Digital Marketing Trends For Your 2020 Marketing Investments

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Dr Dave Chaffey talks MarTech, media and customer experience in his latest article for the ClickThrough Blog.

When considering trends to inform future changes to marketing strategies and activities, it’s common to look at how the main search and social media platforms will upgrade their offerings. For example, at this time of year, we budget for the year ahead and consider how we can tap into how Facebook, Google and Linked are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve relevance. However, this misses the full picture of how the latest trends can be harnessed to increase the contribution of your marketing.

I recommend taking a step up a level and considering how trends will affect all core marketing activities which can help you achieve your business goals.

In this article I’ll look at a higher level view of the latest trends. We’ll refer to some of the insights from a recent Future of Marketing research report I’ve written for Smart Insights and HubSpot to highlight the trends.

To help explain digital marketing to non-specialists I have recently devised this simple explanation of digital marketing which defines all the main investments you make in digital marketing. These cover all the main touchpoints across the customer lifecycle which we covered in a previous article on our blog. The five main investment areas to consider

  • Media: Grow awareness through integrating paid, owned, and earned media.

  • Customer experience: Optimize websites, apps, company social media pages and how they integrate with customer-facing sales and support staff to engage, explain, and convert.

  • Messaging or ‘conversation marketing’: Deploy personalized communications to welcome, educate, and nurture prospects and customers across websites, email marketing, and mobile notifications.

  • Content marketing: Create quality, sector-leading content to fuel all your marketing activities from search to social to email marketing.

  • Marketing governance or management: These are the resources needed to develop strategies, action plans, resources, budgets, and KPI dashboards to test, learn, refine, and integrate all marketing and sales communications.

Across all of these we need to think about the role of marketing technology in influencing marketing trends. So let’s start here.

How martech influences marketing trends

Considering trends in emerging marketing technologies can make these five forms of marketing more cost-effective is a sound approach, since a lot of innovation is driven by the martech vendors. The latest Gartner Digital marketing and advertising hype cycle features 22 technologies to consider covering digital experiences, media, messaging and content.

You can see that of the technologies on the Innovation Trigger slope, many aren’t expected to become mainstream for 5 to 10 years. Of those forecast to hit the mainstream within the next 2 to 5 years, the three most significant for marketers to consider are personification, real-time and conversational marketing which we will explain shortly.


Our lifecycle marketing visual shows the range of options across paid, owned, and earned media and how purchase decisions can be supported by top, middle, and bottom-of-funnel content.

In the future, the range of digital media options available for marketers to deploy throughout the customer lifecycle or across the path to purchase will increase further. So there is yet more imperative for investments in media need to be prioritised and touchpoints must be orchestrated.

In our Future of Marketing research surveying European subscribers to Smart Insights and HubSpot, we wanted to see the extent to which companies have, and will, alter their approach. We asked whether the current acquisition plans included continuous, always-on media investment. This was perhaps the most surprising finding because we expected that a majority of companies would have always-on activities planned in, but found 63% did not.

FoM C1

At ClickThrough, the vast majority of client activities combine always-on with tactical campaign media investments. However, there is an intention to put that right in many companies. By 2022, the majority of businesses (75%) do expect to include always-on with their plans.

Customer experience

We advocate a continuous improvement for company websites as the key digital touchpoint for most companies. In 2019 we have seen big increases in the number of clients looking to deploy AB testing projects to increase revenue and improve the ROI of their media investments. This data-driven ‘test-learn-refine’ approach is now widely known and advocated. However the research showed that data-driven marketing and optimisation is not as widely adopted as might be expected.

FoM C2

It was good to see that today, a majority of businesses (56%) regularly review their inbound marketing with a view to optimisation. However, a substantial number do not have a review and optimisation process in place today (44%). This is shocking given the importance of the company website as a focus for inbound marketing which should support conversion and develop customer satisfaction and loyalty. However, it makes sense in that that modern marketing involves many activities so it can prove difficult to ringfence time for optimisation and it is good to see the future intention for data-driven marketing and optimisation (89% of respondents). Using agencies to develop in-house skills or hiring specialists with experience in CRO are both options here.

Messaging or ‘conversational marketing’

This is deploying personalised communications to welcome, educate, and nurture prospects and customers across websites, email marketing, and mobile notifications.

Here, messaging refers to a range of different channels and techniques that can be used to deliver more relevant content and offers to a known contact. Marketing emails, LiveChat, social media, on-site interactions, and personification are all included. Personification of messages, particularly emails and panels on web pages, are known to increase relevance and so response.

These types of tools are part of the trend to conversation marketing which Gartner highlight on the innovation trigger part of their Hype Cycle. They explain the purpose of conversational marketing as:

Conversational marketing technologies enable interactions between companies and customers that mimic human dialogue and do so at scale.”

Integrating more relevant, personalised messages into your communications requires the right type of platforms to support it. Like other ‘always-on’ marketing activities, it also requires time to be ringfenced to orchestrate and optimise, as we have already seen.

In the research we asked how many businesses have a defined marketing technology stack with different systems for different marketing applications. The vast majority of respondents seem to have an ad-hoc approach to martech with 67% not having a defined stack, but 75% are hoping to change this in the future.

Content marketing

I identify content marketing as a separate area of investment from media, messaging, and experience because quality creative and content is so important to developing reach and delivering leads and sales from inbound marketing. It includes product and blog content, PDF downloads, and interactive tools.

We believe a content marketing strategy with sufficient investment is essential because it fuels all inbound marketing activity. Many businesses are investing more in content marketing so you need to create innovative content that aligns to your personas needs and your business goals to get cut-through.

In the research we asked how many businesses have a content marketing strategy mapped to their personas, an important success factor to make sure you have created quality top, middle and bottom of funnel to support the customer. Surprisingly given the popularity of content marketing and understanding of the need for segmentation and targeting, the majority (60%) do not have a defined strategy, but this increases to 82% by 2022, which shows a desire by businesses to use a more strategic approach to content marketing.

Marketing governance or management

Governance is most relevant to larger, existing organisations, but as smaller businesses seek to grow, these factors become more relevant.

This investment is the time and resources needed to develop strategies, action plans, resources, budgets, and KPI dashboards to test, learn, refine, and integrate all marketing and sales communications.

The main success factor here, suggested by the lack of direction in some of the other investment areas is an integrated multichannel marketing plan. We asked how many had such a plan:

FoM C3

The chart shows a fairly even split between those with and without a plan. 56% of organisations did not have a multichannel marketing plan. The large number of businesses without a plan suggests a failure by management to recognise the importance of strategic communications planning. This is another recognised area for improvement, with 89% expecting to have a plan by 2022.


I hope you have found this glimpse into the near future interesting and useful to consider your own planned investments in marketing. If you consider your gap between what the leaders are delivering as shown in the summary chart in the report, then this may shape your plans for the year ahead.

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