Marketing technology is a rapidly growing industry that's gone from being a small niche to being one of the most important aspects of modern marketing. After all, technology is just a part of our everyday life. If we don't take advantage of it within our marketing strategies then we're missing a trick.
The interesting thing about martech is that it's such a diverse field, covering everything from software to hardware and from virtual and augmented reality to artificial intelligence and big data. And of course, some technologies are more relevant than others.
That's why we've done the hard work for you and identified the five most important trends in martech for marketers to consider in 2018. Here are just a few of the technologies that you'll want to keep your eyes on.
1. Natural language processing
Natural language processing (NLP) is a form of artificial intelligence which focuses on allowing a computer to "understand" what a human being is saying in either text or voice-based input. This means understanding not just what words are being said but also what context they're being used in.
For example, buck and book both sound the same and can both be nouns and verbs. "Buck" could describe a dollar bill or the action of a horse trying to unseat its rider, while "book" could describe either a physical object that you read or the act of reserving a table at a restaurant. The job of a natural language processing algorithm is to understand the context that's being used to more accurately provide responses.
For marketers, natural language processing has other benefits. For example, it could be used to more accurately power sentiment analysis tools or to personalise content by echoing the same language that your customers use. The technology itself is powerful but what it could allow us to do is more powerful still.
2. Augmented and virtual reality
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have been around for decades, but it's only recently that they've become good enough for them to be worth using. AR in particular is showing a lot of potential because it doesn't require consumers to wear a headset, and the runaway success of Pokémon Go and the impending launch of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite suggest that people are ready to take AR more seriously.
From a marketing point of view, AR is great because it can be used as part of events to add an extra layer to the in-person experience. It can also help to showcase your products in a real world environment. If you're an interior design company, for example, then your app could allow people to preview renovations and redecorations and get a feel for what your company could do if they hired you.
3. AI, big data and IoT
These are technically three different trends, but they all interact with each other and so it's easier to cover them all in one section. Essentially, big data is the term that we use to refer to the huge amounts of data that are now being generated, and it's the internet of things that's powering much of this. After all, more and more devices are being hooked up to the internet and sharing data that marketers can use to better understand people.
But it's not easy to make sense of all of this data, and that's where AI comes in. When artificial intelligence works alongside its sister technology, machine learning, it can lead to advanced insights that have never previously been possible, and that will give a huge first mover advantage to the companies which are able to make the most of it the fastest.
4. Voice search
Voice search is rapidly becoming the new norm thanks to devices like the Google Home and the Amazon Echo and virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa are teaching us to be more comfortable with voice commands. In fact, 20% of Google searches now start out with a voice search and it's predicted that half of consumers will be using voice technology within the next couple of years.
It's too early to say how a voice-based SEO campaign could be carried out, but we can start to prepare for voice search by understanding that people will increasingly use conversational queries as opposed to traditional keywords. At the same time, there are also opportunities to develop voice-based functionality on branded apps and to embrace the trend where possible.
From net neutrality and Europe's GDPR to whatever future legislation ends up coming along, there will always be an ever-changing legislative landscape for marketing teams to wrap their heads around. All they can really do is try to keep up with any changes and to make sure that they're always complying with them.
As with black hat versus white hat SEO, there will always be those who try to game the system by deliberately misinterpreting guidelines. Don't be one of them, because they always get caught out in the end and the penalties for breaking legislation can be severe, whether you intended to or not.
Marketing technology is a constantly evolving field, and that's good news for all of us. It means that there are huge advantages available for those who are able to tap into new technologies and to put them to use, and the barrier to entry is getting ever lower. Anyone can take advantage of these new technologies, which levels the playing field between big multinationals and small startups and solopreneurs.
The key is to apply the pre-existing concepts of marketing to these new technologies. After all, if VR or AR doesn't help you to sell your products or services then it's not a marketing technology - it's just a gimmick. But if you can make AR and VR work for you then they can become one of the most powerful marketing tools in your arsenal.
As always, the secret is to test, test, test. See what works and what doesn't, then do more of what works and less of what doesn't. You'll be on the road to success in no time.