2020 didn't turn out to be quite what we expected, but I like to remind myself of a famous quote from Albert Einstein: "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."
2021 presents marketers with an opportunity to take 2020's obstacles as challenges and improve their processes and methods of working. Four emerging themes in particular around analytical marketing technology will be the foundation for martech progress in 2021.
1. Optimization and modernization supersede complete transformation
Some martech vendors push a digital transformation agenda that's all about the "ripping and replacing" of software systems. Why not instead focus on the optimization of costs, the modernization of technologies and processes, and the revamping of marketing journeys?
Digital transformation is a process that takes years to complete. Instead of removing entire systems and starting over, in 2021 companies will focus on optimization and modernization through the use of analytics.
That will include the optimization of marketing resources, marketing program costs, and customer engagement processes, as well as an upgrade of marketing technologies to lean toward new capabilities: Think machine-learning, data collection and transformation, and channel convergence.
2. Machine-learning becomes mainstream in marketing
In 2018, I wrote an article stating that businesses hadn't yet tapped the full promise of artificial intelligence (AI). Machine-learning, which is a subset of AI, will become much more mainstream in 2021.
Machine-learning models will be used to better predict customer and prospect value—namely, the value of Marketing-qualified leads across Web and mobile channels.
Gradient boosting machines and random forest models will be used to better segment customers based on behavior. Better value scoring and classification will result in higher degrees of personalization and subsequently improved conversion rates on digital channels.
The capabilities mentioned in the 2018 article—product recommendations, loyalty programs, text and search, and digital advertising—will also fast-forward through an increased and improved use of machine-learning.
3. Attribution becomes obligatory
Aligning sales and marketing departments within organizations has become critical. Because physical sales interactions are limited, sellers are relying more heavily on marketing outputs to feed the pipeline.
Attribution is an analytical technique, similar to optimization, that will become prevalent as organizations recover and reinvent their strategies while also more tightly controlling costs and processes. More brands will desire to granularly attribute marketing activity from channel to revenue. Early-stage clicks will be more closely tied to late-stage engagement and conversion.
Analytical frameworks for attribution are already being developed by some of the most mature marketing organizations, and I sense that the majority of fast followers will employ attribution more fully in 2021.
4. Better conversational AI emerges out of improved digital engagement tactics
From a data perspective, brands will, out of necessity, expand the level of detail in the customer data they collect: As a result of limited interaction over physical channels, digital customer behavior data will be necessary for improved engagement.
From an analytics perspective, conversational AI in the form of chatbots and other digital engagement mechanisms will be deployed to assist with product and service recommendations—also known as analytical "next best offer" or "action."
The best conversational AI in 2021 will combine three things: enriched customer data, machine-learning techniques for better prediction, and AI and robotic automation capabilities for deployment.
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As analytical marketers enter 2021, the focus will be on the following:
- Revisiting and modernizing processes and technologies
- Controlling and attributing costs
- Increasing conversion through better engagement and personalization
- Repurposing available technology and processes to build on previous accomplishments.
For some companies, 2020 was a year of turmoil and loss. Others fared better than average and will be able to jump into 2021 more quickly. One thing will be consistent, however: Data and analytics will continue to satisfy the hunger for insight that brands desire.
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