We’re almost through 2019. How has your marketing strategy evolved this year? At SharpSpring, our team has noticed an ever-pressing need to put the “custom” in customer service and reach people on an increasing variety of devices. The future holds a lot of potential for innovative marketing strategies. As we prepare for 2020, we’re keeping a close eye on some emerging marketing trends that we believe will soon completely transform the marketing landscape.

An Emphasis on Storytelling in Marketing

As we’ve seen from certain well-known insurance companies, commercials that are essentially short films with lovable, quirky characters are an incredibly effective technique in a successful marketing strategy. Customers respond well to entertaining content that makes a memorable impact. Even if you don’t have the budget for that type of production value, you can and should still use storytelling to shape your advertising. Increasingly, marketers are using story-driven content, both created by the company and user-generated, to help build a following and demonstrate the effectiveness of their products or services.

For example, more companies are releasing videos or photo-heavy posts that highlight the stories of their founders or employees. They may also share how-to content that demonstrates the quality of their products and encourages curious customers to keep visiting their social media pages. Effective story-driven marketing strategies treat the audience as knowledge-hungry users who will gladly engage with content that inspires or motivates them. And with such motivation comes sales.

We predict that in 2020, storytelling will be inextricable from effective advertising. Younger people are particularly interested in authentic, personal content that they can relate to: Traditional ads that merely emphasize a product’s features or utilize a “keeping up with the Joneses” approach simply won’t cut it. Instead, story-driven ads can share behind-the-scenes content, offer a fictional narrative that includes the product or service, or use classic story structure to better engage users and help them feel like part of a community by becoming customers.

The Zero-Click Search Result

Google Snippets have already sent SEO specialists into a tizzy by displaying the answer to a user’s search query on the first search engine results page (SERP), drawing the content from a top-ranked page. This convenience is great for users, but not good for companies who relied upon users giving at least a cursory glance to the rest of the first-page results. Now, search engine marketers are working hard to optimize their content to make it land in one of these coveted snippets.

We predict that in 2020, on-SERP SEO and Google Snippets or other ‘zero-click results’ will be essential to your digital marketing strategy. Zero-click results are often generated upon so-called long-tail queries, such as “What marketing software is best,” so the key to getting ahead in on-SERP SEO is to optimize your content for users typing in questions rather than single keywords or keyword phrases.

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The Rise of Robots

As of 2017, there were already more than 100,000 Facebook Messenger bots, and bots are also taking over e-commerce websites and Twitter. We predict that chatbots will continue to increase in popularity and pick up the bulk of customer service work. Moreover, they’ll become a key part of many companies’ strategies to build their brand and personalize the buying experience.

As more social media platforms permit bots, it will become crucial to develop a marketing strategy that encompasses these different platforms. You can no longer rely upon Facebook Messenger or Twitter bots: you must also consider a bot-driven user experience on Snapchat, Kik, and any other successful social media platforms that come down the pipe. While some of these platforms might not yet be able to generate sales, they can all generate buzz about your brand, and bots can automate that work for you.

Bots do more than customer service and sales on user-facing pages: They’re a powerful tool in the quick march toward fully automated marketing operations. By gathering key data from leads in a helpful and relevant manner, bots can qualify and send leads down the sales funnel based on users’ interactions, and therefore they nurture leads more effectively than a constant stream of sales emails.

We predict that in 2020, more of customer service, lead conversion, and social media advertising will be handled by bots of various types. This means it’s good to start exploring ways you can use automation now.

Conversations with Customers

While chatbots are having conversations with customers for you, your digital content will need to do so as well. How is that possible, you ask? You’ll need to optimize your content for voice search. Most mobile search apps offer voice search, and many users never even open their browser app: they simply ask Siri, Alexa, or whatever AI is installed on their device to perform the search for them. The AI then either displays a list of results or goes ahead and reads the top result to the user.

That means, as discussed above, optimizing your content to respond to question-based queries is crucial to your SEO strategy. However, your content should also be optimized for voice search, which tends to follow different speech patterns than typed queries. In general, making your content more conversational is the key.

According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, 20 percent of Google search queries are voice searches. We predict that in 2020, that percentage will increase, and your content must be optimized to respond to voice queries to have a competitive edge.

Long-Form Social Media Marketing

Of course, getting a high ranking on SERPs is still crucial to your marketing strategy. However, many of those first-page results are from platforms such as Quora, Reddit, or Medium, all of which are social media networks that have the immense advantage of being high-ranked on search engines. With platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you are unlikely to reach people who don’t follow your page, unless you create paid posts. By publishing content on sites that favor long-form user-generated content, you can tap into long-tail queries, which, as we established above, are increasingly popular.

You also can source user-generated content from these sites and engage with it, which helps establish your thought leadership and promotes a sense of community with your brand. Using long-form social media marketing is a powerful source of organic traffic, as well as a way to diversify your content.

We predict that in 2020, content on these long-form, indexable social media sites will be a growing source of organic traffic. Your marketing strategy should include techniques such as posting answers on Quora or Reddit that direct people to your website and cross-posting your company blog on Medium.

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The Appeal of Live Content

We’ve established that customers respond well to authentic, story-driven content. However, people also like to feel special and “in the know.” Enter livestreams, which allow your audience to feel like they’re getting exclusive content, not to mention a human element that helps them connect with your brand.

Some marketers believe that you need to heavily advertise your live content. However, if you spring it on your followers, you just might see better results, because the element of surprise activates the reward pathways in the brain. Think of it this way: users feel lucky to be online in time for your content! This creates a feeling of specialness that will motivate them to check out your content and a sense of urgency that helps convert leads.

The best live content focuses on telling your company’s story, as described above, or providing content that your followers will find useful. Some excellent examples include makeup tutorials, software demos, or cooking how-tos. (Of course, the content should tie into your products and services.) You can definitely release content without going live, but viewers spend 8x longer watching live content compared to on-demand video.

We predict that in 2020, livestreams will be a significant percentage of companies’ social media content. If marketers indeed keep the element of surprise, they’ll create an addiction in users that will keep them obsessively checking company pages to be sure they haven’t missed anything. Marketers should never underestimate the power of FOMO (fear of missing out).

The Invasion of Homes

The ultimate goal for any marketer is to become so embedded in their target audience members’ lives that their customers feel like they can’t live without their product or service. A powerful technique to accomplish this is to find a way into their Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Echo, Google Home or any other device that allows people to search for information or order products simply by talking to it.

As of December 2018, there were already 70,000 Alexa skills, an increase from 15,000 the previous year. And while Google Home has fewer services, the companies that do offer services are likely to have a competitive edge. For example, Company A has an integration with Google Home, while Company B does not. If people are used to asking their device to book services for them, which company are they going to choose? Their preference will likely extend to other platforms as well — if they’re used to saying “Company A,” which app are they going to open on their phone?

Marketers should be creative in choosing AI skills to convert leads or facilitate the buying process. As with chatbots, AI skills might be most effective by offering information that tangentially connects to their company’s products or services yet provides value to users. For example, Casper offers a text-based bot for insomniacs. Imagine the potential of an Alexa skill on an Echo that an insomniac could simply talk to — or even place orders through.

We predict that in 2020, home-based AIs will play a much larger role in lead conversion and the sales cycle. Just as people will be more likely to use voice-based search, they’ll be more likely to instruct their home AI devices to perform tasks for them or provide them with information. Look to your chatbots for inspiration to find something that your company alone can provide through AI skills.

The Role of Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is a source of controversy and can easily backfire. If you’re unfamiliar, influencers are people with a strong personal brand who recommend a company’s products and services per request by that company. Marketers will provide them with products and suggested copy to share with their followers. While influencers used to be “celebrity spokespeople,” they can now be anyone with a large following on social media — in fact, choosing lower-tier influencers can boost ROI.

Some critics assert that influencer marketing is “inauthentic” because the influencers are paid to promote the products. This problem is especially apparent on Amazon reviews, where influencers regularly skew the ratings by accepting free products in exchange for five-star ratings. However, influencer marketing seems to be most lucrative on platforms that focus on visuals and favor live content, as discussed above.

We predict that in 2020, influencers will become a core part of marketing strategies, but also that companies will need to work harder to make their influencer campaigns more authentic. Younger people particularly appreciate transparency, so any good influencer strategy will take this into account. For that reason, it’s a best practice to recruit influencers who already use your product or service.

Conclusion: Convenience and Personalization in Marketing

In 2020, we’ll see a variety of marketing trends that have one major thing in common: They’re based upon convenience and personalization for our target audience. Whether we’re reaching our leads and customers through computers, phones, and tablets, or home devices, we must prioritize their humanity. That means being able to respond when they have questions, customizing our delivery of information to their needs, and solving problems in their lives. Automation is a powerful means of streamlining this process.

We must move forward by emphasizing authenticity and connection over “sales talk,” and we must think about ways to provide value for and create community among our customers rather than comparing ourselves to others. Finally, we must optimize our content for mobile and voice-based devices, and that means prioritizing the conversations we have with our audience.

Preparing for 2020 might seem like a lot of work, but it boils down to the first trend we discussed: What is your company’s story, and how can you make it work for you? By engaging with your customers as humans, you’re much more likely to capture their attention … and with care, their lifelong loyalty to your brand.

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Jamie Embree