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  • July 27, 2020
  • By Linda Pophal, business journalist and content marketer

The Top Marketing Trends: Automation and AI Are the 'New Normal'

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Marketing has always been a fast-paced industry, with the pace quickened constantly by readily available and rapidly developing technology. But the COVID-19 pandemic and its worldwide impact was, arguably, the most disruptive force that marketers have seen in a long time.

As we move beyond the pandemic, though, we can expect to see a continuation of some of the trends that were taking shape before COVID-19 and many more that have been fueled by COVID-19.

There is some interesting consistency in what marketing experts are seeing in the trends and technologies likely to impact their lines of business in 2020 and 2021. Topping the list are the increasing use of chatbots, a focus on voice search engine optimization (VSEO), and technologies augmented with artificial intelligence (AI). A couple of runners-up include the continued popularity of podcasts and video.

INCREASING USE OF CHATBOTS

“Conversational technologies, including business messengers and chatbots, are one of the most important technologies businesses can use during COVID-19 and beyond when it comes to supporting customers and sales and marketing efforts,” says Shane Murphy-Reuter, senior vice president of marketing at Intercom, a conversational relationship platform provider.

These tools increase the efficiency of support, sales, and marketing teams and enable businesses to connect with customers and prospects online at scale, he says. “The trend of conversational technologies will allow businesses to continue to drive sales, meet marketing goals, and deliver great customer support, all with the scale and efficiency needed in a time of economic uncertainty.”

COVID-19 has propelled business of all kinds almost overnight to shift their operations to more of an online focus. The need to maintain customer relationships and scale operations is critical right now and likely to remain so for some time. “Specifically for marketers, business messengers deliver personal, contextual, and real-time communication to website visitors or customers and are a key component to every marketing strategy, from website optimization to [account-based marketing],” Murphy-
Reuter says.

Chatbots, of course, existed long before the pandemic began. Facebook introduced its Messenger bot platform in 2016. But after a sharp initial uptick in adoption, they’ve somewhat languished, according to research from CB Insights. They’re making a comeback now, though, as businesses frantically try to find cost-effective ways of engaging with customers and consumers with remote staff and limited operations. In addition to the COVID-19 impact, lessons learned and improving technologies are likely to drive an upsurge in both marketers’ interest and consumer use.

FOCUS ON VOICE SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION

Another tech-driven engagement trend over the past few years, voice search engine optimization (VSEO) also is predicted to increase, driven by consumers’ use of voice search via their smart phones and devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home.

“The biggest trend in marketing in 2020 and beyond is definitely voice search,” says Dennis Vu, CEO and cofounder of Ringblaze, a business phone system for sales and support collaboration. “With so many people using their phones for voice searches, long-tail keywords are gaining in popularity. Businesses that optimize their content for terms used in voice search will have an upper hand in the months and years to come,” Vu says.

This is particularly important, he says, because consumers tend to use voice search to find immediate solutions to their needs—like a local shop or business. “COVID-19 has only confirmed this belief because, at the moment, it seems like e-commerce stores are one of the few industries thriving in this new business environment.”

Phil Strazzulla, CEO and founder of Select Software Reviews, agrees. “Some forward-thinking retailers have started to create fully voice-enabled marketplaces online that let customers not only search their entire catalog but place orders with voice commands as well,” he says.

As the amount of data associated with voice search grows, he predicts, “we’re also going to continue to see a high level of personalization happening in voice search.”

GROWING USE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Massive data will also fuel another predicted trend—a growth in reliance on AI.

AI, the ability for technology to actually learn and improve or “become smarter” through machine learning, has been predicted to fuel various industries for some time now, but its promise has yet to be fully realized. In the marketing arena, experts are still predicting its increased use and potential benefit.

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