The future trends you were using to guide your digital marketing strategy previously may now be outdated, while entirely new issues have sprung up to command our attention.

Consumer needs and behaviors have dramatically changed.

In this column, we’ll take a look at what’s trending now, with an eye to where you should prepare to allocate budget in upcoming quarters to stay ahead of your competition

1. Digital Changes in Consumer Behavior Are Here to Stay

McKinsey found that the pandemic accelerated ecommerce adoption by 10 years in just 3 months.

In fact, 60% of companies across sectors witnessed new buying behaviors over this past year.

The time to pivot and keep up with the demand for quick and easy online ordering, curbside pickup, and contactless delivery has passed.

Now, companies are looking to build security and resilience for the future.

IBM’s most recent Institute for Business Value report finds that transitioning to more resilient infrastructure is a priority for 52% of retail brands, alongside deploying contactless mobile payments (47%) and creating more robust digital selling platforms (45%).

There’s no point in waiting for a return to “normal” and, according to research from my company, vaccine and re-opening are already driving new online search opportunities.

Plans you had put in motion (or shelved as low priority) prior to the pandemic must be re-evaluated and reprioritized.

Put it all on the table – timelines, budget, scope, and order of priority. Some initiatives may need to be accelerated and others entirely scrapped.

Plan now for where you want to be five years post-COVID – not where you thought the organization would be by now before it ever happened.

2. Marketers Need to Get Ahead of Consumer Demand with Real-Time Insight

I’ve said it before and will say it again – search insights are as close to real-time voice of customer as you can get.

Consumers are explicitly telling brands about their wants, needs, and intent in search queries and onsite behavior.

If your organization isn’t set up to listen to, analyze, and then activate these insights with real-time personalizations, you’re missing out on a massive opportunity to connect and engage.

Get the people, processes, and platform in place to put this most valuable customer data to work.

3. Improving Content Velocity and Quality to Get the Edge

More is not always better, especially when it comes to content. That’s why any strategy to scale content marketing must factor in both velocity and quality in equal measures.

If you’re putting painstaking work and attention into your content but only able to publish once a month, you’re missing out on so many opportunities to appear in search, social, email, and other channels when compared to your more productive competitors.

Even so, we know the critical importance of expertise, authority, and trust (E-A-T) in content. There’s no point in churning out a high volume of low-quality content.

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Instead, look at what you need to improve and implement in order to create quality content at scale.

4. Customers Are Looking to Brands to Deliver Connected Digital Experiences

In its recent State of the Connected Customer survey, Salesforce found that 80% of customers believe the experience they have with a company is just as important as its products and services.

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Whether they’re chatting with an AI support bot, talking to a customer representative on the phone, or dealing with sales, customers expect that agents will have access to their information.

They expect that one interaction will pick up where the other left off – that they won’t have to start all over again in each new engagement with the brand.

The same study also found 62% of customers say their experience with one industry influences their expectation of others.

Verticals that had been slower to the digital transformation table – manufacturing, construction, and agriculture, for example – are being challenged to keep pace with retail, business services, and other fast movers.

5. Intelligent Automation in Digital Takes Us Beyond Simple Replication

SEO professionals and digital marketers are finding that simply automating tasks to reduce redundancy is no longer enough.

A key digital trend is that the number of consumer interactions and touch-points has ballooned. The volume of data we have to analyze has exploded.

As a result, deep learning, machine learning, natural language processing, and robotic process automation (RPA) are all finding their way into SEO and digital marketing workflows.

Intelligent automation means letting go of the need to make every single decision.

It means empowering machines to not only take action in pre-programmed if/then scenarios but to actually learn about and get to know each customer in ways we, as humans, simply cannot do at scale.

And it means enabling those machines to take action in real-time when the customer is most receptive to personalized messaging, content, deals, and recommendations.

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