2020 Trends: Advances in Marketing, Content, and AI Transform Ecommerce

Last year saw the continued heightening of customer expectations for simple, memorable, and consistent experiences. In 2020, businesses will apply a lot more operational rigor in pursuit of connected customer experiences in 2020, and this will play out across five main trends.

Whereoware CEO Michael Mathias
Whereoware’s CEO Michael Mathias on transformative ecommerce trends that will dominate the new year.

Somewhere between jack-o’-lanterns and Christmas trees, our industry takes stock of the year past and looks to the year ahead. Last year saw the continued heightening of customer expectations for simple, memorable, and consistent experiences, increasing performance pressure across all aspects of business. In fact, in a recent study by Saleforce, 80% of customers report that the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.

As we look to 2020, be honest with yourself. Were you proactive or reactive to customers’ demands? Were you bold and decisive, or did you take a haphazard approach?

If 2019 was a scramble to compete on customer experience, I foresee businesses applying a lot more operational rigor in pursuit of connected customer experiences in 2020, playing out across five main trends.

#1. Marketing and ecommerce focus on the same outcomes

In the not so distant past, marketing and ecommerce teams operated independently. Today, Salesforce reports only half of marketing and commerce teams share common goals and metrics. Altimeter mimics this trend, finding marketers named “brand awareness” as the most popular goal for digital marketing efforts, yet their success is measured by direct revenue (55%). This disconnect between goals and measurements reveals that it’s past time for a strategic sync up.

While there’s much work to do, these two have already come closer together to share responsibility for meeting KPIs, optimizing customer journeys, and converting prospects to customers. Even still, alignment remains a struggle.

In 2020, the focus will be on ecommerce and marketing alignment in order to meet shared goals around sales, market penetration, brand awareness, and customer retention. Out of necessity, both marketing and ecommerce will share a set of metrics for measuring meaningful business impacts (sales, transactions, average order value, declines in attrition, etc.) instead of softer ones, such as emails opened or posts liked.

For instance, we’re working with a global consumer brand selling product through independent dealerships that have multiple brands. Given the competitive nature of the dealerships, marketing has set a goal whereby ready-to-convert prospects visit a dealership with essentially a brand-loyal sales order in hand. To accomplish this goal, the brand’s marketing site goes farther down the sales journey than their competition, creating personalized experiences across touchpoints.

#2. Ecommerce managers learn to manage their machine learning and AI applications

Many brands we talk to want to jump on the AI bandwagon, but aren’t sure what that means. While sophistication levels vary, nearly all of these brands are already using AI (whether they know it or not).

Most ecommerce sites use a variety of AI applications, whether it’s a product recommendation engine, content recommendation engine, personalization engine, and so on. All of these solutions rely on algorithms that make predictions, prompt users to take actions, measure results, assess which products or messages resonate best with specific individuals, optimize strategies and even apply those insights to other channels. That’s what they’ve been designed to do.

However, these algorithms must be trained to support the company’s individual goals. A product recommendation engine may be designed to increase conversions and AOV, but if it’s optimizing only on those goals, the tech may focus exclusively on low-cost or highly competitive items. This can work against you if your long-term strategy is to build strong relationships with clients and drive higher LTVs.

I’m not suggesting ecommerce managers need to understand and tweak these algorithms, but they need to understand what these tools are recommending, and how they can optimize strategy to enhance customers’ product discovery and brand experience while still meeting sales goals.

#3. Ecommerce teams feed their data-hungry AI tools

Part and parcel to the above comments on AI, ecommerce managers will spend 2020 feeding more data to their tools, including customer files, CRM data, product profitability and so on. I can’t stress enough the importance of customizing the AI to the individual company (assuming it has a healthy volume of data specific to that company).

If your tools don’t have access to your first-party data, their algorithms will make recommendations based on a company it thinks looks like yours. The balance of these trends—training algorithms with more data—is the only way to yield maximum outcome and drive relevant customer experiences.

#4. Renewed Investment on sales enablement, specifically enabling humans

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen intense investment in digital technology to help brands understand the customer journey and deploy strategies to move prospects through it. Humans—sales reps, customer care, etc. —have been left out, however. Yet, humans are still the most valuable (and expensive) channel in the brand’s arsenal.

Progressive brands are reinvesting in their customer-facing personnel, enabling them to be as knowledgeable about their customers as possible. This is a trend that started a few years ago, such as when Nordstrom armed its sales representatives with iPads, so they can tap into the CRM system for insights into past sales, tastes, preferences, returns, etc. and make appropriate recommendations when speaking with a customer.

In 2020, we’ll see companies take that capability even further, investing in a wider range of data combined with augmented data visualization at the fingertips of customer-facing personnel.

#5. Content remains king, but marketers apply more rigor in what they create

Content will always be king, thanks to the power of storytelling to evoke emotions with an audience and stay memorable. But emotions and recall aren’t enough.

Recently, I heard a presentation by a marketer who passionately believed that in order for content to be worthy, it must be both timely and timeless. To drive the point home, he showed two photos of 1970’s fashion. The first was the worst of the worst: disco wear, men in ponchos, leisure suits. The other was of Audrey Hepburn wearing the little black dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Point taken; good content lasts the ages.

Marketers in 2020 will focus on creating content that keeps people engaged with their brand, but they’ll need to take care that it won’t embarrass the brand 6 or 12 months down the road. Thanks to the ease of CMS publishing, all content has longevity, even the stuff you’d prefer to forget. They’ll also focus on better attribution models for content, so they can understand which messages move leads through the sales funnel most effectively.

As customers expect more from their brands, businesses must be bold, strategic, and rigorous in their approach to customer experience.  None of these trends are particularly earth-shattering, but when combined, they’ll move the needle for B2B and B2C customers in meaningful ways. What’s your plan to get after it in 2020?

Originally published in Digital Commerce 360.