You can't go through something like a yearlong (and counting) global pandemic and not expect some things to change. Then again, marketers and change aren't exactly strangers. Marketing professionals have always lived in a world where consumers' preferences are constantly evolving and they are forced to adapt. In the past year, marketers have done so in spades, rolling with the abrupt suspension of in-person events, a massive shift toward digital marketing, and -- for many -- reduced budgets.
As the economic recovery gains momentum, many marketers will likely find themselves with more dollars to spend. But how and where should they spend them? Will people be yearning for a return to the old normal or continue to embrace the habits they developed over the past year? What messaging will resonate and which channels will reach the post-pandemic consumer?
As the marketing gaze turns futureward, here are some trends to look for in 2022.
1. The Future of Events Will Be Hybrid
When the pandemic forced closures and social distancing requirements, marketers faced the cancellation of all manner of in-person events, from store grand openings to big-ticket concert series. In their place, virtual events became a mainstay for engaging with customers and leads. Increased spending on social media and other digital platforms helped make these events successful.
Now consumers -- and the marketers who pitch to them -- face two warring impulses. The urge to gather again is strong, for sure. But having experienced the immediacy of live events from the comfort of their couches, many consumers are happy to keep things virtual. To cater to both audiences, you'll need to craft hybrid events. In-person events will have a strong digital component, and technologies like AR and VR can create an immersive experience for those who prefer not to venture out.
2. Content Alignment Will Never Be More Important
Any company that wants to own its industry will need to align its PR, thought leadership, and SEO. Consider this thought leadership Venn diagram, which shows the importance of overlapping visibility, credibility, and authority. If you can align these things, you can easily stand out in your industry.
That means you need to have some source content on your website and other things you own like social or sister sites. Once you get a solid base of authority on different topics, then work to gain added credibility by adding the PR element, where others are quoting or mentioning your content. Finally, make sure that people are linking to your content under certain topics that you can own ... which hints at my next point.
3. Marketing Companies Will Take More Ownership
I'm seeing more sales and marketing companies take ownership in the products or services they help sell. This shift makes sense to me, because if you are able to sell somebody's product and bring in significant revenue, you will ultimately increase the value of that company. If you have an ownership stake, you'll be even more motivated to knock it out of the park. It's hugely beneficial on both sides.
If you are in marketing and sales, start looking first at what products and services will benefit from your services. Then identify which of those companies will allow you to put performance metrics in place to gain some ownership as you meet those goals. For example, TechCrunch recently reported on an outsourced CMO firm that created its own venture firm to invest in companies that can benefit from the firm's resources.
4. Engaging Nonprofits Will Be a Big Part of Marketing Plans
More and more, consumers are looking to support companies that have a mission or give back in some way. This trend is only going to increase, and a well-rounded marketing plan should take part in this development by partnering with nonprofits. This partnership opportunity has the potential to not only grow your business, but also align you with philanthropic missions that are important to you.
Expanding your brand and reach while engaging in advocacy for a nonprofit is a win-win. However, your marketing plan shouldn't end at simply expressing support for a charitable organization. It should include effective goals such as product placement, affiliate marketing, percentage of sales donations, or corporate sponsorship. According to nonprofit executive coach Mallory Erickson, these types of partnerships can help you reach a new audience around the globe.
5. A.I. Will Make Influencer Marketing Easier and More Results-Driven
The death of influencer marketing, while often predicted, has yet to occur. Valued at $9.7 billion in 2020, the market is estimated to reach $15 billion by 2022, with a near majority of marketers reporting they budget more than 20 percent of their spend on influencer content. Not that influencer marketing hasn't changed over the years -- the recent shift toward micro-influencers and their more highly engaged audiences being one example.
The next shift will be the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence. You can leverage the technology for everything from influencer identification (A.I. can watch and assess millions of influencer videos in ways a human can't) to performance influencer marketing. In this model, powered by predictive A.I., you pay only for the conversions and sales influencers produce. ROI is practically assured.
6. Marketers Will Find Alternatives to Third-Party Cookies
With Google's recent announcement, another predicted death -- that of the third-party cookie -- has been postponed (until 2023). But while the delay means that marketers' need to wean themselves from 3P-cookies-based targeting strategies has become slightly less urgent, it is no less critical. Consumers are demanding greater privacy protections and control over their data, and marketers will need to adjust.
You could begin by increasing your efforts to gather and fully exploit first-party data -- after all, first-party cookies aren't going anywhere. Or you can use tools like Google's Privacy Sandbox or FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) to achieve personalization and consumer targeting without intruding on user privacy. Regardless, CRM tools, surveys, and interactive content will become increasingly instrumental to marketing success.
As brands vie for consumer attention in these still uncertain times, marketers will find themselves in a familiar role: change agent. By taking these six trends into account, you'll be able to stay ahead of the curve.