What can we learn about marketing from Blue Monday?

The only thing that #BlueMonday proves is the power of marketing. But what can we learn?

Blue Monday is the worst day in January. It’s cold and dark, ages since Christmas and for many of us, a time of tight belts and tighter wallets. Science has shown that the third Monday of January is the day we all feel at our worst in the new year. Except… it hasn’t.

Despite reappearing each year as a social media trend, Blue Monday isn’t backed by real science, and there’s no proof that it is any worse or better than every other day of everyone’s least favourite month. Of course, the post-holiday blues hit us hard when the nights are still long, but this particular Monday gets a bad rap for no particular reason.

In fact, the only thing that #BlueMonday proves is the power of marketing.

The origin of Blue Monday

Blue Monday can be traced back to 2004, when psychologist Cliff Arnall came up with a ‘formula’ that suggested that the third Monday of January was when everybody was at their lowest post Christmas. The formula in question? [W+(D-d)]xTQ/MxNA.

It certainly looks like a formula. Except, when you break it down, it starts to look a little bit iffy.

W = weather

D = debt

d = monthly salary

T = time since Christmas

Q = time since failing our New Year’s resolutions

M = low motivational levels

Na = the feeling of a need to take action

It starts to sound even more questionable when you discover that it was created in partnership with the now-defunct Sky Travel to advertise their winter holidays. That’s right, Blue Monday isn’t just fake, it’s marketing.

Even the creator, who was apparently paid £1200 for his part in the creation of Blue Monday, has described it as pseudoscience and urged people to ignore it. 

In 2013, Cliff, speaking to the Daily Telegraph, said: “I was originally asked to come up with what I thought was the best day to book a summer holiday but when I started thinking about the motives for booking a holiday, reflecting on what thousands had told me during stress management or happiness workshops, there were these factors that pointed to the third Monday in January as being particularly depressing.”

“I’m pleased about the impact if it means people are talking about depression and how they feel but I’m also encouraging people to refute the whole notion of there being a most depressing day and to use the day as a springboard for the things that really matter in your life.”

The Blue Monday boom

Since its inception, and the advent of social media hashtags, Blue Monday has only increased in popularity. Each year, brands rally to leverage this event into sales, with varying degrees of success.

In 2015, Tesco capitalised on January’s reputation as the month of diets and created Blueberry Monday, where it offered free fruit to shoppers as an incentive to continue eating well post-Christmas.

Blue Monday participation can be as simple as a Tweet, as proved by the team behind the Star Wars UK Twitter account, who in 2016 tweeted: ‘beat #BlueMonday. With a lightsaber if necessary.’

It’s not just brands either. Charities, such as the Donkey Sanctuary, often use the tag to drive awareness. This year, the Samaritans have turned it into #BrewMonday, highlighting the very real depression many people feel in January, though perhaps not specifically on the third Monday.

What can we learn about marketing?

At this point, Blue Monday could be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy, nevertheless it has become a prime example of the effectiveness of a very simple idea. Despite being created for one – now defunct – brand in particular, it has taken on a life of its own and become an opportunity for all brands to take advantage of.

More noticeably, the marketing conversation around the idea of Blue Monday has begun to lean towards the idea of self-care, rather than treating it as an advertising free-for-all full of giveaways. Simply tweeting that your product could be a cure for Blue Monday – as holidays were for Sky Travel in 2005 – may not be as effective as you might hope.

Instead, people-centric brands can encourage their followers to challenge the idea of Blue Monday themselves, with a more sensitive approach. The advent of social media and the continuing personalisation of brands means people respond better to humanised messaging, so ensuring you are interacting with the idea of Blue Monday instead of just tagging it is vital.

January can be a difficult month for us all, whatever the date, so even though Blue Monday is pseudoscience, it can certainly teach us something about marketing. Because really, that’s all it is. Perhaps branding revolutionaries Innocent Smoothies put it best:

Innocent Smoothies tweet about Blue Monday

For advice on how to get the most out of your social media or search engine marketing, visit our services page, or contact us.

Change your aim: marketing and COVID-19

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we live our lives. How has this affected marketing, and what can you do to mitigate losses?

When coronavirus, or COVID-19, first appeared at the start of the year it quickly became apparent that it would have a wide-reaching impact on all aspects of life. With lockdowns and social distancing fundamentally changing everything we do, we have had to adapt to new ways of thinking, living, and working.

With government advice urging people to work from home unless absolutely necessary and restricting people to their homes except for essential travel, it has become more difficult than ever to reach potential customers. As is usually the way, marketing departments in business across the country are taking a hit. If you can’t reach customers, what’s the point of marketing?

Time to change your aim

Here’s the thing: COVID-19 does not mean customers are unreachable. People still need and want to buy things, or carry out work as normal to keep their businesses afloat. To reach them, however, you need to rethink your marketing strategy.

Physical and traditional marketing channels have temporarily disappeared. Any exhibitions or networking events you might have had planned have gone out the window. Lists of prospects to call are useless without people in the office to answer. Industry print media, for the most part, has paused. It remains to be seen how well these channels recover post-COVID.

As a result, it is more important than ever to focus on digital and social media marketing. With people stuck at home, people are spending even more time online. Social media apps are reporting increased engagement across the board. There has never been a better time to invest in your online strategy to reach the right people.

covid-19 business closed

Plan for post-pandemic

Many online retailers saw a rapid increase in e-commerce sales during March with more people than ever stuck at home with little to do.

This might not be useful to businesses who do not work on an e-commerce basis, who have seen a drop in new projects or enquiries. However, just because customers are not searching for what they need now, does not mean they won’t be when the uncertainty of coronavirus comes to an end.

When business reopen, many clients will need to restock and form new partnerships which might have been affected by the crisis. It is vital your business is ready to intercept this surge in traffic.

Search Engine Optimisation is a long game. Invest time and effort into ranking for valuable search terms now and ensure your website is technically sound. This will put you in the best position possible for a post-coronavirus upswing in searches.

Alter your Pay-Per-Click strategy

It’s important to address messaging across current pay-per-click campaigns such as Google Ads. For example, are you able to tie into trends such as togetherness, working from home, communications and essential services? If so, what value can you provide in line with these themes, and, in turn, how can you take a softer sales approach?

It is also important to review ad copy and creative. You’ll need to change “visit us in store!” and similar phrases, and any imagery of people in large groups or in-store on landing pages. 

If you can deliver any services virtually that’s worth including in your campaign too. More than ever people are looking for added value at the click of a button. 

Spend on social

As mentioned above, people are spending more time than ever before on social media. Although it’s important to remain conscious of the content we publish at this time, social media is the most vital vehicle to deliver important messages about your business, offering and industry. If you are still open and providing services, products, or solutions, let people know.

You might also consider expanding your communications beyond organic social media. With an increase in social traffic, so too has the noise from thousands of brands, all looking to reach the same customers as you. A paid campaign will allow you laser-focus in who you want to reach and cut through the noise. 

With a little bit of investment and the right content, you could be reaching more potential customers than ever before. Learn from big brands – they are set to increase spend across social platforms to replace lost income from traditional marketing campaigns.

How can we help? 

ExtraMile Communications can work with you to improve and expand your digital marketing and online presence during this difficult time. Although it is difficult to look ahead, it is vital you are doing all you can to stay relevant to your customers and prepare for the future.

We offer a range of digital marketing services including organic search engine optimisation, pay-per-click advertising management, social media marketing both paid and organic, and email marketing. We can work with you to ensure your business is reaching customers and prepared for the future.

It remains to be seen what kind of long-term impact COVID-19 will have on marketing and the habits of customers and clients. For now, focusing on your digital communications rather than cutting your marketing entirely may be the best way to position yourself for what comes next and mitigate losses. For more information on how we can help, or to discuss your project, get in touch.

Digital Marketing Techniques For The Chemical Industry

In many ways, B2B marketing campaigns can be far more challenging than consumer-facing brands due to the limited number of promotional channels available. And if you are marketing within the chemical industry then you really do need nerves of steel because marketing in this sector is even tougher as it is governed by strict regulations/legislation, globalisation, and an immense amount of product diversity.

 In addition, product differentiation and the marketing of USPs can be very hard to achieve. This is because the vast majority of chemicals are made up of identical components which are listed on the product’s packaging. Without innovative marketing, it is very hard for a chemical company to survive and be competitive in both their regional and the global market.      

 Taking a closer look at the chemical industry it is clear that it is more than just a single industry. It is, in fact, a group of industries producing a wide range of products all doing completely different jobs with different benefits across many segments. In fact, there are very few industries across the world that do not require chemicals within their processes.

 Historically, large producers dominated the chemical industry. But today smaller niche players are challenging the marketplace that have reimagined their markets, products, services, and technology.  They concentrate upon consumer demand, providing individualised batches to suit specific customers needs, focussing upon the user experience. For example, the paint and coatings sector where the customer base is being sold experiences rather than products. It is no longer about the colour of the paint, but how it looks on the wall and sits within the whole home experience. These companies are able to do this using valuable customer data and insights gained through digital marketing campaign strategies, which will give them that additional competitive edge.

Strong branding

 Branding is a critical part of the digital marketing strategy for companies within the chemical industry. Customers in this sector historically display limited brand loyalty – they are happy to switch brands if they can get a chemically equivalent product. Therefore chemical companies need to focus heavily upon creating a unique brand name through factors such as consistent delivery of a quality product, competitive pricing, customer support, a positive reputation etc., all of which can be communicated to the target audience through digital marketing techniques such as content marketing. The unique brand name and a positive perception that companies such as Dow Chemicals, DuPont and BASF SE have built up is the reason why many buyers do not hesitate to buy chemicals from these established brands.

Benefits of thought leadership marketing

Harnessing the power of thought leadership to break through the marketing noise for B2B businesses 

In a crowded market space, commanding the brand conversation requires a breakthrough strategy that will ensure that your voice is heard above the marketing noise. A powerful tool that isn’t just another piece of marketing jargon, but will help to position your company as a leader in its field.

 With 83% of buyers believing that ‘thought leadership’ had increased their trust in an organisation, 88% saying that they use thought leadership to build a shortlist of potential vendors and 47% of c-suite execs saying thought leadership content had a direct impact on awarding business (*research by Edelman and LinkedIn), thought leadership could well be your breakthrough strategy and an important part of your content marketing strategy. Particularly as only 50% of B2B marketers said that they take advantage of it!

So what exactly is thought leadership?

Thought leadership has been defined by many but perhaps the best definition came from Elsie Bauer (of Apple fame and blogger of Symantec):

“Thought Leadership is the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates”

 To be a thought leader in your industry is to share your business knowledge and the unique ways that you/your company thinks, proving that you are an authority on a specific topic/sector. It is about having your own perspective and new ways of thinking that will have a significant impact on (maybe even revolutionise) business models, consumers, employees and the marketplace, and will place you ‘top of mind’ within your sector. Thought leadership is also about understanding the breadth of the environment whilst having a recognised and valued forward-looking perspective that is communicated and validated to your audience.

How can thought leadership help your business to achieve its key objectives?

The key benefit of thought leadership is that it increases the individual’s profile and, by default, their company’s. It can help achieve key business objectives by:

 Thought leadership builds brand affinity and the simple truth is that people buy from people and companies that they trust. By becoming part of the conversation early on in the buying journey of your target audience you allow them to get to know you, and prove that you are trustworthy enough to provide an outstanding product or service.

 Building trust with potential customers will be more easily engendered by replacing blatant promotional messages with strong, authentic and authoritative thought leadership content that speaks in their language. Content that acts as their voice by providing them with help, guidance, and support. Understanding key customer talking points and building a disruptive conversation around them will begin the process of building a social business – platforming real people with real personalities and views, interacting with real customers and buyers.

 In a crowded marketplace, it is vital that your B2B business stands out and that its voice is heard above the marketing noise. Differentiation is the key to ensuring that you are a leader and not a follower. Staying one step ahead of the competition will enable you to retain existing customers and grow your market share. Failure to do so will inevitably see your customers head to your competitors – it is very hard for a business to recover once customer retention rates begin to dwindle. This is where thought leadership excels. It will help you to find and provide that point of differentiation that will make your business stand out from the crowd and keep you ahead of the race.

 Within the B2B space particularly it pays to be perceived as an ‘authority’ in your sector i.e. to own your market. As a buyer, if you were choosing between potential suppliers and one company regularly published thought leadership content that was well researched with innovative technical ideas and the latest data, this activity would make them stand out from their competitors. The level of authority and demonstration of competence that such content suggests would make you far more likely to work with them. It creates a lasting image of expertise and knowledge. In many B2B sectors, it takes time to become regarded as a brand authority. However, the right thought leadership strategies will cut through the red tape and quickly and effectively position your company as being the ‘go to’ brand within your sector.

 Thought leadership is a very powerful tool in creating a culture of customer engagement. It has the ability to make B2B buyers feel like they are part of the ‘company conversation’ which engenders positive engagement. This is largely due to the fact that the ideal B2B buyer is generally always hungry for new ideas, information on the latest trends, and investigating new ways of doing things to enable them to stay ahead. By discussing sector relevant trends, issues and solutions which are personal to their interests; thought leadership content acknowledges and feeds their needs which creates positive engagement. During a time when disruptive marketing is taking the world by storm, thought leadership sits right up there providing an excellent way for you to communicate with your target audience so putting your business at the forefront of their mind.

thought leadership diagram

Identifying your potential thought leaders

 Thought leaders are most generally experts on a particular subject or passionate advocates for that subject (or even both). A thought leader doesn’t necessarily have to be a CEO or senior manager to be credible but does have to have a passion for his/her chosen subject and a commitment to undertaking the work required by a thought leadership strategy.  Once you have identified what your company wants to be known for (aligned to your business strategies and key objectives) you will then be able to identify the most appropriate people to become thought leaders. The next step is to create a thought leadership strategy to capture and develop their thoughts to be communicated to your target audience/market.

How to create a thought leadership strategy that drives real value

When adopting thought leadership as a strategy for business growth and innovation providing regular high-quality content is the key to driving real value. Consistently delivering valuable content to your target audience will not only encourage them to become customers but to also become brand champions by sharing your content socially so ensuring that it is read by key prospects. The research by Edelman and LinkedIn showed that over half of buyers were willing to share their contact information in exchange for content of interest, and that 42% of c-suite execs reported that they had reached out to content providers to follow-up if they were impressed with their thought leadership content.  

 However, poor quality content can have the adverse effect –  49% stated that their opinion of a company had decreased after reading poor quality content, and a third had removed a company from consideration based on their thought leadership output. So it is important to remember that publishing content for content’s sake is never a good strategy as it could lead to the publishing of low-quality content.

What type of thought leadership content do B2B readers actually look for and engage with?

The Edelman and LinkedIn survey showed that on average one to three hours per week are spent reviewing thought leadership content. The top three reasons why users engage with content weren’t surprising:

(i) Readers are interested in content that relates to a topic that they are currently working on.

(ii)  The content is short and therefore easily absorbed.

(iii)  Readers look for thought leadership content that they perceive to have new or original ideas. This includes comment upon new trends and issues, analysis, key facts and supporting statistics that can be used in their work.

 Of course, thought leadership topics will vary from industry to industry. However, regardless of the subject, the content pieces that work best are those where the author gets to the point quickly, where something is created that is valuable, which makes ‘music’ rather than just noise.

 With the increase in online content, audiences are becoming increasingly choosy over the content that they wish to consume. It would, therefore, be naive to assume that a thought leadership piece should always be a word blog post. Much like any marketing campaign where it pays to know your audience, the format of your content should always be determined by who you are targeting, their preferred format, daily routine, analytics etc.  Dependant upon the preferences of your target audiences there are various formats that you can use for your thought leadership campaign, including: 

 Successful thought leadership campaigns have the potential to form the basis of the best content marketing campaign you will ever run, creating a loyal following for your company and its products/services. However, it must always be remembered that to create a successful thought leadership campaign the content must be of value to your target audience. Powerful, thought leadership content will make your company look like an innovative disruptor and will work to differentiate you from the competition winning the hearts and minds of your customers and prospects.  

Sources:

*Edelman and LinkedIn:  

https://www.edelman.com/research/b2b-thought-leadership

Read how ExtraMile use thought leadership to achieve

Five key digital marketing strategies for manufacturing companies

Historically, manufacturing companies have generally been slower to embrace digital marketing in comparison to other B2B industries, but times are rapidly changing.  In the world of manufacturing, having a sound digital marketing strategy is now just as important as it is in any other industry.

Applying a focused digital marketing strategy incorporating search engine optimisation and paid search will offer manufacturers many benefits including:

  1. The opportunity to diversify and broaden their client base by generating demand/leads.
  2. The ability to educate audiences
  3. Digital marketing has been shown to increase return on Investment (ROI).
  4. Raising brand recognition, credibility and trust through an active web presence.

Research published by Smart Insights shows that up to 49% of companies do not have a clearly defined digital marketing strategy.  This figure includes manufacturers many of whom reported that digital marketing does not come naturally. Many businesses reported that they are finding it difficult to get used to the latest trends in the market. As digital marketing specialists, the team here at ExtraMile Communications  offer their thoughts on five key digital strategies for manufacturing companies to drive business growth:

Perhaps the most critical element in your digital marketing strategy has to be website design. It is crucial that your website is a responsive design fully optimised to be found by Google and other search engines. It should be easy to navigate – remember that the first 10 seconds of visiting a site is when visitors decide if they wish to stay and browse. Always ensure that your website prioritises site speed, is designed using mobile-first techniques, includes dynamic elements such as interactive video and scrolling foregrounds. Equally as important is the ability of your website to capture leads through forms, directed by a call to action. For example, signing up for a white paper, an email list or more information etc.  

Many manufacturing businesses still use forms of traditional advertising such as trade magazines. In comparison, digital advertising is far more effective and many are now coming to value its worth. In a recent survey The Content Marketing Institute’s Report – “Manufacturing Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends“, 66% of manufacturing content marketers stated that they use paid methods to distribute digital content primarily due to its ability to attract a new audience as it allows highly specific targeting across demographics, interests, employment.

Digital advertising takes many different forms, some of which include:

In today’s digital world more people are watching video content than ever before. Audiences are said to be spending over a third of their time online watching video.  In addition, factor in that the costs of creating video (which have never been lower) and there has never been a better time to incorporate online video content into your digital marketing strategy. In fact, The Content Marketing Institute’s Report – “Manufacturing Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends” showed that nearly 70% of manufacturing content marketers increased their use of audio/visual content and images compared with one year ago.

There are many ways to embrace online video content such as product or ‘talking head’ videos, basic animations, live streaming etc. For manufacturing companies, video is a superb way of showcasing products and services – this sector lends itself really well to the production of exciting content. The backdrop of state of the art factories, cutting-edge technology and hazardous substances attracts the attention of many viewers.  Whether using social media, streaming websites, or partnering with a popular specialised content channel to run your content, the strategy of video production is well worth investing your time and resources in.

A solid content marketing strategy with compelling customer focused content will, over time, increase your organic search results, generate traffic to your website and backlinks from other companies who find your content informative and interesting, and will help to yield a higher level of overall success.   The 2019 Content Marketing Institute survey revealed that 57% of manufacturing content marketers stated that they have used or developed long-form content in the last 12 months and 70% have increased their use of social media for content marketing purposes during this period.

The manufacturing sector faces some quite unique challenges in content creation. These are primarily the ability to appeal to multi-level roles within their target audience, the communication of complex content, and the fact that many manufacturing companies face long sales cycles with multiple decision makers.  

Recent research by The Content Marketing Institute showed that whilst manufacturing companies acknowledge that they need to explain how their products or services work, only 50% always/frequently prioritise their audience’s informational needs over their sales/promotional message when creating content. Therefore the audience is not always being put at the forefront, and too many manufacturing organisations are still making the mistake of talking about themselves in the content they create.  

When creating content for your manufacturing business, it is essential that you understand, focus upon, and prioritise your audience’s informational needs to be truly effective.  There is no point in committing time and money to content marketing if you are not developing content designed to provide valuable information that your audience needs. In order to do that, one of the key steps in developing a content marketing strategy is to define your audience including developing personas (a  virtual reality representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data). Conduct research to really understand the people within your “audience segments” as humans.  This will help you to better understand your customers (and prospects), making it easier for you to tailor your content and messaging to meet their specific needs, behaviours and concerns at each stage of their journey.

As discussed earlier, the manufacturing sector is subject to multiple decision makers within the buying process. Each of these will have different needs which means that their particular challenges and content needs will be different.  Additionally, the role of ‘internal gurus’ needs to be taken into account. Many of these are invisible for much of the buying journey but are still a highly influential audience that can promote or block a buying decision.

A successful strategy to deal with this issue is to bring your ‘experts’ to the foreground through thought leadership content. This type of content that speaks from one expert to another (e.g. engineer to engineer)  is a very powerful tool to build credibility, earn trust and win the mindshare of sector professionals. It will help to gain new, interested customers creating an active community of ‘brand fans’ by shaping, promoting and owning new ideas through discussion, engagement and opinion.  It will also help to shorten the time to market and create ‘champion content’ that will speak to ‘internal gurus’ i.e. the invisible influencers.  But always remember that ‘champion content’ MUST always address audience needs and NOT focus solely upon the company.

Email marketing is one of the oldest (and perhaps one of the most effective) tricks in the digital marketing book.  Even today it remains a very powerful tool for many manufacturing companies to close more sales and bring on board more prospects. In fact, the Content Marketing Institute’s Report – “Manufacturing Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends”  showed that 92% of respondents’ organisations currently use content marketing methods to nurture their audience.

Email marketing requires careful planning and audience segmentation to ensure that the right customers (and prospects) get the right emails at the right time, to encourage purchases and to keep your brand at the forefront of their minds.  The advent of AI (Artificial Intelligence) in combination with CRM software has revolutionised lead nurturing with automation enabling greater functionality such as prediction of responses, tracking prospects, sending out of scheduled customised messages.

To sum up…

In actuality, there are more than five ways to embrace digital marketing within a manufacturing company. One size never fits all with any marketing strategy, but understanding the basics will provide you with a solid starting point to enable you to remain competitive in the digital sphere.  However, remember that the digital world is very fast moving and keeping ahead and, ‘in the know’, is essential to stay at the top of your game. If you feel that your manufacturing company needs some expert support in Digital Marketing please get in touch.

Sources:

The Content Marketing Institute’s Report – “Manufacturing Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends

Smart Insights

Future Trends In Marketing Technology

In an age where the audience is tired and the performers are eager, one can expect technological solutions to blossom – and they do. This article looks first of all at trends in best practice and then turns its attention to tools and technology trends.

Throughout the history of people’s efforts to sell to other people, new technologies have emerged that have helped the advertising process along. The first advertisers were tradesmen with symbols outside their doors, indicating their specialisms. Then, the first printing presses not only multiplied the availability of the latest scandal sheet or songs, but newspapers, handbills and trade cards also promoted the wares of those who could afford to advertise. Promotions became big business and, although quackery was common, the proof of the effectiveness of advertising and marketing soon became apparent. Poster hoardings, print advertising in paper media soon became overtaken by TV and radio advertising, driving massive revenues. These were dwarfed, however, with the advent of online advertising banners and the associated search engine optimisation.

future of advertising

In the age of the Internet, practically any medium lends itself to promotional work. Social media plugs paid ads, tailored to users’ profiles. Youtube video begins, is interrupted by and ends with advertising and subliminal and not so subtle messages pepper everything we read online, embedded in articles, newsletters and posts from around the world. As this becomes more sophisticated, more targeted and, yes, more effective, the subscriber to this media can become blind to the content and so ever more extreme methods are used to push messages in front of an unwilling audience.

current marketing trends

Is this good practice? Generally speaking, no. Yet advertisers are desperate to squeeze one more drop of traction out of every item they post so they are willing to make sacrifices to their online reputations in order to get their message across. In an age where the audience is tired and the performers are eager, one can expect technological solutions to blossom – and they do. This article looks first of all at trends in best practice and then turns its attention to tools and technology trends.

Trends in best practice

It’s not always about what’s right, but what works in marketing. Ethical considerations are important to ensure that as marketers we don’t alienate our target audience, but the innovators, the people who do things differently are usually the ones who gain the big prizes. The fast-paced development of online marketing tools such as social media, email and search engine advertising means that those who keep pace with the latest developments are likely to be the winners – but the past doesn’t give up and change is always with us.

Automation

We’ve all encountered awkward systems that call us by the wrong name, misunderstand our wishes or simply just don’t work. It’s getting better though. Personalisation, which is part of automation, tailors content that we read to our needs. How does the system know our needs? It may be that it’s drawing on databases of our previous activity, purchasing choices or profile: we may be part of a group that likes rock music for example, or opera. The type of content being pushed at those two groups should be radically different and, if it isn’t, the system is not doing its job. Conditional content in emails, for example, looks for data triggers to substitute particular content matching a group’s requirements into the main newsletter. A simple algorithm makes those judgements and differentiates the content on that basis. It depends strongly on robust data and enables us to do better than one size fits all.

Automation will get more, not less and, with AI-driven systems, it will become more sophisticated, permeating not just email, but online content generally, pay-per-click advertising (PPC) and remarketing. As it improves, so the lines will blur between what is evidently machine interaction with the customer and similar activity with other human beings.

Marketing with permission

In this age of data protection regulations such as the GDPR, permission marketing is gold dust – people have given you the freedom to contact them with news about your products and services, with permission! If you are looking for ways around ad-blockers, then focus on those people who really do want to hear from you. It’s largely a waste of money, pushing messages at people who don’t want to hear or see them. The GDPR has done us all a favour in that respect.

People who have given permission can be your events – they are keen on you and what you do, so give them opportunities to share your messages with others. As influencers, they are vital to your success and the finding and keeping of such people is going to be ever more important in a world crowded with companies frantically promoting their stories.

The “conversation”

Two-way marketing gives the customer a chance to respond to what you say and thereby, you create the conversations. Whether these are with chatbots, or simply through social media and human beings plugging away at keeping the client happy, there will be more of this in the future.

In a bid to engage with prospective customers and to retain and motivate existing ones, companies aim to continue conversations that work on a number of levels and platforms. Although the main hub for content is the website and its associated blog, conversations work through a number of other media too: chatbots, podcasts, social media, video and mailers, backed up by advertising that may be delivered online, in print or through the mobile devices that most people carry. The relative importance of each of these platforms that enable conversations will change as trends determine their relative worth. New platforms may also emerge that are synthesised from a combination of these existing media with new concepts such as virtual and augmented reality (q.v. below), for instance. Keep your client engaged and intrigued!

Search Engine Marketing

We’re all used to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), but SEM takes it a step further by integrating SEO with Pay-Per-Click (PPC) and remarketing (where adverts follow you around the web). A further useful integration that is now becoming ever more important, is Public Relations (PR) which is integrating with the other disciplines here to create a holistic content marketing approach, with coherent messages and brand reinforcement. All aspects of SEM will develop in the next few years, becoming more sophisticated, more competed and therefore requiring ever more skill and differentiation in order to identify and target the potential client.

Importance of media other than text in search

Voice, images and video will become more integrated as indicators of relevance in search evaluations. Viral video and images, for example, have huge traction on social media. Therefore, attention to the detail that optimises these media for search engines is critical as we move forward into a more diverse and truly “multimedia” future.

Staying secure

Security will be a large requirement for future marketing. As systems become more diverse and ever more Internet-aware devices have access to a growing online mesh, so too, the opportunities grow for those with evil intent. The online space is more fraught than ever with hackers and con artists who wish us harm. The requirements of the GDPR reflect a growing need to not only protect ourselves, but also and more importantly, to protect our subscribers, clients and prospects. International standards such as ISO 27001 play a big part in foiling fraudsters and hackers as well as providing sensible in-house security practice for any company. This approach will be one demanded by an ever-increasing body of customers who, rightly, wish to protect their intellectual property and infrastructure.

Tools and technology trends

Emerging technologies will have a profound impact on all areas of businesses with any digital footprint. There’s a world out there that is virtual, created by digital interactions using a wide variety of technologies. Whether we interact with each other through social media, across multi-person video conferencing or in a completely virtual or augmented reality, we shall need to be aware that as technology changes so will the metaphor of those reactions. Ultimately, everything we do in a digital environment is a metaphor for a real-life situation. How well that metaphor works is in part down to the quality of the delivery system and partly down to how well we all accept and agree on the terms of that metaphorical context.

The following sections briefly summarise areas of potential change in the way that marketers may talk to and engage with their audience through emerging technological solutions. Naturally, some of this is speculation and trends may move in a totally different direction.

Virtual and augmented reality

VR and AR provide new ways of viewing the world through their lenses. In virtual reality, a new world is constructed which may be seen through the viewing device – a headset that completely dominates the user’s visual field. The applications for games are almost limitless since the player can move in a virtual environment and respond with gestures or a controller to respond to the events that happen in that virtual world.

The augmented reality environment is slightly different in that it adds a layer of information and visuals to your perception of the outside world. Generally operating through a mobile device, the system triggers in response to a particular image or context and then gives the user information overlaid on the screen. Typically, this takes the form of animation, clickable elements to reveal more detailed information about an object or person or, key to marketers, promotional material that encourages investigation of a location or object. Pokémon Go is a great example here. Safe to say, marketers will use much more of augmented reality in the future, taking advantage of the prevalence of sophisticated smartphone technologies.

Location-aware marketing

Contextual advertising appeared to be way in the future (think the mall scene in Minority Report), yet our phones allow our location to be transmitted in real time to the masts that serve them. The forthcoming 5G networks will offer LTE Advanced, which features a device-to-device protocol called LTE Direct, “creating new proximity service opportunities for the entire mobile industry in social networking, venue services, loyalty services, local advertising” (Qualcomm). In reality, this means that your phone will be able to receive bespoke messages that are personalised to your tastes or requirements as you enter shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. For this technology to work, companies will need to tool up accordingly to ensure that their stores and locations take advantage of this emerging technology.

Personal assistants and conversational platforms

Systems such as Siri, Alexa and Cortana are Virtual Private Assistants (VPAs) that call for content from search engines. When a user asks Alexa a question about a particular product or service, the Amazon service polls the Bing search engine to get its answers, as does Microsoft’s Cortana, unsurprisingly. Apple’s Siri, meanwhile, talks to Google. The consequence of this is that companies need to get their SEO in order if they wish to stand a chance of being found through the medium of voice search. At the same time, these systems are collecting personal data about you as you express your preferences on a daily basis in terms of what you listen to or watch, what you order (through Amazon, for example) and where your interests lie.

Chatbots, on the other hand, are dedicated conversational platforms that are usually found on website enquiry pages, providing swift answers to FAQ-type questions. However, when these become more sophisticated drawing on a) a customer’s transactional data and b) the whole body of data that has been accrued during the backend system’s life, these chatbots become much more of a force to be reckoned with. Whether you talk or type is largely irrelevant – the system will process your request and, based on the algorithms behind it, will deliver an answer – or indeed, participate in a conversation. Increasingly, these systems, including VPAs, will deliver better and higher quality results. The frustration of having to know in advance what to ask and how, will reduce and the use of much more natural language will dominate in advanced systems. As marketers, we should prepare ourselves to make the most of the opportunities these technologies offer.

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

This convergence of web technology and smartphone/tablet applications is allowing the creation of website subsets that appear and function in the same way as a traditional phone application. Since these share the common data that already exists on the website, there is no requirement to update two content sources. Moreover, the PWA can draw on transactional data to enable such elements as retrieval of order history or full-blown e-commerce. There are many ways to create and optimise PWAs and the future lies with those companies that develop their own particular “dialect” of coding that works optimally in this new environment.

Conclusion

The future is behind a veil, as ever – even AI cannot crack that enigma, as yet. We can know what’s coming and infer where it might go. Our track record as a race for doing that is not great though. If there’s a Law of Unintended Consequences, there probably should also be a Law of Unexpected Developments. If you think back to the first mobile phones, who would ever have imagined that these devices would turn into the multi-faceted digital hubs that we routinely carry with us today. By the same token, what unexpected developments will emerge from the technologies discussed here, or those yet to be discovered?

One last thing: keep your eye on blockchain. If you don’t know what it is, find out. The only people who know what to do with it seem to be virtual currencies, and yet there’s much, much more to come from this intriguing technology. It’s only just beginning …

Additional reading

Gartner – Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2018: Get Prepared Now

Forbes – Five Trends Shaping The Future Of Marketing