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From pollution to personalisation: Marketing Trends 2020

Marketing Trends 2020

The start of a new calendar era, like the one we are entering now, presents any hack with a hunger for an audience with an irresistible temptation to predict what the future will bring. HERMAN POTGIETER, Senior Lecturer, IMM Graduate School, gives his perspective on what marketers should take note of in 2020.

Marketers everywhere live and breathe a fairly unique air; trends are their lifeblood as they try and shape these but, mostly, try and understand and predict them.

Apart from their more obvious roles, marketers are important translators and interpreters of the social and cultural evolution societies everywhere live through. The human race lives in an era of unparalleled information generation confronting the average person daily.

Here are a few of the trends marketers need to be aware of as we enter a new decade and deal with the rapidly changing needs and demands of the consumer.

  1. The environment

During the first few weeks of the new decade, Greta Thunberg received news of her selection by TIME Magazine as its TIME Person of 2019. She had a private meeting with Prince Charles at Davos after she had told the world leaders encamped at the Swiss town, “I want you to panic. And then I want you to act.”  She also met with the Pope but eschewed the opportunity to meet with President Donald Trump because she considered such a meeting “a waste of time”. Nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize at the start of February 2020, Thunberg is not alone. She effectively demands an audience that spans continents and calls young people to action with no indication of a waning of her popularity or the attention she demands. Young people everywhere respond to her message, which is condensed into a very simple but devastating reality as she continues to turn the vague anxieties about the continued existence of the human race on planet earth into a worldwide movement for global change.

While there are many levels to her message, all of it can be linked back to the core concern about pollution, about the raw materials being used daily to provide you and me with transport, food and other comforts we have grown to accept as our right. As this message gains traction, as it inevitably will, consumers will demand to know the environmental track record of the company manufacturing the product they buy, the level of awareness about environmental issues espoused by the retailer they buy the product from, and the extent to which the packaging they buy it in is recyclable. It will be up to marketing to convey assurances about these issues in a message to the consumer which cannot be devoted solely to the product and its uses.

  1. The death of the mall

The US landscape is dotted with the abandoned skeletons of the temples of retail where thousands used to spend their weekends paying homage to the god of shopping. Britain finds that even remote villages in Northern Scotland are seeing the closure of the shops lining the high street as the owners who have been trading there for many years shut shop.

Online shopping continues to gain traction as security improves and the supply chain from the sellers to the customers becomes more sophisticated and faster. While there is a still a place in the commercial chain for the odd customer who wants to touch and see the physical product before buying it, innovative marketers are making progress in creating opportunities to satisfy even this customer need on online platforms.

Achieving personalisation in an online space is something we’ve already experienced when visiting the Amazon website to find products listed for us based on what we had bought in the past. While this may be an example of pretty basic attempts at personalisation, marketers will definitely continue to work on adding layers, and creating the same welcoming feel we have when being received by the owner of the vegetable shop down the street where we have been shopping for 15 or more years.

  1. Personalisation taken to the next level

Apart from being recognised by name when you land on the website, personalisation of the online shopping experience is now happening on a number of other levels too. The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) is ideally suited to delivering an enriched user experience using chatbots, for example. These developments make nonsense of websites that simply sit there doing nothing except to show a flat and one-dimensional marketing message.

Interactive content is transforming the website experience for shoppers with Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Home and Meena leading the way in creating the opportunity to feel the website is interacting with them on a more intimate level because it has a voice. And not just any kind of voice, but one which talks back and answers their questions and allays their fears or uncertainty about purchasing what they have not been able to inspect physically.

While voice is transforming the online shopping interaction with a more human-like interaction, it also creates significant opportunities for the collection of more information because telling the story of your specific shopping need is a richer version of the message you would have typed into the search bar. Voice releases the kind of information which, if it is harnessed effectively by the website owner, could make the shopper experience more satisfying. We love Siri because she picks up on nuances which a typed search may not.

  1. Video will continue to grow

Educators at schools and higher learning institutions lament the death of reading. Websites that offer nothing but words do not attract Generation Z shoppers who would rather be watching a video or chat. The exponential growth of Instagram as a marketing platform relies on its video content more than anything else.

Apart from video offering messages easier to digest than the written message, its ability to entertain and push all the right buttons for the Gen Z crowd. Even Millennials and Baby Boomers would rather book a hotel room when they had the opportunity to do an online video tour of the facility where they will be spending their travel budget.

  1. Customer loyalty will remain a challenge

Few lecturers are able to discuss the retail silver bullet of customer loyalty without referring to the Clicks Club card. Since it was introduced by the retailer in 1995, others have tried and failed to match the Clicks success story, which helped the retailer being mentioned as one of the most cash-rich retailers in South Africa in December 2019.

The online shopping experience relies for its success on the variety and range of options. Loyalty this does not engender. Yet it remains a nirvana for the retailer whose dream of having the same customer returning to spend their hard-earned cash means security and a reliable source of income.

The electronic version of the loyalty card does not exist yet in its best possible version, even though progress has been made with businesses offering bonus points for repeat online shoppers. It is likely that marketers will, however, come to the party with a new invention of this which will push the existing options back to zero.

  1. Data use

While customer data may have been collected for years, those collecting it have responded to its availability much like the Jack Russell that caught the bus. Using the data to extract the type of information which could take the marketing of the product to a stellar level does not yet happen in most businesses. Data miners and analysts are helping make data and the tendencies hidden in it more digestible to marketers. Infographics, sophisticated programmes to analyse and make sense of the data and improved understanding of the gold it is for decision-makers are all factors pushing data to the forefront in marketing campaigns.

If websites have been prominent in collecting data on visits, visitors and their choice of search options, the increase of voice as a search tool will be a significantly richer source of data. The role of AI in this process will aid the sense-making for use by marketers significantly and feed campaigns with much more up to date and more relevant information on customers and their preferences.

  1. Privacy

The recent experiences of data breaches on Facebook and on banking and commercial platforms headlines prominently in 2019. The overriding impressions in online user ranks is still that their information is not safe in the hands of these institutions and similar events are bound to occur in 2020.

It is an open question if the ‘unhackable’ option is possible. Uppermost in the mind of most digital marketers is the fervent hope that 2020 will see progress in this area.


Alter, C., Haynes, S. and Worland, J. (n.d.) ‘Greta Thunberg: Time’s Person of the Year 2019’ Available at https://time.com. [Accessed on 6 February 2020]

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