4 Marketing & Digital Trends in 2020

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As the year comes to end, its time to look forward and explore what changes the new year might bring. Over the years, I’ve come to learn that sudden, radical disruptive changes are rare. Instead, I look for long-coming shifts in practices and innovations that are finally reaching a tipping point in adoption or influence over consumer or business trends.

So none of the following should feel surprising, but would be worth paying closer attention and considering how you or your business will benefit from these continued shifts and challenges.

Continuation of the Retail Apocalypse

In a free economy, the disruption and creative destruction of low performing businesses and the growth and success of consumer-centric retailers is a great thing for the markets. While industry pundits like to focus on the role Amazon is playing in transforming the retail world, the fact is that poor vision, lack of courage in the face of change, and lack of leadership are the core reasons businesses are failing. Amazon might be the catalyst, but we are in a consumer-empowered market and retailers that fail to adapt will fail.

The fact remains that the world is flatter than ever, and access to previously inaccessible markets is easier than ever. Technology has evened the playing field for those with the guts and boldness to go for it. Just take a look at the Shopify stock price — their rise is evidence of the power and value of ecommerce tools, and the rising opportunities for brands laser-focused on delivering in-demand products through a strong consumer-focused experiences.

At the end, to thrive as a retailer (or any business for that matter), leadership has to focus on what consumers want, deliver brand-enhancing experiences (online AND offline), and provide greater value than the competition. Amazon might have reach and size, but it is possible to beat them at these things.

Agile is the “not so new” way of working

Agile has been around for a LONG time. But, in the past, I’d often hear “that’s great for development teams, but not sure it would work for us.” This excuse has never been valid and the evidence of success for agile ways of working is more than ample across non-development functional areas.

More and more leaders are catching on to the value of operating marketing projects with agile methodologies, and the body of knowledge around these continues to grow. As the speed of disruption and transformation continues to accelerate, it has become obviously impossible to predict, plan and execute on projects using traditional waterfall project management methods.

Personally, I’ve become a huge fan of the SCRUM approach. As companies respond to accelerating changes in the marketplace, and rapidly shifting consumer demands, SCRIM affords them the ability to be flexible and nimble in responding to customer needs and demands. With ample research and data now available, SCRUM methods have also proven to significantly contribute to team morale and team productivity.

There is no such thing as digital marketing

Brands worldwide spend $273 billion in digital advertising. I’ve always been an advocate for the measurable and data driven digital advertising tactics, but 2020 will be the continued trend of disruption for business as usual. Writers Jesse Frederik and Maurits Martijn dive deep into the world of clicks, banners and keywords and take a peak behind the curtains of tech advertising giants like Google, Yahoo, eBay and more. Their article on The Correspondent is worth a careful read, and broad sharing with marketing leaders everywhere.

This isn’t a call to stop all digital advertising. But this is a wake up call for brand leaders to start asking tougher questions, and open their eyes to big-tech’s con.

It might sound crazy, but companies are not equipped to assess whether their ad spending actually makes money. It is in the best interest of a firm like eBay to know whether its campaigns are profitable, but not so for eBay’s marketing department.

Its own interest is in securing the largest possible budget, which is much easier if you can demonstrate that what you do actually works. Within the marketing department, TV, print and digital compete with each other to show who’s more important, a dynamic that hardly promotes honest reporting.

The fact that management often has no idea how to interpret the numbers is not helpful either. The highest numbers win.

Clearly, the world is ready for a major wake up. Big tech leaders are being investigated, and their executive leadership are being called before governments to explain their actions.. And more importantly, consumers are demanding more transparency, and more protection for their privacy.

Another market leader, Adidas, indicated earlier this year they had been too “overly focused on digital attribution” in part due to the ability to “look at short-term measurements in real time”.

“But when you look at econometric modelling it’s telling you something very different,” Simon Peel said. “It’s telling you that you should be investing in video, which doesn’t do very well in last click attribution, that you should be investing in TV, that out of home and cinema is driving ecommerce sales.”

This real-time ROI can mean brands get tempted into ploughing investment heavily into digital – but, actually, he noted, that can result in short-termism that doesn’t ultimately grow the brand or sales, and can give “misleading” results.

This seems to be another case of marketing confirmation biases blinding the leadership team to miss what was actually driving engagement with customers.

Brad Jakeman had some tough words for the industry some years ago. My hope is that 2020 will be when brands finally start to listen and ask tough questions of their own.

“There is no such thing as digital marketing. There is marketing – most of which happens to be digital. We ‘ghettoize’ digital as though it’s the life raft tethered to the big ocean liner. And we have to move on from that.”

The current way of doing things is not sustainable. Brands that focus on the consumer’s experience in 2020 will figure it out and reap the profits.

Digital Transformation acceleration

Since the era of the .com bubble, companies have been struggling to stay ahead of the accelerating wave of disruptions. My career history is filled with companies reaching out looking for someone to lead them into the digital promised land. What most companies can’t face is that digital transformation can’t fix poor vision, lack of leadership focus or broken business culture. So in too many ways, for leaders that don’t know what they are looking for, and have lost sight of the consumer, the digital promised land is more of a fantasy land. The problem is organizations hire experts that have to prove their value, so they focus on upgrading their marketing tech, or optimizing marketing operations, or strengthening big data. They are missing the bigger picture.

Digital transformation is about giving consumers what they need and want.

Speaking to the healthcare industry, Jared Johnson, a well-known healthcare brand consultant and podcast host, said it best: “I don’t think Digital Transformation means more digital marketing. I don’t think it means digitizing existing processes. I don’t think it means implementing an EHR. Those are positive steps, but none approach true significance. Think much bigger picture. Think connecting consumers with the answers and care they are begging for, in ways they actually expect, which happens to be mostly in digital channels. Perhaps the biggest transformation will be the operational and cultural shifts needed to approach healthcare in a way that actually makes that possible.”He concludes, “It’s time to permanently shift the conversation to be about creating cultures and operations that are collaborative and innovative. That will be the dawn of true transformation.”

“The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health.” ― Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage

The challenge is that collaborative and innovative operations come out of innovative and collaborative cultures. And innovative and collaborative cultures are born from courageous, humble and engaged leaders that are single-minded focused on their people in order to deliver greater value to their customers.

My Recommended Resources:

The Advantage, by Patrick Lencioni

The Advantage: Book by Patrick Lencioni

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