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21 Digital Marketing Trends for 2021 That Will Get You Nowhere Fast

Digital Marketing Blues

Are you frustrated with your marketing?

For you is marketing a never ending list of complex todos? Are you tired of running ad campaigns that never quite turn a profit? Or of finally finding a profitable campaign just to realize that it won't scale? Do you spend hours hashing over complicated stats, analytics and optimization tests hoping to find the golden nugget of insight that will turn things around?

Welcome to the exciting world of modern marketing.

First of all, don't for a minute think you're alone. Almost every business person I speak to (and I talk with many) share some of these frustrations. They read in-depth articles and listen to podcasts. They work their asses off. But somehow, most of the time, things just don't pan out.


Because it's all a lie.

Look. Marketing is a big business. Facebook has built a global empire exclusively selling marketing. Thousands upon thousands of consultants, agencies and "experts" (myself included) earn our living helping businesses attract quality paying clients.

But guess what? There's a hidden agenda at play.

In fact, there are two powerful forces working together. First, every guru, expert or practitioner will teach you a new strategy, tactic or method - for a price. Yes, marketers have bills to pay too! Second, in order to keep things roaring along at breakneck speed, people are constantly inventing "the next big thing". By the time you've understood a strategy, it's become "old news" and it's time to move on with the next!

But here's the rub.

Your job is not to keep the marketing industry healthy. You have no obligation to engorge Mark Zuckerburg's already bulging pockets. And to be perfectly honest, you don't owe me or anyone else in this business anything.

Your job is to build and sustain an awesome business.

As an entrepreneur, your job is not to keep the marketing industry healthy. You have no obligation to engorge Mark Zuckerburg's already bulging pockets. And to be perfectly honest, you don't owe me or anyone else in this business anything. Your job is to build and sustain an awesome business.

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Who this is for

This article is dedicated to the real world entrepreneurs who are focused on growing their businesses. You know that marketing is important, but you aren't a "marketing junkie" who has to try out every new trick or technique.

This article is for business owners who want clients who are raving fans.

This article is for business owners who couldn't care less about silly vanity metrics.

This article is for business owners who are willing to question long held beliefs that might be holding you back.

Who this is not for

Here's a big secret for you.

Almost without exception, the marketing strategies, tools and techniques that work for big name brands and corporations are totally useless for the vast majority of normal real world businesses. They only work with big budgets and require serious investments that are out of reach for most entrepreneurs.

That's why this article is not written for corporate CMOs. If you're running a big consumer brand or trying to reach a global mass audience, then this isn't for you. Move along and read someone else's stuff. Not only am I not your best choice, but I'd rather not help you anyway. 😉

This article is also not designed for VC-backed startups whose only objective is to scale their user base. Why? Because your needs are completely different than those of most Main Street businesses. You have the resources to take broad, across-the-board actions that will certainly not come even close to a positive ROI.

3 Big Marketing Lies You Probably Believe

We are surrounded by myths and lies.

Orange juice prevents colds. We only use 10% of our brains. Lightening never strikes twice in the same spot. Antibiotics kill viruses. All of these statements are patently false. However, that doesn't stop a ton of people from believing them, does it?

The same is true with many marketing misconceptions.

Marketing Lie #1: To be successful you need a big audience

Free Download| the 7 myths of modern marketing

Discover the Common Lies and Misconceptions That Are Costing You Money

This is super important.

The single biggest marketing myth, that you almost certainly believe, is that you need a big audience to be successful. This simply is not true.

To be successful you need to consistently turn a profit. That means making sales with enough margin to cover your expenses and leave money left over. Everything else is crock. You cannot take instagram followers to the bank. You cannot write 5,000 likes or 10,000 views on a deposit slip. And believe me, your banker couldn't care less how many youtube subscribers you have.

Let's do some math.

Suppose for you making $10,000 a month equates to success. That means that you need to make 100 sales of a product that has a $100 margin. Or 10 sales of a product that has a $1,000 margin. Do you need to reach a million people to make 100 sales? I sure hope not.

But what if you need to sell $1 million a year to feel successful?

Surely then you need a big audience right?

Well, to generate $1 million in a year, you would need exactly 834 clients who pay you $100 per month or 84 clients who pay you $1,000 per month.

I'm not going to say that it's easy, but it is definitely doable. We are talking about having an audience of fewer than 1,000 paying customers!

Marketing Lie #2: Lots of traffic will lead to lots of sales

If you can't take followers to the bank, you can't take website visits either.

Almost all marketers talk incessantly about traffic. What are your traffic stats? What's your cost per click? How about your bounce rate? Is your traffic paid or organic?

All of these are reasonable questions, but they fail to address the key business metric that you need to be obsessed with. How many happy, paying customers do you have?

You see, the traffic myth is predicated on a very sandy foundation. The idea is that if you get enough people to your site, someone will buy. Then you just need to improve your conversion rates and you're good to go!

But it's just not that easy.

You see, numbers don't have credit cards. Statistics don't buy products or services. Only live, breathing human beings do these things.

People buy because the need or want something. They buy when it's convenient for them. They buy if and when they consider your product or service at just the right moment based on their needs. It might be the first time they visit your site or it might happen on the thousandth visit.

And this makes perfect sense. How many sites do you visit every day? How many purchases do you make? Lots of times we see things that interest us. We are, perhaps, in the correct demographic. For the website, we are optimally targeted traffic.

But most days we don't buy anything.

It's not because the website did something wrong. It's not because we aren't a good potential customer. It's simply not the right moment.

Which leads us to the third big lie...

Marketing Lie #3: Data and technology driven marketing is the key

Wouldn't it be lovely?

A marketer's job would be enormously easier if individual people were more predictable. If we didn't get distracted or feel insecure about a purchasing decision. If only we could study the trends and then be confident that they will magically translate into sales.

Well, sorry to tell you this, but the real world is a much messier place.

The theory behind data-driven marketing is that if you attract enough correctly-targeted traffic to a website that has done all the right things to eliminate buying friction, then sales will be made.

Wouldn't it be lovely?

But it's just not true.

People are not predictable. We are selfish, flighty, easily-distracted individuals each with our own priorities, needs and desires. We make decisions based on emotions and then use our brains to justify those decisions. Logic and predictability play a very small role in the whole process.

So why is the data-driven marketing idea so popular?

For two basic reasons. First, because for large scale corporate marketing campaigns it can work. In order for the trends to be statistically significant you have to deal with large volumes of traffic. This requires having a substantial budget and being willing to make many, many bad decisions before finding the fabled "sweet spot".

Second, data-driven marketing is popular because we want to feel like we're in control. There is something overwhelmingly powerful about the idea that if you just find the right traffic sources and optimize your sales funnel sufficiently, then you will be successful. Instead of the uncomfortable reality that you can do everything right and not make the sale, data-driven marketing gives us the promise that we can just tweak our way to success.

Something similar happens with marketing technology.

Not a day goes by withouts some new marketing gizmo coming to market. Maybe it's a new lead-gen solution, or a social media posting tool, or a new way to create marketing videos. The list is endless.

Marketing technology promises to increase your sales by automating aspects of the sales journey or eliminating friction points that are slowing down your sales funnel.

And they're addictive.

Once again, technology promises to reduce the uncertainties in our marketing. "Just use this new tool and you'll make more money," they all but promise.

Unfortunately, both technology and data fail to take into consideration that each and every visitor to your site is an individual human being. Not only do you need to earn their trust, but you also need to fulfill their needs precisely at the right moment.

So, with these myths and misconceptions in mind, let's talk about some of 2021's most promising digital marketing trends.

21 Digital Marketing Trends that Most Likely Won't Work For You

Trend #1: Grow a huge social media following

Why are people so attracted to this?

Maybe because so many have bought into the influencer craze. We see 12-year-olds with a million youtube subscribers and think, "that's what I need to do to succeed." Or we see someone's video go viral and tell ourselves, "if only that would happen to me..."

After all, they've got this huge audience and now all they have to do to make money is put out weekly videos.

And let's be honest.

Yes, you can make a fortune by becoming an internet celebrity. Just like you can be successful becoming a pro soccer star, or a grammy-winning singer, or by winning the lottery. It is possible.

But the math certainly isn't in your favor.

For every Cristiano Ronaldo, there are a million 7 year old soccer players who will at best win a trophy, or two. For every Adam Lambert, there are millions of great voices that only sing in the shower. And for every lottery millionaire, there are literally millions who settle for a slurpee and a stale hotdog.

This is not how you build a successful business.

First of all, the odds of actually cultivating a huge, engaged audience are extraordinarily slim. Second, the effort required to even have a chance at "going big" will quickly consume every hour of every day. And finally, even if you were to make it, your entire business would be dependent on the whims of platforms completely out of your control.

In the end, it is far better to have a small audience of truly enthusiastic fans who will support and purchase anything you produce, than a humongous audience of casual viewers. Not only is it a far more doable business strategy, but it will also make sleeping at night far easier!

Trend #2: Build a big email list

"The money is in the list."

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard an expert say something along these lines, I'd be a very rich man, indeed. And the truth is, having a strong email list is a very smart thing to cultivate.

But the secret is definitely not in the size.

You see, email is a very intimate form of communication. No matter how many people are on your list, each email you send out is a one-on-one conversation that you're having inside the head of each recipient.

Are people happy to receive your emails?

Are people eagerly expecting your emails?

Do people notice when you miss sending a message?

These are far more important questions to be asking yourself. Email marketing is still, by far, the most powerful marketing tool around. It converts far, far better than social media and your list is an asset that no one can take away from you.

That said, the essential ingredient is the relationship that you build with your email subscribers. You should entertain, inform and stroke their emotions. You should treat them with respect and understand that by selling them your products and services you are helping them solve their problems.

Should you grow your email list? Of course.

But you should equally work to prune out the people who don't belong there. Be ruthless unsubscribing readers who don't fit your ethos.

I have personally seen email lists of over a million subscribers that were completely worthless while other lists of barely a thousand were pure gold.

Trend #3: Targeted Facebook Advertising

Impressive. Truly impressive.

Many people believe that Mark Zuckerberg's greatest achievement has been building a social platform that is used daily by billions of people around the world. And while this is, without a doubt, an amazing feat, perhaps the most impressive accomplishment in his career has been building the Facebook marketing engine that powers the platform.

Facebook processes an astronomical amount of user data every single day. It measures every click, every pause in your scrolling, and every tiny nuanced aspect of your behavior. And thanks to the ubiquitous Facebook pixel, it does this not only on their platform, but also on practically every web page and mobile app that you visit.

This data is then correlated and combined with a myriad of third party data that includes both your online and offline purchases.


Quite simply to be able to provide its advertisers with every possible advantage.

Do you have a database of happy clients? Facebook will gladly take that database and use their algorithms to give you an audience of extremely similar people that you can run ads to. This is called a look alike audience.

Want to re-engage with people who've been on your website?

Facebook can help you create an audience of highly targeted visitors. Perhaps you just want to run ads to the people who've checked out your pricing page? Maybe you want to target just those who've read a specific blog post? All of this is easy and trivial with Facebook's marketing engine.

But here's the rub. Data can only tell a small part of the story.

I am interested in sailing, but I don't have a boat. I am interested in guitars, but I don't know how to play. I am interested in all sorts of topics just because I'm a curious person. But does that mean that I'm going to purchase a sailboat soon? No. Does that mean that I'm about to take guitar lessons? Nope.

Every person in each of those sophisticated, highly targeted Facebook audiences is a living, breathing human being (except for the bots, but we'll ignore them for now). Each of those individuals has their own needs, desires and circumstances. And no amount of data analysis is going to reveal all of these personal stories.

Additionally, Facebook marketing is extremely complex.

Setting up, running and scaling successful Facebook ad campaigns is not at all trivial. You need awesome ad creatives, dozens of test audiences, long term retargeting strategies and ad configuration parameters. All of these variables have to be just right and perfectly in sync.

And the reality is that they almost never are.

I can confidently say that over 90% of all the ad campaigns running on the platform are not profitable.

When you factor in all of the hidden costs of campaign management, ad creatives, test campaigns, fraudulent clicks and the real picture begins to emerge. Yes, Facebook advertising can work. Yes, it has features and data that no one else can match.

But the true objective of the Facebook marketing engine is to line Mr. Z's pockets with crisp, green Ben Franklins day-in and day-out. They set the rules. They set the prices. They write the algorithms and they make the most money.

Trend #4: Omnichannel marketing

The idea behind omnichannel marketing is easy.

By being ever present, wherever your potential clients go you stand a better chance of being top-of-mind when they decide to make a purchase. Are they on Facebook? Run Facebook ads. Are they surfing the web? Run Google ads and native ads. Are they watching TV? Run TV ads. Are they in the bathroom? Put your logo on their toilet paper.

While you're at it, why not sponsor the birth of their next baby?

Seriously, can you imagine a more expensive and exhausting marketing strategy for your business?

This is a perfect example of how big-brand, corporate marketing strategies can easily bring a normal, real world business to its knees. If you are Coca-Cola, Volkswagen or Dove soap, yes you should probably be developing an omnichannel strategy. You want to be where your clients are.

But remember this.

If you are a normal business with a finite marketing budget, you can't afford to be everywhere.

In fact, every time you add a new channel to your marketing, chances are you're lowering your effectiveness on all of the other channels you're already using.

You see, it's not just a question of running ads (which is expensive enough). But you also have to adapt your creatives to each channel. You have to make sure that all of the channels are projecting a coherent voice at the same time. You have to dedicate time and resources to creating content and engaging with followers on each channel.

And for all of this work, what do you get?

The opportunity to compete for a few fleeting moments of your potential client's attention.

Yes, that's right.

Maybe, after putting in all that money, time and energy into your omnichannel strategy, your customer will glance at 2 or 3 of your ads today or this week.

Excuse me, put I need to go take a nap now.

Trend #5: Livestreaming through youtube, facebook, etc.

If video is cool, live video is even cooler.

Platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitch and even Linkedin allow users to broadcast live video straight from their computers or phones into the feeds of anyone in their audience. And given that livestreams are inherently temporary, the platforms usually will give the broadcaster a boost in their algorithms in order to push the content out to potential viewers.

For the audience, livestreams are also special.

There's something intriguing about watching someone live. It's more of an event and less of a "pitch". People appreciate the courage to be all out there and take the chance of screwing up in front of everyone. Livestreams also make user engagement and interaction immediate and rewarding.

So, in short, livestreaming offers you increased reach, better engagement and an inherent credibility boost. You can also repurpose the recordings later in other marketing initiatives.

What's not to like?

In general, doing quality livestreams can be an effective complement to your overall marketing strategy.

However, you need to understand that unless you already have a significant audience, most likely your livestreams will go by unnoticed. People aren't sitting around waiting to listen to you. They have lives to live and things to do.

This means that you have to be careful to understand the time resources you have to dedicate and consider carefully whether or not the limited number of people that will be viewing your stream is worth the effort.

Also, it is important to adequately prepare your content.

People will be forgiving of the inevitable slip-ups and mistakes that come with doing something live. However, the won't appreciate a lack of preparation. The content still needs to be interesting, entertaining and useful for them.

Trend #6: No-click search optimization

The following is an example of a no-click search result:

In order to improve the user experience, Google and other search engines have begun to offer solutions to user searches right inside the search results.

In this example, you can see the three steps to making a backup of your iPhone without needing to click through to Apple's support site. This saves customers time.

Obviously if your business revolves around people actually visiting your page, then no-click search results are of questionable value.

The theory is that by optimizing your pages in the hope that Google chooses them to present without the need to click, you will be positioning yourself at the top and will gain both brand exposure as well as being the top page available.

Perhaps this is true.

That being said, it just doesn't seem to be something that a sensible business owner would worry about. It's really out of your control, and at best, the benefits are ambiguous.

Trend #7: Voice searches & integration (Siri, Alexa, Google...)

"Siri, what are the lyrics to the song Country Roads?"

"Google, who makes the best pizza in Boston?"

"Alexa, how much does a box of twinkies cost?"

Every day, more and more people rely on their virtual assistants to ask stupid questions like these.

Perhaps it is because the days of actual human servants have been left behind. Maybe it's because we all have a secret desire to feel like we live in Downton Abbey. Or maybe it's just convenient. But whatever the case, according to statista, 31% of smartphone users worldwide use voice search at least once a week.

As this trend grows, the theory goes that websites that are better optimized for voice search will have better results.

Well, that's the theory. However, the real world is probably more complicated.

If you run a pizza shop in Boston, then ranking for voice searches could definitely be a boost. If your goal is just to get the most visitors possible to your site, then answering trivial questions in ways that facilitate being chosen by search engines is probably a good idea.

But is traffic really your goal?

For most businesses, attracting paying customers is probably more important. And this is where the equation gets more complicated. For hyper-local businesses, for businesses that rely on one-off, spontaneous sales and for businesses that compete mostly on price, then voice search positioning may be advantageous.

For the rest of the business world, a more nuanced approach is most likely necessary.

Trend #8: Visual Search

Visual search uses images as the input for finding search results. For example, you take a picture of a toaster and the search engine finds the exact brand and model for you and shows you the price and where to buy it. Maybe you're out walking and see someone wearing a dress that you just love? Just snap a quick photo and ask your phone to find it for you!

Sound cool?

Microsoft, Amazon and Google certainly think so.

They envision a future where people interact with the world as much vía photos, screenshots etc. as vía text and voice.

This is a future that is not here yet.

Yes, the idea sounds interesting. Yes, there are prototype visual search engines for you to test. But this is not something you should be focusing on for 2021.

Unless you are a big-name retailer or have a significant R & D budget to burn, investing in visual search at this point of time is likely not a winning marketing strategy for most businesses.

Trend #9: Influencer marketing

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book.

According to wikipedia, "In the 1760s, Wedgwood, producers of fine chinaware, used royal endorsements as a marketing device to show value in the company and promote their product." Ever since, brands have been leveraging the credibility of celebrity endorsements to build brand awareness and create trust with consumers.

In fact, the relationship between Michael Jordan and Nike is largely considered to be one of the key factors that propelled the, until then, niche sneaker company into becoming a worldwide, mainstream brand. Similarly, the relationship between Beyoncé and Pepsi Co. is legendary within the marketing industry.

But what about you?

Does it make sense to seek out influencer endorsements for your brand? Can normal businesses profit by forging relationships with local celebrities or online influencers? What about micro-influencers who have limited reach?

Over the last few years, influencer marketing has been all the rage.

And it's almost always done very poorly.


Because most businesses treat influencer marketing as just another source of traffic. They reach out to multiple influencers or micro-influencers in their niche and establish one-off or tiny campaigns of social media posts. What does this accomplish?

At best, it gains exposure for the brands. The influencer's audience sees the posts and a small percentage may decide to engage with the brand's social profile or click through to their website. Occasionally, this will generate some sales.

And then the brands move on to something else.

Unfortunately, one-off marketing is pretty much a waste of money when viewed on a broader scale. It's like being offered a billboard on Times Square for a super-economical price. Sure, it may be a good deal, but the longterm effects are next to nil.

Good marketers understand that good marketing is about relationships. It's about earning trust and solving problems. If you want to leverage influencer marketing find the right influencer and negotiate a longterm deal. Use the credibility that they have with their audience to forge true relationships with their followers.

Or buy a post that will be taken down in 24 hours and be forgotten even sooner.

Trend #10: Facebook Messenger marketing

"Facebook Messenger is the new email," is being heard around the marketing world.

Gurus and experts tell us that they are getting over 90% opens and amazing click through rates. What could be better?

And some of this is true.

Every Facebook user has a FB Messenger account by default. Messenger can be used to communicate with friends, family and with business Facebook pages. Every time you receive a message the little red bad shows up incrementing your unread messages.

Most people hate to see this number grow and thus read their messages.

For a marketer this can be really important.

If you build a Facebook Messenger list you can send direct messages to all of your followers in the blink of an eye. You can include images, links and ask them to interact with "mini-bots".

Getting a new subscriber is as easy as asking them to send you a message. You can run special ads on Facebook to attract Messenger subscribers and offer them lead magnets, etc.

But is Facebook Messenger marketing as good as email marketing?

Well, that's where it gets more complicated.

First of all, by definition your Facebook Messenger list is not yours. It lives on Facebook and depends on them. Facebook sets the rules for what you can do and can de-platform you whenever they feel like it.

Second, the Facebook rules are very strict about how you can use the platform. Within 24 hours of a user interacting with your bot, as in typing a question, entering your bot through a growth tool or Facebook Messenger ad, or tapping a button or quick reply, you can send anything to them, including promotional content. Once this window has closed, you cannot send them any more promotional content.

You can send them reminders about events they explicitly signed up for, or updates to their account status (shipping an order, etc.)

Also, Facebook Messenger is a chat system.

It is not designed to handle longer form content. While you could conceivably send a series of long messages, the nature of the system would make this seem awkward and cumbersome for your users.

Thus, you can't engage in the same kind of conversation that you can vía email. In my opinion, this can be a great compliment to your normal communication, but you shouldn't consider it a primary communication channel.

If your resources are limited, you're better off doing the basics better.

Trend #11: Conversational marketing - Build a chatbot for your website

Have you noticed how fast we live these days?

I can easily remember a time when you might have to wait half a day, until you got home, in order to make a phone call. Finding information required breaking out an encyclopedia or driving down to the public library. Letters came once a day, delivered by the post man, and took a rest on Sundays.

Now, everything happens instantly.

Emails arrive in the middle of the night. Google is always waiting to answer any question. And we send text messages because phone calls take too long.

And the acceleration isn't over.

Conversational marketing is all about making sure your business can keep up to the new pace of doing business. Customers expect answers now - regardless of the time of day or day of the year. Leads want to evaluate your products and services on their schedule, not yours. No one is willing to wait a few seconds, much less hours.

So how can you handle this?

One way is by installing an automated chatbot on your website that is able to field typical questions all by itself. Users can ask questions and be directed by the bot to the pages on your site that contain the answers. And ideally, if the robot can't answer the question, there'll be a real, live human being ready to take over at a moment's notice.

Without a doubt, conversational marketing tools can be powerful additions to your marketing arsenal. They make your site more interactive and responsive to visitors' needs. They can usually connect to multiple different chat systems providing a unified voice for your company.

However, you do need to be aware of a few pitfalls.

It is not enough to just add a simple bot to your website. The tool will only be as useful as the amount of information it can provide combined with the quality of the AI that makes it work. The best tools are not cheap and you will need to invest resources in training and maintaining the information that your bot will be providing users.

Otherwise, the user experience may turn out to be more frustrating than helpful.

So, if you have your marketing house in order, by all means consider implementing a good conversational marketing solution in your business. Get your entire team to brainstorm the types of questions they most frequently have to answer and make sure that your bot can handle them.

Finally, make sure that your bot is tightly integrated with all of the other marketing tools you are using. Your bot should be able to gather leads, qualify them and make sure that they are funneled into the right place in your organization.

Trend #12: Social media stories

Social stories are all the rage.

You know what I'm talking about. The little circles at the top of your Instagram home page that link to quick little videos posted by the people that you follow. Stories are usually 15-20 second videos or images and vanish after 24 hours. You can string them along and if you have enough followers users can swipe to visit a link of your choosing.

So, as a marketing tool are stories useful?

Listen. The truth about almost all social media marketing is that the interests of the platforms do not necessarily coincide with your interests. And when they don't, guess who wins?

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the other platforms are all desperately working to maximize two basic metrics: time on platform and user engagement. They want users to spend as much time consuming and interacting with content on their platform as is possible. For them, nothing is more important.

Thus, short entertaining videos that can be quickly consumed one after the other is a brilliant proposition for them. But what about for you?

Well, like almost all social media marketing you are competing to be the brightest sparkle in a never-ending fireworks show. You are competing with Aunt Mildred's new puppy, a kitten who just discovered a mirror, little Bobby's first words and all the other thousands of businesses interested in your target audience.

If you are really, really good at what you do, you might just get noticed - for a few seconds.

Sound exhausting?

It gets worse.

You see, you probably aren't interested in having people watch your story video and then move on. Most likely, you want them to swipe and visit your website. After all, that's where they can sign up for your list or make purchase, right?

But that is exactly what Instagram doesn't want!

If you entice the user into leaving the platform, they have to work desperately to get them to come back. Which means that, unless you're paying them for the privilege, they are going to try and bury your story as quickly as possible.

Can you successfully use social media stories in your marketing? Yes, of course you can. Just like you can climb Mt. Everest in your underwear and flip flops. It's been done before, but is that really how you want to spend your weekend?

Trend #13: Personalized email automation

Many moons ago companies would print out standardized letters on a printing press and then stenographers would type in customers' names in the blanks using a typewriter. These were called "form letters".

Of course, it was plainly obvious to the recipient that their name had been added in later and that the letter was far from "personal".

Fast forward to the age of personal computers and the invention of innovative ideas like "copy & paste" and "mail merge" and the age of personalization was born!

Now, anyone with a computer could create personalized letters that were perfectly executed. Readers are still pretty good at spotting the difference between a "template" and a true custom message, but at least it's not so obvious.

Which brings us to the next big thing - personalized email automation.

The idea is simple.

For a long time we've been able to merge in fields like name or city into our automated emails. This is just basically a more modern "mail merge" function. But personalized email automation goes way beyond that.

Imagine that a user reads a specific blog post on your website titled "How to clip your toenails without making a mess!" A few minutes later, they receive an email sharing the virtues of your latest "laser guided toenail clipper". Wouldn't that be sweet?

Well, that's exactly the idea we're talking about.

Not only do users receive emails that are personalized to them, but they receive them based off of individual behaviors that they've had. After all, when better to sell a toenail clipper than to someone who's just read an article about them?

Similarly, we can send customized messages to users who abandon their shopping cart before finalizing their purchase on your site. We can message people who've visited a specific page on your site, or who have recently opened or clicked on a link in a different email you sent. The possibilities are endless.

Which is the only drawback.

Using technology to create a better, more personal experience for your users is never a bad idea. However, you have to be careful to not fall into the rabbit hole. Setting up and maintaining all of the email automations is a daunting task. You want to be sure each automation makes sense and that users aren't overloaded with automated messages.

Finally, like the previous topic on conversational marketing using personalized email automations is great if you already have a well-greased marketing system in place. This can improve your results and perhaps increase your profitability, but it's not going to save a floundering marketing strategy.

Trend #14: Shoppable social media posts

You're happily scrolling through your social media feed. Staring at cute kittens. Fixating on your ex's new vacation pics. Reading the no-holds-barred free-for-all in the comments section on a local news story. Just another day in social media land.

And then you see it.

That amazing Taylor acoustic guitar you've been dreaming about is right there in your feed. It's being cradled in the arms of an influencer you love - captured in a candid yet exquisitely staged moment. You can see the grain in the all wooden top. You can almost feel the mahogany under your fingers and the delicate inlays on the neck. Without warning you start to drool.

And as your mouse pointer passes over, the beautiful picture screams out "Buy Now for 15% Off!"

Without even leaving the platform you can click on the post and make that baby yours.

This is an example of a shoppable social media post.

Obviously, the platforms love this type of content. It allows advertisers to make sales without having to forfeit the user going off-platform. It provides users with a seamless experience and eliminates unnecessary steps.

Pretty cool, right?


There is, however, something to consider. Using shoppable social media posts can improve your conversion rates. But they are completely dependent on the social media platform. That means that for any reason, the platform can change its algorithms or functionality and your business can go flying out the window.

Also, its important to understand that most people are not on social media shopping. They are looking for entertainment and distraction. Sure, they may occasionally make an impulse decision to purchase a product but that probably isn't their original intent.

Together these two factors should guide you to understanding that this is, at best, a residual source of sales. It can't and shouldn't be the centerpiece of your marketing strategy.

Trend #15: Sentiment analysis

Remember the movie Minority Report?

Society had evolved to the point that immense AI-powered computer systems were able to analyze millions upon millions of data points and predict crime situations before they occur. The job of the police was to get there ahead of time and stop the crime from being committed.

Sentiment analysis is a less intrusive, baby step in that direction.

In order to identify consumers that might be inclined to purchase our products or services, these big-data engines parse through millions and millions of social media posts analyzing their content and attempting to identify the underlying emotions. The idea is to find and interact with users in precisely the right manner and moment to encourage a sale.

Consider this example. When a user tweets "nothing like a warm McMuffin in the morning" the brand might think they have identified a loyal customer. However, if the image is of a poorly put together sandwich in a greasy bag, maybe their intent was just the opposite. Big brands use sentiment analysis to try and classify these interactions correctly and take the appropriate actions - all without the need of human intervention.

This makes sense for big corporations processing thousands of brand interactions per day.

However, for most real world businesses the benefits are limited at best. First of all, you likely don't have the scale to warrant implementing the system. And second a more personal, human touch would almost certainly provide better results.

Save yourself the bother and be frugal with both your tools and the amount of time you dedicate to social media.

Trend #16: Programmatic & AI-powered advertising

Modern digital advertising is complicated.

There are dozens of platforms to consider. And each platform has its own parameters and features. Additionally, each platform is optimized for certain types of ads and creatives. Add in retargeting, bidding strategies, personalization and campaign testing and you have a recipe for chaos.

How do you take into account all of these variables? How do you make sure you've correctly set up all of the configuration parameters on your campaigns? How do you make smart decisions on which campaigns to stop and which to scale?

Programmatic & AI-powered is designed to automate the responses to these questions.

Instead of manually logging in to multiple platforms, sites, tools and analytics systems, these tools will integrate all of your advertising under a single dashboard. Not only do they allow you to set up multiple campaigns and tests, but they deploy sophisticated algorithms that will analyze and optimize your campaigns on the fly.

The idea is that only a machine can navigate such a complex landscape.

And in many cases they're right.

Companies that need to deploy, manage, optimize and scale advertising campaigns with large amounts of reach and scalability need to use systems like these. The alternative is to employ many hours of complicated user work and probably leaving money on the table.

But once again, this a marketing trend most suited for big brands.

Unless you manage a very significant marketing budget you probably can't afford the best tools in this space. And even then, you are going to need to invest a significant amount of time setting up, integrating and testing these tools.

For most businesses, this is still a technology that isn't ready for them. Most don't want or need to run complex campaigns across multiple platforms. They aren't trying to scale six or seven figure budgets and they are probably better served employing their limited resources elsewhere.

Trend #17: Split testing & Improved analytics

According to wikipedia, "The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. It involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. It involves formulating hypotheses, via induction, based on such observations; experimental and measurement-based testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses; and refinement (or elimination) of the hypotheses based on the experimental findings."

For centuries, humanity has leveraged the scientific method in a never-ending quest to improve our understanding of the universe and our ability to thrive within it.

So it's only natural that we want to use the scientific method to improve the marketing we do for our businesses.

In a nutshell, marketers devise experiments to compare different sources of traffic, different creatives, different target audiences and a myriad of additional variables. We then compare the results of those experiments and amplify those that provide the best results while stopping those that don't work.

Unfortunately, almost all marketing tests are rigorously unscientific.

Consider the following. Usually a marketer will set up 2 or more campaigns and compare the results. The differences may be the targeting, the creatives, the placement or some other factor. They will then use tracking pixels to measure either the number of clicks, or sales and count these as "conversions". The campaign that generates the most conversions is declared the winner.

But what are the problems?

First of all, at the absolute best this is measuring correlation and not causation. Just because campaign A got more conversions than campaign B does not mean that the differences between the two campaigns caused the difference in observed conversions. Maybe instead it was another external factor that we didn't take into account. Maybe it was just a completely random correlation. Maybe there was crossover between people in both campaigns.

It is almost impossible to determine the truth.

And even more importantly, this does not take into account the human factor. We are not measuring the results of a group of machines that are executing based on an algorithm. In the end, it is a human being who decides whether, or not, to make a purchase.

It is completely possible that campaign B attracts more likely clients, but that chance has it that a couple of people who saw campaign A happened to need the product more at this time. Thus, we've made a decision based on limited data that tries to predict something completely unpredictable.

So, how can we minimize these problems?

By driving enough traffic through the experiment so that the small differences are not statistically significant. Math shows us that the bigger the sample size, the more likely we will be at producing a result that is valid.


Every impression costs money.

So, in order for our experiments to mean anything we need sufficient data. But to achieve sufficient data we need to spend a significant amount of money.

What's more, we need to do this for EACH of the variables we want to optimize for.

That's why data-driven marketing so seldom works for normal, real world businesses. You can't expect to invest $5,000 or $10,000 and run enough tests to find a combination of all the variables you need to isolate good campaigns. And even then you need to optimize a whole another set of variables in order to scale the campaign.

So, yes. Big brands can and should be doing data-driven marketing. They have the resources to conduct enough tests for them to achieve results. For the rest of us, however, this is just a really great way to line Mr. Zuckerberg's pockets with crisp new $100 bills.

Trend #18: Complex sales funnels

"I need for my advertising to be profitable."

This is a common thought most business owners have. If they are going to put money into marketing, they need to know that those resources are being deployed in a way that makes sense. After all, if your marketing doesn't generate sales, you've obviously got a problem.

So, one of the ways marketers try to solve this problem is by optimizing the amount of revenue earned from each customer. As we've talked about in prior digital marketing trends in this article, getting paying customers from ad campaigns is no easy job. Thus, if you do happen to grab one, it's a good idea to get as much revenue as possible.

But how?

Well, usually by offering the customer a sequence of upsells and cross-sells. For example, if we are running an ad for organic orange juice, maybe we will offer buyers an extra case at a sizeable discount. Or perhaps we'll ask them to subscribe to weekly orders. We might also offer them a nutrition consultation or services from one of our expert dietitians.

These are all ways to increase the revenue from a single customer.

Although obviously not every customer will purchase an upsell, the idea is to raise the average order value. This added revenue then reduces the overall cost per sale of the campaign.

This type of optimization requires setting up multiple sales pages that are presented to the user upon completing each step through the entire sales funnel. What happens if they purchase? What happens if they don't?

Some business create massive funnels that look like complicated flowcharts when mapped out. And for many, this is a winning part of their strategy.

However, you do need to make sure that you manage to keep a reasonable balance between complexity and efficiency. Each step in the funnel requires implementation, maintenance and thought about whether it enhances or hurts the user experience.

You don't want to create a "but wait there's more!" feeling in your customers. Your goal should be to maximize lifetime customer value, not squeeze them until they're blue in the face!

Trend #19: AR, VR and the like

Imagine visiting a new city for the first time and walking around seeing directions for the best pizza place in town projected onto your eyeglasses? Or looking through your camera app and receiving a coupon for 25% off at a local boutique?

These and similar aspects of virtual and augmented reality are clearly in our future.

We all carry in our pockets machines that just a few years ago would have been considered a supercomputer. Technology continues to advance and our perception of the world around us is almost certainly going to continue to evolve.

And with it so will the marketing techniques at our disposal.

Whether it be trying on new clothes virtually or sharing a meal with someone on the other side of the planet, the possibilities are endless.

However, for most companies these technologies are still a way out. It is probably not the time for you to invest yet unless there is a specific short term benefit to doing so.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't keep abreast of the changes that might be most relevant to your business. Are you dependent on local customers? Then make sure you follow advances in maps. Do you sell fashion items? Then keep up with apps that facilitate virtual trying on of products.

Trend #20: Private communities

According to Brooks Manley in his post "2020 Digital Marketing Trends", offering your tribe its own private online community is an important trend to keep up with. "As privacy concerns increase, so do engagement and participation in more private social channels such as Facebook Groups, Slack communities, and messengers."

The idea is to create a safe space for your audience to gather and share insights, opinions and current events. By being the host of this space you are positioning your brand as a thought leader in the space. You also reserve the right to curate and moderate the conversations within the community.

This can be a powerful marketing strategy.

You can use third party platforms like Facebook or Slack or you can set up a hosted forum using open source or premium software.

The only downside to this strategy is that it requires effort and dedication.

Just as you would assume obligations by hosting a group in your home or office, being the host of an online community comes with chores. You will need to supervise who is admitted, police member behaviors and make sure all the tech is up to date and working.

Depending on how you set things up this can be more, or less work.

So, when is this a good idea?

Well, it mostly depends on your niche and your position within the niche. Do you already have a reasonable audience? Is there already an online place that caters to your audience? Is your niche passionate enough to warrant the effort? How much time and effort can you afford to dedicate to the project?

The answers to these questions should help clarify.

Trend #21: Micro-moments

According to Google, a micro-moment is “An intent-rich moment when a person turns to a device to act on a need – to know, go, do or buy.”

In the following graphic, Google illustrates the 4 key micro-moments that brands should focus on:

Their theory is that you need to concentrate on being in the right place at just the right moment. "In these moments, consumers want what they want, when they want it - and they're drawn to brands that deliver on their needs."

The key to making micro-moments work is to actually identify the moments you are best equipped to resolve. Obviously, you are not going to be a one-stop shop for every problem your audience may have. However, by incorporating this concept into your content marketing strategy you stand a better chance of being relevant when the time comes.

Just like we discussed in the section on chatbots, micro-moments are all about providing your audience with instant gratification. They don't want to wait, and by being the source for resolving their need you are best positioned to be their choice when it comes to buying.

Micro-moments as a concept can and should be part of your marketing strategy. However, they shouldn't be the focus. Your focus should be on building a long term relationship with the right people in your target demographic. Using micro-moments as a way to establish a first contact is great. Just don't drop the ball and let the true opportunity slip by.

Forget the digital marketing trends and focus on this instead

You came here wanting to learn about the latest trends, and almost 10,000 words later I'm still trying to convince you that it's the wrong game to be playing. As a business owner, you don't need to be surfing the biggest wave on the most remote beach.

Instead, you need to be building a solid marketing strategy that sustains your business over the long haul. To accomplish this you absolutely must not lose sight of what you're trying to accomplish. Are you out to win a "best marketing campaign" prize or attract longterm, paying clients who are eager to work with you?

If you prefer the latter, then always start with your story.

You see, your story is your single most important marketing asset. It should not only tell your audience what you do, but mosts importantly why you do it. You cannot hope to forge a meaningful relationship unless you share a common purpose.

Which brings us to the true purpose of this article - meaningful marketing.

The 4 Pilars of Meaningful Marketing

If trendy, whizz-bang marketing tactics aren't the answer for sustaining most real businesses, what is?

We believe that almost every business or organization can benefit by developing and implementing a meaningful marketing strategy. Meaningful marketing is telling a compelling story that forges a lasting relationship with the people you serve.

With meaningful marketing you can:

  • Stop struggling to build an immense social following
  • Stop slaving away creating post after post after post
  • Stop serving the agenda of the big platforms at the expense of your bottom line
  • Stop striving to master every new tool, system or methodology
  • Stop straining at tasks that you know aren't working

There are four pillars to meaningful marketing.

1 - Meaningful marketing is based on the unquestionable fact that your customers are individual human beings not faceless data points in a multi-dimensional database. You have to understand and embrace the fact that you are marketing to actual human beings. To do this speak to their hearts as well as their minds. Put in the effort to comprehend their needs and desires and make sure that these align with what you provide.

2 - Meaningful marketing goes deep instead of broad. Understand that you do not need to be everything to everyone. It is far more lucrative to cultivate a lasting, sincere relationship with a smaller number of well selected clients than trying to trick as many people as possible into buying. In fact, spend more time deciding who you won't work with instead of who you will.

3 - Meaningful marketing is being obsessively coherent. Nobody wants to work with a fake, and there's no better way to find yourself with the crappiest, least desirable clients than by doing BS marketing. Meaningful marketing has purpose and won't deviate from it for any amount of short term gains. This isn't easy, but believe me, it works.

4 - Meaningful marketing is all about caring deeply about your audience. Whether you're curing cancer or making pizzas what you do is important. You are solving a problem for your customers and that should always be considered a sacred duty. No amount of marketing tech can compensate for a lack of caring.


The purpose of this article is not to trash the possible value of many of the trends we've discussed. Almost all of them can be used effectively to improve some aspect of your marketing. The real purpose of this article is to push you to question the very idea of needing to follow all of the latest digital marketing trends.

The truth is that almost everything you read about marketing is designed to sell you something. And yes, to some degree that applies to this article as well. If you are looking to apply a more meaningful approach to your marketing and we decide that your company is a good fit with us, we'd love to have a conversation.

You see, having an agenda isn't necessarily a bad thing. What is bad is trying to hide that agenda beneath a veneer of "listen to me because I'm the expert." You can implement tactic after tactic. You can optimize, analyze and tweak till you're blue in the face.

But until you realize the need to add meaning and purpose to your marketing (and to your business) you will be doomed to running uphill without respite. Of course you can make sales and without a doubt you can turn a profit.

It's also exhausting and demoralizing.

So, in conclusion why not stop worrying about the next cool thing and instead turn your business into a force worth reckoning with?

Sound interesting? Read our manifesto here and then contact us to start a conversation.

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  1. Great article Dennis, and it's so perfect that I'm seeing this now! Much has changed for my business since we last spoke and I've been wrestling with the daunting questions of what should I be doing now? Let's talk!

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Free Download| the 7 myths of modern marketing

Discover the Common Lies and Misconceptions That Are Costing You Money

Free Download| the 7 myths of modern marketing

Discover the Common Lies and Misconceptions That Are Costing You Money