What’s keeping marketers busy these days and which trends and topics will dominate 2019?

Thanks to the digital transformation, 2019 will be especially one thing: diverse. It’s hard to imagine another time when marketers had so many opportunities to use analog and digital channels to communicate with customers. However, this diversity is also a challenge because no one can do and implement everything at once (nor should they). It will be essential for each and everyone individually, to find the right mix for their company. And that mix can’t be based on benchmarks and trends but has to be focused on customers, target groups, employees and how they behave on- and offline.

I want to put emphasis on this, so you can see the following trends through the lens of your company culture and customers. Look at the topics and consider what’s most important for you (or what can be achieved best with your resources).

1. Image and voice recognition

Analytics and especially the self-learning aspect of it will make massive steps regarding spoken and written language recognition software. The better language can be apprehended, the more diverse the use of this technology.

When it comes to chatbots and language assistants, it’s important, for example, to not just recognize the perfectly spoken default but also slang, accents, synonyms, speech disorders or even typos or emojis and other abbreviations in written text.

It’s important because if a German customer, for example, calls an automated English service line, the service bot on the other end needs to understand what the customer (with his German accent) wants.

Another – big – challenge will be the recognition of typically human communication like mood, ambivalence, humor or speech that has no informational value (like greetings, thanks, etc.). The more accurate the software can identify all those little individual markers, the better it can use these to communicate with humans (for example by switching to a human service employee when the customer seems upset).

Especially ecommerce will profit from image recognition to generate product descriptions and save a lot of resources on product texts by automating them.

Already, the technology is able to recognize company logos, places, objects and even moods in pictures. An image recognition feature could be used on social media platforms like Instagram (who are very visual) to monitor posts and even react to non-verbal mentions of a company.

2. Recommendation Engines

Recommendation engines are nothing new, but their functionality is expanding. Recommendations based on smart (very smart) algorithms are mostly known via Google and Amazon.

With predictive analytics, these generated recommendations can optimize cross- and up-sell-campaigns and impact the customer experience (positively). They can even be used to create a personalized experience with marketing automation.

More than that, though, recommendation engines cannot just be used by but for marketers. They can recommend leads and customers that might react more positive towards a campaign than others. Or they can recommend individual content, next steps or information for specific customers. Especially in higher priced segments, marketing and sales can profit from the right message/offer at the right time (for the right customer).

Read more about the possibilities in the HBR-article by Michael Schrage „How Marketers can get more value from their recommendation engines„.

3. Mobile content

Two thirds of all Germans use their smartphones throughout the week, during the weekend it’s still 60%. The average for people under 34 years is even higher (80%) (source: BVDW „Digitale Nutzung in Deutschland 2018“, PDF).Germans are less online on their mobile compared to other European countries but it’s only a question of time. As soon as the prices for mobile volume drop to other country’s levels (German prices are very steep), the usage will increase automatically.

However, the customer is not always on the go when they use their smartphone. For many, it’s become routine to watch TV or do other things while looking at their smartphone. This means that there’s more and more different situations where a customer might use their smartphone for even more reasons. Companies need to be aware what these are.

Whereas responsive sites are considered standard (and are necessary for SEO-sakes alone), companies need to think further. Interactions and processes need to be thought „mobile“ to help the customer on their journey.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to create an app. The average user doesn’t use that many apps (mainly messengers). Don’t throw an app at the customer who already has too many to choose from. Instead, offer channels and means to obtain information easier via mobile phone (social media, for example).

4. Chatbots for marketing

Currently, most chatbots find their place in (self) service but since the line between marketing and service almost always is a little blurry, especially online, the chatbot needs to find its place in marketing.

A chatbot reaches your customer wherever he is on your website. The customer gains from its use because he doesn’t have to change the channel, so to speak. But to actually be helpful, its functions need to be clear to the customer and they need to be aligned to the customer’s needs.

A chatbot that offers cross- or up-sell-offers even though the customer is only interested in opening hours and shipping information, will always be a frustrating experience. The customer expectation needs to be considered even before the chatbot is being used.

A chatbot also needs to be able to learn. Whether it’s language recognition or gathering data on the information that customers provide (why do they use the chatbot, when do they abandon the conversation?), it needs to be able to grow and develop with each conversation and interaction and optimize answers instead ofs ending customers on a labyrinthian loop of „I do not understand this question“.

5. Chatbots and voice activated assistants need personality

Not just the functionality but also the appearance of chatbots and co will play a big role in the next years. I am quite confident that almost all big companies will soon offer chatbots. The big question, however, is whether these chatbots will be mere standard issues or exciting new ways to communicate.

Capital One welcomed their chatbot ENO in 2017 and found out that the phrase most uttered by customers was „thank you“. Bear in mind, ENO is a chatbot and doesn’t really need a thank you to feel good because he has no emotions. But customers (or rather people in general) love to attach human characteristics and emotions to objects. If a chatbot actually responds to these human characterizations, it creates a positive interaction. Another example is Siri’s funny replies to frequently asked (silly) questions.

A chatbott hat has a personality, that is in line with a company’s brand and image can be the distinction that is necessary to race ahead of the competition. ENO is a great example because he shows that even somewhat dry topics such as finances can have an attitude.

6. Voice Commerce & Voice Search

By now, you probably noticed that most of these trends and topics are intertwined. The better voice recognition and recommendation engines work, the more customers will actually use smart assistants and chatbots and for example, give voice commands instead of clicking or writing.

But the more people will use their voice to navigate through the internet, the bigger the change for marketing. Because we all write differently than we talk (or most of us, anyway).

Voice commerce and voice search will be big for ecommerce but hold your horses, because they are not there yet. According to an infographic by invesp, 20% of all Amazon Echo users have used the assistant to order a product. That is no tvery much, considering that that is supposedly one of the main functionalities of Echo.

Meanwhile, Patricio Robles writes on Econsultancy that apparently 90% of all Alexa users who made an order, did not make another order after that. Whether these numbers are true or not, it’s important to realize that the first thing that will develop with voice search and voice commerce will not be the commerce-side of things.

Voice search, however, will grow and become crucial for everyone who even remotely deals with SEO. Moreover, the better the experience for the customer who searches by voice will be, the lower the inhibitions to actually buy something via voice command.

I am sure that anyone who early on positions themselves and is ready to go when voice search really hits its stride, will have an enormous advantage when it comes to ranking and reach.

7. Social media use will be more individual and flexible

For most companies, Facebook is still the number one social media platform to use paid advertisement and reach customers. But the use of social media is similar to the communication on these platforms: different topics and interests are being discussed in different ways. Customers use different platforms for different means. Additionally, age is an important measurement when it comes to the type of platform that is being used (with Facebook starting to be the platform for older people).

Accordingto PewResearch Center, only 50% of all US-teens still use Facebook (in stark contrast to YouTube (85%), Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%)). Given that teenagers are the ones who spent most of their time online, this shows that Facebook might not be the number one platform forever.

Now, you shouldn’t just forget your Facebook account. Instead, it’s important to ask yourself which customers you want to address and where and how they communicate online. Moreover, which channels do customers pick for which goals (purchase, service, information)?

Customers tend to ignore what a company has in mind with a channel if they can get a faster reply on that channel even if it has nothing to do with the intended purpose (source: Accenture „Customer 2020“, PDF). Twitter is a great example. Even though most companies use their Twitter profiles for marketing, many customers tag and contact them for support issues. Given the sad reply-times for contact-forms on websites, for example, it’s no wonder that customers prefer another channel (especially, since social media provides a better mobile experience as any contact form I’ve ever encountered).

Companies need to start ignoring benchmarks and analyze their own customer’s behavior to implement and develop the right channels for their customer’s needs. A single ranking list for all industries and companies should not dictate which social media platforms you should use in your marketing, specifically.

8. Instead of race to zero: finding worth in your product

Globalization, Amazon, eBay and numerous comparison portals helped intensify the race to zero for prices on pretty much anything. But studies show that (many) customers are willing to pay more if their experience will be better (source: PWC,“Experience is everything“, PDF). Price becomes an issue as soon as the customer doesn’t see or understand the worth of the product/service, especially, when the competition has reduced the worth (e.g. by providing free shipping). 

But the worth of a product/service does not necessarily need to be attached to the product itself. Customer service and marketing (e.g. presentation) plays an enormous part from the first customer interaction on. Take a visit to a restaurant: it’s not just about the food, it’s also about the environment, the seating, the atmosphere (lighting, noise, smell), the service and the presentation of the food. Companies need to adapt this kind of experience to their online journeys by not only creating attractive websites but also work on easy navigation, friendly and open messages and an amazing UX.

And this approach pays. Every Christmas in Germany, stationary shops still get more customers than online shops, even though it is more stressful. But stationary shops are festive, part of a tradition of Christmas shopping and they create a certain mood. In contrast, most online shops barely give the festive season a thought beyond coupons and discounts. If they could recreate the festive feeling with the design, maybe music and the overall experience (for example by letting „Santa“ sign your confirmation e-mails), they could convince more people to do their shopping online.

9. Think personalization differently

Personalization is not new, but it needs an update. According to a pretty insightful Accenture-study (PDF), customers want different personalization than companies currently offer.

Customers prefer autonomy over their personal preferences, for example with a“like/don’t like“-option for suggestions or an optional questionnaire upon registration. If you give customers the ability to tell you directly what they like and dislike, you can create much more credible customer journeys and your customers know what you do with their data (and therefore willingly give you more information).

Another new form of personalization was coined by Gartner in 2018: „Atomic Content„.

Atomic content means personalization in the details of customer communication. It’s basically a finer, more enhanced form of dynamic content that makes your content feel more personal (beyond the „Hey – insert name“ in the subject line of your newsletter).

10. A new generation is waiting

When it comes to differentiate between age groups or generations, there’s one simple rule: all customers want the same things, no matter how old or young they are. But the way that these needs should be met changes with each generation.

An example: a customer wants feedback on a question. For a baby boomer, the preferred channel would be the telephone or even a visit because they know that a direct conversation saves time and solves problems. However, digital natives (Millennials, Generation Z) prefer social media, chat or even chatbots because they learned how to use these tools efficiently to get their answer (all generations still love e-mail).

When it comes to a generational divide, the main question therefore shouldn’t be“what“ (what does the customer want?) but rather „how“ (how can we fulfil customer needs?).

By the way: Generation Z, which means everyone born between 1995 and 2010, will soon be the most affluent target group on the market. Find out how this group communicates, which technologies they use and how they solve problems and adapt your customer journeys to fit these needs and you will have no problems with the change in your target groups that will happen in the future.

11. The human touch needs to stay

Marketing, sales or service – no automation can ever displace the human interaction. Human communication partners, an individual email and experiences that are based on interactions instead of planned, automated processes, are still essential for your customer’s loyalty (that includes B2C-customers).

Companies need to empower their employees to create these kinds of experiences on their own without long decision chains. Additionally, digital, automated options need to stay an option, e.g. they should not replace other forms for customers to communicate with a company. As long as your customers want to talk to human beings, they should have the opportunity to do so.

12. Advertisement needs to be fun again

The main reason why influencer marketing and native advertising have been so popular in the last years is simple: online advertising is bad. Pop-ups, hidden video players that start playing with full volume as soon as you enter a site and banner ads that sneak up on you – no one likes them, yet they are still here. I am absolutely astounded that even professional companies and publishers still use these annoying means for advertisement.

If you want to do more than native advertising or if your customers are not really into influencers, you need to consider what ad formats might actually work with customers. I am sure that gamification, the playful construction of processes and interactions, will be crucial for advertisement in the following years.

Another new concept are the so-called „Snack Ads“ or „Snack Content“. Instead of long marketing videos, these videos are not longer than 10 seconds, so an interruption does not test your customer’s patience. I might add: even these snack ads need to be implemented in a setting where they don’t „surprise“ the customer. Within a video stream or as part of an ad banner (without sound), they will be much more efficient than if they just pop up.

13. 360° view on your customers

Real talk: the 360° view on your customer in its entirety is a fairy tale. What your customers think, how they make decisions and how they connect with your company will always be a collection of well-documented information and completely mysterious guess-work. But if you connect your platforms properly and synchronize your collected data, you might get closer to an overview of the customer journey that previously has been unthinkable.

Especially the connection of analog and digital interaction by letting marketing, sales and service employees enter details via an app and synchronize them with your systems, can help to get a better view on the off- and online journeys and connect them to the full lifecycle.

14. A new view on customer data and transparency

Apropos views on your customers. Considering that personalized, individual offers and customer journeys are the future, we all need to reconsider how we work with (sensitive) customer data. Companies should not just act when laws change but also design their data security processes as well as communication surrounding customer data based on what their customers want and need.

Your customers will thank you. Most customers are not bothered with sharing data as long as they know what happens with the data and as long as it shows in their customer journey. If you let your customers decide what they want to share (see point 9.), you can build trust and therefore loyalty.

Think your data processes from the customer’s view. Be transparent, communicate openly and don’t let your customers chase for crucial information on data security and the use of their personal data.

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