Digital Marketing

2020 Look-Ahead: Trends in the Digital Marketing Industry

December 23, 2019

At Art & Science, we’re immersed in the realm of digital marketing day in and day out. We’ve watched an exciting evolution in the kinds of digital problems our clients ask us to tackle, and in the ways we go about solving them. We thought it was only fitting to wrap up 2019 by reflecting on what the year brought with it and by looking ahead to the digital marketing trends we expect to see grow in 2020. Buckle up, this is a big one.

One of the trends we see continuing to evolve is the recognition that B2B experiences, particularly in the digital space, are being measured and evaluated against B2C standards. 

In the B2C world, we recognize that customer experience (CX) is a rallying cry. By 2019, we already know that CX is a critical differentiator for brands. However, historically, B2B digital marketing and digital product development businesses have been less committed to the standards of brand expectations that B2C businesses now have hardwired.

Increasingly important in 2020 is the recognition that in the B2B world, the buyers are still people. The buyers of B2B services are also consumers of customer-based products, making their brand expectations one in the same. So what we’re seeing, and will continue to see in the upcoming year, is that the brands in the B2B space yielding the greatest customer acquisition and growth are the ones that recognize their digital channels need to be as on-brand as the Apples and Teslas of the B2C space.

Now – how exactly does an on-brand digital channel manifest itself for a B2B service? It comes through in every interaction had with the customer, which includes websites, portals and software. At Art & Science, this means we’re receiving more asks to rethink the value proposition of what a B2B is offering by way of product design or digital marketing.

We’ll also continue to observe the growing role of dynamic and personalized marketing messages.

In 2020 we’re going to see a resurgence of the importance of brand messaging. The digital marketing industry as a whole has been obsessed with metrics, clicks and conversion rates – and we’ll admit that we’ve been a part of that obsession. However, emerging counter trends in the industry recognize that it’s not all about last-click attribution or optimizing dynamic pricing in a moment of time to capture the customer. It’s about brand messaging, the emotionality of that messaging, and what you’re signalling to customers by way of it. Think of it this way – video is the highest emotional opportunity for a message. But in the era of streaming wars, we’re not watching commercials like we used to. Brands are missing this affective dimension to their messaging, and are in search of ways to translate it into their digital marketing channels.

This brings us to the obvious question: how do we create meaningful messaging in today’s landscape? In short, the answer is dynamic and personalized marketing messages. 

Ten years ago, the industry talked a lot about omnichannel marketing, which is the notion that we can understand the customer holistically, irrespective of the channel by which they are interacting with a brand. This includes interactions that happen in-store, online, on a street corner or in a transit ad. It emphasizes the fact that there are many potential touchpoints with a customer, and aims to leverage that to create a holistic brand experience.

The problem is, omnichannel marketing has been talked about for 10 years, but has never really been executed in a way true to the definition. So instead, we’ve ditched the term and replaced it with the notion of customer experience, which still echoes the omnichannel promise of a holistic brand experience. The way we actually get to that promise is through the use of sophisticated CRM and data-driven marketing tools that can offer highly personalized messaging tailored towards specific contexts. We’ve seen some companies make use of these tools themselves, or alternatively, leverage off-the-shelf powerful CRM products like Pardot, which has an incredibly sophisticated means of developing marketing funnels and customer experiences.

The missing puzzle piece and subsequent challenge – to get aboard this train, you’ll need to first understand your customer’s experiential journey. Naturally, you can’t have dynamic marketing that evolves to fit a customer’s stage in the buying process without an understanding of those stages.

Closing the loop: The assumptions, feedback and refinement cycle.

So far, we’ve explored the idea of 2020 bringing with it an elevated recognition for the promise of omnichannel, put into practice through the power of CRM driven marketing (irrespective of whether you’re a B2C or B2B business, remember?). We’ve also discussed that this all requires an understanding of the customer’s journey. The next question is: where does this understanding come from.

It starts with personas, which are archetypes we construct to gain context and get a sense of what the customer is thinking and feeling throughout the buying process.  However, because personas  are a projection of who we think the customer is, and what their habits and behaviour are, there comes a point where the power of the persona stops. When this happens, we need data to close the loop between what we think and what we know.

Data, and the way it’s used, is an infinite feedback loop. We use the current state of our knowledge to make assumptions about how we’re going to influence people. We get data pings back based on what people did – did they open the email? Visit the website? This gets “fed” back into the engine to continuously update the picture of what we know (and not just what we think we know based on personas), helping us make our assumptions more and more accurate.

What’s the point of this again? Ultimately, to answer the key question: “what kind of conversation do we want to have with this customer next?”. In the case of the B2C, it  informs how and where they’re targeting customers with certain opportunities, messages and promotions. In the B2B realm, it may inform when the right time is to hit them with a piece of content marketing. Either way, this is the process that allows for a holistic customer experience to be delivered.

In 2020, we’ll have to continue to consider the impact of privacy legislation on our ability to achieve the promise of personalization.

With the movement towards regarding personal data as a human right, and marketing tactics relying on customer data more heavily than ever, brands are going to have to be more transparent about their use of data and upfront about the value exchange involved. In other words, it’s about framing a conversation that may look like “we’d like to use your data, but it’s in the service of X”, where X is the value given back to the customer.

How this is translated into the market will be interesting. It may look like using data to identify loyal customers, and offering them hyper-personalized promotions as a reward. This is an example of value added to the customer, while simultaneously making the reasons to buy more emotional and less transactional – which also relieves brands from bankrupting one another by competing solely on price.

But targeting a narrow behaviour demographic necessarily calls ethics into question. Can brands show ads to only people of a certain demographic? Could this warrant being called out for violating a human right? Targeting has been a part of media since its conception (think of choosing a neighbourhood to display a billboard) – but the ethics around it’s evolution are an interesting and questionable reality we’re forced to reckon with in 2020.

Want to hear more about what 2020 means for your business’s digital marketing efforts? Let’s chat!

Authors: Spencer Sauders, Elli Seregelyi

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