Marketing 2017

Take An Exclusive Look Into The Future

Future of MarketingMarketing experts and industry professionals describe the strategies that will be most effective in five years. Take an exclusive look into the marketing future.

Among all the marketing predictions that today's industry leaders are making, this may be the boldest: "I see a pretty significant demise of most agencies," says Rodger Roeser, president and division leader of The Eisen Agency, based in Cincinnati.

Those are some brave words coming from a marketing executive about his own industry. Roeser's not saying marketing agencies will vanish, but how they operate may fundamentally change. And so will marketing itself, say Roeser and many other experts we talked to.

For distributors, that may be welcome news as more of a marketing onus gets put on specific project management, and on marketing elements such as promotional products. Already, "you're seeing larger agencies slashing budgets, cutting staff," Roeser says. "They can't afford all this expertise in-house."

Instead, Roeser predicts, the marketplace will see more project management-type agencies where people will be hired to "sherpa" campaigns through one at a time, rather than be on retainer for general marketing needs. In that sense it could mean more corporate clients looking to distributors for ideas and execution of marketing logistics.

But the industry's most successful companies will need to stay ahead of the curve with the latest marketing techniques in order to be guides for their clients – and even better, for the prospects that they're not doing business with yet, but who will be growing in numbers as they seek outside help.

What will the greatest changes in marketing be five years from now? We asked experts inside and outside the industry to weigh in with their best predictions.

Presentations Will Be 3-D
When Brad Akers dreams, he dreams big. Wouldn't it be amazing, he wonders, if distributors could simply carry a computerized pen around with them that could project 3-D images of products?

They might work much the same way laser pointers do today, but instead of beaming a red light on the wall, they'd project holographic, 3-D images. It would mean distributors could leave clunky products, heavy catalogs and other cumbersome presentation tools in the office. It could allow them to see more clients and prospects in a given day, and send the message that their companies work with cutting-edge technology.

Akers, president and CEO of Chicago-based Tip-Top Branding (asi/344851), isn't aware of an electronic tool like that, but experts say he isn't far off at all on the 3-D element of his futuristic vision. In the future, marketers say, movie theaters and filmmakers won't be the only entities embracing three-dimensional technology. Small businesses will be doing that as well.

"I think we could be looking at a lot of 3-D presentations and 3-D product simulations," says Grant Cardone, head of Los Angeles-based sales consultancy Cardone Enterprises.

"It could be anything from a brochure to a product creation delivered in 3-D on something that looks like a tablet PC, but might not be a tablet five years from now," Cardone says. "Technology continues to advance at an alarming rate," he adds, predicting that there may be devices as small as a cell phone with the capability to "throw a holographic image on any hard surface" in the future.

Of course, even the fanciest presentation tool won't replace solid sales skills. "It's still going to come down to one human being's ability to convince that business owner to do business with him," Cardone says. But technology so advanced that it could project multi-dimensional images on a wall from a cell phone or other type of device would certainly give marketers an advantage against competitors, he adds. In the world of ad specialties, "you don't want to go in with paper if they're using 3-D holographics. You'll be dead in the water."

Companies that embrace 3-D and other advanced technologies will see their sales cycles shrink dramatically, says Vin Gupta, founder of Infofree.com, a sales lead generation firm based in San Mateo, CA. Being able to e-mail 3-D images, for example, could allow distributors to eliminate some in-person sales calls, not to mention time spent mailing brochures or samples via the post office.

Normally, clients "have to see a demo in person, and that takes time," Gupta says. "But with this technology you could say, ‘I can give you a 3-D webinar right now. It will take 30 seconds.' Once they see the product, they might say, ‘OK, this is neat. How much is it?' It will allow entrepreneurs to demonstrate products and reach markets more quickly and effectively."

Mobile Will Be the New Normal
In a world where shoppers can swing through a mall, "order a dinner and see a dress they like and order it on a phone, mobile marketing is a must," says Linda Neumann, president of San Diego-based Brilliant Marketing Ideas (asi/146083), who has studied industry marketing trends.

And the numbers back it up: 90% of smartphone searches result in an individual taking action, according to The Bootstrapper's Guide, a series of guides that help small-business owners enhance their online presence. What's more, 82% of smartphone users say they notice mobile ad campaigns, while 88% of those who look for a product or service on their phone take action within a day of searching. Unfortunately, though, most small companies are woefully behind the curve when it comes to a mobile online presence. A recent Digital-Scape study, produced by vSplashtechlabs Inc., a digital media marketing firm in Lyndhurst, NJ, found that 98% of small and medium-size businesses still don't have mobile-optimized sites.

While many distributors may argue that mobile marketing and e-commerce are largely reserved for consumer products, experts disagree, saying that business-to-business environments can benefit from the same technology. The latest studies show that when smartphone users search for products on their desktops, they're likely conducting research for a future purchase. But when they look for products on a smartphone, they're looking to find a seller immediately. And while most customers still do business behind a desk, it's likely that their purchasing decisions will increasingly be on the road in the coming years, making smartphone technology and mobilized websites more important for distributors looking to boost e-commerce and orders from new clients.

Experts also point to the importance of smaller companies not falling behind when it comes to new technologies. The growth of the Internet has allowed small businesses – ad specialty distributors included – to more easily compete with large companies. The playing field has been leveled, but experts say small companies can lose that leverage if they don't quickly optimize their websites for mobile use.

Social Media Equals Marketing
"I don't think our industry uses a lot of the tools available to them today," says Neumann. "How many suppliers go on a distributor's LinkedIn site and look at who they're linked with? But, chances are if a distributor has customers, say, four or five from a bank, I would guess that distributor has a connection to that bank."

For a supplier, that kind of background information could offer a better marketing approach to that distributor. And for distributors, it could be a window into their client base.

Neumann may be right in thinking that the industry's distributors, many of whom are overworked and short on time, don't have the ability to spend time on a client's LinkedIn or Facebook page. "I don't think a lot of distributors or suppliers are really focused on social media as much as they could be as another avenue to really increase their marketing," Neumann adds.

But in the future, they'll be selling themselves short by not doing so. Experts inside the ad specialty industry and outside marketing consultants unanimously say that marketing in 2017 will be nearly synonymous with social media. They'll be one and the same – the venues may change, as they often quickly do with technology, but the concepts will be a vital cog in the marketing machine of every company.

In addition to identifying key interests via social media that might play into a company or individual's sales pitch, distributors may boost their customer awareness and service levels via social media sites and real-time texts that may, for example, alert a seller when a client has a birthday, gets married, has a child or experiences some other big life moment in his life.

In the future, "let's say somebody gets married; you will get an alert right away, giving you a more personalized awareness of your customers," Gupta says. "If they just had a baby and you call them and say, ‘congrats,' they're going to be a customer for life."

It may seem like a step outside of traditional marketing, but using technology to gather real-time information – via social media or other sources – for a closer client relationship is going to be a key marketing strategy moving forward, Gupta and others insist. As companies try to build closer partnerships with their clients, this kind of personal information can help in the effort. Whereas traditional marketing efforts used to be the vehicle to connect with buyers, social media will increasingly be the avenue.

Direct Marketing is Dead
Or at least on its last legs as we know it. "From a cost perspective, direct mail just does not work," says David Steinberg, chairman and CEO of New York-based data marketing company XL Marketing.

With a flood of marketing dollars being redirected to social and online media, as well as other nontraditional marketing media like promotional products, Steinberg predicts that direct mail in its current format may be all but dead in the next five years.

While Steinberg and others admit that direct mail still has a place in marketing, its effectiveness is being reserved for highly targeted campaigns. Five years from now, it will only make sense to send direct-mail pieces to a handful of clients and prospects, rather than to the masses as some marketers do today, he says.

The key to effective direct-mail campaigns in the future, particularly for products, experts say, will be the degree to which distributors can align specific products with the needs of their clients. "We have databases of 125 million people that we know a lot about," Steinberg says.

Accessing large databases for direct mail is clearly not the problem, he and other experts say. Fine-tuning those lists to create a significant buy rate is the challenge. "Instead of taking a blast shotgun approach, you're taking a narrow and targeted approach," he says.

That idea of finely-tuned targeting isn't new, Steinberg admits, but the analytics used to narrow databases will be – and even more so five years from now. Marketers will be able to track corporate decision-makers through social media, via their titles online, Steinberg says. Just watching the online behavior of a key decision-maker via social media can help inform distributors of their clients' interests and professional needs.

Much more specific analytics will make direct mail that much more effective in this new approach, agrees Akers. "The days of a mass mailing with a 2% return will become a thing of the past," he says. "The expectation of return will be much higher because your target is much more precise." – E-Mail: betsycummings23@gmail.com