With all the hype around generative AI and machine learning and ChatGPT, it’s easy to get bogged down thinking that’s the only story in digital marketing this year. But it’s not. Not by a long shot. We’re also dealing with the rise of new social networks, an ongoing scramble to find great talent, and a deeply strange economy that’s changing customer behaviors almost daily.
How can a savvy strategist or digital marketer handle this reality? What’s working? And where should you put your energies? That’s what this "Best Of" episode of Thinks Out Loud is all about.
Want to learn more? Then give a listen, review the transcript, and check out all the show notes. Enjoy!
Revisiting 2023’s Most Important Trends in Marketing (Thinks Out Loud) — Headlines and Show Notes
Show Notes and Links
- What Will The Next Decade of Digital Look Like? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 314) – Tim Peter & Associates
- Tim Peter Thinks – Tim Peter & Associates
- We’re Living Through a Generational Shift to Digital (Thinks Out Loud Episode 317)
- How Are You Holding Up? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 316)
- What Kind of Year Are You Planning to Have (Thinks Out Loud Episode 313) – Tim Peter & Associates
- Podcast – Tim Peter & Associates
- While anticipation builds for GPT-4, OpenAI quietly releases GPT-3.5 | TechCrunch
- ChatGPT and Other Chat Bots Are a ‘Code Red’ for Google Search – The New York Times
- Microsoft to challenge Google by integrating ChatGPT with Bing search – The Verge
- Better Language Models Without Massive Compute – Google AI Blog
- Google plans giant AI language model supporting world’s 1,000 most spoken languages – The Verge
- Pathways Language Model (PaLM): Scaling to 540 Billion Parameters for Breakthrough Performance – Google AI Blog
- The Dark Risk of Large Language Models | WIRED
- Is Artificial Intelligence Still a Big Trend for Your Business? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 311) – Tim Peter & Associates
- AI Won’t Steal Your Job: Smart People Who Put AI to Work Will (Thinks Out Loud Episode 208)
- The think tanks roll into Techistan – POLITICO
- Jason Furman on Twitter: "Last month I revised my views of wage growth and underlying inflation up more than usual. This month I revised them both down more than usual. Am I being overly excitable and getting head-faked? Or is the data unusually weird? Probably a bit of both. A short ?:" / Twitter
- Tech jobs and young job seekers driving fastest-growing cities
- Partnerships Between Brands and Creators Will Define the Next Generation of Travel Marketing | HSMAI Americas
- TikTok admits its workers accessed journalists’ data; 4 fired – The Washington Post
- What Connects TikTok and the Hub and Spoke Model of Digital? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 299)
- Three Content Distribution Concepts to Help Your Company’s Content Marketing Succeed (Thinks Out Loud Episode 329) – Tim Peter & Associates
- Amazon.com: Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts: 9780735216358: Duke, Annie: Books
- How to Escape Big Tech’s Web (Thinks Out Loud Episode 395)
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- A Modern Content Marketing Checklist. Want to ensure that each piece of content works for your business? Download our latest checklist to help put your content marketing to work for you.
- A Brief Introduction to Thinks Out Loud. As a bonus, we’ve also included this PDF document that highlights some of our core episodes to help you dig into what the show is about. We think it will help you capture the show’s essence while you’re working your way through the 300-plus episodes published so far. Download it here.
- Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix. As a bonus, here’s a PDF that can help you assess your company’s digital maturity. You can use this to better understand where your company excels and where its opportunities lie. And, of course, we’re here to help if you need it. The Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix rates your company’s effectiveness — Ad Hoc, Aware, Striving, Driving — in 6 key areas in digital today, including:
- Customer Focus
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Transcript: Revisiting 2023’s Most Important Trends in Marketing (Thinks Out Loud)
Well, hello again everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 369 of the Big Show and Happy New Year. This is our first show of 2023. And as I like to do at the start of every year, I thought it might be worthwhile talking about what are the biggest and most important trends in marketing that we need to pay attention to this year.
What are the things that you should be aware of and should be thinking about as you go forward, as you really get your feet under you here in 2023?
Marketing Trends: A Year of Change
This is kind of a funny year from my perspective, because I think this is going to be a year of change. Everything seems to suggest that this is going to be a year of change.
And before I talk about why that is, I want to talk about why it might not be a year of change. It’s always a good idea to challenge your assumptions — especially when they’re your own. I don’t want to tell you, “Here’s what’s definitely going to happen,” because we don’t know what’s definitely going to happen. We know what we think is going to happen and what we feel pretty confident saying is going to happen.
But I’m always reminded of that Bill Gates quote that says, “We always overestimate the change we’ll see in the next two years and underestimate the change we’ll see in the next ten.” And all the trends in marketing that you hear about usually have very little effect in the near term. This time last year, almost everybody was talking about the metaverse. It was everywhere. And a year later… it’s still out there. It’s still something that might have some benefit in the longer term. But you really don’t hear many people talking about it in the immediate term.
I posted two different episodes of January last year talking about the topic of how the biggest, most important marketing trends sometimes are right in front of our face, and the things that people are talking about aren’t always what matters.
Looking Back to Look Ahead
So I thought it might be fun to look at the trends in marketing over the last few years to see whether this idea of the change we’ll see in the next two years is overestimated, and the change we’ll see in the next 10 is underestimated to see if that idea holds up. And where are we compared with two years ago?
Two Years Ago
Well, two years ago, the pandemic was coming up on being around for one year. Digital was exploding. I quoted Google’s Philipp Schindler as saying “we are living through a generational shift to digital.” I also was asking, how are you holding up? You know, clearly we were all feeling the effects of 10 to 11 months of the pandemic.
And if you think about it, not much has changed from that perspective. Two years later, we’re still living with the pandemic to some degree. Its influence has certainly waned, but we can’t ignore it. Digital has clearly moved into the core of many marketing departments accelerated by the pandemic. And a lot of us are still coping with the pressures and mental health challenges brought up by the pandemic.
I’ve seen multiple studies recently that talked about how marketing departments continually are asked to do more with less. That really hasn’t changed. It’s still fairly top of mind with people I talked to.
Ten Years Ago
I also thought it would be fun to look at where we were 10 years ago, looking at the podcast and our blog. And I’m kind of chuckling because the funny thing is, 10 years ago, this podcast had only been around for a couple of months.
We got started in September of 2012, and by early 2013 had only published maybe 15 or 16 episodes. So I looked at some of our blog posts from that period to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Now, what were we talking about then?
- We were talking about Facebook
- We were talking about Google
- We were talking about blogging.
- We were talking about social
- We were talking about e e-commerce
- We were talking about mobile
In other words, the fundamentals of digital marketing. Digital, even at that point, was still fairly new to a lot of folks. The other thing that is interesting to me was we were not talking about digital as integral to your marketing. We were talking about it as being “separate from” marketing.
I want to be very clear. We were making the case that it should be integral to your marketing. It should be integrated into the larger marketing discipline. But for many companies, for many businesses, that simply wasn’t the case. I said last year that “the word of the year was integrated” because the pandemic kind of forced that marriage in a way that had been taking a while to really happen.
Obviously, there were forward looking companies who were doing that very well two years ago, three years ago, five years ago, six years ago. But it wasn’t the norm for most companies. And today it’s no longer “digital marketing or marketing”. It’s marketing — both traditional and digital together. It’s virtually impossible to think of them as separate disciplines.
The More Things Change…
The other thing that I think is interesting, when we look at the stories from 10 years ago, we are still talking about these in some form or other. Blogging has of course morphed into content marketing more generally — but content marketing still is top of mind. Mobile has become the default, if not dominant platform. Social and e-commerce remain as important as ever. And Google and Facebook as companies are still incredibly important.
So as sexy as talking about marketing trends can be, it’s clear that change tends to be evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary. I know that’s a boring story. I know we all want to talk about the “ooh, shiny” and “the cool new thing.” But it’s generally true that we kind of go through an evolution over time.
What Has Changed?
At the same time, just as digital has become integrated into our marketing foundations, we’re starting to see the technologies and the tactics mature and earn their place inside your overall marketing toolkit.
Marketing Trend: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Some of the evolution we’re seeing is starting to look like a revolution as you look back towards where we were a decade ago. Now with all that said, one of the biggest trends is that the big players, the AGFAM — Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft — are under more threat than they’ve been in years. Why?
Well, two letters: AI. Artificial intelligence. Or if you prefer machine learning, ML. Generative AI is one of the biggest trends we’ve seen in years. Whether we’re talking about DALL-E, whether we’re talking about Stable Diffusion, whether we’re talking about ChatGPT, and its underlying technology of GPT 3 or GPT 3.5.
These tools for creating images and text are becoming really, really useful. There was a story a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times about basically how ChatGPT is scaring the crap out of Google. The Verge also had a great writeup on this. I will of course link to these in the show notes. Bloomberg has a report that says Microsoft is adding ChatGPT into its search, into Bing, which is a way that they can bring it to market pretty quickly. You know, without the OpenAI Foundation having to be the one who commercializes it. Microsoft is an investor in OpenAI so go figure that this is something that they’re, you know, looking to do. And, of course, there’s more innovation coming here.
ChatGPT is built on a large language model called GPT 3.5. And GPT 4 is probably coming soon. Nobody’s quite sure when, but some articles claim we might see this as early as the first quarter of 2023. In other words, within a few months.
Google obviously is not standing still. Just as those articles said that, you know, ChatGPT is scaring the crap out of Google, they’re trying to make sure that they don’t get left by the wayside. Google has its own large language models like PaLM and LaMDA and they’re also working on what’s called “an ambitious project” that they claim will support the world’s 1,000 most spoken languages. So there’s a lot coming and these are going to be pretty mainstream, I suspect over the next 9-12-18 months.
We’ve talked about this before, that there are downsides to these technologies. You know, Meta tried something called Galactica that turned into a mess. But Generative AI absolutely has its place. And we should expect to see a lot more of these tools finding their way into your workflows throughout 2023.
Betting on the Future
I’d bet a fair bit of money on these playing a role in your marketing efforts by the end of the year. Either you’ll be using them directly — you may already be testing them. Or they’ll be built into the products you’re already using. Google, as I’ve already mentioned, has a huge stake in not getting disrupted by these kinds of tools. So does Microsoft with Bing, but also Microsoft Office with Word, with PowerPoint. And so does a company like Adobe. If you think about Photoshop or Adobe Analytics, they could really rely on these tools to help them maintain their market position they need to, or else they risk losing that market position to startups who are using them. So this is a really exciting time and we’re seeing more disruption than we’ve seen in a long time of the biggest players.
AI Won’t Steal Your Job
Now, obviously it’s easy to look at this and say, well, should I be worried about my job? And I don’t think so, or at least I don’t. If you’re starting to pay attention to this, if you’re starting to make use of these tools, SciTechDaily had a post the other day that talked about how “robots are taking over jobs, but don’t panic yet.”
Notice the key word there is “yet.” As I’ve said for years, AI won’t steal your job, but smart people who use AI will. So be smart and start looking at ways you can use AI and start looking at vendors who help you to use AI.
The other big threat that the big players face, of course, is pressure from regulators. Now, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this. It’s not my core area of expertise. You know, I’m sure there are people who can predict what regulators are likely to do; I’m not sure that I’m one of them.
But obviously as the US gavels in its new Congress, it will remain worth watching. We’re also seeing the EU bring a number of enforcement actions against the big digital players. And the reason that it’s worth watching is because it seems to have the AGFAM — Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft — looking over their shoulder and, if I can mix metaphors for a moment, waiting for the other shoe to drop. And that is a big marketing trend that you want to pay attention to this year because it creates space for their competitors to operate. We’ll see what happens, but it is opening up the landscape a little bit.
Marketing Trend: Social Experimentation
One of the reasons that’s important is because it influences our next most important marketing trend, which is social experimentation. It’s pretty clear that Facebook has stumbled badly over the last year. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they’re going anywhere anytime soon. They are still huge. They have 2 billion users on its legacy Facebook app, on Instagram, on WhatsApp. Each. They’re not going to disappear overnight.
They’re also clearly not as dominant.
Time to Test TikTok
And all the growth, the lion’s share of growth, is clearly happening elsewhere with TikTok being at the top of that list. If you are a B2C company, business to consumer, it’s probably well past time for you to start testing TikTok. They’ve got a billion users already. Yes, TikTok might end up being banned, but as Benedict Evans noted the other day, TikTok is producing far too much money. There’s way too much money at stake for the people who care not to work out a solution. That’s not a firm prediction on my part, because, again, I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to predict what Congress will do. You know, they might not be able to agree on a solution anytime soon; it took them 15 ballots to elect a speaker of the house. But it’s also clear that TikTok’s links to the government of China are problematic. There is, you know, evidence that they’ve done some spying on journalists and so there may be some risks.
That said, it’s worth testing if you do it right, you know, put it on a computer that doesn’t have anything else on it, put it on an iPad, something along those lines, and test it for your business. And of course, TikTok isn’t the only game in town. There is Discord. There’s Twitch. There’s Mastodon. There are other social channels that might be worth conducting some tests.
Marketing Trend: The Continued Rise of Community
Now, the reason I say might is because there is another important marketing trend you want to watch that year, and that is how you grow your community. How do you actually get a closer connection with your customers, both potential and real, so that you can connect with them more completely so that you can build a deeper relationship.
We’re seeing lots of companies move their networks towards email or a closed social group like Discord. If you look at the growth of email newsletters among media, and the renewed commitment to email among brands, it’s pretty clear that companies who are doing well are doing so by building that connection and making it more holistic.
The Ongoing Need for Hub and Spoke
It’s also really important because if you look at the Twitter… well, let’s call it “mess” and how that’s reinforced, if there’s anything we should learn, it’s the importance of following a Hub and Spoke strategy. You know, the Hub is the assets you control — your website, your email marketing list, your community. And the Spokes are the distribution channels that let you reach that community — Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google, et cetera.
It’s really, really time to make sure you’re moving folks who engage with your Spokes towards your Hub. Now, that might sound like it contradicts the “test TikTok” recommendation, but you still need Spokes. You just also want to deepen the relationship with people who already know you.
Expand Your Work With Creators
You may also want to be testing more how you work with creators or influencers who can help you expand your audience in some new spokes, in some new distribution channels. Your customers continue to seek brands that they can connect with, that feel authentic and natural and real. Most importantly, brands that speak to their values.
So who can help you do that? Who, who speaks to your values and helps you reach your audience more effectively? That’s something that you definitely want to be testing throughout 2023.
Marketing Trend: The Economy at Large
The last big trend in marketing that I think it’s worth paying attention to is not about marketing at all. It’s actually larger than that. It is the economy and maybe a recession. Maybe. I don’t know how likely it is that we are going to have a recession in 2023. I wouldn’t bet a ton on it one way or the other. We’re seeing lots of layoffs among the biggest players like Amazon and Facebook; Google mostly hasn’t had layoffs yet. But regardless of whether we’re going to have a recession or not — and again, I wouldn’t bet very much on it one way or the other at the moment — this remains a deeply strange and weird economy.
I pay attention to a number of very, very savvy economists through The Conference Board and people who were on various Councils of Economic Advisors to various presidential administrations. And they’re all saying the same thing, which is, this is a weird, weird economy .
Forget a “Recession.” Watch How Your Customers Spend Their Money
So the point is that you want to keep an eye on leading indicators among your customers.
- How’s the economy affecting them?
- Is the amount that they’re spending with you changing?
- Is it getting smaller?
- Are they taking more time to make purchases?
- Are they being more considered in those decisions?
If so, that’s a pretty good sign that they’re being more cautious.
We don’t need an actual recession to slow down your customer’s spending or impact your revenues.
Now, if you don’t see those things great, full steam ahead, things are going well, but it’s something we want to pay attention to.
The Talent War
And of course, as a consequence of the economy, we’re still seeing that talent is tough to come by. That’s one of the reasons this is a weird economy right now, that unemployment is historically low, and also people are suggesting there might be a recession. Those two things usually don’t happen at the same time.
That’s going to have an effect when we talk about talent of, you know, do you need to continue to look at remote work? Do you need to embrace remote work, or is that something that might not be around as much by the end of the year? I don’t really know, and I’m not really willing to take too many bets on it.
I would suggest that you want to pay attention to what’s happening in the marketplace for talent as well as your customers’ behaviors. Those are the things that are going to help you understand how the economy is affecting your business and allow you to make the right decisions for your business as you go forward.
How Can You Manage These Trends?
Now, I realize I’ve talked about a variety of different trends and also since some of these may happen and some of these may not happen. So it begs the question, what can you do to be ready?
Well, the first of course, and I’ve talked about this many times, is scenario. I’ll post some links in the show notes to prior podcast episodes about “How You Can Do Business In What Is The Weirdest Economy Ever.” Plan for the best case, the worst case, and the base case scenarios so that you’re ready no matter what happens.
Think in Bets
You’ll also note I’ve said many times in this episode about I wouldn’t bet much or I would bet, et cetera. There’s a great book called “Thinking In Bets” by Annie Duke. And it’s a great way to think about things when you’re not terribly certain. How much would you be willing to bet on a given outcome? Getting used to that framework is really helpful as you think about the trends that might matter as the year goes.
Core and Explore
Of course, while we’re talking about frameworks, I also would encourage you to think about a “Core and Explore” framework. Use that as a means to test.
Put most of your energy, most of your resources, most of your budget, into things that are core to your business. And then test explore with maybe 10%, 15% of your budget to see what might become part of the core over time. Anything that I’ve talked about here that you go, “I’m not really sure.” Fine. Don’t put a big bet on it. Put a small bet on it. Test and see if that makes sense to you. Explore and see if it works for your business, and then you can move that into the Core over time if it pays off.
Predicting is Foolish. Preparation is Key
The last thing that I would encourage you to do is accept that it’s impossible to predict every marketing trend perfectly. There are too many wild cards, too many variables. How many people predicted last year that Elon Musk would buy Twitter ? How many people predicted that we’d all have to learn how to spell Mastodon?
Listen to Your Customers
The world sometimes changes in ways we can’t see coming. The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to predict the future. You don’t need to care about trends if they’re not being adopted by your customers. You don’t have a Mastodon account for your business? That’s okay. It probably means you don’t need one.
Instead, listen to your customers. Pay attention to the data that you see in your business, and they’ll tell you where you need to go.
Recapping the Most Important Marketing Trends of 2023
So if we recap the top marketing trends for the year:
- This is likely to be a year of change
- AI and machine learning are making their way into the mainstream of marketing technology and marketing
- Overall, competitive and regulatory pressures are beginning to hit the AGFAM pretty hard
- There are opportunities for social experimentation. It’s really important to use a Hub and Spoke strategy, especially now to build your community in case one of the big guys’ falters.
- It’s really important that you keep an eye on the larger economy and how it will affect your customers.
And lastly, the one thing I would bet a lot of money on is that listening to your customers will remain the most important marketing trend this year and every year after that. It’s the one marketing trend we can count on never going out of style.
Show Closing and Credits
Now looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes by going to TimPeter.com/podcasts. Again, that’s TimPeter.com/podcasts. Just look for episode 369.
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So I really hope you have a great rest of the week. I hope you have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe and as always, take care of everybody.