Every year around December and January, marketing sites are flooded with blogs and articles that do their best to predict what’s to come in the year ahead. But, how often do we go back and see how accurate those predictions ended up being?
While 2020 came with its own unique set of challenges and obstacles that could not have been predicted at the beginning of the year, many of the digital marketing strategies employed during 2020 had their success amplified when executed successfully. Between COVID-19 and social unrest, marketing efforts were required to toe the fine line between sensitivity and sensibility.
First, let’s look at five of the industry’s most recognizable publications and what they predicted as the top trends for marketing in 2020 before we dive into how accurate these predictions were:
- Forbes’ Top Marketing Trends in 2020: Shoppable posts, virtual and augmented reality, interactive content, personalization, content marketing, video content
- Hubspot’s Ultimate Guide to Marketing Trends in 2020: inbound marketing, influencers, video content, voice search, native advertising, mobile-friendly site design
- Marketing Insider Group’s Digital Marketing Trends of 2020: customer experience, employee engagement, content visualization, personalization, voice search, AI-based automation
- Digital Marketing Institute’s Trends in 2020: Chatbots, video, personalized email, interactive/contextual content, voice interaction, omnichannel marketing
- Brafton’s Exciting B2B Marketing Trends for 2020: account-based marketing, marketing automation, customer experience, AI, video marketing, podcasts, email marketing personalization
Most Effective in 2020: Content Marketing, Especially Video and Personalization
There was one trend, in particular, that was utilized to its fullest in 2020: content marketing. While this is a broad term by itself, companies that are investing a higher share of their marketing budget in content marketing are seeing true results that come with it. Strong emails, video marketing, influencer and consumer-led content are all examples of content that is thriving in 2020.
Customization and personalization are a key content marketing strategy that is no longer optional, it’s required. Between the data we have at our fingertips and the marketing automation capabilities that allow for personalization, both email marketing and targeted advertising can now take massive leaps forward in discovering stronger ROI.
Think about your experience as a consumer – you may be in the exploratory phases of jumping into a new hobby. You’ve got the basics of the hobby down, but don’t quite know the ins and outs of brand reputations, product values or detailed specifications. The first thing you’ll do is start your search, which might include product reviews, whitepapers, articles or videos to get a better understanding of what you should be purchasing to start your new hobby. The more you search, the more you’ll uncover which organizations have been producing quality content, and you’ll also be served with relevant advertising along the way.
When you look at the sheer amount of content being produced from 24/7 news networks to 16-hour video game live streams to daily YouTube vlogs to topical blogs, there are a lot of big rocks out there, and many are filled with valuable gems. When companies, especially B2B companies, can find a way to stand out in a world of noise by creating captivating “big rocks,” it resonates with customers. And when that success is compounded with consistency, it makes it even more valuable.
One company that has spent the better part of the last decade mastering content is Hubspot. Hubspot is a trusted marketing advisor and producer of helpful content, most of which is provided at no cost, with no subscription. However, Hubspot is primarily a provider of CRM, sales and service software. Rarely does Hubspot ever lead with their product; instead, Hubspot leads with their expertise, their reliability and their content messaging to serve as the hub of marketing knowledge. Many of Hubspot’s readers may not currently be in a position of need for marketing software, but when they are, Hubspot will be at the top of their mind for a demo.
Thought leadership was another content topic mentioned time and time again on the 2020 trend blogs. Many companies and individuals are using this time during 2020 to showcase their thought leadership at a time when we are more online than ever before. It’s the perfect opportunity to capture eyeballs, especially on social media, through videos, blogs and other thought-provoking posts.
2020 is proving that the age-old adage of “content is king” is perhaps more relevant than ever.
Showing Value in 2020: Account-based Marketing
Studies are starting to show that CMOs and marketing leaders KNOW they should be investing in account-based marketing (ABM) and while more companies are hopping on this train, many still don’t know where to buy a ticket. ABM relies on a strong relationship between marketing and sales, which for many may still be a foreign concept.
At its core, ABM is all about finding the right allocation of sales, marketing, operations and finance teams to balance targeted, enterprise and commercial accounts with the correct mix of 1:1, 1:few and 1:many marketing activities. That’s a lot to digest, even at the basic level, and requires a lot of buy-in from leaders around the organization. The benefit of this approach is, of course, better utilization of all company resources, not just marketing. When philosophical ABM alignment is reached, target account lists are built and operations are set up for all forms of the ABM tech stack, companies are officially set up for success.
There are a lot of tactics that go into account-based marketing, and we will go into those in more detail in a future blog. You could even make the argument that every single item listed in the 2020 prediction lists could fit into ABM. Things like marketing automation and customer experience are critical elements of ABM. Marketing automation can use lead scoring models, personalization and trigger methodology to continue funneling targets and prospects into the most appropriate nurture or actionable categories. Building a unique customer experience is critical, especially in the 1:1 and 1:few actions you take with top target accounts; the entire point of those target accounts is to give them a unique experience that the general commercial and enterprise accounts do not receive.
Still Hitting its Stride in 2020: Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence
There are a couple of forward-thinking trends that picked up steam but didn’t quite hit their stride in 2020. Some of those include AI marketing, voice search, chatbots and virtual reality. By this point, none of these trends are new; the technology required for any of these activities have been around for years. However, they haven’t been able to replace other areas where consumers offer more attention.
Virtual reality headsets have been around for much of the 2010s. I remember it was a hit at several sponsor booths at a marketing event I attended in 2015. But, as far as household relevancy, it remains largely a gaming novelty with unsolved issues around eye fatigue and motion sickness. Augmented reality, while not as intrusive as VR, fits into a similar novelty category, but brands are finding ways to make it work. Furniture companies like IKEA allow you to visualize the look and size of something from their store directly in your own living space through a smartphone app. Sephora gives you the chance to see how new makeup or hair colors would look on you before you buy. Clothing retailers like Gap let you try on their clothes via AR.
Voice search and chatbots are both interesting topics that should be paid attention to, but 2020 is not the year that they took over. It was predicted for a while that more than half of all search would be performed via voice by 2020, when in fact we are closer to just 20%. Chatbots are something else that requires a lot of artificial intelligence and content buildout to have a truly effective chatbot experience. While chatbots have proven effective to replace the initial back-and-forth banter that comes with phone customer service, answering the complex issues is often hit-or-miss until AI systems can learn more.
My favorite voice search story comes from 2017 when Burger King’s “Okay Google, what is the Whopper burger?” took over Google Home devices. While the PR department had their set of challenges to deal with, the attention was there and is a perfect example of how creativity with voice search is both possible and effective.
The potential in all of these topics is there and I don’t expect any of them to slow down over the next five years.
Not Touched on Enough, but Thriving in 2020: Social Media Relevancy
A few of the prediction lists touched on this, but it can’t go fully unnoticed is the differentiated use of social media platforms. LinkedIn continues to improve its platform and be the perfect place for thought leaders to showcase their knowledge via posts and articles. Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok all remain the most visually appealing platforms for younger generations while Facebook now flourishes for the older generations.
Even within platforms, there are content strategies that widely vary now (i.e. when to post on Instagram stories vs. a permanent post). Knowing your audience, along with where and when to find them on social media is probably even more relevant in this world than ever before.
To recap, these prediction blogs largely nailed it. Content remains king, ABM’s success is too loud to ignore and artificial intelligence remains the technology of the future. One thing that simply cannot be overlooked, however, is the need to remain diligent with traditional, bread-and-butter activities and Tech Data’s vendor marketing teams are always here to help optimize our resellers’ marketing strategies. Having a strong, mobile-optimized omnichannel digital presence remains the top priority for most marketing organizations. In a year where in-person marketing activities like conferences, enablement events, tradeshows and even merchandise were nixed, those that capitalized on the right messaging and how to best utilize their digital tech stack were winners in 2020. We’re all curious about which of these trends will make a repeat and what new trends will be uncovered in the 2021 predictions.
About the Author
Mike Fitch is a content marketing expert with more than 9 years of experience in B2B marketing, specializing in marketing automation, branding, social media, and content strategy. Mike currently serves as a Senior eMarketing Strategist for Tech Data’s Advanced Solutions Americas business.