2019 was a transformational year for digital marketing as its scope, impact and efficiency made momentous advances. Four disruptors gained so much traction that they are poised to drive a new generation of smart marketing in 2020, tearing down the barriers between online and offline buying. Let’s take a closer look at them:

1. Applied Artificial Intelligence (AI)

In 2019, AI left the protective embrace of data scientists and academics. The world watched as it became incorporated into marketing and customer experience platforms through tools that can be used without a PhD. In fact, 97 percent of mobile users now use one or more AI-powered voice assistants.

Netflix’s pioneering use of AI to predict subscriber desires will become standard in streaming content sites. UK-based clothing company Superdry is using AI email personalization through Phrasee to boost their ROI. These chat, CX and CRM examples illustrate AI productization.

Digital marketers can now deploy AI without building it from scratch through a bevy of tools and suppliers who have productized intelligence by incorporating it into their solutions. In 2020, expect productization to blossom in targeting, content marketing, personalization, spend optimization, product selection and recommendation.

2. SMarketing

Smashing together sales and digital marketing in B2B took off in 2019 and heralds even greater impact for 2020. We’ve termed it ‘SMarketing’. Digital marketing driven by the past two years of gains in advanced Account Based Marketing (ABM) and tailored customer experience delivery is upending the role of the salesforce as the primary driver of leads, cross sell and loyalty.

Powerful ABM platforms such as Rollworks and DemandBase are being harnessed by ABM specialists such as Springbox to create a more integrated and effective way of selling. As the traditional silos between marketing and sales are lowered, SMarketing is expanding reach and enabling customers deep in the supply chain to gain access to buying information and receive day-to-day service online when and how they want it. Sales team members are using the leads, time savings and efficiency gains of digital marketing to improve their effectiveness and spend more time cultivating the customers that matter most.

3. Velvet Rope Communities

Communities of specialists, thought leaders and members with shared qualifying expertise and passions existed behind the velvet rope long before the internet and social platforms emerged. What’s changed is the important role they are playing for members and their growth as the broader social world becomes infected by false news and hostile behavior.

The growth of gated groups on LinkedIn illustrates the clear shift to pre-screening participants. There are now hundreds of LinkedIn groups, such as the 300 thousand member Health Executive Network, where participants must be accepted by the group administrator based on qualifying standards. Velvet rope communities like these are not easy to understand or penetrate using standard social tools. Participants must meet the criteria for admission, demonstrate subject matter expertise and provide relevant curated content with links that entice members to engage outside the community. Listening to what matters most to community members in those opportunities when the gates are opened – even a little bit – makes a huge impact. And the rewards are substantial: job postings, solicitation by vendors and irrelevant topics are all screened out of the feed so the online dialogue is thoughtful and informed.

4. Contextual Omni-Channel

The programmatic age is giving way as we speak to a new age of digital marketing that is more relevant because it relies less on where you’ve been and is based more on where you’re going. In this new world, the context of the user grows to include what can be deduced from time, location, interest and profile, and channels are growing to include analog spaces in the digital mix.

What’s next? Treating retail stores and other analog environments as media where consumer behavior can be observed, measured and predicted based on facial recognition, beacon technologies and interaction with connected devices in the environment.

Final Thoughts

All four disrupters are likely to have a profound impact on digital marketing because they challenge the fundamental paradigms that underlie so many existing efforts. Growth leaders must come to grips with the reality of a world where AI is no longer a promise but a fact, where SMarketing is changing the very nature of their roles, where velvet rope communities shift social influence from mass reach to targeted expertise and where the contextual omni-channel connects the analog and digital experiences to predict the future instead of respond to the past. The future looks exciting and inspiring for those who adapt and pretty deadly for those who don’t.

Want to stay current with where digital is headed, and how to apply it to your business? Learn more with our guide to digital marketing excellence here or get in touch today.