I have a theory that a similar cycle exists in marketing.
Back in 2012, we saw the rise of social media, as it went from being a supplementary tool to a leading strategy (roughly the year Buffer and Hootsuite took off as well).
7 years before that, SEO first became a thing in 2005. Brands started realising the value of ranking on Google, so content marketing took a foothold (along with keyword stuffing galore).
And of course, going back another 7 years was peak dot-com as brands were throwing everything they had at the internet hoping something stuck.
In 2019, we’re entering the next period of transition. I have a few ideas on what to expect.
1. The re-alignment of social mediaI noticed something funny recently — this Hubspot article written in 2010 denouncing social media was recently updated and re-published early last year.
When social media first became a core part of b2b marketing strategy near the turn of the decade, it was an empty savannah. Simply having a halfway active Twitter account with some hashtags thrown in almost guaranteed easy lead generation.
Those days are long gone. In 2019, most businesses don’t see any ROI at all from social media, and are souring on the channel entirely.
The signal to noise ratio has gotten dramatically worse, and the field has undoubtedly saturated, but abandoning it isn’t the right strategy either.
Like it’s more aged counterparts, social media is simply a channel that’s effective depending on how you use it. Gone are the days of throwing up a few social pages and spraying automated, generic content.
In 2019, savvy marketers will take a step back and build a more directed approach. Who’s your audience, and where do they actually hang out? What kind of personalised, tailored content will enable you to reach your audience and stick out from the crowd?
The answer is probably LinkedIn, but it’ll depend on your business. This year I expect businesses to deliver a much more focused, curated social media experience — focusing on quality over quantity.
2. Video becomes table-stakes
I know, I know — another year, another charlatan pitching video as the next big thing.
This year is different though.
Video has always converted extremely well. The challenge has always been to make it scale. It’s not like content where you throw videos out and let them slowly marinate and grow an organic audience — your goal with video is to convert, and convert quickly.
With the rise of smarter tools and yes, even AI, the friction of video is disappearing. Tools like Lumen5 let you generate videos automatically from text. There are even VAs who produce videos on demand. The ability to scale video — even personalised video — is here.
The winners of 2019 will build video production strategy (much like content strategy) that scales — tools like Useloom will allow savvy marketers to build video engagement into every nook and cranny of the user journey.
3. The re-prioritisation of slow, sustained growth
You’d be hard pressed over the last few years to work in Growth without hearing constant noise of hockey sticks and unicorns. The barrage of “hypergrowth” gave rise to “growth hacking” — ways to architect your way into absurd month on month revenue expansion.
Indeed, as more and more companies burn out from the pressures and stresses of hyper growth (much of it oriented around VC funding and expectations), a new paradigm for startup expansionism has taken a foothold: slow, sustained, (often) bootstrapped growth.
I’m not the only one predicting this year will be the tipping point.
With stalwart companies like MailChimp, JotForm and Zapier maneuvering their way to billion dollar valuations with little to no funding — and valuing sustained, healthy growth over absurd KPI multiples as targets — more and more companies are following suit.
Marketers, of course, will be at the front lines of this. In 2019, the focus will turn away from an over-indexing on short-term, experimentation & moonshots, and towards more sustained, consistent, long-term growth strategies.
4. (S)he who automates, wins
While AI lags behind people’s needs and expectations, automation technology surges ahead.
Most people are simply unaware of just how much you can currently automate. McKinsey recently did a study which concluded close to 50% of tasks can be automated through current technology.
Zapier recently crossed 1000 apps. Savvy marketing teams will use tools like Process.st to compartmentalise, automate and scale every single process and funnel in their strategy. Automation sounds easy. It is not. But if you design the right process in your Marketing Automation/ ABM (MarTech) stack you have a distinct opportunity to leverage results. Automation enables you to work on the business and not “in” the business.
Your role as a strategic marketer is to figure out the right tactics for automation.
5. The buyers quest will replace the persona
Personas have been a hot topic for the last few years, but their drawbacks have quickly become apparent. While it initially made sense as a way to bracket & target audiences, it’s clear that it’s missing the market in delivering tangible value to sales enablement — it’s simply too nonspecific to be a reliable way of approach customers.
I’ve talked in the past about reorienting around the buyer journey instead of buyer characteristics — focusing less on who the buyer is, and more on what they’re looking for. Instead, the values of stories and quests enable sales & marketing to orient around the actual motivations that ultimately drive purchase.
Not only that, tools from recent years like ClearBit and MadKudu will bring you a layer of information & knowledge of your customers like we’ve never seen before. There are even companies leveraging tools like IBM Watson’s Tone Analyzer to guess at a customer’s personality — imagine the value and capabilities of tracking the customer journey on such a granular level.
Enabling & accommodating the buyers quest at scale — that’s the shift we’ll see in 2019.
(I’d recommend a read of this article, and it’s note of Assistive Interaction. There’s a reason I’m harping on scaleability a lot in this article.)
6. A renewed focus on product-driven marketing
When Eric Ries wrote the Lean Startup nearly a decade ago, there was still a perception of “if you build it, they will come”. With greater saturation of competition and the rise of growth hacking/marketing, that no longer became the case — a good product was nothing without marketing channels.
Now however, as growth hacking has reached its twilight and the channels we’ve loved so dearly over the past few years saturate, a renewed focus will emerge back on the products themselves.
2019 will see the rise of PQL’s — product qualified leads. We’ll see a higher emphasis on freemium products using their own product touchpoint as a way to produce leads — free leads — for their paid offerings. These PQL’s change the game for marketers because it requires stepping back — away from tricks & hacks, and focusing on reliable growth levers for a sticky product.
A good product produces leads that convert at anywhere from 25–30% — conversions that are free. This outpaces, by a huge margin, any marketing or sales-driven lead generating functions.
A sticky product with high levels of engagement and user-generated content/referral will win the day — and the savvy marketers of 2019 will seek to orient around product growth, rather than lead it.
Here’s another great read I’d recommend on the subject.
7. Clever content manipulation
In a recent keynote, Gary Vaynerchuk outlined the idea of his “content pyramid”. He takes his keynote (pillar content), repurposes it into micro-content (articles, memes, images, etc.), and then automatically distributes it across multiple channels (tweets, videos, quota answers, etc.).
Content strategy and research are no longer the challenges they used to be 5 years ago. There’s been a clear drop-off in the effectiveness of SEO — obsessing over topics, keywords and audiences is an inefficient game.
Instead, the future of content marketing is execution.
The winners of 2019 will be the ones creating incredible pillar content, and quickly sending that content down the pyramid — repurposing and redistributing across channels in a scaleable, automated & hyper-personalised way.
I’m very excited and bullish on 2019. Businesses are entrenching themselves as we encroach on the new decade, and the dust is beginning to settle on 20 years of insane change. Now more than ever, it’s time for businesses to go back to the fundamentals and focus on doing things the right way.
Base your approach on trust, value and transparency.