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Marketers love to stay on top of the latest trends. It’s part of the job description and, quite frankly, it’s in our DNA. Hitching your star to the right trends is also just good business.

To that end, we’ve combed through our research to identify the three hottest marketing trends of 2018 that your small or medium-sized business (SMB) should tap into. Whatever your industry and however small your business may be, leveraging these trends can help get you ahead of the game: whether it’s winning new customers, turning current customers into brand loyalists, or influencing your colleagues and peers.

 

Trend #1: The Role of Marketing Is Increasingly Customer-Centric

 

The role of marketing is shifting from simply being a “lead gen machine” to being responsible for managing customer journeys. This means more cross-functional work with marketing, sales, and service teams within organizations. As a result, new, shared KPIs (like “Customer Satisfaction”) are emerging as measures of organizational success.

Here are three easy ways you can adapt and grow the marketing role to fit your company’s needs:

  1. Adjust core marketing responsibilities to focus on customer journeys. Tweak job descriptions and redefine how people and teams work together to hone in on providing a cohesive experience across channels and throughout the customer lifecycle.

  1. Track customer satisfaction at the company level. Introducing an organization-wide metric that focuses on how customers feel about your company helps to put their satisfaction front and center across all phases of your operation.

  1. Integrate CRM with your marketing automation tool. As your teams become more cross-functional, make sure your systems support their new workflows. Integrating your CRM and marketing automation tools lead to increased information sharing and visibility across marketing, sales, and the rest of your organization.

Implementing these steps can drive efficiencies, productivity, and collaboration across your entire company.

 

Trend #2: Brands Must Execute Multi-Channel Marketing Strategies

 

Did you know that 34 percent of marketing budgets today are spent on channels that didn’t exist five years ago? What are these new channels? Why are we spending so much on them?

Between online video, social media, mobile apps, and messaging platforms – just to name a few – a customer’s attention today is spread thin across multiple digital channels. Over the past two years, marketers’ use of emerging channels has grown at a breakneck pace. Video advertising, for example, was up 204% across B2B marketing, and 141% in B2C. Other channels have shown similarly explosive growth.

Even so, customers expect a consistent brand experience from you as they hop from one channel or platform to the next. As a result, marketers have started to embrace cross-channel strategies to maximize effectiveness.

How can you develop a cross-channel marketing plan? Here are some suggestions to get started:

  1. Focus on how to hit the right channels, not how many of them to hit.

  2. Despite new emerging channels, email is still one of the most top performing. Focus on building a strong email strategy, then build other channels around it.

  3. Diligently measure ROI to identify what’s working best and iterate.

Gone are the days of “spray and pray” marketing strategies. In today’s world, quality trumps quantity. So, be sure to start by focusing on your top performing channel and build out from there. Email is a great channel to start with. Our research shows that adding just one other marketing channel to email generates improved awareness, engagement, and customer acquisition. You can also leverage the data captured in email campaigns to inform messaging and delivery strategies across other channels.

Be sure to measure ROI every step of the way. Measuring campaign effectiveness with a tool like Salesforce Pardot lets you keep tabs on what’s working, what’s not, and when it’s time to switch up or refine your tactics.

 

Trend #3: AI Will Help Create a More Personalized Customer Experience

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being woven into everything from marketing tools to customer-facing digital experiences. In fact, marketers expect it to be the fastest growing technological innovation in the next 2 years, growing 53% YoY. This is creating a huge opportunity for it to become an SMB marketer’s best friend.

There are two key ways in which AI is helping marketers. One is through helping small teams accomplish Herculean tasks through enhanced machine learning and automation. The second is by building greater customer personalization into your overall marketing workflow. Here are a couple examples of AI in action:

  • Lead Scoring
    An automated, AI-driven lead score helps sales reps prioritize which leads to contact and when. Over time, AI gathers and analyzes data to learn things like what types of leads are converting, providing your sales team with the most accurate lead score, and giving your marketing team insights into which channels are the most effective. These insights can help achieve maximum ROI on marketing spend.

  • Automated Emailing
    Feeding your AI engine with data about real interactions your customers are having with content across all of your channels can help you build a killer automated email system. Craft and deliver individualized emails based on when a customer is most likely to open your emails, what types of messaging they respond to best, and where they are in their own customer journey.

One of the major benefits of AI is that it gets smarter over time. The more data you feed an AI system, like Salesforce Einstein, the more it learns – and the better insights and suggestions it can offer up in return. For a growing SMB that’s focused on gaining new customers – and learning more about them through that process – that kind of automated intelligence can be a huge win  to your marketing efforts.

By offloading grunt work to taking action on sophisticated, data-driven insights, AI and marketing automation can help SMB’s win and keep more customers. How can SMBs get started with AI? Here are some tips:

  1. Define your company’s AI strategy across departments and budgets.

  2. Connect your sales and marketing tools to centralize your data.

  3. Walk before you run. Start with discrete tasks like introducing lead scoring to your sales team, or automating email journeys that can be meaningfully enhanced by AI.   

Once you get a taste of how AI can help in a specific area of your marketing plan, you’ll get a feel for where else you might benefit most from the extra automation and insights. CRM and marketing automation platforms like Salesforce make it easy to add AI-driven features where you need them, and integrate them throughout your business over time.

Download the research in The State of Marketing Report and SMB Trends Report to get a full run through of how the new role of marketing, cross-channel strategies, and AI can help your growing business win new customers and personalize their journeys. Or, watch our webinar on the hottest marketing trends in 2018 that SMBs can embrace.

 

 

Salesforce helps you find more customers, win their business, and keep them happy so you can grow faster than ever. Learn more about our small business CRM solutions or follow us on Twitter at @SalesforceSMB. Be sure to join the conversation with #SalesforceEssentials.