The Top Marketing Trends for 2023: AI Captures the Most Mindshare, but Marketers Have More on Their Plates
When it comes to trend spotting in the marketing space, there’s a bright, shiny thing in the room: artificial intelligence.
AI is clearly top of mind for marketers. But it can also be a distraction that keeps marketing pros focused raptly on it and turning their attention away from other compelling technologies and trends that should be on their radar screens. Nonetheless, its current and potential impact cannot be ignored.
When it comes to AI, the generative variety (like ChatGPT) is by far the leading trend impacting marketing. Creating content was the major initial focus of chatter around the potential of generative AI. But organizations are quickly finding additional applications that hold significant promise for streamlining processes and gaining efficiencies.
A recent survey by Outreach found that 62 percent of businesses are already actively using generative AI in the workplace. McKinsey found that 90 percent of commercial leaders expect to use generative AI solutions “often” over the next two years. And according to a survey by IBM, 35 percent of respondents said generative AI is one of the most popular emerging technologies that will bring greater changes to business processes, including marketing, in the next few years.
For marketers, the clearest use case is content generation, with great potential to create hyper-personalized, hyper-targeted marketing messages based on customer behavior, personas, and buying histories, along with other data available from internal and external sources. And it can do all this while adhering to the company’s brand style and tone and regulatory requirements.
Among the types of content that can be created by AI are emails; social media or blog posts; scripts for videos, presentations, podcasts, and ad campaigns; product descriptions; static and video imagery for use in online stores, social media channels, and printed marketing materials; and visual branding materials like logos. It can also analyze and optimize content for search engines, surfacing high-performing keywords and phrases and positioning them within content for maximum exposure.
McKinsey research found that among the marketing use cases for generative AI, leaders consider the following as significant or very significant:
- lead identification (60 percent);
- marketing optimization (55 percent);
- dynamic content creation (50 percent);
- marketing analytics (45 percent);
- dynamic customer journey mapping (45 percent); and
- automated marketing workflows (35 percent).
Outside of the generative AI space, there are other trends worth noting, of course. One of the newest ones is what Gartner refers to as catalytic marketing, which has a role in driving customers’ commercial behaviors, such as brand commitment or paying a premium.
One of the main goals of catalytic marketing is to create experiences that can help marketers do less and get more. “One catalytic digital experience matters even more than having a large number of memorable brand interactions and rating all of them as high-value,” Gartner concludes in a recent report.
So what exactly are catalytic experiences?
Gartner defines them as experiences that “change customers’ understanding of their own needs and make them feel more confident moving in a new direction.” As an example, the firm cites a cosmetics company that “provided customers with an AI-powered assessment of their unique skincare needs, simulating an in-person beauty advisor.” Yes, there’s that “AI” word again.
But catalytic experiences aren’t dependent on AI or other technologies alone, as Harvard Business Review points out. “It is less about shiny, new technology and automation and more about using customer understanding to create experiences that help them develop a greater sense of control and self-confidence in a way that they couldn’t have alone,” it says.
Despite operating in an increasingly digitally driven and technologically driven environment, marketing professionals must still keep their primary focus on understanding human needs. Doing so, while also driving impactful experiences, does tend to involve technology, a huge challenge for many, as staying up to date with the latest and greatest options can strain the budgets of even the biggest and most successful organizations.
That’s a huge concern for chief marketing officers today, particularly as companies deal with the current economic uncertainty. In fact, 71 percent of CMOs believe they lack sufficient budget to fully execute their strategies in 2023, according to research from Gartner. Marketing budgets have remained relatively flat at 9.1 percent in 2023, a slight drop from 9.5 percent in 2022.
Not surprisingly, marketing leaders report that their greatest investment increases are in marketing technology, with labor expenses seeing the largest decrease. But marketing leaders are being pressured “to do more with less,” Gartner says, and a majority (75 percent) are “under pressure to cut technology spend.”
“Responsibly managing resources is important,” says Lisa Loftis, product marketing manager at SAS. “This includes economic responsibility—using funds and budgets responsibly; marketing attribution; social responsibility; and environmental responsibility, or promoting sustainability.” The responsible use of resources, she says, can have positive impacts like these:
- optimizing assets and engagements;
- measuring marketing’s value;
- making agile, better business decisions;
- showing corporate social responsibility;
- operating as a profit center; and
- creating competitive differentiation.
Exactly where marketing leaders are spending their increasingly tight budgets also points to some current trends. The top three areas of increasing investment, according to Gartner’s research, are social media advertising (53 percent are increasing investment), digital video advertising (51 percent are increasing investment), and influencer marketing (48 percent are increasing investment), according to Gartner.
During the pandemic, shopping became more virtual, with social media platforms emerging as an increasingly popular shopping outlet, notes Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a global strategic marketing consulting firm. “Meta’s Shops on Instagram/Facebook Shops led the way, especially with younger audiences,” she says. “TikTok has product links too.”
Rana Salman, a sales expert and founder of Salman Consulting, points to research from IDC indicating that 84 percent of senior executives use social media to support buying decisions, and research from LinkedIn reporting that 78 percent of social sellers outsell peers who don’t use social media.
This growth in social shopping hasn’t gone unnoticed by marketing leaders, who are increasingly devoting more of their budgets to social advertising, if even only slightly. Market research firm Statista valued the social media advertising market at $207.1 billion this year and expects it to grow at a compound annual rate of 4.5 percent through 2027, when it is expected to reach $247.3 billion.
DIGITAL VIDEO ADVERTISING
Marketers are also taking advantage of increased interest in video content and capturing eyeballs through digital video advertising.
“The world is becoming more visual when it comes to consuming content, which has made visual-driven platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok gain popularity,” Arnof-Fenn says. “With the rise of a generation that would much rather watch or look at something vs. sit and read, there is going to be a growing trend of more visual content, including pictures, videos—long and short form—memes, diagrams, and infographics.”
Stephanie Scheller, a longtime marketing executive, author, and educator, observes that “the biggest trend we’re continuing to see sweeping and gaining momentum is a focus on video marketing above all else.”
Video marketing, she says, “has only become easier with better and better quality cell phones, editing tools, and education on how to design videos to create maximum engagement.”
Platforms like TikTok and Lemon8 (both owned by Chinese company ByteDance) are placing more focus on video, Scheller says—and YouTube and Meta “are emphasizing video with their reels and shorts programs.” She attributes the increased interest in video to a growing need to connect “in a world that is too often removed from other people postpandemic.” Video, she says, makes that happen.
And that’s one of the main reasons that Statista expects to see video ad spending grow as well. The firm valued the current market at $176.6 billion and expects it to reach $229.8 billion by 2027, growing at an annual compound rate of 6.8 percent, somewhat higher than social ad spending.
Video is also a common tool used by influencer marketers, who are widely sought by marketers to help them spread the word about their brands, products, and services. But the way influencers are being used is changing.
“The future of marketing is to utilize a mix of influencer types,” Arnof-Fenn says. “Instead of just focusing on the most popular, branded individual influencers, it will include internal experts, micro-influencers, niche experts, and customers in the influencer marketing mix.”
That mix of influencers, Arnof-Fenn adds, also holds benefits in other ways. “Getting multiple perspectives and insights always enriches the discussion and generates more activity online,” she says. “Content, products, or designs that are co-created by the brand and influencers from the very beginning will thrive in 2023.”
Marketers themselves point to a couple of other trends worth noting.
A FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER
Attentive, a conversational commerce platform provider, recently found that most marketers are redirecting their marketing efforts away from brand building and more toward consumer retention. Seventy-four percent of respondents said they’re focusing on retaining existing customers by building loyalty. Here, again, AI can play a role.
“We expect to see an uptick in use of conversational commerce methods, like text message marketing, that humanize brands and build lasting relationships with consumers with personalized communications,” says Sara Varni, Attentive’s chief marketing officer.
Salman agrees. “Expanding within existing accounts has become a strategic approach that offers several advantages,” she says. “Selling to existing customers is often easier and more cost-effective due to the established trust, relationships, and knowledge of their needs. In the current economic climate, where acquiring new customers may be challenging, organizations are recognizing the importance of nurturing existing accounts.”
Marketing and sales teams, Salman says further, “should collaborate to identify these opportunities, develop targeted campaigns, and provide exceptional customer service to drive account expansion.”
This is a way that budget-strapped marketers can increase the effectiveness of their efforts with lower costs, says Kirsten Markson, chief marketing officer of Keap, a provider of sales and marketing automation solutions. “While every marketer knows the adage that it’s cheaper to keep a current customer than acquire a new one, there is always something more exciting about chasing acquisition,” she says.
But in the current environment, “where there is significant reduction in marketing spend and renewed focus on net revenue retention and how to keep and expand the value of current customers,” refocusing on customer marketing makes sense, she says.
A FOCUS ON PRIVACY
A customer focus in the digital environment in which we all live also will increasingly require a focus on data privacy concerns and efforts to ease customer concerns about how their personal data will be used and shared.
“Marketers are facing an almost perfect storm when it comes to balancing personalization and privacy, particularly considering the expanding customer demand for hybrid digital/physical engagement models,” Loftis says.
While marketers need more visibility into digital activity, Loftis says, “customers are increasingly cognizant of how they are being tracked.” She points to data from a recent CMO Council report indicating that two in three consumers don’t feel they have control over what companies will do with their data and privacy and more than half say companies are not transparent about their privacy rules.
To address these concerns, Loftis says marketers are taking steps. “Changing customer data collection policies, relying more on first-party data, focusing on personalization, and exploring new technology to aid in compliance were all top activities for brands responding to these consumer concerns.”
But Salesforce research indicates that marketers might have reached a tipping point in how far they’re willing to go. “Only 51 percent of marketers say they go beyond regulations and industry standards to protect customer privacy, down from 61 percent last year.”
As we head further into 2023 and look ahead to 2024 and beyond, it’s clear that technology will continue to play a major role in marketing efforts. But it’s also clear that high tech will not replace high touch when it comes to connecting with, engaging, and keeping customers. The right combination of the two represents the sweet spot that marketing leaders are seeking as they strive to do more with less.
Linda Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer who writes for various business and trade publications. Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends, and more.