I was at a networking event today and the topic came up regarding the future of digital marketing. The future of digital marketing is anyone’s guess but changes in technology and the consumer market mean great things are happening.
Well, digital marketing is an ever-changing field and everyone seems to have their own vision of the future of digital marketing. But, having been in digital marketing since teaching the first class in 1999 (an e-commerce class at Marshall University), I’ve followed this area closely (revamping my university certificate in digital marketing every semester), running this blog with great success for 14 years, and watching changes in the marketing space for over 40 years, I have a pretty good idea of what might be coming down the pike.
Here are my ideas based on what we already see happening in the digital marketing space. Scroll lower to see some predictions for the future of digital marketing that look farther into the future and are, thus, more iffy.
1. Artificial intelligence and machine learning
AI (artificial intelligence) is becoming ubiquitous, and adding ML (machine learning) means your AI tool gets smarter over time by learning from an increasing number of interactions. Everyone seems to be talking about AI these days, but it’s not clear how AI will impact the future of digital marketing, yet many tools have been built to help digital marketers incorporate AI into their platforms. Here are a few of them:
- Marketing automation platforms, like Buffer, now include AI to help create custom posts for social media platforms. For instance, the tool might craft a custom post based on the content of a blog post.
- Grammarly and other tools now use AI to suggest edits and craft custom headlines for your content.
- The granddaddy of AI, ChatGPT, offers the ability to craft entire pieces of content for users, and those willing to pay a monthly fee (currently $20/ month) get access to GPT4 and Dall-E (an image creator).
- Salesforce includes a sales AI tool to help manage the selling process more efficiently.
- A number of companies offer AI tools to assess your programs to offer insights that lead to better decision-making.
- AI tools for editing your content help create content more effortlessly. Other tools similarly help you optimize specific pieces of content such as landing pages and ads.
- Software that uses AI to help you personalize your email marketing programs.
- And, more, as new AI-powered tools come online every day, or so it seems.
Of course, these tools are in their infancy and still require a LOT of interaction from a human, so don’t think you can replace your marketing team tomorrow. Consider the image near the top of this post. Dall-E generated it and it looks great until you look carefully. Notice that the words are nonsense in every known language; they are more of a combination of random letters than words. That’s because the AI is trained on images, not words. As of now, it appears there’s no easy solution to the problem, according to Open AI (the folks who built the programs), although you can request Dall-E to leave out the words, symbols, and numbers. At some point, the software will work better, and until then, you must consider ways to refine your prompts to get an image closer to what you need. Otherwise, you must use a graphics editor like Photoshop to manually edit the words, as I did in the image below.
Textual content created by other AI programs offers a good start for your needs but it still means a human must edit the content. From the standpoint of meeting SEO needs, the content created by ChatGPT4, for instance, has the following problems:
- Since the AI simply acquires text from the internet, publishing the results won’t rank very well in search results, which doesn’t help most websites meet their needs. It’s still a great tool for writing a draft or outline of a blog post, which is what I did with this post.
- The results are too short to rank well. This post draft from ChatGPT4 was only a little over 400 words. Currently, experts recommend content over 1000 words, with 2000 to 3000 common for posts that rank well.
- The text isn’t cited so you have no idea where it comes from. This hurts your SEO, but, more importantly, you NEVER want to publish something that isn’t accurate, or you risk your reputation.
- AI results look like they’re produced by an AI tool. Despite the conversational nature of generative AI, the wording is still pretty stilted and doesn’t use the voice you cultivated, which may turn off some in your community.
- Currently, Google and other search engines don’t penalize AI-generated content. That might change at any point and you’ll be caught with your pants down — forced to delete or re-write all your content that used AI.
What the future holds for AI/ ML
Today, there’s a bit of a learning curve if you want to use tools built with AI/ ML. Most critically, you need to learn how the tool responds to prompts so you get better at building them. Also, provide feedback to the tools as many ask you whether the result met your needs. We can all help make these tools better.
For the foreseeable future, you should plan to use humans to edit your content, only using AI to help with creating the first draft. Editing tools that promise to help you craft a great CTA (call to action) or enticing content are in their infancy and I don’t trust them yet. As a professional, I’m much better at creating a landing page that converts. The same is true for analytics with the exception of multivariate testing that’s now part of Google Ads, which works very well.
2. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)
These technologies offer immersive experiences, allowing brands to engage with consumers in new and innovative ways. One of the biggest problems faced by e-commerce firms is that their online products lack tangibility. Consumers want to see how the fabric moves, how the color fits with your image, the relative size of something (I once bought a teapot only to find it was a miniature for collectors not meant for brewing tea), and how it feels. Now that resolved logistics issues mean you can deliver a product fast, it’s this aspect that has the biggest impact on lost sales.
In an earlier time, Zappos and Amazon (which bought the company), allowed buyers to try on their products and ship them back (free) when they didn’t suit. However, this is expensive. Using AR/VR solves this problem by letting users try products onto an avatar with similar characteristics. Some companies even offer the ability to use an image or create a virtual you as a means to not only try on products, but place them in your home, on your walls, or among your furniture, which even physical stores can’t match. I think this technology has a lot to offer, especially for companies where consumers would want to see the product used in context, such as in your home.
You can explore the Louver, hike the Himalayas, or surf Maui. Without the wonky headsets.
Not only are these great tools for tourism, e-commerce, and other industries but they’re great teaching tools. For instance, you can train doctors in surgeries without risking real patients.
3. Voice search and smart speakers
With the growing use of voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, optimizing for voice search is necessary. This trend might lead to more conversational and natural-sounding content in digital marketing. That means you need to adjust your keywords, especially for new content, so you take advantage of long-tailed keywords in both search ads and SEO. If you need help building long-tailed keywords, I have just the advice to get you started by selecting the link.
Also, think about how your consumers talk. It might sound very different than when they type into the search box (if you’re old enough, you remember when search contained only a single word). In addition to requiring long-tailed keywords, you might also consider revamping your entire keyword structure to accommodate the way consumers talk to their voice assistants. Use the Google Keyword Planner, a free part of the Google Ads platform (which means you need an account), to help build keywords that respond to voice search.
Chatbots, powered by AI, are similar to voice assistants except that they help provide customer service by answering routine questions or guiding website visitors to the answers they need. Sure, they’re not as good as a human, but they never take a vacation or a sick day, and they never leave for a coffee break. There’s some evidence that chatbots actually outperform humans in providing the right information except when compared with seasoned customer service agents.
Before you go adding a chatbot to your website, consider the downside. First, they are costly, especially when it comes to training them. Over time, that cost gets amortized so that a chatbot is less expensive but the upfront costs are significantly more. A small business might pay up to $5000 to develop a chatbot capable of handling simple queries unless you can develop one in-house. Enterprise chatbots that handle more complex tasks can go up to $80,000 to develop and $10,000 a month. After development, a small business might expect to pay around $500/ month for the chatbot software. [source]
I expect the cost of this software to go down over time, with more options for small businesses that you can customize via an intuitive user interface, but that’s not where we are right now.
Second, chatbots are only as good as their training. A poorly constructed chatbot can seriously damage your reputation.
Third, chatbots aren’t good with emotion. They can’t easily interpret the emotional aspects displayed by those seeking customer service and they don’t respond with empathy when faced with such emotions.
5. Internet of Things (IoT)
The increasing interconnectedness of everyday devices provides marketers with more data and touchpoints for engaging with consumers. This could lead to more contextually relevant and timely marketing messages. Most applications of IoT exist outside of the marketing arena. For instance, farmers can use IoT along with other technologies, such as satellite imagery, to determine the optimum management of their crops, such as determining when each part of a field needs water or nutrients. Companies can monitor the performance of remote machines or those housed in dangerous environments, such as monitoring the fuel rods in a nuclear power plant and adjusting coolant to maintain them at peak performance or managing the transfer of power to the electrical grid.
Wearables, smart homes, and connected devices are consumer applications of IoT, and I see a future where a user can connect their device to a retail platform to automate some activities, such as ordering over-the-counter supplements based on wearable data or ordering more milk once the fridge notes that the supply doesn’t meet consumer needs. Wouldn’t that help consumers who no longer had to remember to order products they use frequently?
6. Data privacy and security
Speaking of cookies, Google Chrome is eliminating the use of third-party cookies, which will make it harder to do some types of advertising. For instance, you will no longer be able to advertise on social platforms when a user visits your competitor’s website.
Cybersecurity is more critical now than at any other point in time. You must ensure the security of your data to prevent criminals from hacking in or installing ransomware. A loss of customer data may seriously damage your reputation.
7. Social media evolution
Social media platforms continue to evolve, offering new ways for brands to engage with audiences. Features like shoppable posts, live streaming, and social commerce are gaining traction. I expect the emergence of new platforms and the movement away from other platforms as time passes. For instance, TikTok gained a massive user base very quickly, most among younger consumers. Twitter has lost much of its cache since the acquisition by Elon Musk.
Meanwhile, platforms continue to change the algorithm that determines when your content is shown to users. Organic reach on most social media platforms has devolved to the point where firms must consider whether it’s even worthwhile to spend time and money on native posts on most of them.
Never fear, however, as the ability to create highly focused ads on these platforms makes social media advertising your best bet. The return from these ads (ROAS), is very good and ads are affordable for small businesses, unlike ads on traditional media platforms.
8. Sustainability and ethical marketing
Consumers increasingly value sustainability and ethical practices. This isn’t new, per se, but we see a concern for sustainable and ethical marketing spreading across the globe. Brands that align their marketing efforts with these values are likely to resonate more with modern audiences.
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