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From flying cars to missions to Mars, 2020 has often been cited as a year of outsized, futuristic expectations. While both of those futures are here, they’re not quite as far along as filmmakers would have had us believe a decade ago. That said, the world of marketing is moving along at a breakneck pace.

When Instagram was founded in 2010, no one would have expected it to reach over 1 billion users, and enabling personal artificial intelligence agents to reorder toilet paper was the last thing on most marketers minds.

Thankfully we’re not looking a decade out, but just to the next 12 months. Here are some of the key trends that are going to be critical to master between now and 2021.

Hiring HAL-9000: Artificial Intelligence Goes Mainstream

According to Venture Pulse, venture financing of AI startups reached $2.3 billion in 2018 and is in a hockey stick growth curve. Just about every step of the customer journey can be impacted by artificial intelligence, from measuring the effectiveness of ad creative using emotion-sensing to optimizing media spending using machine learning.

The white whale of AI in marketing over the coming years is prescriptive analytics, which instead of providing a rear-view a la Google Analytics, uses data to predict outcomes and recommend the best course of action for marketing activities. Such systems are now becoming reality, however require highly advanced data practices. For many, AI in 2020 will be focused on selecting limited pilot projects using vendors who have existing technology offerings that make onboarding and testing straightforward. Regardless, it’s critical to be exploring the various roles AI can play in your business.

Talking Money: Conversational Interfaces on the Rise

Conversation is the most natural interface humans have, and as Natural Language Understanding systems become more intelligent, speech and text communication will become the most intuitive way for us to communicate with our machines. An outgrowth of AI, over 76 million smart speakers[1] have been sold in the US. In research by Artefact UK, 60% of owners purchased with them over the past year and nearly a quarter (22%) declared doing so in the past week.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg as all new smartphones and laptops now ship with embedded voice interfaces like Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, and Bixby, bringing the number of voice assistants on the market into the billions. As this trend, which also includes textual interfaces like Facebook Messenger bots, continues, marketers will need to rethink the nature of their user experiences and consider how their brands manifest themselves as intelligent conversational agents and experiences.

Sharable Stores: Shoppable Posts Drive Sales

While social media as a vehicle for commerce is on the rise as a whole, with 70% of Pinterest users using the platform to find new products, Instagram is the standout with Shoppable Posts. According to Forbes, 72% of Instagram users have purchased a product through the app.[2] While that number sounds a bit high, Instagram offers access to over a billion potential customers in a format perfect for brand storytelling and promises to become a social shopping catalog for buyers everywhere. If you’re selling consumer goods online, you should be crafting your social commerce strategy to ensure that you’re capturing buyers at the top of the funnel.

Here Today; Gone Tomorrow: Disappearing Social Content

Not every social post lasts forever, and brands are becoming more savvy to leveraging the Fear of Missing Out effect of ephemeral content on social networks. While brands may be reluctant to produce content that doesn’t have longevity, the stories features – where content has a short half-life – of Snapchat and Instagram have a combined delivery of 18 billion daily video views.[3] With users regularly checking social apps seeking new content, ephemeral stories can provide timely and interesting brand narratives that have lower expectations for production.

Take My Data, Please: Personalization Beats Privacy

With government regulations like California’s CCPA coming into effect, data breaches in the news daily, and an overabundance of sharing on social media, consumer privacy is a key brand concern globally. But are consumers worried? On the balance, it seems they’d rather have personalized experiences than forego giving up personal information to get it. In recent research, 90% find personalization appealing and 80% would be more likely to give business to a company that offers personalized experience.[4] Moreover, 79% feel frustrated when content isn’t tailored to them.[5]

Millennials and younger generations especially have a lot of trust in organizations, while 70% of millennials in the US and UK believe online privacy will be compromised in the near future, they have trust that nothing “terrible” will happen as a result.[6]

Playing Catch-up: Digital Transformation Continues

While many brands have embraced digital technologies wholeheartedly, many brands have also managed to avoid going “all-in” digitally while relying on distributor relationships or operating in spaces like B2B with more traditional sales channels. As direct-to-consumer sales become more in vogue, marketers demand more data on their consumers for relationship development, and the world reaches a state of mobile-first Internet, many brands are realizing that they’ve fallen behind the times – and it’s time to play catch-up to open new markets, deepen customer relationships, and generally drive revenue through digital channels in all their manifestations.

The process of transformation can be long and cumbersome, sometimes requiring wholesale reinvention of business processes and rethinking of customer relationships, as Domino’s famously did when they declared themselves an ecommerce company, rather than a pizza restaurant. Have you reinvented yourself for the digital age? 2020 is the year to do it if you haven’t begun the process. Hint: we can help.

Now, Now, Now: The Acceleration of Micro-Moments[7]

Americans check their phones every 12 minutes, seeking information on purchase decisions, sharing information with friends, and generally finding escape and inspiration in the tiny entertainment and business systems we’ve become collectively obsessed with. Google coined the phrase “micro-moments” to define these moments where a consumer might complete a number of steps along a conversion funnel in a collapsed manner, going from inspiration to research to purchase in a matter of seconds, as the platform has made it simple to do so.

To address this, brands must reimagine their sales funnels for mobile search, content, contact and commerce. Mobile friendly live chat and intelligent bots are especially powerful tools in these scenarios as they give consumers immediate access to conversational, mobile friendly information access during these moments of exploration and pre-purchase.

Embrace Technology in Measurable, Bite-Size Chunks in 2020

One thing remains the same each year: the day-to-day pressures to get the work done gets in the way of focusing on new innovations that can ultimately deliver better customer outcomes and business results. If major initiatives seem too unrealistic, for budget or resource reasons, try taking a smaller bite of the future.

Whether it’s running a pilot test of web-based augmented reality to visualize products without an application, experimenting with voice search optimization, or testing a simple branded experience on Alexa, start small with measurable outcomes and a keen eye to improving the customer experience. We’re here to help as you usher in what we hope is your best year ever.









Also published on Medium.


SCS surveyed 750 US consumers on how their physical and digital buying habits have changed during the pandemic. These insights and more are presented in Omnichannel Overdrive.

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