David Cunningham, Account Manager at Napier, shares his insights and outlook on what digital marketing trends marketers can expect to see in 2023, and how these will shape the future of digital marketing. 

Digital marketing is transforming our business and personal lives.

Just ask any artificially intelligent device, service or programme.

But will the intelligent assistance currently rendered by the like of Google Analytics, Mailchimp and Hootsuite give way to a new wave of artificial intelligence (AI) that we’ve not yet envisaged that will forever change our living and working landscapes… again.

Don’t bet against digital marketing taking on new forms. The evolution of digital marketing, account-based marketing, automated marketing and the increasingly ubiquitous nature of podcasting for education, insight and entertainment is only just beginning and is set to grow exponentially.

From the birth of cool to the future of digital marketing

From the time we are born, our preferences are shaped by exposure. In a pre-digital age, this was largely by happenstance. When the ice cream van arrived in your neighbourhood, its cheery jingle from three streets away meant only one thing, it would soon be in front of your house and, mum and dad willing, you were going to have a good day.

It wasn’t digital marketing. But you could argue that it was a primitive form of account-based marketing, i.e., providing new and improved products and services (flavours!) to an existing fan base. The person who composed the ice cream jingle – and the company that owned and operated the van – knew that it would trigger a response in a market that it already had. The aim was, this time, to attract little brother, sister, neighbour, cousin (and more than a few grownups) and make an improved clutch of sales.

Moreover, by following the same route most days at approximately the same time, an expectation grew, and a loyal following developed, which is today replicated in digital marketing with regular, compelling content that makes the consumer crave more.

Ice cream van jingles worked. They still do. And in digital marketing in 2023, the modern-day equivalents of a catchy jingle work even better. The vast amount of data gathered by individual sales that is subsequently fed into automated marketing algorithms that can now anticipate how many children will be on each street corner, what time, what their favourite flavours are and – in 2023 and beyond – what kind of car they are likely to favour when they’re old enough to drive, what trainers their teenagers will prefer, and what their grandchildren’s favourite video game will be.

It really is becoming that sophisticated. Modern-day digital marketers know this, but many organisations are too often deterred by what they perceive as complexity when, in reality, AI-based marketing tools and the applications that run on them can do much of their marketing job for them.

The difference between intuition and intelligence

Intuition and intelligence will continue to have their place, but in 2023, human intuition will be marginally more likely to get it wrong. That’s because there’s nothing digital about intuition. Facts are facts. Data is data. Intuition, on the other hand, has been and will always be an educated guess. A satisfying and often prescient guess to be sure, but always with an element of chance.

Digital marketing, AI and account-based marketing on the other hand not only leave less to chance, but in 2023 will break new ground in their respective – and collective when working together – ability to embolden senior decision makers to rely on signposts to the way forward that will be clearly demarked by digital marketing surveys and results. Online surveys have become much easier to develop and deploy, and the results more precisely targeted and, therefore, useful.

AI hogs the attention because it’s what often creates it

AI receives a great deal of attention, and rightly so. (It’s also probably aware that it’s getting it.) The almost limitless abilities of AI to substantially improve everyday lives, corporate profitability and the environmental sustainability of both is unquestionable and will continue to gather pace as it sweeps the globe, partly out of economic need, partly for the common good, but mostly out of global necessity.

For example, AI-based sensors can already pre-empt forest fires by using their existing knowledge and predictive abilities to alert authorities to condition changes.

Frictionless, i.e., contactless shopping is already taking root in many urban areas around the world, using AI-based sensors to track patrons and what they pluck from a shelf or a rack, debiting their accounts as they walk out the door.

Such devices also substantially reduce the age-old problem of theft, which we all ultimately pay for through higher prices and insurance premiums. AI in isolation may not reverse the rise of inflation, but it will almost certainly help to slow it’s advance. Retail marketers – digital and otherwise – take note. AI is your friend, and that of your customers.

A separate but no less profound trend is the accelerating ability of AI and machine learning (ML) to replicate everything from artwork to written text and, in some cases, deep fake humans at levels that are disconcerting. Not only does this beg the question of what is “real”, but perhaps more importantly, who ultimately “owns” what is produced. Current laws around the world are still somewhat vague about how to determine if an AI-generated piece of art that closely replicates the style of a well-known, real-life artist can be determined as original, or plagiarism. Although, digital marketing in 2023, will continue to advance as a field of study and highly respected profession, “digital detective” will become a rapidly growing field of employment, too.

One thing AI, ML, and the advantages its digital marketing counterparts will not slow, despite their ability to reinvent end enhance new brick and mortar retail experiences, is e-commerce.

E-commerce – the elephant in the 2023 digital room

With its almost limitless potential, e-commerce will continue to evolve in ways that will make it easier than ever to find – and anticipate – what you want and, occasionally, make you aware instead of what you actually need. Anonymised data about your browsing and spending habits will further permeate the digital landscape and enhance the opportunities presented to learn more, consume more, and, importantly, conserve more.

The need for conservation and, by default, sustainability will continue to be a major focus across the digital landscape. It can be argued that the large server farms that underpin the digital connectivity we take for granted are themselves huge energy consumers, but it can be equally argued that the intelligence and techniques they are enabling drive smaller and more efficient devices, processes and products are more than offsetting the energy consumed to power them. The energy- consumed-to-benefits-gained balance will steadily tip in the direction of benefits gained, in part because the server farms are themselves devising new ways to increase their efficiency.

So, how will this affect B2B companies that have fully understood and embraced – or not – digital marketing as their bread and butter? What’s in store for them in 2023? Let’s have a look.

What does data mean to digital marketers in 2023? Pretty much everything.

The acquisition of data – lots of it – is more important to businesses than ever. However, the way that data is gathered and stored has changed due to the introduction of new privacy laws around the world.

What that means for digital marketers in 2023 is that their clients and employers will be even more insistent about asking those responsible to gather and analyse data within the legal restrictions and guidelines set out in multiple regions. This means that a boost to investment in CRM systems and associated databases will be required or, at the very least, a refocussed budget to help drive high-quality marketing programs that will need to focus more on strategy than the mechanics of delivery. The increase in costs to do so will be readily born by some, but for others, it will be a purchase order too far. To remain competitive and deliver the expected results, higher and more detailed data gathering, and the resources devoted to it, should be factored into the overall cost of doing business before launching a campaign rather than as an add-on, which can often prove too little, too late.

Security – a greater focus for digital marketing in 2023

Because of data’s increasing value and importance, it will be no surprise that maintaining its security will be an even greater focus in 2023. I can’t emphasise this enough, legislation surrounding data privacy is increasing rapidly, and for good reason. Companies are using data privacy to gain competitive advantage because the best way for them to achieve and expand on their Sales and Marketing successes is through good databases. But to do that, “data hygiene” must be practised, which ensures “clean”, up-to-date databases. Ageing databases are a real problem, not only because the data becomes increasingly bad as it ages, it also becomes more vulnerable to theft and/or attack.

Email marketing in 2023: It’s not spam. It’s the new marketing genius

It will be no surprise to anyone that one of the great success stories of digital marketing, email marketing, will continue its rise as part of the key marketing trends in 2023.

Email marketing has proven to be one of the most effective ways of generating qualified leads for new product or service launches, and ultimately closing sales, and it will continue to thrive. Moreover, new automation techniques enable these messages to be sequenced far more effectively and be more finely tuned to specific personas.

One of the primary reasons email remains a highly effective digital marketing tool is that almost everyone has at least one email address, and many have several, which makes it far more likely that an email from a brand name – new or existing – will land in at least one inbox with a message that will resonate with the recipient. That’s because at some point, the recipient has shown some degree of interest in that brand, its product, or that of an affiliate. The algorithmic techniques used to refine those targeted emails are improving all the time and digital marketing firms will do well to invest the time and budget necessary to ensure they stay up to date with the latest developments and evaluate how they may/may not benefit specific clients.

But whether its email or any other kind of electronic marketing, it’s almost entirely useless without content.

Royal content- a fundamental marketing trend in 2023

Content will continue to be king in 2023, and the creativity required to generate compelling content will be equally regal. Although we have already seen that AI can be used to approximate the work of great masters of art and literature, it is not (yet) capable of original thought. Digital content must be compelling to stand out in the face of increasingly abundant competition. This has always been the case in the analogue world, but an almost infinite amount of competition in the digital world means that creativity has never seen such a high premium. Every single piece of content you generate for a client has to not only get noticed on multiple channels and platforms but be engaging enough to compel an action by the recipient on each of those platforms often, in the digital world, in real-time. Therefore, consistent and highly targeted campaigns must in a sense be transcoded from an analogue idea to a digitally delivered counterpart. This is an art form in which human beings remain superior, so long as they can translate their ideas and calls to action to the rapid return expected in the digital realm. 2023 offers immense opportunities for creatives, as long as they are operating in an environment that nurtures and encourages such talent.

Much of the challenge for digital marketers’ centres on the fact that consumers now, more than ever, expect to receive everything the day before yesterday. In metaphorical terms when they hand back the menu over their right shoulder, they expect the surf and turf platter (with veggies) to descend onto the placemat in front of them over their left. However, real-time digital messaging platforms can reach customers and collect their data (aka, their order and preferences) very quickly indeed, which is highly valuable to digital marketers because they can make better, and faster use of that data. Moreover, by storing that data, the next interaction with that customer will be even faster and more targeted to their preferences.

In 2023, influencers will gain… more influence, but beware.

Although brand managers and digital marketers are keen to make even more use of influencer marketing, they must be increasingly careful as to whom is unleashed on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube on their behalf. Careful thought must be given to whom to collaborate with, if at all. A brand can take years to build, and influencers can strengthen that brand to unprecedented levels. TikTok and Instagram are not currently seen to be particularly effective in B2B marketing campaigns, although this could change as the digital landscape, especially within B2B, continues to evolve.

It’s true that brands may benefit from certain associations, but they can also be swiftly devastated by the wrong ones. The reward for the right kind of associations and endorsements – real or implied – on such platforms may show signs of increasing relevance in 2023, but so will the risk. In other words, if you go that route, be especially careful of the company you keep on those platforms.

Digital customers in 2023: I want it all, and I want it now

When I say that consumers want it now, what I’m referring to is what sociologists refer to as instant gratification. What was “good enough” in 2022 will not be acceptable in 2023. Digital customers are in the driving seat and if they want you to turn left, you need to be trusted to do it with precision. A split-second delay or diversion and your customer will be off to another supplier who they feel has credibility, understands their business and respects their wishes. That means that you must not just react but, rather, anticipate such requests, often based on historical behaviour predicted by the data you have already stored, to get your offering off the mark that much quicker than your competitors. AI and ML can help with that a lot, but it’s the digital marketers who must establish the precedence and clear the path to closing the deal.

Using External Specialists for Digital Marketing

Outsourcing digital marketing services will be an increasingly attractive option in 2023. Not everyone has the staff and the expertise to do it in-house and stay within the resources available to them. That’s where the benefits of outsourcing digital marketing services become even more attractive. With multiple digital platforms to address to be cost-effective, external specialists will have the modern digital business tools necessary to deliver across most, if not all of them.

Preparatevi a essere internazionali

Although the majority of online content is presented in English, multilingual content creation is flourishing. The exponential growth and accuracy of machine translation (MT) are gaining a great deal of traction with digital marketers because it marries advanced technology with the skills of native language translators to produce content that more accurately represents the marketing message in local languages rather than get it embarrassingly wrong. For many companies, the global market has always been such, but business was largely conducted in English (Britain’s greatest export). That will remain the case for many interactions, but in the digital domain, 2023 will see far more translations to/from local and regional languages than had ever been possible before. A metaphoric Tower of Babel may return, but it will be a compelling attraction for marketing, consisting of truth, accuracy and compelling messages rather than a mythical mountain of hopeless miscommunication.

Digital Marketing and Messaging: The cost of living

From a practical standpoint, digital marketers will need to recalibrate their messaging to account for the challenges posed by fluctuations in the cost of not only doing business but in their customers’ cost of living.

Messaging strategies must therefore be sensitive to these economic realities and take steps to ensure that what they’re saying is relevant and will resonate in a positive way. It also means being more sensitive to trends that result from near- and longer-term cost-of-living anomalies. Digital marketing offers exceptional flexibility for skilled specialists to put their digital tools to good use for their customers and prospects and, hopefully, simultaneously help them deal more effectively with uncertain times.

Will platforms remain the same?

Media platforms, particularly social ones, will change a great deal in 2023. The balance will increasingly shift from tools typically used for personal visibility to becoming significantly more useful for business in terms of relevance and even more precise ad targeting.

For example, recent upheavals at Twitter clearly illustrated that users will not hesitate to wrestle back control of their content and data for use on other platforms.

It is all but certain that new media platforms will soon emerge that – if not sweep away all that came before – substantially diminish them in scope and importance. Who remembers Altavista? Yes, MySpace is still around, but is little more than a music sharing hotel lounge.

The point for digital marketers is to be on the lookout for these new platforms and devote resources to assessing their near-and long-term potential for clients. It’s not about chasing after the next big rainmaker (or even creating it) but being conscious that they will inevitably arrive, and soon.

Video marketing in 2023: Ready for your close-up?

Consumers like video. Actually, that’s incorrect. They love video, and if you don’t already, you need to love it, too.

The reason is that video has a way of connecting that is immediate and engaging. Despite the preponderance of AI, ML and the like, people still buy from people. More importantly, they buy from people they can relate to.

While an e-commerce platform or contactless retail outlet may actually handle a transaction, the recommendation or “how to” that drives a consumer to a certain product or service is often delivered over video. It is therefore incumbent for digital marketers to improve their video production standards and, if they do not have the capabilities in-house, work with outside agencies that have a track record of producing likes at the very least. Demonstrably increased sales figures, even better.

And it’s not a one and done proposition. Successful campaigns are built on multiple exposure to multiple pieces of relevant content on multiple platforms. That’s why the content must compel visitors to a site or platform and leave them eager to experience the next “chapter” in a narrative.

What does digital marketing look like in 2023?

Digital marketing in 2023 will be far less about the number of followers your organisation has and far more about having the “right” kind of followers. It’s an age-old trade show cliché, but as with most cliches, there’s a wisp of truth in it. “It’s not the number of visitors. It’s the quality”.

And quality visitors to a digital marketing campaign are drawn by and will return to, quality content. That’s where you get to the customers that matter.

Of course, they all matter. But some matter more than others.

In 2023, use your data to make sure you know which is which, and that you have the right tools to exploit them.