When The Wall Street Journal first had the audacity to create a magazine and event series called The Future of Everything, I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes. But then my curiosity got the best of me and I started reading about everything from the problems with fully autonomous vehicles to the new jobs being created as the era of artificial intelligence shows up in the next generation of software.
All of this got me thinking about the future of marketing. Having been in the digital marketing industry for the past 24 years, I’ve witnessed the utter chaos that has plagued the industry (and some would argue it still does). When I first started my career in 1994, all the industry pundits were advocating that television was dead and that broadcast media would soon be replaced with on-demand programming.
Twenty-four years later, television still commands more than 30% of total U.S. media ad expenditures, according to eMarketer, despite the decline in gross rating points and incredible fragmentation. Time-shifting DVRs haven’t stopped the sizable investments in television ads, and yet all of the networks are scrambling to create their own apps that force viewers to watch ads in order to stream content. Meanwhile, ad-free Netflix continues to be the platform of choice for cord-cutters. Or at least, that’s what investors believe according to The Wall Street Journal. And according to Pew, 61% of young adults in the U.S. mainly watch streaming TV.
What’s Next For Marketing?
In my last article, I questioned the power that content marketing still holds as we reach a saturation point. We already have a sea of content available today, with more being published every minute of every day. While it took a quarter century longer than the pundits of 1994 thought it would take, we are starting to see some fundamental changes in the way businesses go to market. A number of important themes are emerging:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Despite all the hype, machine learning and intelligent systems enable real-time decision making and are becoming more affordable and accessible to all businesses. If we take a cue from Wall Street, the stock exchange floor traders simply couldn’t compete with machine learning, capable of analyzing more data points than a human brain can wrap its mind around. Marketing is already in the throws of this disruption path and will be fundamentally transformed by AI.
Automation, Chatbots And Growth Hacking
As businesses continue to mine their own data, they will begin to automate more of their process and become more interesting and relevant to their best customers. While chatbots today are still clumsy, they are getting better and will eventually become an expected tool for solving problems. The spirit of growth hacking will remain strong as businesses look to do more with less, leading to more technology-driven solutions to common business problems.
Blockchain And Cryptocurrency
For marketers, blockchain has the potential to build back trust, security and a more transparent and customer-driven value chain. For all the nefarious players that made their way into the Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), cryptocurrency still has incredible potential to impact everything from how consumers take back control of their data (and monetize its value) to changing digital marketing compensation models. As the kinks get worked out, the underlying technology framework will likely lead to some new innovation and much-needed transformation in advertising’s data security and compensation models.
Ever since Peppers & Rogers envisioned The One to One Future in their early 90s book, companies have worked hard to better segment their customer personas and speak differently to these groups. However, only recently has the technology actually caught up to deploy the true vision for a 1:1 future. And it doesn’t just stop with marketing, as we’re seeing the rise of products being built on-demand (and not just with 3D printer prototypes). We’re moving away from the one-product-fits-all model in favor of a build-me-a-product-just-for-me model.
The very nature of work has changed. According to a Gallup study, the State of the American Workplace, there are roughly 100 million full-time employees and 51% are not engaged at work. That is, they don’t feel a connection to their jobs, so they do the bare minimum. Another 16% are “actively disengaged.”
When you couple that with agency retainers being replaced with project work, what you get is a growing freelance pool of resources and a host of companies and websites catering to the gig economy. This workforce on-demand changes the nature of how agencies can and will be able to service their clients going forward. There’s no indication this will change anytime soon.
Privacy And GDPR
This will mark the year that consumers begin taking back a degree of control over their personal data, thanks largely to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). As consumers take back this control, companies are going to have to reevaluate how they charge consumers for previously free services when no data is provided. This also has the potential to become an online version of the “Do Not Call” list for telemarketers.
Virtual (And Augmented) Reality
While still struggling to find critical mass, the early virtual reality (VR) work has been impressive. However much I loved Charity:Water before I was transported to Ethiopia, their VR experience was the first time I felt like I could teleport and actually be in the moment when a well was installed for an extremely appreciative village in Africa.
And yes, of course, there’s so much more that’s happening in the field of marketing. With 6,829 marketing technologies available today, digital marketing can be overwhelming. What hasn’t changed is the need to map your customer’s journey and understand how you can continue to add value (rather than just sell). It’s an exciting time to be in marketing despite the massive upheaval of so much of how we used to do things.