29 January 2018

The future of marketing – How will the industry change over the next few years?

The pace of technological change is relentless. While some brands are only just getting to grips with digital content and social media marketing, fast-paced innovation is forcing businesses to contemplate newer challenges. Given all this change, what does the future of marketing look like?

In this article, we’ll examine the key technological developments set to shape how we all do business in the next decade and how the marketing industry might adapt to this new landscape.

Augmented reality

In 2016, the smartphone game Pokémon Go became a phenomenon and a record breaker. In under four weeks, it helped double Nintendo’s share value and became the fastest game ever to top the App Store and Google Play listings.

That’s an impressive list of achievements but, arguably, the longest-lasting effect of Pokémon Go was how it introduced augmented reality (AR) to a mainstream audience. The term is now widely recognised, and consumers are increasingly comfortable using it to help make purchasing decisions: in late 2017, furniture provider Ikea launched its own AR app to help customers shop for its products.

Augmented reality

Ikea Place lets customers use AR to superimpose furniture items onto images of their own home to see how it looks before they buy. Around the same time, a string of other retailers began offering customers the chance to experience their products in AR and get a first taste of how the future of shopping may look.

The expected uptake of use of AR in retail is such that Gartner predicts 100 million consumers will shop using AR by 2020.

For many marketers, particularly in retail, AR allows them to think hard about how people are likely to interact with their brand and whether providing these part-real, part-digital worlds can help turn prospects into customers in increasing numbers.

Voice activation and artificial intelligence

It’s almost two years since Google suggested that 20 per cent of its mobile queries were already voice searches. That trend is set to broaden as more sophisticated uses of artificial intelligence (AI) start to make voice-activated technologies slicker and more widely used.

Many commentators see Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and the like simply as the first generation of voice assistants, likely to be superseded in the next five to 10 years by technologies that could do away with the need, in many instances, for a user to even look at a screen.

Voice activation

AI could help use data in smarter ways to create a more engaging user experience via voice commands. Part of this will mean seamlessly connecting multiple pieces of customer information in smart ways that empower them with content appropriate to their situation.

Users will likely just ask their smartphone to add milk to their shopping order or find them the best-rated plumber within a 10-mile radius – who just happens to be available to pop round and fix a leak within the next 30 minutes.

In fact, by 2020, Gartner predicts that 30 per cent of web browsing sessions will take place without a screen, while ComScore says that, by 2020, 50 per cent of all searches will be by voice.

Developments such as these could have a profound effect on the way searches work. If a consumer starts to expect specific referrals, rather than a returns list to browse, it will become increasingly vital for brands to be the top return. That means SEO and content marketing working in ever-tighter union and, perhaps inevitably, a shift towards more voice-activated and audio marketing content to suit the consumer’s changing habits.

A brief word about content

Ask any marketer and they’ll tell you that content doesn’t always perform evenly. It is often a small part of the overall package that gains attention and drives engagement. The marketer’s approach to content needs to match the shifts in technology and consumer habits. If high-impact bursts, triggered at just the right time, leave a lasting impression, then greater focus will need to be placed on when and where content is delivered.

Similarly, if greater emphasis is placed on search algorithms, it will become vital to have ads and marketing aligned with those trusted providers that consumers will increasingly look towards for reliable and high-quality content.

How should marketers react?

We’ve only really been able to provide a snapshot here of what the future may hold, but it’s clear that emerging technologies could have a fundamental influence on how consumers and businesses find information on products and services.

As it’s impossible to say exactly how any one technology will affect the shape of marketing, it is vital brands do as much as they can to future proof. If they can build organisational flexibility and ensure they have adaptable skills within the business, that will go a long way to helping them make the most of whatever opportunities lie ahead.