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How Brand Marketers Can Stay Relevant and Connected to Consumers Amid Uncertainty
From the internet’s decline to decarbonization, four cultural trends to watch
Originally Published in AdAge
Brands face a continuous battle to stay ahead of the curve and maintain relevance with audiences. That’s a tall order in normal times. It’s even more difficult today—one of the most uncertain economic and social environments we’ve seen in a generation.
Marketers that understand how this uncertainty is manifesting and what’s emerging on the other side are poised to make their brands big winners for the remainder of the decade.
Here are the four cultural shifts savvy brands will be tracking in 2023 and beyond:
The decline of the internet
For as long as anyone can remember, there’s been one marketing truth: Digital is growing; everything else is in decline and the answer to every problem is more digital. Until now.
The internet is declining. Rather than seeing the pandemic’s turbocharged embrace of digital continue, people have left isolation and entered the real world—leaving less time for screen time.
With seemingly no more screen time to capture and saturation of internet users in the developed world, the internet has finally reached maturity; the growth phase has ended. This means that as economic conditions worsen, digital ad dollars have no choice but to decline.
In this new environment, digital is just like TV, retail stores or anything else. It will ebb and flow with the economy and be just as susceptible to gravity as the rest of us. Digital will assuredly remain important but treat it like it is: A 30-year-old technology that’s useful to meet marketing objectives, and not the be-all and end-all.
The quiet ascent of machine learning
In spite of the internet’s maturity, technological progress continues. And the biggest technology to impact marketing is machine learning. Long touted in the tech sector, machine learning has been slowly and silently upending marketing as we know it. It’s about to become a lot less silent.
This trend has already disrupted media buying and planning. The days when a human planner could beat algorithms in finding a brand’s audience are long past. Look for algorithmic dominance to spread to every kind of media.
There’s been a lot of talk about Generative AI—a new crop of algorithms that can create photos, videos and copy based on broad directives. This technology is already available in some advertising niches and will soon spread.
Generative AI is part of the broader evolution to data-driven creative, which allows marketers to rapidly produce and test large volumes of low-fidelity messages. With this development, broadcast messages can be tested in advance, so we’ll know audience response before an ad goes live.
Customer experience will also be transformed by machine learning. Personalized emails, CRM communications and highly targeted social media are increasingly the norm. Look for 1:1 experiences to become the standard.
The decarbonization of the economy
Decarbonization represents the biggest shift in business since the Industrial Revolution. The move to sustainability is more than battery-powered cars, how goods travel and the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It’s about how every building is made, every product is manufactured and every crop is grown.
Embracing decarbonization isn’t just a societal imperative or something that makes business sense. Consumers are demanding it. We all emerged from the pandemic craving more purpose, more meaning and more connection. Brands that don’t share consumers’ values will suffer.
Brands must move their businesses to a sustainable model … and share the story of how their brand is improving the world.
The accelerating pace of innovation
Let’s take a step back to marvel at the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine. A highly effective, life-saving vaccine created in 18 months saved millions of lives. Previously, five years was considered fast for a vaccine. It’s an extraordinary achievement for humanity. Soon that speed will be the norm for everything.
The difference is data. Data-driven advances in biotechnology, materials science, manufacturing and other sectors means we’re entering an era of massively accelerated innovation. Startup Airgen, for example, created AI-designed shoes at a fraction of the cost and time of conventional sneaker production.
A big benefit to brands is that rapid development often goes hand-in-hand with rapid optimization. Rapid launches mean we can spend less time planning and more time testing and improving. We’re moving to a world where products are never fixed, but rather items that constantly evolve.
While some of these trends might sound more like predictions from a tech TED Talk, the reality is that many are already taking root in business and in culture. And with the pace of innovation accelerating, they’re likely to show up in more tangible ways in 2023. Today’s (and tomorrow’s) leading brands are already tracking these trends and laying the foundation to incorporate them into the business and marketing strategies.