While many of the principles of marketing remain the same each year, the tools businesses use to achieve marketing success vary greatly from year to year. Newspaper advertising used to be commonplace; now digital advertising and artificial intelligence play critical roles in the marketing tactics of businesses.
Some of these technological advances are more commonly used among larger corporations, but small businesses can still learn quite a bit from the developing marketing strategies of bigger firms. Business News Daily spoke with marketing experts to get a better idea of the marketing trends small businesses can capitalize on in 2019. Here are five trends we believe make sense for small businesses to take advantage of this coming year:
- A rise in authentic content marketing
- An increased demand for chatbots
- More widespread use of voice search
- Continued value of data analytics
- Time-saving benefits courtesy of artificial intelligence
Editor's note: If you're looking for information to help you choose the online marketing service that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site BuyerZone provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free.
Let's take a deeper dive into these trends and how they can benefit your business.
1. Authentic content marketing is on the rise.
Content marketing isn't anything new, but it remains and continues to be a good marketing tool for small businesses tight on money. By adding a blog to your website, you can create interest in your products while establishing your brand as a thought leader in the industry. Writing about topics that interest your customers is a great way to build brand awareness and customer loyalty. By showing you care about more than just selling to your customers, you'll build trust.
"Authenticity is probably one of the most valuable traits a brand can inherit from its wider user's perception," said Aviram Kadosh, CEO of Shoperr. "This value has a direct correlation to other critical brand health metrics, such as trust, reliability [and] trial readiness."
With content marketing gaining popularity, it's important to be authentic in your content. Whether it's a social media post or your blog, make sure that there's a good balance between pitching products to your customers and taking the time to help them improve their business with actionable advice.
2. Demand for chatbots is increasing.
According to a survey from Capterra, 65 percent of U.S. millennials want to use chatbots when engaging with brands. Yet most small businesses surveyed weren't using the technology. As customers continue to move online, you want to create the best online customer experience possible. A chatbot running on your website ensures that customers can have their basic questions answered at all hours of the day or night, even if you're focused on different tasks.
"AI-powered chatbots can be used for customer support, expanding contact strategy dramatically with a controlled message," said Joey Penick, vice president of marketing at CenturyLink. "These chatbots have become so lifelike that many customers don't even know the difference, but they offer the added benefit of being able to gather, analyze and provide actionable data that can be used to improve the customer experience."
3. Voice search is gaining traction.
With mobile devices and voice services, like Amazon's Alexa, continuing to rise in popularity, voice search is becoming more widely used. If your business is online, there's a chance people will find your website or content marketing materials via voice search in 2019 and beyond.
"A few years ago, we had to adapt to the growing use of mobile," said Chris Hornak, owner of Blog Hands. "And now, according to Google, mobile searches are over 50 percent [of searches.] Marketers will need to begin adapting to voice searches, which currently make up 20 percent of mobile searches, and that's expected to continue its growth similarly to how mobile has."
From Hornak's perspective as a digital marketing specialist with an expertise in creating blog content for small businesses, organizations with blogs or content streams need to alter their plans of attack.
"Digital marketers will need to adjust their content strategy to be conversational and clearly answer questions in simple terms," Hornak said. "A simple technique they can apply in 2019 is work on providing FAQs – [answers to questions] that customers frequently have about their product – to their website. Remember to be detailed and conversational with your answers."
4. Data analytics remain crucial for success.
Any company with an online presence knows the importance of using customer data to inform business decisions. Most brands are beginning to make data analytics a priority, but marketers still have a ways to go, said Curtis Tingle, CMO of intelligent media delivery company Valassis, when we interviewed him in 2017. His remarks hold true for 2019.
Access to data for companies goes well beyond basic demographics, Tingle said. Now brands can access consumers' online and offline media behaviors and preferences, locations throughout the day, purchase history, promotion sensitivity, etc. This, he said, allows you to customize messages, images and offers across channels, even at the household level.
"Marketers must learn how to better use the data that they collect," Tingle said. "Customers are constantly feeding personal information to the companies they engage with – from purchase behaviors to favorite products to the best ways to reach them through advertising and marketing efforts. With this data share, customers are looking for some sort of return, whether it be in the form of more personalized advertisements or targeted coupons/deals."
Tingle's observation is important. Marketers need to do more than gather data. The data needs to be meaningful, and businesses need to use that data to improve marketing campaigns. Just gathering information isn't helpful.
"More focus is going to be put on gathering and utilizing intent data," Penick said. "Intent data is information specifically about a person or company's activities. It can be gathered from a company website by looking at which pages a customer visited, how long they stayed on those pages, and which links they clicked or procured from a third party. Intent data can be used to prioritize the best customer prospects and create more personalized campaigns to drive better conversion."
5. AI will be a marketer's best friend.
Artificial intelligence is expected to play a big role in marketing for years to come. While AI has been discussed for years, we're getting to a point where small businesses can better benefit from its use. One key benefit of AI is the ability to quickly process data and turn it into actionable information.
Take Fizziology for example. The company, which specializes in understanding consumers, likes to combine human intelligence and AI.
"While artificial intelligence continued to be a top buzzword of 2018, we'll see it evolve from a 'hot topic' into an actionable tool in 2019," said Ben Carlson, co-founder and co-president of Fizziology. "As a part of this evolution, we'll see brands add human intelligence to AI to make it more applicable and actionable to specific business goals.
"For example, we performed a study about the reaction to Colin Kaepernick as the latest face of Nike. There were more than 3 million mentions of the brand on Twitter during the first day of the campaign. While news of boycotts of the brand, burning and destroying merchandise drove headlines, those conversations only made up 3 percent of mentions the day of the announcement and less than 1 percent of mentions throughout the week after the announcement."
With social media reactions to the destruction of merchandise driving the news cycle, it would've been easy for a marketer to miss the actual branding impact. Instead, the data was collected and interpreted through the work of both the Fizziology staff and AI.
"While AI aggregated the mentions of Kaepernick from social media, it took a human to understand the true brand impact, contextualizing factors ranging from bots trying to sway the conversation to seasonal trends in social mentions," Carlson said.
Fizziology's example is a bit extreme for small businesses, as the Kaepernick advertisement campaign was one of the most talked-about campaigns of 2018. However, the idea that your business can benefit from technology helping sort and bring meaning to data is a valuable one for businesses of all sizes.
The bottom line
These five tech trends are expected to influence marketing in 2019 and beyond, but that doesn't mean you need to immediately start using different and more advanced technology to market your business effectively.
"The basic principles of how you market and build a brand haven't changed – despite what everyone says – in the past 10 or 15 years," said Allen Adamson, an adjunct professor at New York University's Stern School of Business and co-founder of Metaforce. "What technology has done overall is magnified what was always true."
Adamson explained that, while fancy new marketing tools come into existence each year, word-of-mouth marketing still matters. Decades ago, consumers might have asked their friends in person where they should go for the best hamburger in town. Now, Adamson says, people "ask all their friends" by performing a quick internet search and reading reviews of burger joints in the area.
The increase in technology doesn't change the core concepts of marketing, but the new technology does magnify every triumph and failure. Before, serving a bad burger to one customer might lead to the unhappy customer telling their friend not to eat there. Now, an angry Yelp review can deter hundreds of prospective customers.
Understanding new technological tools can greatly benefit your business. On the flipside, if you don't understand how the technology can help you, there's no use adding new tools into the mix.
Adamson, who worked as the chairman for North America of Landor Associates when it helped with branding for major brands like Marriott and HBO, says many companies have issues getting caught up with the latest and greatest marketing tools.
"It's sort of like watching 8-year-olds play soccer: It's just a ball and no one is on defense," said Adamson. "Everyone is chasing the shiny new object. No matter what technology you buy, if you don't know how to use it really well, it's not going to give you a competitive edge in the marketplace."
You very well might not need to act on any of the trends discussed in this article. On the other hand, the addition of a chatbot or more authentic content marketing into your organization may take your business to a new level of customer engagement and financial success. It depends on the needs of your business and the desires of your customers.
Deciding which technology to implement into your operation is crucial. It's better not to partake in a new marketing trend than to start using technology you can't properly operate or understand just because other businesses are using it.
"While we're moving faster and faster toward a tech-dominant world, small and medium-sized businesses need to prioritize the technology trends that they can leverage for greater business growth," said Ryan Gould, vice president of strategy and marketing services at Elevation Marketing. "How do they do that? They need to ask the four following questions: (1) Who is my audience? (2) What and where are my business gaps? (3) Will this technology help close my business gaps? (4) Do I have the resources to sustain this technology for the long run?"
Using Gould's questions as a check will ensure you don't unnecessarily jump on board a marketing trend that isn't a fit for your business. Take note of the 2019 marketing trends, but before acting, take a good look at where your business stands.
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.