It’s been a very peculiar year and the changes we’ve all experienced over the last 12 months have impacted every corner of our lives. We’ve been working from home, learning from home and shopping from home. Our increased reliance on the internet to help us deal with this new set of circumstances has presented businesses in every area of the economy with significant challenges, but also with opportunities.
Here are a 12 digital marketing trends you should be considering to help your business navigate our new reality.
1. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence Marketing or AI marketing, uses large sets of customer data and AI techniques including machine learning to predict the customer’s requirements and desires and enhance the customer’s journey.
AI is offering a way for companies to have a greater understanding of their customer’s needs by removing the guesswork from the marketing process. Leveraging this technology can produce more successful marketing strategies, help the customer in their journey and help businesses reconnect with lapsed prospects. In recent years the cost of using Artificial Intelligence has come down so now even smaller companies can use AI for marketing.
What is Machine Learning?
The majority of AI marketing relies on Machine Learning. This involves taking large datasets of historical audience interactions and using these to predict the behaviour and needs of your customers.
Machine Learning can also help uncover new customers that could be overlooked by traditional marketing methods. With “big data” a vast array of customer data points can be used to put the right product, in front of the right person, at the right time. This approach gives your marketing messages the best chance of achieving the desired outcomes.
2. Conversational Marketing
Conversations break down barriers and help people connect with each other but what do we mean by conversational marketing? The live chat feature is now a familiar part of many websites. It provides a way for the business to directly connect with a visitor and enhance their experience. Answering questions and making recommendations is a great way to make the online experience more personal.
You might be thinking “I only have a small team, I can’t afford to plough resources into live chat” but isn’t that a bit like saying “I haven’t got time to pick up a ringing phone”? Rather than treating this functionality like a necessary evil, perhaps an alternative way to see it as a vital marketing tool? After all, if your customers want to talk to you shouldn’t you make it easy for them?
Many live chat solutions leverage AI to answer simple questions out of hours or when operators are busy. By offloading routine enquires to bots, live chat suddenly becomes a more scalable prospect, even for a small team.
Conversational Marketing does not begin and end with live chat. It’s estimated that businesses exchange 2 billion messages with customers over Facebook every month. Facebook is just one of the many platforms where your customers are spending their time. As a business you should be prepared to have conversations with your customers at a time and place that is convenient for them. This is increasingly true as customers turn to their mobile devices to shop and find answers.
Personalised marketing was a 2020 marketing buzz word but does the idea stand up to scrutiny in 2021? First let’s answer the following question…
What is Personalised Marketing?
Broadly speaking this marketing practice involves using a customer’s personal information to make adverts, emails and other marketing strategies directly apply to a specific individual. The most obvious example is receiving an email with your name in the subject line that might read something like “Hey Dave, we have widgets with your name on”. This is the simplest example of personalised marketing but it doesn’t stop there. If you have shared your personal information or opinions online it’s likely that marketeers know how old you are, how you vote, what your interests are, what makes you angry, your favourite band and more besides. Whether this information will help them sell you stuff is up for debate.
Let’s put aside the obvious questions about the moral ambiguity and legal implications of storing and using people’s personal information to manipulate them into buying your products and ask a more fundamental question.
Does segmenting your audience into individuals make sense?
That, after all is the goal of personalised marketing. To make Samantha feel like you’ve read her mind and delivered the right message, at the right moment, with the right incentive that makes her buy that lamp shade. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, you now have to create similar messages for the other 100,000 contacts in your database. Does that sound practical or scalable?
It’s also quite a departure from the traditional marketing mantra of
- Create a simple message.
- Deliver it in a emotional, creative and/or memorable way.
- To a broad audience.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t segment your audience at all. There is obviously value in marketing women’s and men’s clothing in different ways, to specific audience segments. Is it worth marketing a red t-shirt to Dave because he once liked a picture of a red car? Probably not.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. No doubt there will be those who still preach personalisation in 2021 but for us this strategy has peaked.
4. Video Marketing
Video marketing is likely to become more important in 2021 with predictions that consumers will spend up to 100 minutes a day watching online videos. The multichannel nature of online video means it can reach people on the device they are using and doesn’t rely on them being in front of their TV.
Facebook is the place to be when it comes to promoting your video content. Videos have been shown to increase post engagement with users viewing 8 billion videos a day. Facebook’s algorithm is known to reward engaging content with greater exposure. This should incentivise digital marketers to produce great video content. Coupled to this we have Instagram Reels and TikTok providing yet more ways to to deliver your video content to potential customers.
User-generated content is also expected to increase and can really help build trust in a brand. Unboxing videos and product reviews are likely to increase in popularity, particularly as consumer’s ability to examine products in the real world becomes harder.
It’s no surprise that video marketing continues to be a popular tool in the digital marketer’s virtual quiver.
5. Influencer Marketing
Celebrity endorsements have always been a reliable way for a brand to build trust with its audience. Although effective, they came at a cost that made them prohibitively expense for most businesses.
Influencer marketing can be thought of in the same way as celebrity endorsements but on a smaller scale. Influencers tend to operate in a particular niche and act as the the gatekeeper to a very targeted and engaged audience. How big that audience is depends on the influencer and the market they’re in.
Prices for an influencer to promote your service vary depending on the reach they have and the sector in which they operate. Some will accept product as payment others will want cold hard cash so put your negotiating head on.
6. Visual Search
Visual search allows you to use images to scour the internet rather than using typed words or voice commands. It can be useful if you see something in the real world that you want to know more about. Imagine wanting to know what species of butterfly you’ve just photographed but not wanting to type a description into a search engine. You can see how visual search might be useful.
Visual search has been around for sometime and is beginning to catch up with traditional search methods, particularly with Millennials. Visual search can be a great way for website owners, particularly those in eCommerce, to get their products in front of potential customers. Imagine being in a shop and taking a picture of a lamp you like to check prices and to see if there are similar products online. With the right product image, in the right place, that customer could be coming your way.
Launched in October 2017 Google Lens is available on both Android and iOS. Since its inception its functionality has expanded from simply providing information about an image to translating text in real time.
From understanding signs in foreign languages to finding out what that exotic dish on the menu is, the real world applications of this technology are far reaching. It can also be used to copy written text off paper and convert it to type. Why are you still typing up your hand written meeting notes?!
Also launched in 2017 Pintrest’s visual search tool is also called Lens. A study performed by the platform suggested that as many as 80% of its users start with a visual search. It’s estimated that Lens can recognise over 2.5 billion objects from sunglasses to tattoos.
CamFind is an iOS app that does much the same as other visual search tools. Use it to take pictures and get recipes, book reviews, find out what breed of dog that is. Just take a photo and hit search.
Bing Visual Search
Not wanting to be left out Microsoft launched its own Visual Search in 2018 for Android and iOS.
Next on our list of digital marketing trends are Micro-Moments. These are periods of intense interaction when we’re trying to find answers.
It might be the name of the actor in the TV programme you watched last night, a Yorkshire pudding recipe or a fact finding exercise on a potential holiday destination. If a brand or retailer can be the first responder to a consumer’s micro-moment; providing exactly what is asked for at the right time, the browser may well become a customer.
Social Commerce can be a useful way to turn the micro-moment into an engagement that might become a purchase. We’ll talk about what it is and why you should be considering it shortly.
8. Voice Search & Smart Speakers
IBM introduced their voice recognition tool Watson in 2010. In the following year Google released Voice Search and Apple released Siri for the iPhone 4S. Microsoft caught up in 2014 with Cortana and the Amazon Echo became available in 2016.
With the rise of smart speakers and voice enabled devices it’s estimated that half of all online searches are made using voice commands.
Because speaking tends to be less concise than typing, search phases tend to be longer and more conversational. A typed search for an Indian restaurant might be “Indian restaurants near me”. The same voice search might look like “Where can I get Indian food”.
A great tool for finding these types on conversational search phrases is Answer the Public. Enter a seed phrase and Answer the Public will generate a list of questions based around it. Writing content around these types of questions is a good way of producing copy that is optimised for voice search.
9. Social Media Stories
Stories started on Snapchat before becoming popular on Instagram. Now Facebook and YouTube have their own versions. Stories are full screen, vertical images and video that only last 24 hours before they disappear.
In a virtual landscape where most content is permanent, the expiry time of stories creates an “urgency to view” factor and a unique scarcity value. Stories are a way for content marketers, brands, influencers and creators to share how they’re feeling and what’s happening “right now” with their audience.
10. Browser Push Notifications
These are notifications that can be sent to the users through desktop and mobile browsers. Often these notifications will slide into view on a desktop screen and mimic push notifications from apps on mobile devices. Browser push notifications are a permission-based marketing channel that the user has to opt in to receive.
They can be used to welcome new users with an offer, remind a customer about their abandoned cart, recommend products based on the customer’s browsing of the site or used for upselling.
11. Content Marketing is Still the King in 2021
Creating useful, well written content about a specific subject is still the most reliable long term strategy to bring relevant traffic to your website. Writing articles and guides that help the reader understand a concept or learn a new skill has real world value and will build trust in your brand. Search engines will reward your pages for providing useful content by bumping them up the results pages for relevant searches.
12. Social Commerce & Shoppable Posts
Social Commerce is the act of selling products directly through social media. This is called a Shoppable Post on Instagram and you’ll also see this feature on Facebook and Pintrest.
With Social Commerce the customer stays on the platform through out the the buying cycle. From discovery, to product research, to purchase and finally review, they you never leave the platform.
Incorporating ecommerce into these platforms has the effect of making online shopping a more collaborative experience. Shoppers can ask their friends opinions before purchase and share photos of the potential options. If decision making is just too hard, shoppers can even set up a poll for their friends to vote in.
When brands try to monetize social media it typically looks like this:
- A user sees your product in an advert on a platform
- The potential customer clicks the ad to visit your website
- You present the product to the customer
- The customer hopefully adds product to their basket
- The customer navigates through the checkout
- Enters their payment details
- and finally submits the order
When you give the user the opportunity to shop directly through the platform they are currently using the process is more streamlined.
- Customer sees a product in a shoppable post on a platform
- They click on the post
- Add the product to their cart
This significantly shortens the customer’s journey. The space between “want” and “have” is halved. By bringing the shopping experience into the ecosystem where they already are, platforms like Facebook, Pintrest and Instagram are bypassing traditional pitfalls like slow loading, potentially insecure websites and clunky multi-page checkouts.
The shopping experience doesn’t end at the checkout. You can give your customers the opportunity to review their purchase and share their thoughts and feelings about it with people in their circle.
Exciting Times Ahead
The realm of digital marketing is an ever expanding and changing landscape. With new strategies bubbling up and new features appearing across multiple platforms all the time, we’ll try keep this post updated with the latest trends. It could look very different in 6 months time.
It will be interesting to see which of these digital marketing strategies make it into to 2022.