FORBES Council Feature: What Will Digital Marketing Look Like In 20 Years?
Humans have utilized advertising for as long as we have had a need to communicate information and engage in commerce. From commercial and political messages in the ruins of Pompeii to the colorful banners that hung from merchant stalls in the Song Dynasty of ancient China, marketing has been a part of the human experience. We know where marketing has been. But where is digital marketing going, and what does that mean for your business now?
SEO has been a part of the internet for as long as we’ve had search engines to help us locate information. However, SEO has changed drastically in the past 30 years. Once upon a time, keyword packing in the metadata of websites was key to ranking in searches, as this was the most efficient way for search engines to locate information about a page. Now, metadata has fallen to the wayside, and search engines compare keywords to the context around them to rank the site for relevancy.
This keyword/context relationship will become even more nuanced as algorithms advance. These more advanced algorithms and AIs will be able to better evaluate images (with and without alt text) and videos for keyword and contextual relevancy. For digital marketing agencies, this will mean adjusting strategy to utilize original images and videos with greater relevancy to the content of a particular page.
Assuming AI programs don’t become self-aware and take over the world, they will become an integral part of advertising. While many digital marketing companies look to the future of AI-generated ad content, I want to consider the other side: user-initiated AI.
In 30 years, children growing up now with “Hi Alexa” may not simply ask for a search query. Instead, they will rely on their smart devices to help them handle daily tasks in real-time. In other words, instead of “Hey Alexa” or “Hey Google, can you look up this book?” a consumer may ask, “Hey Google, can you purchase a birthday present for Michael?” and their phone will do just that.
What does this mean for digital marketing companies? Staying ahead of developments in AI is important. Familiarize yourself with what companies are working on and continue to optimize sites for voice search. Prepare for consumers to browse your site by voice rather than clicks and screen touches.
The generations growing up on YouTube gaming videos and TikTok are going to continue to identify with the social media influencers they see daily. This means companies will continue to partner with micro-influencers to reach smaller, more dedicated audiences with products. Meanwhile, celebrities will become more reliant on social media to stay relevant among fans who grew up with easily accessible social media influencers.
This continued rise in micro-influencers and the needs of celebrities will provide more opportunities for digital marketing agencies. Companies that begin working with micro-influencers now will be able to capitalize on their growing relevance to their clients. Meanwhile, digital marketing agencies will be positioned to offer their knowledge, expertise, and services to celebrities and their managers to help them develop the kind of social media outreach that will keep them relevant and attractive to big-name advertisers.
Today, digital marketing still has one very large hurdle: Not everyone has the same kind of access to the internet. Over the past 30 years, we have seen this change dramatically as technology has managed to lower costs while continuing to improve accessibility. This trend is likely to continue in the next 20 years, with social and economic programs including online accessibility more and more.
Over the past 10 years, we have seen that when new places join the global online community, they don’t start with AOL. They start with whatever is relevant at that time. For online marketing companies, this means stepping up efforts for language and mobile accessibility and working within communities to help their businesses engage with a wider world.
A Multitasking World
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) continue to be evolving and growing parts of the digital landscape. Both will become the primary ways people multitask, as consumers and companies integrate the virtual and physical worlds.
I imagine future remote workers will step into and out of the office by putting on VR goggles (that are likely to be smaller and not block off all their physical-world vision). I also predict users will point their phone at objects to interact with them digitally—for example, ordering dishwashing detergent online (thanks to AI) by pointing their phone at the dishwashers, no QR code needed.
What does this mean for digital marketing companies? It means paying attention to augmented and virtual reality developments, yes. It also means increasing the accessibility of sites and making content not just relevant but looking toward interactive and reactive sites. The person pointing their phone at the dishwasher, for example, is not going to be filtering through searches. The AI in their phone is going to interact with search results, determine the best place to order detergent and place the order for the consumer. As you can see, preparing for VR, AR and multitasking requires being ready for the other changes we’ve discussed already.
I could discuss more, such as our continued reliance on smart devices, the ever-evolving crypto economy and interactivity in digital entertainment. They are important, but SEO, artificial intelligence, influencers, accessibility and multitasking are the foundation on which other technologies are built. I have found that keeping up with foundational technologies gives me the knowledge and flexibility to create a variety of digital marketing strategies. By evolving with new technologies, I ensure my clients are able to take advantage of the newest advances.