Technology is changing faster than marketers can keep up, offering up an eternal land of promises. Increasingly, hard decisions need to be made regarding which technology to implement and whether it can be tied back to measurable marketing objectives and improvements. Technology for technology's sake can wind up being a costly exercise with no discernible point.
1. AI for customer engagement
Leading the list, of course, is artificial intelligence (AI). As the technology continues to evolve in leaps and bounds, so too does its applications in marketing. From next best action, to collating and providing deeper data insights, it seems AI will be the marketer's right-hand tool for many years to come. In fact, we've barely touched the surface as yet.
As Pimcore CEO, Dietmar Rietsch, points out, AI will continue to become a more mainstream part of organisations' marketing departments and customer experience initiatives.
"It's hard for me to imagine an element of customer engagement that won't be touched by AI. As we look toward the New Year, AI technology will become more advanced to make this widespread AI future a reality" .
Similarly, Isentia head of Insights NZ, Ngaire Crawford, said AI will continue to drive efficiencies in linking all data points together so organisations can more accurately listen to customers and prospects.
"Marketing, communications, customer experience [CX] and user experience [UX] teams can capitalise on this not only by using all the information a business has, such as customer, finance, legal and compliance, to better understand their customer but to also actually measure the effectiveness of marketing efforts over a longer period of time, and what predictions can be made," she said.
In particular, AI will have increasing application is customer service. Director of product and experience design at Orchard, Kim Verbrugghe, said the future of customer engagement will see AI take most of the load creating better customer experience, with the purpose of avoiding escalations to customer service, which will see bots become the main method for contextual push marketing.
Director of product marketing at 250ok, Anthony Chiulli, noted many forms and practical use cases where AI will be leveraged in email marketing in particular, including automation, personalisation, segmentation, send-time optimisation, content and even subject lines.
"AI's most valuable benefit is in helping email teams improve efficiency and as the technology becomes more scalable, intuitive, and easily accessible to existing workflows, AI will become an area more marketers dip their toes into in 2020".
"In 2020, AI will also help marketers optimise the warm-up process for new IP addresses and sending domains. This process is often complicated, as it requires methodical control of daily email volume to mailbox providers based on the delivery and engagement of the emails compared to previous days. AI can help automate decisions on controlling volume limits, segmentation, and send-time based on analysing delivery rates, bounces, and engagement during the warm-up process," Chiulli said.
AI will be able to recommend more segments and groups from a business database, helping them to stop outreach to disinterested parties, EZ Texting CMO, Matt Reid, said.
This application of AI can also be used for text marketing. "In text marketing, AI plays the role of informing the sender, versus being the sender. Businesses will start to receive recommendations from texting providers about the type of messages to send, which messages are seeing the most engagement, clicks and so on," he said.
"However, it is vital for text marketing to keep the human element while leveraging AI to help us have the best communication possible," he added.
2. Accessible AI
While AI can increasingly make the difference in a marketing program, it has been cost prohibitive until now, meaning it is out of reach for smaller businesses. In addition, any customised AI has required hefty technical know-how. This, however, looks set to change according to RelationEdge country manager A/NZ, Paul Milinkovic.
"We will see an increase in AI adoption, especially in the ecommerce space, as retailers continue to bundle products and suggest additional products based upon previous purchases or purchases," he predicted.
"Historically, the solutions that provided this AI ability have either been bespoke technology or expensive, off-the-shelf systems requiring extensive implementation. Over the coming years, we will see more marketing technology products emerge that are far more accessible, providing smaller businesses with the gravitas to market in much the same way as the multinational players."
3. AI for personalisation
Marketers are increasingly realising good personalisation can make or break a business. And this emerging tool to achieve personalisation in real time and at scale, is AI.
"I believe next year will be a pivotal year for stronger master data management and product information capabilities, with AI aiding in elements like text generation and image classification through stronger natural language processing and recognition capabilities," Rietsch said.
"This will enable the seamless, intuitive experience customers demand and enable marketers to provide more unique personalisation that both increases loyalty and improves the product and information delivery processes. For marketers looking to increase interest and sales through relevant offerings in a user-friendly way, AI will be a crucial component in making these needs a reality."
Director of product marketing at Unbounce, Tamara Grominsky, said in 2020, personalisation will undoubtedly become part of the default, table-stakes consumer experience.
"We'll see more and more small online businesses proactively trying to adopt AI-powered software that solve the personalisation problem, but will be held back due to the prohibitive cost of available tools and a lack of understanding about 'the machine'," she said.
"Software vendors that build AI in a way that's easy to understand and affordable to small and medium-sized business will see a huge advantage in gaining market share."
4. Robotic process automation in marketing
Blue Prism chief technology officer APAC, Dan Ternes, said in a world of zero-budget marketing and increased pressure on CMOs to deliver more with less, he expected to see an upswing in the use of robotic process automation (RPA) within the marketing and customer experience sector.
"RPA, which automates business processes, was pioneered in the financial services sector and has proven its value in expediting repetitive and mundane data entry tasks. Early adopters in the marketing world have already found multiple use cases, most notably with the use of digital workers showing great promise to help free up marketing teams to work on higher value tasks," he said.
"In 2020, expect to see RPA in action in marketing teams managing adtech payment cycles and gathering marketing insights to help marketers better understand and redefine the customer journey."
5. VR gives way to AR enabled by AI
As the consumer demand for better experiences only becomes louder, it makes sense immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) take centre stage - particularly as the technology becomes cheaper to implement
Founder of event company, The Company We Keep, Nigel Ruffell, said AR has a number of advantages over VR, so we'll see a further emergence of this technology into mainstream marketing.
"With VR, you can put a client into the experience so they can understand and assess the experience beforehand. Now by integrating VR and AI, attendees who have chosen the things they'd like to get out of it can have a virtual assistant guide them through the event," he said.
"Two of the major assets of AR over VR are that it doesn't require a great deal of hardware because it's almost entirely software-intensive and it can be operated through event participants' and guests' own devices. What matters a lot, though, is being careful not to put in new technologies just for the sake of having them there for wow factor. They have to make sense and be useful.
"The VR or AI additions must make an experience better, not replace those one-to-one conversations and live elements."
Ruffell goes onto say the rate of technological advancement is not going to slow down in the foreseeable future, and this is shortly going to include 3D holograms.
"At the moment we're looking at a very new solution that has been rolled out in Hong Kong but hasn't been rolled out here yet, 3D holograms. It can be used to bring characters to life, as well as bring people into an event virtually when they can't physically take part," he said.
According to Garter, hyper-automation is the combination of AI and multiple machine learning (ML), packaged software, and automation tools to deliver a process, thing or service faster than automation alone. According to the analyst firm's predictions, hyper-automation refers not only to tools, but also to all the steps of automation itself, such as discover, analyse, design, automate, measure, monitor and reassess.
While this trend is similar to RPA, this alone is not hyper-automation. Instead, hyper-automation requires a combination of tools to help support replicating human involvement, Gartner said.
Garter also said conversational platforms are changing the way in which people interact with the digital world. Combined with VR, AR and mixed reality (MR), this shift in both perception and interaction models is leading to a future of multisensory and multimodal experience.
"The model will shift from one of technology-literate people to one of people-literate technology. The burden of translating intent will move from the user to the computer," Gartner research vice-president, Brian Burke, said. "This ability to communicate with users across many human senses will provide a richer environment for delivering nuanced information."
We can't have a predictions article without a comment on voice and smart speakers in general. As more consumers expect to be able to interact with brands using only voice, a voice strategy has never been more important.
Verbrugghe said the future of customer engagement will see AI take most of the load creating better customer experience, with the purpose of avoiding escalations to customer service.
"That includes bots becoming the main method for contextual push marketing. Voice will also become the main medium by which customers interact with brands, either through home pods, wearables or integrated assistants in branded apps."
10. Data privacy and security
Data privacy and security goes hand-in-hand with emerging technology. Gartner said consumers are increasingly aware their personal information is valuable and are demanding control. Organisations also recognise the increasing risk of securing and managing growing amounts of personal data, and governments are implementing strict legislation to ensure they do.
Therefore, transparency and traceability are critical elements to support digital ethics and privacy needs. This includes an ethical approach to use of AI and other advanced technologies.
As Gartner pointed out, AI and ML will continue to be applied to augment human decision making across a broad set of use cases. However, it creates significant new challenges for the security team and risk leaders with a massive increase in potential points of attack with Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, microservices and highly connected systems in smart spaces.
Head of global commerce strategy at Publicis Sapient, Jon Reily, said he's optimistic into the future.
"There's a lot of fear and trepidation about the mothership watching your every move and the erosion of privacy. But at the end of the day, I have trust in the systems and the people that build the systems to create strong security to protect us. And the benefits far outweigh the concerns to me," he said.
"One of the questions asked to me was, did I believe individuals would be able to monetise their own privacy in the future? And my response to that was probably no, simply based on the fact that the technology to glean everything that marketers will want to know about you is probably going to be available in third-party relatively quickly, because of that erosion of basic privacy and the fact our mobile phones are tracking us everywhere."