An inability to keep up with the times could leave your company vulnerable to declining sales (at best) or bankruptcy (at worst). Remember Kodak and Blockbuster? If you do, then you’ll know why I referenced them. If you don’t, let that be a lesson to you about the importance of adjusting to shifts in the market. Here are seven marketing shifts you should contemplate this year along with possible implications and some recommendations. As always, you’re welcome.

There’s benefit to providing something of value for free

For decades, it was the acronym motto of every sales force in the nation: ABC, always be closing. The focus of marketing and sales teams was to seal the deal, get prospects to sign on the dotted line, to add the tally mark and move on to the next prospect.

In today’s world, that method sounds insincere, detached, and corporate… three qualities that cause millennials to cringe. Instead, sales/marketing today has shifted to a different mindset: always be helping. In other words, there’s a value to providing value in the form of expertise, education, or experience. Such value may appear in the form of video tutorials (a la Home Depot), blog posts (a la Seth Godin), open houses (a la Grace Prep), or a live chat online.

Implications

This shift means marketers have to play the long game, companies need to focus on building relationships, and old school tactics may do more harm than good for your bottom line.

Recommendations

Gather your team to brainstorm value offers you can provide that will enhance and solidify your connection to prospects in such a way that their purchase is the most logical next step.

WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)

According to the U.S. Census, one in five Americans had a disability in 2010. Is your online presence accessible to people with hearing impairments, visual impairments, sensory processing disorders, or mobility limitations? It’s about more than being politically correct and inclusive; it’s about up to 20% of your target market being unable to use your website the way you intend for it to be used.

WCAG guidelines provide site builders a checklist of things to note, modify, or consider for the sake of those who wish to use the website like anybody else would. For example, it could be as simple as adding captions to videos, making sure image alt text is descriptive, and explaining the information represented in a chart or graph.

Implications

Money-hungry lawyers are filing suit against companies that fail to consider the needs of those with disabilities, and courts are deciding in their favor. Can your brand afford the costs of a lawsuit or the damage to your reputation?

And it’s just good business. Making your website more accessible to those with disabilities expands your market, but it also makes your website more user friendly for all visitors. In a world where UX can make or break a brand, this is a big deal.

Recommendations

Have your IT department or web designer go over the WCAG and make the necessary changes, or hire an agency to do that for you. *wink wink nudge nudge*

Pull back the curtain, sell the experience

There was a time when the inner workings of a business remained hidden and out of sight. Not knowing how things came to be was part of the magic. (Think about how Disney’s parks transport characters from one event to the next or remove waste. It’s all behind the scenes.)

However, companies in some industries are discovering that by pulling back the curtain, they can sell more than just a product; they can sell the experience. Disney sells behind-the-scenes tours, Build-A-Bear encourages customers to assemble their own product, and breweries host home brewing classes.

Implications

People can have products delivered to their door at the click of a button, but experiences are limited. If you provide an experience, you create a connection that would otherwise be missing. Customers talk about your company like they talk about their vacation because experiences become symbols of status and notability. Word of mouth publicity like that can’t be bought.

Recommendations

Strategize ways to invite customers behind the scenes with you. Provide a new experience that connects them to your brand.

Online search changes

In case you’ve been living under a rock or something, you should know the way people search for information online has changed. (Watch this video of an Italian grandmother learning to use Google Home to see what I mean.) Not only do most searches originate on a mobile device, but Google released a mobile-first algorithm to meet the needs of this change. Additionally, voice search continues to be on the rise with devices like Google Home, Alexa, and Siri taking what used to be a text-based process and making it audible.

Where once people typed a sequence of words into a search bar to find results (ex: pizza restaurant Fort Worth), they now ask a question conversationally (ex: What pizza restaurants are near me?). Where once people were willing to read multiple lines of text on their larger screens, now they prefer to watch videos with the same content on their small screens.

Implications

It’s about more than just syntax and device usage. When people change the way they search, it means companies need to change the way they get found in search. In most cases, individual keywords are too competitive and broad to return beneficial results. Long tail keywords and conversational questions need to become the focus for content marketers.

Recommendations

Learn about and find ways to implement all the different types of search results for desktop, mobile, and voice. To be found online, companies need to launch multifaceted search engine optimization approaches. And start making videos to answer some of your most frequently asked questions.

Individualization

With the rise in access to machine learning technology and the personalization that results, customers expect companies to cater to their individual preferences more and more. Just look at Google Translate as an example. When it first launched, the translations were rudimentary at best, but over time, the machine has learned and evolved into a highly functional tool. Netflix learns enough to recommend shows, Amazon recommends products, Spotify recommends music… The machines are getting to know us better than we know ourselves.

Implications

One-size-fits-all won’t fly any more. People prefer customization. Companies are left trying to find ways to tailor services and products to meet the individual expectations and desires of consumers.

Recommendations

B2C businesses, tech companies in particular, need to find a way to personalize the user experience, if not their core products. If you can’t individualize a product, strategize a way to individualize the consumer’s experience with that product as we talked about in the Pulling Back the Curtain section above.

Business in a fishbowl

Video cameras in every pocket and social media platforms around every corner of the internet put lives, mistakes, and businesses in the public’s eye… for better or for worse. Ask the PR department at United Airlines after one of their employees dragged a passenger off the plane. If there’s video footage, there’s a chance it will go viral. If it goes viral, there’s a chance your company will be in the news. As a result, your company is only as reputable as your least diplomatic employee. Find out more about what TrendWatching calls Glass Box Brands in their brief on the topic.

Implications

Not only do you need to have a quality product or service offering, you need to have quality employees to help you sell it. Consumers want to know that the businesses they support align with their values. Unless the company launches a charitable campaign or publicly supports a cause, the only way people know about the values is by observing employee actions. Even then, the actions of a few may outweigh the intentions of the rest.

Recommendations

The hiring process should be considered part of your company’s marketing efforts because your employees reflect your brand. Public relations and social media teams should work together to maintain an online reputation. Business goes well beyond the office walls.

Subscriptions

Consumers are showing a desire to pay for access with a subscription over a desire to have the actual products in hand. For example, look at the number of people subscribing to Netflix versus paying for cable television, the number of Spotify subscriptions versus the number of digital downloads, and the number of service providers charging retainer fees rather than charging by the project.

In some cases, consumer activity seems to suggest a stronger desire for digital interaction over interaction with physical objects. For example, Lego has reported not only a decline in sales, but also a reduction in force. Many cite video games and YouTube as the reasons kids are less interested in playing with Legos. In the adult world, Tinder is the highest grossing app in the App Store, revealing that people would rather meet potential mates in a digital environment first.

Implications

If customers have the choice between choosing to buy one product one time or having access to multiple products all the time, the modern-day consumer will more often choose the latter. As the demand shifts and more weight is placed on subscriptions and digitization, businesses need to reconfigure the ways they reach customers, provide products, and sell services.

Recommendations

If your bread and butter is based on the one-time purchase of a physical product, you need to find a way to meet customer demand for access or digitization. Find a way to sell subscriptions to what you provide that will make a profit and meet consumers in their on-demand world.

Conclusion

Some shifts will apply more to your particular business than others, but keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the market keeps your product from becoming a relic in someone’s attic.