Amesby Patricia Ames

New year, new tools and solutions to try. Here’s a list of some of the hottest new trends in marketing to help jump start your activities in 2017. And if trying something new seems too daunting, we’ve got a great throwback resurfacing that you can focus on.

Data Visualization

Data visualization allows you to see data graphically within a business context so you can understand it better. Along with heat mapping, it is one of the most valuable ways to make use of your marketing data, allowing for faster decision making and quick identification of areas that need attention or improvement. Data visualization is also great for spotting hidden patterns and trends. Predicting sales volumes, understanding which factors are influencing customer behavior and identifying which specific products to place and where can all be aided through visualization.

Think of those infographics popping up everywhere in the last few years – the most effective ones create an “aha” effect for the reader. That is data visualization at its best, helping you see things in a completely different way than a chart or table of numbers alone might allow. 

There are a number of tools available to help companies make sense of the avalanche of input. The landscape of next-generation business intelligence vendors is rich and includes companies like Tableau, Roambi and Zoomdata that are ready with solutions to make it easier for every employee within a company to be able to understand the data. As more and more innovators move into this space and affordable software-as-a-service models leveraging cloud-based services continue to surface, this trend will only accelerate.

The Rise of the Chatbot

This trend is not necessarily ready for the SMB yet, but watch it closely – I predict within a relatively short amount of time there will be applications developed for small businesses. If you want a way to truly stand out, promote your brand in a unique way and communicate and engage with those seemingly elusive millennials, this may just be the ticket.

Chatbots may sound like something out of an Austin Powers movie (but no — those were fembots, which are something very different) but they are actually just computer programs that carry out conversations with people using language-based rules or a lightweight messaging app user interface. Sophisticated versions wrap in AI for cognitive learning.

One of the most recognizable examples of a chatbot is Amazon’s Alexa. The enormous Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas every January was full this year of applications developed to incorporate Alexa, including Canon’s new PIXMA TS printer. Just tell Alexa to print your boarding pass, and voilà. 

The other type of chatbot uses a messenger app to engage with customers. Facebook Messenger has exploded with options (there are now over 18,000 bots) since Facebook launched the capability at their F8 conference less than a year ago. Business Insider reports messaging apps have racked up almost 3 billion users, which is more than the combined number of people using social media apps. Consumer behavior has shifted from social networks to messaging platforms such as SMS, Facebook Messenger and Apple iMessage.

Focus on Customer Experience and Retention

The office equipment industry is often referred to as a “zero-sum game” for dealers: A client won by one dealer simply reflects a loss by another. New opportunities are few and far between and the loss of any existing client becomes critical.

In this kind of a scenario, customer retention is key. The latest marketing guidance emphasizes “customer delight” and the customer experience as crucial to that goal. Tying customers to a unique environment and building long-term trust along with strong branding can make the difference. Social media can be a highly effective tool to achieve this. Loyalty programs are not new, but using social media can be a new way for clients to experience them. 

Research shows that U.S. marketers plan to invest more in loyalty programs in 2017. Programs need to be easy to join and easy to understand. Incorporate email discounts and use text programs for savings on items like supplies to tie the client to your business even when they are not in the market for new equipment. Comprehensive programs can create a strong allegiance to your brand and company over extended periods.

Want to attract those younger buyers? Build philanthropy into your loyalty program. Work with partners to create a bigger impact and focus on local charities that involve the community. A portion of each loyalty bonus could be donated to local organizations.

Build coalition partners for loyalty programs. Get suppliers and channel partners on board to co-sponsor and work together to create programs that foster cooperation and collaboration. This will boost overall sales collectively and increase reach while also offering a broad range of services and products from trusted partners to your clients.

Account Based Marketing 

Account Based Marketing, or ABM, is the “bright shiny thing” in large account B2B at the moment. Instead of thinking in terms of “buyer personas,” ABM focuses on who you want to be your customers. The linchpin is identifying, marketing and measuring your key account list.

Create a target account list of ideal customers. Develop a marketing program focused specifically on these key clients. It’s not a large list, so tailoring and segmenting to these special clients should not be hard. You already know a lot about them! Measure the results, ruthlessly and often. Tweak as needed. Use what works to target others on the list. Learn, tweak and repeat. 

Video

Video is not really a new trend, but it is getting hotter by the minute as technology makes it increasingly easy to be a pro in a small amount of time for little investment.

Successful marketing grabs your attention, and video is one of the best mediums to accomplish that. A study by 17production.com showed that 60 percent of people prefer video over text, and that video keeps visitors on your website for a longer period of time and is more memorable than text. 

Video is a marketing trend that any size company can get involved with. Content can be created inexpensively and prolifically with a few simple devices. Start with “how to” videos, customer testimonials, reviews, and Q&A pieces – the list of possibilities is long and the key is simply to be timely and consistent.

Videos are versatile — they can be shared on social media, sent in emails, embedded on your website and used in webinars and presentations. They are easily consumed via both the desktop and mobile. Add to the list of benefits improved SEO for your website and this trend seems like a no-brainer.

tweetbutton Email marketing drives more conversions than any other marketing channel, including search and social.

What’s Old is New

It might sound old fashioned, but email marketing is being recognized once again as the critical method to grow an audience.  Proven to be the single most effective medium to communicate with clients, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter, according to McKinsey. Email marketing drives more conversions than any other marketing channel, including search and social, per Monetate.

Why? Brands have been losing their control over communicating with fans and followers thanks to social media. A New York Times article put it this way: “Newsletters are clicking because readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the internet, and having something finite and recognizable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos.”

Who couldn’t use a little order in the chaos of their lives these days? Most of us, it seems. More firms will launch targeted newsletters in 2017, and those newsletters will become their key method to grow their audience.

So you don’t even need to bother trying anything new – go back to an old mainstay, dust off that newsletter, give it a graphic refresh and start talking to your customers again. Be authentic, be consistent (do something at least once a month) and most importantly, be yourself. How can your clients resist you? 

What’s your marketing plan for 2017? Hopefully this article has given you a few ideas. The bottom line is this: No one knows your customers — both the ones you have and the ones you want — better than you. Take that knowledge and use it to craft the messages they want to hear. Get them, keep them, make them happy, and the rest will take care of itself. 

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Imaging Channel.