While many principles of marketing remain the same each year, the tools businesses use to achieve marketing success vary greatly over time. Newspaper advertising was once commonplace. Now, digital advertising and artificial intelligence play critical roles in the marketing tactics of businesses.
Every year, there are more technological trends for entrepreneurs to keep an eye on. Business owners who stay ahead of the curve might even find new heights of marketing success. Here are 10 trends we believe small businesses should take advantage of this year.
Let’s take a deeper dive into these trends and how they can benefit your business.
In content marketing, the trend has been toward long-form, educational content that aims to help users rather than sell to them. That trend will only continue, with developments like Google’s Helpful Content Update, which rolled out late last year. The content that will perform the best is content that thoroughly answers the questions people have and guides them toward the right decision for their circumstances.
Sharing about topics that interest your customers is a great way to build brand awareness and customer loyalty. You can build trust by showing you care about more than just a sale. Whether your content takes the form of a social media post, a blog or an email blast, ensure a balance between highlighting your products and providing valuable, actionable advice.
Although long-form educational content remains potent for blogging or podcasting, short-form video content is increasingly popular. Thanks to the rise of TikTok and Instagram Reels, users are increasingly attuned to short snippets of entertaining or informative video content. Brands can use this trend to speak to their audience quickly and effectively amid a sea of other video content.
As users’ attention is pulled in many directions at once and attention spans shorten, clever short-form video content can get a brand’s message across in a matter of seconds. To capture the widest swath of your audience, deploy long-form content for users who want to dive deep and educate themselves, but create short-form video content for users who are scrolling to kill time.
Chatbots, as well as more sophisticated conversational AI, will continue to make their way into the market and become increasingly accessible for small businesses. These tools can answer customers’ basic questions at all hours of the day or night, even if you’re focused on different tasks.
The emergence of ChatGPT, for example, shows that the era of AI-driven marketing is already here. Expect more small businesses to take advantage of accessible tools that can help generate marketing copy or connect with their customers around the clock.
“AI-powered chatbots can be used for customer support, expanding contact strategy dramatically with a controlled message,” said Joey Penick, former vice president of marketing at Lumen Technologies. “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.”
According to revenue acceleration platform Drift’s State of Conversational Marketing report, almost 42 percent of consumers use conversational AI and chatbots for purchases. Yet most small business owners surveyed said they didn’t use the technology.
With mobile devices and voice services like Microsoft Cortana and Google Assistant increasing in popularity, voice search is one area where your small business can stand out among your competitors. If your business is online, there’s an increasing chance people will find your website or content marketing materials via voice search.
“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.”
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A simple technique you can apply this year is to provide answers to questions that customers frequently have about your product on your website, according to Hornak. “Remember to be detailed and conversational with your answers.”
With voice-controlled devices gaining popularity, focus your content strategy on answering consumers’ common questions about your products or services.
Most brands make data analytics a priority, but marketers still have a ways to go, said Curtis Tingle, former senior vice president of product for intelligent media delivery company Valassis.
“Marketers must learn how to better use the data that they collect,” he 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. [Related: Predictive or Prescriptive Analytics? Your Business Needs Both]
Current trends center around predictive data; smarter, scalable and more flexible datasets; edge computing for faster analysis; and hybrid computing that blends off-premise and on-premise cloud solutions. You’re also going to see growing use of machine learning-driven solutions that include augmented analytics; engineered decision analytics; and data visualization for better decision-making, business management, and insights and automation.
Trends in e-commerce pivot around Web3 where businesses use DeFi trends to boost their profiles to new heights. “DeFi” means decentralized finance and refers to blockchain, cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). While these technologies suffered minor setbacks in recent history, don’t expect them to go anywhere. As more use cases emerge in the DeFi space, expect gradual adoption of these tools.
Technologies like the shared P2P ledger make for faster, cheaper, more secure and transparent business. Blockchain offers smart contracts that verify, guarantee and enforce transactions. NFTs are for more than just art; they also have applications in supply chain tracking and management. Look for these technologies to be incorporated by businesses that are trying to overcome the supply chain challenges that have plagued the economy in recent history. [Related: Should Your Small Business Accept Cryptocurrency?]
The metaverse is today’s futuristic blend of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI), culminating in a new 3D immersive experience that allows users to blur the physical with the digital. Although the metaverse struggled to get off the ground last year, expect more widespread adoption as the technology improves and companies adjust to user expectations.
Examples of the metaverse in action include interactive ads like NASCAR’s on interactive gaming platform Roblox. Users can create their own avatars that allow them to “feel” experiences without actually buying them. This has led to the marketing industry’s newest term, “gamevertising,” where marketers and brands use gaming to advertise their products.
On the retail frontier, brands also use technologies like augmented reality to create blended shopping experiences where buyers, through their avatars, can virtually try on clothes, sit on chairs, live in certain geographical areas, and so on.
The metaverse is one of the most colossal marketing trends of late, and we’re at the beginning of its journey. It eliminates the boundaries between physical and virtual, sparking new direct-to-avatar (D2A) business models.
In the past few years, companies have been discussing their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) policies mainly as those policies relate to their internal workforce and recruiting practices. Expect DE&I to become critically important in digital marketing as well. Users want to see marketing campaigns and advertisements that reflect the diversity of the world around them, so factor DE&I into the images and messages you create for your marketing campaigns.
Brands that include diverse people in their marketing tend to see better sales across all demographics. For example, an Adobe study showed that 61 percent of consumers reported that diversity in marketing and advertising was important to them, and that 38 percent were more likely to patronize brands that ran diverse marketing campaigns over those that did not. Gen Z particularly emphasizes racial and gender diversity in marketing and expects brands to get involved in social equity conversations, suggesting these trends have serious staying power.
These trends are expected to influence marketing this year, but that doesn’t mean you need to immediately drop what you’re doing and switch to 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, 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 are unveiled each year, word-of-mouth marketing still matters. Decades ago, consumers might have asked their friends where to 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.
Changes in technology haven’t altered 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 friends not to eat there. Now, an angry Yelp review can deter hundreds of prospective customers.
Understanding new technological tools can greatly benefit your business, but if you don’t understand how the technology can help you, there’s no use adding new tools to the mix. Adamson, who advised companies like Marriott and HBO as the North America chairman of Landor Associates, said many companies get too caught up in the latest and greatest marketing tools.
“It’s sort of like watching eight-year-olds play soccer: It’s just a ball and no one is on defense,” he said. “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 might not need to act on every trend discussed in this article. On the other hand, adding a chatbot or using more authentic content in your current marketing strategy mix may take your business to a new level of customer engagement and financial success.
Deciding which technology to implement in your operation hinges on the needs of your business and the desires of your customers. You may be better off not adopting a new marketing trend, especially if you don’t understand the technology but are doing so only because other businesses are using it.
“While we’re moving faster and faster toward a tech-dominant world, small and midsize 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:
Use Gould’s questions as a check to ensure you don’t unnecessarily jump on board a marketing trend that isn’t suited to your business.
Marketing is ultimately about people and how your business connects with them. And just like people, marketing is ever-changing. When you’re developing and launching your digital marketing campaigns, consider both the technology trends and human behaviors that are most prominent. By crafting a campaign that leverages the latest tools and speaks to the current zeitgeist, you can be sure your brand will gain traction with your target audience.
Tejas Vemparala, Leah Zitter, Kiely Kuligowski and Nicole Fallon contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.