virtual cart.
Every single impression from experiences like this is a blatant reminder to individuals that companies are tracking them. Everywhere. It’s no surprise that consumer fears about data privacy are easily inflamed the second a targeted marketing message crosses the very fine line between relevant and creepy.
These problems arise when companies let technology run amok and organizations start viewing people not as humans but as numbers. Truly humanized marketing goes beyond these “stalker ads” and focuses exclusively on providing helpful information to customers based on what matters most to them. It starts with knowing your customers’ needs, understanding what they are looking for, and providing them with the right help to make a sound decision.
Many years ago, marketing savant Peter Drucker said that “the aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.” That quote has aged as well as 30-year-old Macallan scotch.
A best-in-class automated experience would look something like this: An individual just purchased a new home (mazel tov!) and is in the market for a new washer and dryer. Since she has never shopped for products like these before, she begins doing her research online by clicking through an email that mentions a sale on home appliances. She scans through a few washers on the website and learns about each one. She doesn’t make a purchase immediately because she’s still learning which units would be the best for her needs.
A great marketer would recognize that she is in the market for these products and provide her with information to help her make the best purchase decision. They would send her emails highlighting washer-dryer buying guides, FAQs about those appliances, and helpful videos walking through what to look for. They would create an automated series that also features products that third parties have recommended most, call out which options are the most energy efficient, and show which products have gotten the highest customer reviews.
This targeted, value-driven content would supersede other non-transactional messages from the brand and be accompanied by relevant display, push, and even SMS messages where appropriate.
Portfolios of orchestrated cross-channel campaigns like the one described above not only help customers by providing them with relevant and timely information, but also generate high response rates.
Viva The Search BI Revolution
Marketers have known about the power of search data for decades. They’ve used it to optimize content, get to the top of Google results pages, and generate measurable business results. We are now seeing a shift where everyone from CIOs to Chief Revenue Officers are also discovering the vast benefits of search data in what has become a new digital gold rush.
What makes search data so powerful is that it serves as a window into the mind and soul of your customers. People ask Google questions their most intimate questions, ones that they wouldn’t feel comfortable asking their friends, family, spouses, and even doctors. Those searchers trust Google to give them the best results and look at the links that Google provides as an authority on the subject. If they see something ranking on Google, then they know it’s legit (unlike the Nigerian Prince who keeps emailing you about sharing his vast fortune if you’ll only send him $1K to get the ball rolling).
Search empowers organizations to deeply understand how people are thinking on a very local level. For example, best-in-class retailers activate search data to understand how much local demand exists in particular locations for their products & services. This shows business development teams where they should open new physical locations, as they already know that they have a greater likelihood of succeeding in those markets given the implied demand.
Not only that, understanding the branded vs. unbranded awareness of an organization’s offerings can also guide how much above-the-line media spend should accompany the opening of these new locations. If there is a lot of demand but it’s not associated with a brand, then the local opening should be paired with greater ad spend in order to accelerate profitability. That’s just one of many examples of how search data can impact the bottom line of a business well beyond SERP rankings.
Product marketers are also looking to search data to distill exactly how their products should be named and marketed according to how folks are searching. Jansport leveraged search data to rename its underperforming “digital bags” to “laptop backpacks,” which earned them significantly more eyeballs and conversions.
A leading cooking product retailer renamed their “foldable chicken roaster” to “beer can chicken maker” with the help of search data, rapidly accelerating its online sales without changing anything else. And the power of search transcends just naming products; search data is beginning to help show organizations which product lines to invest more in and which they should consider divesting from altogether.
While this article is nearing its conclusion, the new year is still in its infancy. Now is the time to act.
Remember that actions speak far louder than words (written or spoken), so take risks, fail fast, build upon these trends before your competitors, and the future is yours. Shoot me a line – I can’t wait to hear how it goes. @HowieNYC