TWG 2020 Branding Brandmarkable Francois Hoang

September 17, 2019

Seven Brand Marketing Trends and Shifts for 2020

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We asked three branding experts in three very different fields – healthcare, publishing and entertainment marketing – what they view as the top trends in brand marketing for 2020, what B2B brands can do to win and the unicorns to watch out for. Read what Alisa James, director of brand marketing at MedExpress; Greg Kilhström, author of The Agile Brand; and Eric Block, head of account management at GreenLight Media and Marketing, had to say.

In your expert opinion, what are the top two to three trends and predictions in brand marketing to watch for in 2020?

Alisa: On-demand everything.

People lack patience and seek instant gratification. The consumer is large and in charge, and companies have to figure out, if they haven’t already, how to offer their product/service in an on-demand kind of way.

Looking at a seamless on-demand experience, WeChat is China’s most popular messaging app. With its added payment capabilities along with online to offline features, it’s unreal what you can accomplish. And you never have to leave the app.

A single source of truth.

Marketers are on the hunt for the Holy Grail – a single source of attribution to close the data loop and effectively track conversions. As MedExpress is at the intersection of healthcare and retail, my team is charged with driving visits into our centers. For the last five-plus years, we have employed a fairly sophisticated media mix model that is built on a multi-variable regression analysis, stripping all of the economic factors (flu season, competition, weather, school calendar) out to give us a clear read on how our media investment directly impacts center visit volume. This measurement tool helps us allocate spend by market and by media channel as we develop our media plans for the upcoming year. Plus, we rescore each quarter to shift dollars and optimize appropriately. While I find this measurement program incredibly useful, it’s another thing to be able to continuously optimize in real time across all digital media that are seeing a direct lift in traffic. Working with attribution partners like Ninth Decimal and Placed allow marketers and agencies to act on this “always-on” measurement program, expedite test and learn campaigns, pivot accordingly, and always optimize toward conversion.

Greg: Experience trumps marketing.

As I discuss at fair length in my new book, The Agile Consumer, customers are sick and tired of listening to advertisers tell them what they think people should believe about their products and services. Instead, consumers are looking for great, consistent experiences that differentiate one brand from another. Consumers, particularly younger generations, are also increasingly spending their money on experiences over things. Thus, savvy brands are capitalizing on this, and even product companies are shifting to a subscription-based, experience-heavy approach.

AI in the mainstream.

While artificial intelligence has been little more than a buzzword to many marketers, it will hit the mainstream in 2020 and start to be incorporated into daily life for most if not all. This is going to very rapidly shift the way agencies are managed and run as well as the rest of the workforce.

Consumer power grows.

I also talk about this a fair amount in my new book, The Agile Consumer. It's the concept that, with increased choice and the ability to personalize products and experiences, the power of the consumer will continue to grow. Brands who understand this shifting dynamic will thrive by building their products and services around customers who crave to be part of the creative process.

Eric: Brands will expand investments in live events and experiences.

63 percent of global audiences reveal that the more emotionally engaged they are, the more likely they are to connect with brands, and 73 percent of 13-49 year olds agree, “Now, more than ever, I want to experience real, rather than digital life.”

Audiences will seek richer experiences, from living stories such as HBO’s Westworld experience, to sensory immersion, and will expect greater personalization with hybrid experiences blending the IRL experience with digital support. Our clients want to explore creative, cultural places to provide an interactive experience that humanizes the brand, while creating a personal connection.

Experiential marketing also integrates well with communications and content marketing, fueling brand content in real time via social media. 98 percent of consumers create and share social content during events, helping brands to reach a wider, but relevant audience. We’ve been able to leverage content from events and activations for brand’s social channels as well in all phases, from pre-event planning to post-event wrap-ups.

Source: Live Nation Global Live Music Fan Study

Influencer marketing shifts from quantity to quality.

In a channel where ‘influencer’ has become an increasing arbitrary label, with little transparency or insights into the legions of followers, our clients are seeking more accountability for their spend and look to ROI to justify continued efforts with influencers. Putting significant efforts behind one influencer without deep scrutiny comes with risks, from lack of performance, fraud and even scandals.

With skepticism from followers over what have essentially become paid product placements in feeds, marketers will shift focus to influencers with more intimate communities of engaged followers.

Micro-influencers (roughly 2,000-50,000 followers) have higher engagement rates with their followers and are typically willing to do more for less with a brand, leading to a higher ROI. Additionally, analysts suggest that in more intimate communities, followers are more likely to trust and buy what the influencer supports or recommends.

Shifting the focus and metrics from scale to engagement requires more effort from the marketer, but agencies will provide more complex audit capabilities and performance tracking to ensure budgets are wisely spent on these programs.

How might brand marketers, especially B2B, leverage their brand to get out of the bottom-of-funnel demand gen trap?

Alisa: B2B decision makers are people too.

While I very much live in the consumer space, I’m a believer in the brand experience. Of course, one has to understand that not all prospects are created equal. And that a lead-scoring program can facilitate the sales-cycle legwork. And while conversion is the goal, your best and current customers can do some of the selling for you.

How well do you know your customer? Get to know them even better than you thought you already did. Do you know why they chose your solution? What’s their experience really like working with you (your company, service, etc.)? How does your service add value? And when I say add value, not only how does it add value to the business, but also to the decision maker personally? Beyond that, what can you do to make their work life more tolerable? More pleasant? How can you create less friction? How can your next interaction (sales call, WebEx, demo) be the highlight of your customer’s week? Once you know the true answers to these questions, this is the kind of story you need to be telling the right prospects at the right time.

Greg: Really use data to shape experiences.

I think that any brand marketer, including B2B, needs to focus on two things that may seem like polar opposites. First, data has never been more plentiful, yet the fact that there is so much of it means that there is that much more to pour through, some of which is not terribly useful.

Second, experience is increasingly important in B2C and B2B marketing. This could mean everything from the digital experience of personalization to adding a human touch that is often missing these days, because automation and digital communication have become so easy to do. Most of the great examples of customer experience are from large consumer brands, but there is a lot of room for innovation in B2B and lower volume sales.

Eric: Tell B2B consumers a good story.

When we’re narrowly focused on the lower-funnel data, it’s easy to misplace efforts and analysis on the final steps on the path to purchase. It may be easier to attempt to refine and optimize efforts during the conversion process, but we all understand that more effective upper-funnel performance will drive results all the way through the process.

Whether B2B or B2C, you are marketing to people, and people respond to compelling stories. Creativity and storytelling shouldn’t be considered an option in B2B marketing. B2B may lag creatively when compared to B2C campaigns when B2B marketers continue down the same path their brand or industry has previously followed.

Begin with the audience in mind, understand who they are, what motivates them and how your brand can effectively connect with them. Use these insights to entertain, inform and engage with your audience. Digital and social platforms provide the opportunity to gain more feedback higher in the funnel, allowing brands to learn from experience, rather than avoid based on comfort or discomfort level.

What ‘unicorns’ should brand marketers be watchful for or wary of in the new decade?

Alisa: Privacy.

We’re starting to see some conflicting consumer signals about privacy right now.

According to the Verge, Truth about Privacy:

  • 45 percent of people are willing to share personal data as long as there is a clear benefit. 55 percent are unwilling.
  • American’s willingness to share shopping data with brands is up from 41 percent in 2011 to 60 percent in 2018.
  • Trust in companies to use personal data wisely is waning.
    • From surveys taken in 2011 and 2018 respectively:
  • Amazon: 72 percent to 61 percent
  • Apple: 57 percent to 50 percent
  • Facebook: 43 percent to 27 percent
  • Google: 63 percent to 48 percent

And perhaps as a result, we’re seeing that behaviors on social are beginning to change. People are realizing they don’t need 1,000+ friends. Your ex-boyfriend’s brother may not need to be clued into your weekend dinner party plans. Users are exploring new opportunities in more private places within the social space. “Dark social” is growing with functionality like posts on private Snapchat stories, private messaging, use of the close friends label on Instagram and apps like House Party. Is a social media backlash on the way?


So much streaming, so little advertising.

While we’re seeing rapid growth in OTT (over the top) utilization, nearly half of all streaming services do not even support advertising. Netflix makes up almost half of video streaming distribution, but doesn’t support ads. On a positive note for advertisers, YouTube and Hulu have the most ad inventory right now (source: Magna 2019). In a recent planning session with my team, we were talking about going back to the good old days when companies would sponsor programming. ‘This episode of Parks and Recreation is brought to you by MedExpress.’

The way in which media consumption patterns continue to change will dramatically impact both how and where we deliver our messages to consumers.

Greg: AI is (and will be) the secret.

It's hard not to underscore the importance that AI and machine learning will play on not only day-to-day tasks, but also how it's going to change the workforce of the future. We are only at the very beginning of this shift, but we will soon be seeing everything from entry-level jobs and tasks being replaced, to new roles altogether (e.g., the AI manager, whose direct reports are not human at all). A few years ago, this was science fiction, but it's getting very close to being reality for many. I don't think that most marketing agencies are prepared for the impact this is truly going to have.

Eric: Consumers start to become better masters of their data.

In a simple sense, Google has built its empire by knowing, or attempting to know, as much as it can about what consumers are searching for, what they’re talking about, what they’re watching, buying, where they’re going and so on.

Google provides free services for consumers, but in exchange, these users have given up control of their information and have allowed Google to use it without charge. These valuable data inputs come to Google freely, and it spends vast budgets to collect, house, and most critically, aggregate and analyze the data to make it a valuable necessity for marketers.

In George Gilder’s book, Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy, he sees that the Age of Google is coming to an end. With the increasing shift to privacy and security and the decentralization of data, consumers may become the masters of their digital data and choose how they allow it to be used and how they monetize this data. This will have significant implications for online advertising in the future, from targeting, to tracking to the costs of online advertising.

Our contributors

Greg Kihlström, Entrepreneur, Author and Speaker

Greg is currently President and Chief Experience Officer at Cravety, and was formerly SVP of Experience at Yes& after Carousel30, a digital agency he started in 2003 which was acquired by the agency. He is an award-winning creative director and digital strategist who has worked with top brands, including AOL, Choice Hotels, Coca-Cola, GEICO, Marriott Hotels, MTV, Starbucks, Toyota and United Nations. He was the founding Chair of the American Advertising Federation’s National Innovation Committee and served on the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Marketing Industry Mentorship Board.

Greg’s latest book, The Agile Consumer (2019) explores the most recent shifts in the brand-consumer relationship and how companies must become more agile across their entire operation to remain successful. His previous book, The Agile Brand (2018), follows the evolution of branding from its beginnings to the authentic relationship with brands that modern consumers want, and gives practical examples of what you can do to create a more modern, agile brand while staying true to your core values. His first book, The Agile Web (2016), discusses the changing landscape of digital marketing and customer experience. His podcast, The Agile World, launched in early 2019 and discusses brand strategy, marketing, and customer experience.

Alisa James, Director of Brand Marketing, MedExpress

Alisa is an ad agency account director turned corporate marketer for the pioneer of the urgent care category. She is a relentless brand steward responsible for both message and media strategy and plans in the 57 markets in which MedExpress advertises. When Alisa is not evaluating the ROI of last quarter’s campaign, she is a cheerleader for her two teenage daughters’ basketball, cross-country and performing arts endeavors – not to mention a wanna-be athlete herself.

Eric Block, Head of Account Management, Greenlight Media and Marketing

Eric is the Head of Account Management at GreenLight Media and Marketing, a creative/strategy agency of Live Nation. He has a diverse range of brand experience on the agency side, including Chevrolet, Hyundai, Intel, Comcast, Target and Waymo (Google’s self-driving car program).

He spent 14 years with The Richards Group working with some of the brightest, most focused teams in the business, before taking leadership roles at agencies including Gallegos United, Goodby Silverstein & Partners in Detroit and GreenLight Media & Marketing.

You’ll find his Longhorn flag flying proudly in Manhattan Beach and as a determined Ironman competitor, you’re likely to see him riding, running or swimming throughout the South Bay.

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