The Future of Marketing: 3 Trends that Will Define 2016 (and Beyond)

When you envision the future of marketing, what do you see?

While it’s fun to make big, bold predictions, any marketer who’s lived through the last decade knows that forecasting marketing’s future is risky business. After all, just over 10 years ago Mark Zuckerberg was still fine-tuning Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. In 2010, content marketing was a fringe idea. And one year ago, very few marketers were executing account-based marketing. Today, some are hailing ABM as the next great marketing shift.

To summarize: None of us are perfect prognosticators. Truth is, a big part of our future will be defined by technologies and trends that aren’t even on our radar right now.

That said, envisioning the future is still a worthwhile exercise because it forces us to reflect on the past and formulate reasonably credible hypotheses around what’s coming next. In the process, we develop a clearer focus on the trends worth monitoring and the steps we need to take to get ahead of the pack.

So, without further ado, here are the three key marketing trends I think will define 2016 and re-shape how we approach the future.

Trend 1: History Repeats Itself

If you look at the slow bleed that led to disruption in the print industry, you’ll notice two fatal flaws: The print publishing economic model was too reliant on advertising dollars to survive; and publishers were too slow to adapt to the web. When Internet adoption and online journalism took root, print readership plummeted, advertising dollars followed, and many publishers were left for dead.

With the growth of ad-blocking technology, brands that are too reliant on paid advertising to generate leads and drive revenue could face the same fate. According to Adobe and Pagefair’s 2015 Ad Blocking Report, 198 million people globally are now blocking ads. That number won’t go down next year (or anytime soon after that).

How can marketers avoid making the same mistake?

In an ad-blocking world, the brands that win will be the ones that invest heavily in developing a captive audience of loyal fans and customers who advertise on their behalf — typically through reviews, social comments, referrals, and content amplification. Those forms of “advertising” will never be touched by ad-blocking technology. And, best of all, they’re inherently authentic and infinitely scalable (if you have the right strategy, processes, and technology in place).

Trend 2: A New Pillar of MarTech Matures

Of course, most marketing leaders understand the value of building better relationships with existing customers. Numerous studies have shown that happy customers buy more, stay longer, and happily refer friends and colleagues. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that fully-engaged customers represent a 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth compared to average customers. Problem is, most companies approach the various aspects of engagement casually, manually, or through a patchwork of point solutions.

In 2016 (and even more so in the next 3-5 years), I expect that to change.

Just as Salesforce and HubSpot completely changed how sales reps and marketers approach their jobs, a relatively new pillar of marketing technology will transform how marketers approach post-conversion customer engagement. Instead of manually influencing and tracking post-conversion activities (NPS surveys, reviews, customer feedback, referrals, testimonials, content sharing, etc.), marketers will rely on a technology platform that sews everything together and allows them to influence, track, and measure the right behaviors at scale.

This pillar of technology is being called a lot of different things right now (e.g. referral marketing, advocate marketing, customer relationship marketing, etc.), but its sophistication and adoption will increase in 2016. As that happens, the name, purpose, and stunning ROI of this post-conversion automation should crystalize, as well.

Trend 3: Integrations Dictate Success

In a world where many marketing organizations rely on a multi-platform approach to marketing technology, it’s not surprising that one of the biggest challenges marketers face is effectively integrating those solutions. According to a report by Informatica and Dun & Bradstreet, 52% of marketing leaders cite the complexity of integrating technologies as the most challenging obstacle to marketing technology success.

That’s a big problem. Particularly when spending on marketing technology is expected to grow tenfold (to the tune of $120 billion) over the next decade. For marketers to truly harness the power of those technologies (and, ultimately, generate ROI from them), their kaleidoscope of tools must play nicely together. For that to happen, however, integration must be prioritized, and it must be simple and seamless.

Thankfully, I think 2016 will be the year marketers can start worrying less about this issue.

Today, the best marketing technologies are built with integration in mind. If, for instance, you run a fashion brand, your CRM, eCommerce platform, marketing automation, referral marketing software, and payment systems should all be able to communicate and share data with each other in real-time. This not only negates concerns over siloed data, it leads to much richer analytics and greater ROI from each marketing technology you deploy.

What’s Your Prediction for 2016?

As I mentioned above, I’m not a flawless prognosticator. While I feel confident the three trends above will play a significant role in shaping B2B and B2C marketing organizations in 2016, I’m sure there are others I’m missing.

So, what marketing trends — or tactics, channels, technologies, etc. — do you think will define the next year/five years/decade? Give me a shout on Twitter @jeff_epstein!

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