It goes without saying the marketing landscape is increasingly treacherous.

It’s challenging to capture the spotlight and get people to pay attention. With so much information coming at them, people happily ignore, delete or quickly scan your well-planned campaigns.

So what’s on the horizon for 2019? There’s certainly a lot of talk about the impact of artificial intelligence, chatbots, voice, SEO, account-based marketing, and data. While I think these are exciting developments, I’m more interested in things that directly involve the customer.

In my mind, it is essential for brands to connect with customers. I’m not talking about marketing automation or drip email campaigns but marketing that resonates and establishes relationships.

In many respects, this type of marketing is harder than using digital tools to pound away at prospects. It requires marketers to have an in-depth understanding of their target audiences and how they research and make purchases.

It means having ultra-detailed buyer personas (here’s how to create them) and a strong grasp on how customers flow from awareness to consideration to decision.

For marketers who heavily rely on digital tools, customer-focused marketing is different and requires new approaches. It also involves connecting and establishing relationships with consumers, other than delivering a wave of quasi-personalized email messages.

In no particular order, here’s what I envision as the key trends this year:

  1. Connecting with customers on an emotional level.

People make decisions based on emotions. We subconsciously gravitate to brands and products that make us feel something.

or example, Apple makes you feel cool and part of something bigger. storytellingBMW makes you feel powerful. Airbnb makes you feel like the world is your oyster. Porter Airlines makes you feel like flying is a luxurious experience.

The leading brands recognize the most powerful marketing triggers emotions and get people to take actions such as asking for a demo or making a purchase.

To establish better connections, it is crucial to understand your customers and, as important, the different emotions that attract someone’s attention. A brand’s marketing must reflect the customer’s experience physically and mentally.

A brand has to know what someone is looking to achieve and deliver marketing that meets expectations and makes an impact.

Billie Howard describes this as the “Emotion Economy”. He says that For successful brands, it’s no longer just about understanding what customers will do, but rather how they feel and how we can best get them to act.”

2. Creativity will be valued as much as data.

For the data jockeys, this seems like heresy. When everything is measured, success comes from tracking metrics and making adjustments, right?

creativityBut I think the pendulum is swinging back to creativity for a variety of reasons. For one, consumers have tons of information at their fingertips. Brands no longer have to inform consumers because they already know prices, features, benefits, and the competitive landscape.

So how do you capture a consumer’s attention? How do you make them stop rather than move on to the next float in the marketing parade?

The key is leveraging your brand’s creativity.

Let your marketers take risks, push the envelope, and make mistakes. Give your people the freedom to embrace creativity to make your marketing dynamic, interesting, and compelling. Create marketing that sparks ideas, dreams, and encourages people to imagine new possibilities.

Don’t get me wrong, data is important. It delivers amazing insight and strategic and tactical direction. But the marriage of data and creativity is powerful. It’s a one-two punch that delivers a competitive edge at a time when many brands are using the same tools and channels.

As Jeroen Kuppens says marketers will create a new balance between data and creativity: “Data will tell us what kind of content we need, who we should share it with, and when. It will then be the marketer’s job to create compelling, engaging, creative content that fits within those parameters.” 

3. Brand storytelling continues to play a key role, even if some organizations struggle to truly embrace it.

As a long-time storyteller, I’m waging a Don Quixote-like battle to convince brands that storytelling matters…more than ever.

storytellingIn a fast-moving, multi-tasking world, good storytelling engages, educates, and entertains. People are wired for stories. When someone hears a story, it fires up parts of our brains and makes us pay attention, which is a huge accomplishment these days. Then, anything can happen.

Many brands, however, struggle with storytelling.

The biggest problem is they’re not taking a customer-centric approach to marketing and sales. Instead, they’re focused on product.

But here’s the thing: consumers don’t care about your product; they’re interested in how your product impacts their lives. It’s about them, not you. If you tell stories that reflect their interests, dreams, problems, and aspirations, there’s a better chance your marketing will break through the noise.

4. Authenticity and transparency will matter more to consumers.

As much as marketing is designed to get people to think about your brand or products in particular ways, consumers are increasingly interested in a company’s purpose and how they make a positive impact on the world. As Simon Sinek proclaimed, “why” matters more than “how” or “what”.

Consumers, particularly millennials, want to know your brand’s purpose and what it stands for.

TOMS, for example, is succeeding amid fierce competition in the shoe world by focusing on improving the needs of people around the world. Dove is focused on helping improve the self-esteem of young women. Starbucks is committed to fighting hunger and saving the environment.

Consumers are demanding that brands be transparent and committed to improving the world in which they do business. They want marketing that aligns with their values rather than brands simply seeing them as consumers who make transactions. This is even more important as Generation Z becomes a bigger part of the economy.

5. Personalization will encourage engagement and loyalty

In a data-driven world, personalization is a strange beast.

personalization Brands have tremendous amounts of information to micro-target their sales and marketing activities. In some ways, it’s creepy and disturbing, which is why privacy is a huge problem and concern.

I look at personalization differently. I see it as brands taking the time and effort to learn about their customers so marketing is tailored to someone’s particular interests.

For example, brands can create content for specific buyer personas. They can develop personalized experiences on a Website so what a consumer sees aligns with their needs. Email marketing campaigns can reflect someone’s interests rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

By personalizing marketing, it is easier for brands to establish better and stronger relationships and, not surprisingly, carve out a competitive edge.

What do you think? How will the landscape change in 2019?

If you’re looking for marketing and storytelling inspiration and guidance on how to get marketing done, My new book, Marketing Spark is not your typical marketing book. It’s a workbook for entrepreneurs, featuring frameworks, templates, worksheets, tools, and how-to guides. It’s available on Amazon.