When discussing the future of marketing in the office technology industry, there are lots of trends and buzzwords that perhaps get too much attention. Some, like augmented reality, blockchain technology and neuromarketing are very cool — in theory — but might not be relevant today.

Others, however, are not just relevant and important, but are essential tools for the imaging channel today. It doesn’t matter if you own one dealership in a small rural area of the Midwest or a dozen of offices scattered across several states, I believe that customer experience and data technology are the key to successful marketing.

For dealerships to succeed in 2020 and beyond, it is necessary to think beyond managed print strategies and explain why these services are important for new prospects and current customers. This demands telling a compelling and engaging story across multiple channels.

Marketing strategy is a complicated blend of brand strategy, reputation management, customer relationship management and customer experience. It demands buy-in from the entire company and is not just the responsibility of the chief marketer or CMO. Strategic marketing can transform and propel a business forward – if every business unit is engaged and committed.

Pinning down the fickle consumer

The imaging industry is driven by a lot of established, incumbent companies who often enjoy incredible brand recognition and loyalty. Unfortunately, brand loyalty and recognition doesn’t mean what it used to. According to Hubspot, 63% of consumers switched to a competitor with better service; 52% left without any advance warning.

To attract prospective customers and convert them into loyal buyers, office technology providers cannot rely on reputation or brand identity alone. Hubspot’s research shows that 75%  of consumers say they will make a purchase if a company provides personalized recommendations. In other words, consumers can be persuaded to leave a brand if you speak directly to their needs. That should be a concern for any incumbent but is also an incredible opportunity for any service provider ready to continually customize and update their customer experience.

Be where your customers live

Some think modern marketing is cold, impersonal, data-driven and ignores the value of human relationships. The truth is that the best marketing strategies build and establish an identity and personality for your company, creating an ongoing conversation, engagement and relationship with potential customers. When done right, it creates a more direct and ongoing relationship and humanizes a company in ways traditional advertising simply cannot.

Just as importantly, office technology companies need to be comfortable nurturing that relationship entirely in the digital realm. Many marketers think the job of marketing is to find customers online and bring them into a brick and mortar location to close the deal. But according to Statistica, a market data firm, 90% of all purchase decisions begin online and over 40 million Americans are “mobile-only” internet users. In fact, Gartner Research predicts that 85% of all customer interaction with brands will happen without any human interaction, instead meeting with virtual assistants or automated chat services. This is especially true for millennials, who are already the largest consumer segment, who report a 70% satisfaction rate interacting with chatbots.

If consumers are fickle, what will win them over? Online consumers get frustrated when content appears that has nothing to do with their interests. I am a big believer in the flywheel sales model, which repeats the stages of attraction, engagement and delight. By continually measuring traffic and leads, click-throughs and downloads, new customers and the enthusiasm of existing customers, you can gain insights into what drives traffic and new customer acquisition.

Sometimes less is more, and when it comes to marketing these days companies need to focus on what’s relevant to their prospects instead of inundating them with monthly, weekly or even daily emails. Quality instead of quantity is the real factor for future marketing. In 2019, 293.6 billion emails were sent and received each day (Statista, 2020). And yet, this figure is expected to increase to over 347.3 billion daily emails in 2022 (Statista, 2020). Sending a welcome or onboarding email might be the first step in long relationship with a new customer, but how do we attract new prospects without coming across as junk or spam email? Office technology companies need to experiment with personalization and interactive emails while attempting to lure prospects and not drive them away.

The data-driven culture is not something that can be slapped onto an existing marketing and sales strategy. It is something that must be ingrained into an organization’s culture. Salespeople must be ready to follow up on online leads and use data to find their next generation of buyers. This demands patience and long-term thinking, building a strategy that attracts leads and nurtures them for a long time, perhaps years, until that person is ready to become a customer.

One technology that is not hype but can deliver on the customer experience is chatbots. A 2019 Salesforce study showed a 136% projected growth rate of chatbots over the next 18 months, meaning customers will not only become accustomed to the technology, they will expect it.

Today, many websites have already integrated live-chat support, and the agents who handle customer service chats are shifting quickly from humans to bots. These bots already provide real-time responses within seconds, can handle intermediate complex question and are far less error prone compared to their human counterparts. Of course, there’s nothing like the personalization coming from another human on the other line. When situations escalate, human intervention will always be needed.

Small changes lead to big transformations

Of course, strategic marketing transformation is a complicated process. In order to pull it off, the entire organization needs to help with data collection, building customer relationships and engaging with customers online, publishing quality content and nurturing that customer experience. If one group fails to live up to the company’s promises, the entire process can break down. But, if well-executed, a customer-focused transformation will improve customer service and experience, boost brand awareness and reputation, and ultimately increase revenue and profits.

By rooting your marketing in data-driven content and personalized CX, you are likely to get more meaningful attention for your brand. Creating content that drives prospects to your website is important, but you must know your customer persona in order to truly draw them in and close the deal. Your strategic marketing plan defines goals and determines which marketing tactics you will employ to reach your customers including content marketing, SEO, email marketing, social media, advertising and offline marketing. Only then, can a strategic plan be created that involves every part of the organization.

Businesses achieve these benefits by delivering a consistent, personalized brand identity across all channels. All these things are part of the underlying strategy that influences each department and employee in the company, not just the marketers. For companies to succeed in 2020, they’ll have to think beyond what they’re doing and link everything back to why you are in business in the first place. If your marketing goals and objectives align with the overall goals of your business, your business will thrive in this new decade.

Connie Dettman is director of marketing for Gordon Flesch. She has extensive advertising agency experience, having helped businesses effectively promote their products and services. In her role as director of marketing, Connie helps identify business opportunities and leverages tools and strategies to reach the appropriate audiences with the right messages.