If you only read the industry blogs, you’d think marketing automation was old-hat for B2B marketers. But in reality, most of us are still learning. The tools and the strategy that drive marketing automation are evolving every year.
Just take a look around you to see how much the landscape is changing. With more people immersed in their devices, apps, and online experiences, the where and how of meeting customers continues to shift.
Here are six marketing automation predictions to help you prepare for the challenges ahead and succeed in 2017.
1. Customer Loyalty Will Be the Focus
According to research by eMakerter, digital marketers are planning to allocate more of their budgets to customer loyalty in 2017. Why? Just open your Instagram app to see how the influencer approach to marketing has impacted the landscape already. In 2017, a focus on retention will make all customers micro-influencers, whose loyalty to brands will promote purchases among their networks in a ripple effect of influence. Marketing automation programs in the coming year will need to support loyalty programs that go beyond “buy two, get one free.” The loyalty programs of the future need to be personalized and part of a multichannel experience, so that no matter where your customer is interacting with your brand, they will be recognized as VIPs.
2. The Machines Will Rise
Well, at least machine learning will. Machine learning can sound intimidating at first, but it boils down to using data to predict behavior patterns and alter your automation accordingly. Think of it like an A/B test where the winner isn’t fixed, but fluid. With machine learning, brands can detect at a deeper level how customers will behave based on their previous interactions, firmographic data, and other factors. Using that information, the marketing automation software of 2017 will be able to serve buyers with content and offers it has predicted will lead to a conversion.
3. Social Media Will Go Beyond Surface-Level
From Facebook Live to Instagram Stories, social media is becoming increasingly present in its users’ lives. In 2016, we saw the rise of advertising on Instagram. In 2017, the platform intends to roll out even deeper conversion points — for example, the ability to click on items in images and make a purchase in-app. With so much purchasing power moving to social networks, it will become an even more important source for data. The best marketing automation software will provide native integrations with all major networks and add interaction data directly to customer profiles — perhaps even as a factor in lead scoring. That’s a lot more useful than a long list of likes.
4. Bots Will Play Their Part
Amazon Alexa is an excellent example of how bots are playing an impactful role in the connection between brands and buyers. In addition to providing answers about the weather and conducting Internet searches, Alexa serves its owners with Amazon’s best deals of the day, tailored to their interests. Bots like Alexa (as well as messenger bots like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger) will need to be integrated into automation systems in 2017.
They not only save time by helping answer customer questions, but they can also gather information and create one more point for marketing automation to engage with relevant content.
5. Stronger Focus on Accounts
Lead generation is still the engine of B2B marketing, but it has its weaknesses — high volume, low quality, low conversion rates, etc. Account-based marketing (ABM) is quickly proving its value as a strategy for engaging more directly with target accounts and investing effort where it’s likely to pay off. According to a study by SiriusDecisions, 58 percent of B2B companies already have a pilot program in place.
The marketing automation platforms of the near future will evolve to accommodate these new strategies, adding ABM software features like personalized retargeting, advanced segmentation rules, and dynamic web content to their stack, or integrating with third-party providers that already offer these features.
6. Experiences Will Take Priority
More than ever before, buyers are wary of the sales pitch. They no longer want to know just what a product does; they want to understand why they should bring it into their lives. Experiential marketing is key to answering that question, and marketing automation in 2017 may explore more outlets for this — everything from VR to in-person interactions, and events. Taking automation offline will certainly be a change from the hyper-digital focus of recent years, but will be essential to standing out, particularly among a younger, more skeptical audience.
Over to you
No matter what trends surface, the most important thing to keep in mind is that your audience is unique. Use your marketing automation platform to meet them where they, with what they’re looking for, and you’ll be set up for a successful new year. What are your plans for 2017? Share your thoughts in the comments below.