When executives from Adobe and AI content platform Persado sat down last December to discuss the top five marketing trends that will impact business in 2020, they settled on topics related to data maturity, agile marketing and AI-driven content. But then, 2020 actually happened—and brought a global pandemic with it.
“With the pandemic crisis before us and the impeding recession to follow,” says Jason Heller, President of Persado, “we’re adding an important sixth trend to what was previously our top five trends. And that trend is maintaining brand purpose while building resilience in the current environment.”
Speaking at a recorded session for Adobe’s Digital Summit, available online and on demand since March 31 as a replacement for Adobe’s annual live event, Heller noted that, naturally, they didn’t anticipate that entire industries would be struggling for survival and forced to reinvent themselves. In light of that, this new trend would take priority ahead of the others. “Resilience will be a defining characteristic in the months to come,” Heller says.
Following are six marketing trends influencing business in 2020, according to Jason Heller, President of Persado, and John Copeland, VP of Marketing and Consumer Insights at Adobe.
1. Maintaining brand purpose while building resilience in the current environment.
It is critical for businesses to plan for the turbulent times ahead, says Heller. “There’s a journey to navigate from crisis communications to the new normal, business as usual, whatever that might look like and whenever that might happen.” The journey will be defined by the customer experience, which will now be more important than ever. “Understanding and supporting your customer needs moving forward may make all the difference,” he says.
Marketers’ communication strategies will be critical during this time. “Being careful about the words, the tone, the messaging used for specific customer segments will ensure that you are balancing sensitivity and messaging with performance,” Heller says. It will be important for companies to rethink their value propositions, specifically pricing, assortment and delivery of value. “Giving more for less will probably be the new normal for a bit,” he says.
Copeland points to the fact that companies will need to do more with fewer resources in order to prepare their organizations for the months to come, highlighting brands like Anheuser-Busch, Hyundai and Sephora as examples of companies adapting their business models and customer experiences for the new reality.
2. A new era of integrated data.
Using a customer data platform (CDP) to unify customer data across journeys was on track to be a top priority for 2020, according to Heller. But as CFOs conserve cash and prepare for difficult times, it probably won’t be the “year of the CDP” as it might have otherwise. Still, the holistic view of customer journeys that brings together data from different corporate functions will remain very valuable, Heller says, particularly when it comes to understanding new customer segments and how to serve their needs.
“Unified data also creates the conditions for more closely-aligned operating models across the company,” says Copeland. Sharing the same understanding of customers’ journeys and the impact on the business allows for more integration and a better customer experience. Companies also need to address and prepare for the data challenges ahead, including the phase-out of cookies and identity management challenges.
3. AI-augmented content.
While AI is currently optimizing content, many more marketing use cases, including content consumption modeling, device-centric content optimization and AI-powered content marketing, will use AI to boost performance. “Using AI to create variants of language and copy where just a word or phrase, a change here or there, can have a significant impact on performance,” Copeland says.
Heller emphasizes that it’s important to manage content operations. “As marketers increase the emphasis on personalization… more content velocity and more content volume is required to fuel this engine, and more is required to intelligently and dynamically assemble and optimize content across channels,” he says. Marketers committed to experimentation and scaling will have a competitive advantage.
4. Companies climb the digital maturity curve.
Senior company leaders are now bringing together the right people, processes, technology and data to produce an integrated customer experience management, Copeland says. More digital strategy and planning teams are being put in place; companies are creating chief customer officer roles—or integrating that responsibility into existing roles—and are fully committing to being customer-centric.
“This requires explicit prioritization and the business cases necessary to invest in not just the short-term, but the mid-term key initiatives—not the shiny objects—that deliver the most value to the organization, the right data and tech architecture, the new operating model and processes, acquisition and nurturing of top talent,” Heller says. This also helps with change management, an integral component to navigating crises such as the one we are now experiencing. Those companies that are already digitally-relevant businesses are better equipped to weather the storm.
5. Continued adoption of agile marketing.
Adopting an agile marketing approach in our current business climate is imperative, according to Heller. “Solving customer problems in real time, through rapid, data-driven, test-and-learn, is crucial,” he says. Copeland notes that early adopters of agile marketing, an organizational performance strategy that focuses on cross-functional teams, are starting to scale across marketing and other functions in order to drive performance. “Marketing has been a later adopter of agile relative to other parts of the company—product, tech and digital organizations, for example. But marketing finally has its advocates, case studies and proven practices that help agile marketers deliver accountable and predictable outcomes,” he says.
The key goal in agile marketing is the volume of experiments, Heller says. “Simply put, more tests means more winners. It’s not the old adage of fail fast. Quite the contrary, it’s more about building the funnel where some tests win, some tests fail, but ultimately the goal is to succeed fast and often.” He acknowledges that the current work-from-home situation marketing teams are experiencing poses challenges to an agile marketing approach, given that a core principle is co-location. “But teams will need to adapt to a distributed way of working and close collaboration using video conference,” he says. “While it’s not insurmountable, it’s definitely a dynamic that will need to be managed.”
6. Marketing as a catalyst for company-wide digital transformation.
Speaking about the commercial side of digital transformation, Heller says that marketing is leading the charge and pulling entire organizations through the process. “It’s the commercial transformation, the front lines of customer engagement, demand generation, revenue creation and the creation of modern customer equity, that can drive hundreds of millions or even billions in new enterprise value,” he says. And frequently, it’s the marketing department that’s first to build new tech stacks and lead in terms of data literacy.
Citing Forrester research, Copeland added that more CMOs are leading these transformations today. For those in the early stages, he recommends starting small. “Pick a small number of decision-making processes where you want better data integrated, or even one where you just want an end result that’s simply a great customer experience and a valuable part of the business,” he says. Enabling the organization to be customer-centric is—or will be—a top priority of every company, according to Heller—particularly in the months ahead.