Five digital marketing shifts edging us closer to the heart of the business

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Hex Digital reveal the five trends pushing the digital marketing industry forward in 2020 and beyond.

Looking back on 2019, it’s fair to say that the year got off to a slow start. It was filled with extreme uncertainty, building up to the eye of the storm which hit us hard and fast on the 12th of December. 2019 left us with a trace of optimism and a taste of hope as we face a fresh start in a new decade. Before I digress into a black hole of politics, let’s instead look at how the marketing industry has mirrored this and what’s in store for 2020.

It’s no secret that marketers have faced a bit of an uphill battle over the past year, scrambling to measure and prove ROI, struggling to differentiate campaigns in an ever-growing competitive landscape, and finding it harder and harder to reach the right audiences in a way that resonates across multiple and ever increasing channels.

Though there has been so much opportunity at our fingertips, we have only been able to touch the tip of the iceberg because the building blocks haven’t necessarily been there to support us - until now. I can’t predict the future, but I do know that 2019 has been instrumental in laying the foundations for the start of this new decade and these are five biggies we can expect to see start to rock the world of digital marketing as we know it.

Sustainability

Sustainability is a growing concern for businesses across the board. In digital marketing, we’re seeing more agencies promote their sustainability credentials - it’s something brands are increasingly going to consider when choosing their partners as consumer awareness and interest in sustainability continues to grow.

We’re also seeing a new breed of sustainable start-ups gaining market share and attention. These start-ups are challenging the way we do things, for example toy subscription start-up Whirli is challenging our attitude to buying and disposing of toys in landfill, while others are looking to influence and encourage sustainable practices to change and influence other sectors. The last few years have seen a huge surge of interest in sustainable and ethical brands and many consumers are willing to pay more and/or spend time seeking out a brand that aligns with their own personal beliefs. This presents a great opportunity for start-ups - the interest is there, but it will be a matter of getting a few critical components right in the first instance, with digital marketing being crucial to this mix.

Accessibility

The EU Web Accessibility Directive came into force for new public sector websites in September 2019, and while existing websites have until September 2020 to make their digital services and websites accessible to everyone, this has once again put accessibility back on the agenda both in the public and private sectors. More and more brands are already looking to external agencies that have this expertise to help make their website and digital channels accessible to all users.

This isn’t really surprising when you consider the figures - 80m people in the EU are currently living with a disability and the WHO estimates the number of blind people in the world will triple in the next four decades, while an aging population means more people accessing digital services with hearing or sight related issues or limited mobility to interact. Yet, many businesses are not currently compliant with legislation.

Part of the challenge for businesses is that there are different laws and regulations depending on where you operate - from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, to Section Section 508 in the US and the EU Standard EN 301549. There are also many grey areas regarding what constitutes compliance. But, with new regulations coming in and high profile businesses such as Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment being sued for non compliance, this is something companies need to pay attention to in 2020.

Faster connection speeds

What this month alone has showed us is that we cannot ignore or escape the arrival of 5G and WiFi 6. These advances in connectivity will create great opportunities for creative digital campaigns this year. While 5G is only currently available in the UK on EE and Vodafone, within the next two years, we should all be able to use this faster network, meaning we can access more data-rich applications on the move without annoying jitters and network crashes.

To date, marketers and brands have tended to play it safe when it comes to creating data-rich applications. There’s no point having a great app or campaign if it can’t run on most people’s devices and networks. What’s more, endless buffering and dropped connections puts consumers off and can turn them away from a brand. However, with faster mobile and WiFi connections, we’re likely to see more brands investing in new and exciting emerging tech such as AR and VR to attract and engage their audience - once they’re confident the networks and devices can support it.

Scratching the surface of data

As an industry, we’re only scratching the surface of the data available to us, plus many companies are still rebuilding their databases following the introduction of GDPR in 2018. Even so, there is still far too much data for us to fully understand and analyse ourselves and we’re seeing more sophisticated machine learning and AI tools come to market.

With these tools, companies and agencies are able to gain real time insights and make new discoveries based on data, which can then be used to inform and feed new campaigns quickly and efficiently. For example, using AI effectively enables marketers to quickly see which campaigns are most effective with which audience, which creative work resonates best on which platform, and which groups are likely to be most receptive to our messages.

We’re likely to see more marketers adopt this approach in the next year, but while effective use of AI can offer a huge competitive advantage, it’s important that marketers don’t lose the human element completely. Our human understanding and insights are what enable us to create new and exciting work rather than being constrained by siloed thinking and copying what’s been done before. There’s a balance to be made between using tech cleverly to your advantage and and leaving it to do all the work for you.”

Cross platform UX growing in importance

Forecasts suggest that by the end of 2020, there will be between six and seven connected devices per person in the world. Gone are the days of linear marketing - today’s marketers need to communicate and engage with their audience in different ways and through different devices depending on the time of day, where they are and what they’re doing. Given the growing number of devices owned and used by consumers, we are going to see a growing emphasis on joined up campaigns that can identify the right time to target a specific device and also ensure a seamless user experience, adding value to the consumer rather than reiterating the exact same message on different channels.

Furthermore, marketers need to do this subtly. Since the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, consumers are more aware of how their data is being gathered and used to market to them, and some are not happy about the implications. In reality, while they may have agreed to the various T&Cs for using certain platforms and tools, they still want and need to feel like they are in control and are making the final decision rather than being pushed in a certain direction. This is a key part of the psychology of buying. Savvy marketers will recognise this and while promoting their products and services across different platforms and devices, they will do so in a way that creates an experience that is exciting for the consumer.

From sustainability and accessibility to better data and faster connection speeds driving tech adoption and cross-platform marketing, 2020 is already shaping up to be a year of action and change. It is fundamental developments like these that will start to drive, and support, so much change for brands and marketers in 2020, demonstrating the true value of digital marketing and putting it one step closer to the heart of the business to ultimately drive real business success.

Benjamin Moore, managing partner at Hex Digital.

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