Trends Changing the Digital Marketing Landscape
We live in a digital world, one that’s changing and evolving at an incredible rate. For brands, staying in touch and relevant is a bigger challenge than ever before. It seems like new trends emerge just as you’ve started to master others. That the only way to keep your head above water is to try and anticipate the digital marketing trends yet to come, rather than what’s already happened.
Owning a web design and development agency puts me in an optimal position to observe digital marketing trends and get a sense of where things are going. In my mind, these are the seven trends most likely to affect your business in the next few years (along with a few examples of brands that are already embracing them).
1. The Importance of a Differentiated Brand Strategy
Once upon a time, you could easily position yourself as the best at what you do in your area, because most of your customers only knew what else was down the street. But the Internet changed all that, both blowing open the whole world while shrinking it at the same time.
Because now, customers can find EVERY possible competitor of yours with a quick Google search. It’s just as easy to do business with someone six states away as it is the one in your neighborhood. As a result, the pressure to differentiate your business has increased dramatically. Businesses must spend more time strategizing ways to stay top of mind, evolve their offerings, attract new customers and keep existing ones.
Brand Story – Zappos
Zappos got its start around the same time Amazon shifted from bookseller to all-purpose seller. From the beginning, Zappos worked hard to define its brand by both focusing only on shoes and developing a now-famous culture built around customer service. Though ultimately purchased by Amazon, the company maintains its strong brand strategy and identity, continuing to distinguish itself even against the online retail giant.
Brand Story – Kenect
Skyhook client Kenect is a software company that gives texting capability to business phone number. Seemingly the latest in a series of SMS companies, Kenect knew it needed a hook to move the needle. So, they decided to focus their initial push on a single industry—power sports dealers. By becoming experts in a niche area, Kenect differentiated themselves from other SMS companies.
2. The Golden Age of Personalization
Since the dawn of the World Wide Web, brands have sought better ways to communicate with consumers, first broadly, and then most recently on a more personalized level. For years, this was only possible by the largest organizations with enormous budgets, employing expensive software. But not anymore.
It’s now possible for brands of all sizes to effectively personalize communication, and the need to do so can no longer be ignored.
Brand Story – Harley Davidson
A few years back, I was in Washington with my dad and we decided to rent a couple of Harleys. Now Harley Davidson is known for being a very customer-centric brand, but even I was blown away with the level of personalization in every follow up. I started getting emails featuring the model I had rented and content for similar models. Not only that, but they also included tips for where to ride near me. In Arizona. Not where I rented from them, but where I actually lived and would be likely to rent again. Even the retargeting ads I received online were personalized to my home.
3. Mobile-First and Progressive Web Apps
Mobile traffic is up over 200% in the past five years. And in 2018, the digital world witnessed a tremendous shift, as mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic for the first time in history.
Savvy brands pursuing a “mobile first” design philosophy can capitalize on mobile usage to keep up with the demands of consumers and search engines. In fact, Google penalizes websites that aren’t mobile-friendly, pushing them down in search rankings.
Then there’s progressive web apps, or PWAs. Beyond just a mobile version of your website, PWAs are a standalone digital product (downloaded from app stores) that provides users with an intentional mobile-first experience that is still powered by web technology (as opposed to being fully native). Some PWAs you may be familiar with:
Brand Story – Phoenix Community Alliance
The Phoenix Community Alliance creates events that bring downtown Phoenix businesses together. Skyhook worked with the Alliance to develop a mobile experience that makes it easy for members to download and register for events.
4. Data-Driven Performance
There’s less guesswork in digital marketing than ever. Even small brands have plenty of tools available to help them optimize their way to success. Data opportunities are everywhere. Make sure you’re taking advantage.
Brand Story – Amazon
In marketing circles, no brand is more adept at data-driven performance than Amazon. The online retailer is continually analyzing data and testing everything from page layout to search functionality to amount of information to remain at peak optimization levels.
Brand Story – CEA Study Abroad
What makes a study make the decision to study abroad? CEA wasn’t exactly sure. Skyhook set up a robust reporting dashboard that shows by source what engagement and conversion look like for the company. From there, we helped them set a strategy for continuous testing and optimization on everything from page layouts to messaging.
5. Shift from Viewing Websites as CAPEX to OPEX
Let’s face it—websites are one of the largest marketing expenses most companies invest in. Because of the price tag, websites have been treated as a capital expense, something you spend money on once every five years or so. But business these days moves a lot faster. Your website needs to stay up to speed, or risk being outpaced by the competition.
Companies are just beginning to shift their mindset from a one-time capital expense to a more operational approach where small changes are being made regularly. This makes sense as website tools become more affordable and easier to update, there’s no need to do a major overhaul just to implement new tools or features.
Brand Story – MEFA
The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority provides financial guidance for college students in Massachusetts. With ever-changing regulations and shifting deadlines, their website requires continual upkeep optimize content and functionality. MEFA has worked with Skyhook for over five years and, thanks to ongoing updates, has yet to need a major site rebuild.
6. Your Website As Sales Enablement
I talk about this one a lot. Your website is your best salesperson. It doesn’t need to eat, sleep or take a vacation. It can talk to countless people simultaneously, 24/7. But it also provides tremendous value to your sales and marketing teams. So how can your website empower your salespeople?
- It can provide a powerful introduction to the brand, warming the prospect up for an eventual conversation with a salesperson
- It can collect information about the visitor and what they’re interested in, displaying that in the CRM to help prioritize sales opportunities, and to provide the salesperson with insight into who they’re talking to
- It can provide the sales, marketing, and R&D teams with valuable insights into what customers like or dislike about your products, as observed by the pages they interact with — or don’t.
- It can provide answers to FAQs, either as text or even as video, saving the salesperson from having to repeat themselves,
- Through the use of a Chatbot, it can help route a user directly to the content or resources they need, or to connect them with a live salesperson when the time is right
Silos are disappearing. Technology is enabling sales and marketing teams to collaborate in powerful new ways. And your website is the hub.
Brand Story – CEA Study Abroad
I talked earlier about our work helping CEO continually optimize their site through smarter data. This same effort was used to give sales and marketing teams more information about prospective students as well, from what pages they visited to what content they engaged with. For example:
- When a student makes a call to a salesperson, that person was able to tailor their conversation to the student’s interests
- After the call, the salesperson could update that student profile with notes from their conversation
- This enables the marketing team to further serve more relevant content to that student
7. The Rise of Web Services
How annoying is it when you have to make a call to schedule a doctor’s appointment? Or haircut? How about when you have to wait at a takeout window for your order? Web services apps are making these experiences obsolete by providing a digital way to accomplish the same task.. Think the Domino’s Pizza app, or even voice ordering through Siri and Alexa.
- The potential use cases for web services are limited only by creativity, but some of the more common ones include:
- Scheduling a visit or service, like when you book a haircutting appointment
- Checking on the status of an order, like when you check the tracking number on a shipment
- Returning a piece of information, like an interest rate or the current price of a commodity
- Syndicating a product, event calendar, news or other information to multiple destinations, like when you want your product to appear in multiple online stores
- Soliciting an action or additional information from a customer, like when you check in for a flight
Brand Story – Airbase Arizona
The Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona Museum gives visitors a look at combat aviation history, including the changes to take a ride in authentic WWII bombers. But booking was a manual process, leading to major annoyances for customers AND staff:
- Flying enthusiasts had to call to find out availability and to book a tour
- Flights would sometimes be cancelled due to maintenance, leaving the Airbase staff to hit the phones to notify customers
Skyhook solved all of this by creating an app that allows people to view tour availability, book and pay. Since the staff manages availability in real-time, they could remove a flight and automatically notify the people who had reserved it.
8. BONUS – Moving Websites from IT to Marketing
Yes, I know this article is called SEVEN trends, but I thought of this one while writing up the others and I figured I’d throw it in as a bonus.
So. There’s always been a tendency by companies to give IT departments ownership of websites. But while web development and IT both involved the technical side of computers, that’s really where the similarities end. The goals for the departments are different, and so you often see designs and builds based solely on answering the question “does it function” rather than “will it convert.”
I think the battlegrounds are finally going to shift permanently in favor of marketing. Yes, you still need people with technical backgrounds, but you also need technical people who understand that the purpose of the site is to create a user experience that sells.