The Trends Driving Marketers in 2016

"...It’s just what brands are doing. They’ve learned that, to fix a broken customer experience, they need all the channels focused around the customer."

We’re all influenced – pushed and pulled – by market trends. Sometimes those trends are just fluff: Either they don’t mean much, or they’re not very tangible (by my count, this is the seventh consecutive “Year of Mobile”).

Other times, however, you’re caught in a wave of change that’s truly noteworthy. Following are trends now driving much of the marketing activity, both from execution and from a content and thought leadership perspective.

Today’s top contenders:

    1. Customer Journey Management

    While you often hear the term “customer journey mapping,” it’s usually not about a data-informed effort but more of an exercise in understanding the customer. That’s the right direction for sure, but it’s hard to translate directly into effective marketing opportunities and strategies.

    But the downstream process of journey visualization and its big brothers – journey optimization and orchestration – can be game-changing when integrated into a program. Right now, brands are focused on the first step: fixing broken pieces of their process (micro-journeys). These will translate into longer-term, more holistic and dynamic (cradle-to-grave) journeys, that adapt along with the customer, rather than force customers down a scripted path.

    2. Integrating Inbound and Outbound

    The process has no associated buzz: It’s just what brands are doing. They’ve learned that, to fix a broken customer experience, they need all the channels focused around the customer. They must be synched, learning from each other, and optimized with a Next-Best-Action approach to balance customer and business needs. Just a few years ago, this idea would have triggered a chuckle, but today it’s quietly becoming the “new normal.”

    A great example of a brand going through this process is British Gas. As you see in this video from Pegaworld 2016, they’re centralizing channel strategies and systems, and they’re executing what they call “Next Generation Decisioning” around a precise vision of the customer experience.

    3. Merger of Martech and Adtech

    Giving marketers more control over paid advertising and search within the software has been discussed for years. So has establishing accountability for advertising performance and investment with common metrics and processes. Data shortfalls, however, have kept both from happening.

    Today, software vendors and marketing services providers are developing publisher co-ops to share device IDs and identifiers, so more people can be identified uniquely, and for the express purpose of making personalization happen on paid platforms. This is going to change the market, probably within the next 18 months.

Longer-term bets:

    1. True Marketing Agility

    This is a very real need in the market: With thousands of marketing solutions available, it’s harder than ever to evaluate, integrate, and execute new martech. Every brand has a “stack”, usually made up of point-solutions that best serve their specific needs. However, the parts don’t play nice in the sandbox, and the required integration is costly, time-intensive, and very brittle. Marketers need to be able to do more by themselves, without constantly getting IT involved, and that requires new API, user interfaces, automation, simplification, and pre-built integrations. We’re still waiting.

    2. Artificial Intelligence

    Yes, it’s cool. And yes, it will be here eventually, but more in the form of “smarter” systems and prescriptive recommendations, not Hal 9000. The next generation of marketing applications will proactively engage the marketer (not just predict customer best offers) by modeling marketing data to identify program roadblocks and opportunities.

    It will make practical, unsolicited recommendations: informing the marketer when an offer or message is losing efficacy or when a customer social post about the product might go viral. Or, it will show how journeys could be better structured to align with customer needs. It’s not here yet – but it’s on the way.

    3. Virtual Reality

    Again, really cool, with a ton of buzz. You can see great examples of VR at tech shows and conferences, but practical VR is more concept than reality, with limited hardware accessibility, at least in the short term. You will see isolated cases of it being used to help customers visualize projects and purchases, and for “gamification” purposes that produce brand-building experiences. Practical, day-to-day applications, however, will take a bit longer.

    What’s more practical and sustainable is the concept of augmented reality (AR). Basically, it layers digital components on top of the real world, so that users can interact with them via common devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones, instead of a VR headset.

    Retailers like Ikea are using AR to show customers how products would look in their homes, while others are using it to show consumers what products such as shoes, makeup, or clothing would look like while being worn.

    4. The Internet of Things (IoT)

    Yes, IoT is very real, and many people are working on it, but so far, there aren’t many “fit-for-marketing-use” cases yet. For example, “geo-fences” are designed to collect data and trigger actions to customers, based on mobile device signals and location, but its applications are still limited.

    While fitness tracking devices like FitBit are virtual gold mines, creating experiences that customers engage with day after day, they’re largely restricted to the health market. Eventually, there will be device sensors that provide immense amounts of information to marketers – data that they can use to build strategies and engage customers.

    But for now, it’s more buzz than reality.

To learn more about current marketing successes, watch as Pega’s Matt Nolan hosts another with British Gas.