The Future of Digital Marketing

20 Future Digital Marketing Trends

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:

  • List five key digital marketing trends
  • Describe ways new technologies and tools might impact digital marketing in the future

Digital Marketing Trends & Developments

The global pandemic accelerated the growth of digital marketing. With the sudden collapse of face-to-face interactions, both organizations and consumers quickly shifted their attention and activities online. Marketers heavily invested in social media, email marketing, mobile apps, websites, landing pages, blogs, webinars, and a variety of other digital channels to build closer and stronger relationships with more digitally savvy customers. As a result, the world of digital marketing looks quite different post-pandemic, and many digital marketing strategies and tactics are here to stay.

Given this acceleration in digital activity, what does the future hold for digital marketing? While always challenging to predict the future, there are a few trends and emerging behaviours that may signal what is yet to come. Here are five areas that will likely have a significant impact on marketers in the near future:

Marketing Automation / Personalization

Due to the computational power that is now available, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and deep learning (DL) are playing a pivotal role in how marketers perform their jobs. To clarify the differences, artificial intelligence enables computers to mimic human intelligence. Machine learning uses algorithms to parse data, learn from that data, and make informed decisions based on what it has learned. And deep learning structures algorithms in layers to create an “artificial neural network” that can learn and make intelligent decisions on its own.

  • From a marketer’s perspective, many tools and systems are now using ML to identify meaningful patterns and derive insights based on user data and/or behaviours. As a result, many marketing tasks and activities that used to be done manually are being automated. This potentially frees up marketers to spend more time thinking strategically and creatively about ways to engage and convert target audiences.
  • While some early marketing automation is already happening, there is still a great deal of growth that will happen in the coming years. Below are a few examples where machine learning is already helping marketers optimize their marketing activities. That said, many of these technologies are still in their infancy and are only being used by early adopters:

Programmatic Advertising

Programmatic advertising is the use of automated technology to buy advertising space. Instead of a marketer manually bidding, placing content / copy, and choosing the timing for a specific ad, programmatic advertising uses data insights and algorithms to serve ads to the right user at the right time, and at the right price. With these systems, marketers simply provide content, campaign goals, e.g., most impressions (brand awareness), conversions, etc., budget limits, and other campaign constraints, e.g., location, demographic, etc. and the system will optimize the campaigns to deliver the highest possible returns based on the stated goals / constraints. Since computers can monitor, analyze, and adapt to market changes quicker than most humans, programmatic advertising can deliver higher returns, greater efficiency, wider reach, and more ad placements. However, these systems tend to be more expensive, may not always properly match the ad to the audience, and there have been some online click fraud issues associated with programmatic advertising. As with any automated system, it still is important to review the results and to make sure these automated systems are best supporting your specific organizational needs and goals.

Personalization / Recommendation Engines

A personalization engine (PE) (also called a recommendation engine) uses insights from a user’s behaviour combined with data from other similar users to deliver a personalized experience. The content that is delivered to the user should be contextually relevant and match the user’s needs and preferences. Since personalization engines use advanced AI and machine learning-based algorithms to make predictions of what users will need, the more data these engines access and analyze, the more accurate their predictions are. PEs are frequently used for ecommerce to make product recommendations, but they are also widely used by media organizations, e.g., news, music, or streaming companies. Some of the benefits of PEs include:

  • Finer customer segmentation, i.e., the ability to segment your audiences into smaller segments and still support their needs
  • Tailored marketing messages that can be optimized at the individual level
  • Shorter conversion times because the customer journey is much more targeted
  • Increased revenues due to promoting complementary and/or related products / services that best meet the user’s needs.

While there are many advantages, PEs can be quite expensive and require time to setup and collect enough data before benefitting the target audience. Be aware of the significant upfront investment of both time and money before reaping the benefits of these tools.

Conversational Marketing

Conversational Marketing is a way of engaging with your target audience via real-time, dialogue-driven activities such as live chat, messaging apps, or conversational AI (chatbots). The goal of conversational marketing is to create meaningful customer relationships through conversations and to make the customer experience as smooth and easy as possible. To scale conversational marketing, many marketers are turning to chatbots.

Chatbots can help automate some marketing communications and ensure instant and timely responses to customers. By making conversational AI chatbots an integral part of marketing initiatives, organizations can guide customers through the customer journey more quickly and potentially drive more conversions. Some of the key benefits of a chatbot marketing strategy are time and cost savings, increased customer engagement, faster response times, and increased customer data because the interactions are captured and can be analyzed and reviewed. On the other hand, chatbots do take time to setup and cannot completely replace humans. They work well for repetitive questions, information sharing, etc. However, they do not work well in dealing with emotions or nuance. So, a chatbot may only be a suitable solution for a portion of your customer interactions. For more details on chatbot, check out this article about AI Chatbot Platforms.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics use historical data to predict future trends, events, and potential scenarios. Many analytics systems are now moving away from simply reporting what happened to offering forecasts that can help users plan and prepare for the future. The most obvious example is Google Analytics 4. This version of Google Analytics launched in October 2020 and is using machine learning to give users more insights and predictive analytics, often related to improving conversions. Using machine learning to assist marketers in identifying key triggers for improved conversion is an area more digital marketing technologies will likely be focusing on.

Voice Search & Commerce

65% of 25-to-49-year-olds speak to their voice-enabled devices at least once per day, according to a recent study by PwC. Whether speaking into their mobile devices or asking a voice-enabled device like Google Nest or Amazon Alexa, more and more people are searching for information using their voice. As a result, voice / oral searches will play a more significant role in the customer discovery process. Marketers need to think beyond traditional keywords and key phrases and consider sentences and questions that might be verbally asked by prospective customers looking for information, products, or services. Voice search has become a hot topic in mobile SEO optimization since users are embracing voice search when typing is either not safe, e.g., when driving, or simply not convenient.

Furthermore, voice search is no longer just about delivering information, but rather also includes voice commerce. Yes, people are buying products and services simply using their voice. Since the ultimate marketing goal is to deliver the right information, at the right time, to the right customer with minimal effort, voice search and commerce will be essential in meeting audiences where they are and in a form that meets their immediate needs.

To prepare for these emerging search queries, marketers need to start thinking about ways people might ask for information related to their product or services. This will often translate into longer search queries, i.e., more words. Make sure your content includes these phrases, questions, etc. Since this area is still developing, now is the time to experiment and to learn so that when voice search and commerce take off, you are well positioned to take advantage of the market growth.

Social Commerce

Fueled by the global pandemic and the shift to online shopping, more people are also merging their social media activity with their shopping activity. Instagram and TikTok have brought new meaning to social commerce by launching several features that allow users to buy products directly from within the social media platforms. Since many people already follow brands, these networks are making it even easier to convert.

Brands are leveraging social media checkout and shopping integrations as tech-savvy consumers engage with social commerce more. To successfully compete in the social commerce market, marketers will need to explore influencer marketing, creative calls-to-action, and user-generated content. With over $350 Billion in social commerce sales, China leads this market. So, marketers entering this emerging commerce market may want to look to China for a road map and inspiration.

Extended Reality (XR) & Immersive Experiences

Even though marketers have been discussing virtual reality (VR) for decades, there are some interesting developments happening around extended reality (XR) and immersive experiences that should be noted. Extended reality (XR) is an umbrella term referring to all real-and-virtual combined environments and interactions generated by computer technology. It includes augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Augmented reality is an interactive 3D experience that combines a view of the real world with computer-generated elements, usually overlaid on top of the real-world view. Since audiences want dynamic, engaging experiences, marketers need to move beyond static text-based messages and provide more immersive experiences.

In contrast to virtual reality (VR) experiences, AR experiences can offer an immersive experience with little additional hardware required – often just a mobile device. This makes these experiences much more accessible to a wider audience. However, these immersive experiences all require significant upfront investments in time and money. That said, the cost of many rich media production technologies started off quite high. So, perhaps in the coming years we will see the production costs and capabilities drop to allow more marketers to develop these compelling and engaging experiences. Here is an example of a 360 VR marketing video:

Consumer Privacy & Data Ethics

As more and more data is collected and tracked, there will continue to be a tension between marketers wanting to know more about their target audiences and consumers wanting to protect their privacy and personal data. There already are concerns about the end of 3rd-party cookies in 2023 and the potential impact on advertisers.[1] And as discussed in the Email chapter, data protection is being monitored by governments across the globe. As a result, marketers will have to rely on building truly meaningful relationships with their target audiences that are based on trust, value, and consent, which brings us to data ethics.

Data ethics is about responsible and sustainable use of data. Marketers will need to have policies in place that serve their audiences well. This will likely involve giving consumers more control over their data, providing a level of transparency, holding organizations accountable, and keeping customer data secure. As we all know, data is a powerful asset for any organization. Yet, with this power comes increased organizational responsibility to use it wisely, appropriately, and ethically.

Digital marketing has grown exponentially in recent years. With the emerging trends and developments mentioned above, the future looks very bright. There will likely be even more technological advances and discoveries that will spark, challenge, and drive new creative and compelling marketing experiences. As long as marketers continue to meet the needs, wants, and desires of their target audiences, it will undoubtedly be an exciting journey for us all.

Key Takeaways

While there are always new digital marketing channels emerging, the following trends and developments will likely have the most significant impact on marketers in the coming years:

  • Marketing Automation / Personalization
  • Voice Search & Commerce
  • Social Commerce
  • Extended Reality & Immersive Experiences
  • Consumer Privacy & Data Ethics

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Foundations in Digital Marketing Copyright © 2023 by Rochelle Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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