It’s official — the 2010s are over and we have begun our journey into the 2020s. As always, the mark of a new year is a time for reflection and while companies develop their marketing strategies in the ensuing months, it is vital that one looks back at their past for insight. 

How did your company utilize digital marketing strategies in the past year and decade? Which strategies worked? Which didn’t?

While answering these questions and preparing for the new year, one must understand that the 2020s will be remembered as a period unlike any decade prior. New technologies are developing at an unprecedented pace — a pace that would be inconceivable by the generations before us — and they will fundamentally transform the digital world as the decade wears on. To best understand the trends that will define the future of digital marketing, we must first look back and examine how we got where we are and how it will affect where we go.

Fifty years ago, the idea of a personal computer was foreign. Computers were a tool used only by scientists and mathematicians and the introduction of a user-friendly computer interface for the masses was still years away. The technology of computers was so new and rudimentary that the Apollo 11 spaceflight was launched by a computer designed on paper and put together by humans.

Now, personal computers aren’t just commonplace, they’ve gotten tinier and more powerful. The iPhone — which more than 100 million Americans own — contains more than 100,000 times the processing power of the Apollo 11 computer, over one million times the memory and more than seven million times the storage. Even our fastest computers have gotten faster — three months ago, Google announced its development of a quantum computer that, in a mere three minutes and 20 seconds, could execute a mathematical calculation that would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to complete. The pace of technological advancement is accelerating exponentially and with it our ability to perform incredible feats in the sphere of digital marketing.

With this history in mind, one can better understand what the future will hold. Fewer and fewer barriers will keep people from accessing the internet in the coming years and the ways in which we can utilize these numerous technological advancements will multiply with each passing day. The key to understanding digital marketing’s future  is to recognize how and when its channels will transform in the coming years. Knowing that, you can strategically focus your digital marketing efforts on the most fruitful and up-to-date trends.

Listed below are three of the biggest trends to look out for in the coming year. The consensus in the digital marketing sphere is that these trends will define the industry over the course of the decade and any successful company will have to consider one, if not all of these trends, to stay competitive. Apply these trends in the context of your own company to form a marketing strategy that doesn’t just succeed, but excels.

The Influence of Interactive and Visual Content Will Grow

In addition to countless other industries, digital marketing is faced with a daunting reality: more than 90 percent of all existing data was produced in the past two years. With such an influx of information, the digital marketing world is tasked with taking applicable data and either using it for actionable analytics or reinterpreting the data into useful and consumable content for businesses. It’s common knowledge that content is King, and although voice search and the importance of search engine result page (SERP) position zero — which we’ll get into below — bolster the importance of textual content, visual and interactive content are the next frontier for companies that want to maintain their competitive edge. 

Interactive and visual content is an umbrella term for numerous types of content, including info-graphics, VR/interactive videos, quizzes, surveys and even images to accompany simple blog posts. An estimated 60 percent of all people are visual learners and content with some sort of visual or interactive accompaniment produces nearly three times the amount of engagement that text-only content does. Considering the more positive response consumers have to inbound marketing practices, as opposed to outbound marketing practices, one must recognize the importance high-quality content in attracting your target audience as we enter the new decade. 

Voice Search and SERP Position Zero Will Reign

A trend that has emerged in the past decade, following Google’s introduction of the technology to consumers in 2011, is voice search. The spread of the technology to numerous facets of consumers’ lives and its essential role in smart speakers has transformed voice search from a unnecessary novelty to a fundamental technology in search marketing. In fact, it’s estimated that voice searches will account for over 50 percent of all searches on search engines in 2020. While this development is no surprise to anyone that has followed emerging digital marketing trends in the past couple years, it does have significant effects on how we look at SEO and SERPs.

The way in which we use SEO will see massive changes as voice search takes the reigns as a dominant aspect of consumers’ search engine engagement. Historically, position number one in SERPs is the most coveted location for your web page to be listed, but as the quantity of information on the internet has increased, consumers’ browsing/search habits have changed. Now, it is more common for consumers to avoid clicking through a web page and instead locate the information they seek on the SERPs. There are numerous locations where information is displayed on SERPs, but the most sought-after location is SERP position zero. Located right at the top of the page, before any organic listings, is position zero and for most searchers, it displays the only information they view. With position zero search results accounting for more than 60 percent of all search results returned by Google, the need to prioritize SERP position zero cannot be more emphasized.

Brand Importance Will Take Center Stage

A few decades ago, moats defined the business world. A company’s features, strategies or technologies that gave it an advantage or competitive edge were considered its moat, and they played an essential role for companies trying to differentiate themselves from the competition. Nowadays, though, the ease to copy or imitate the competition has seen the presence and importance of moats dwindle online. With few moats separating companies from their competition online, how can one possibly try to stand out?

The answer is branding. As it becomes harder and harder for businesses to maintain some sort of moat that can stave off the competition, businesses will have an increasingly difficult time separating themselves from the rest of the pack. Strong branding can overcome this challenge and even go further to strengthen a company’s advantage over the competition. An example of branding’s strength can be found by looking at the Kardashians.

Does Kylie Jenner’s cosmetic company feature any unique products that can’t be found anywhere else? Is Kim Kardashian’s mobile game a revolutionary offering in the mobile entertainment world? Is Kendall Jenner’s swimwear line cost-competitive with other major swimwear companies? Objectively, the answer to all three questions is no and the success of their businesses can be accredited to their strong branding strategy. Moat or not, a strong brand has the potential to push a company from mediocrity to supremacy in the 2020s and one would be foolish to ignore its importance.

Together, these trends will serve as some of the biggest changes to the digital marketing world as we progress through 2020. While there are numerous other trends to expect in 2020 and beyond, these three are expected to have the largest role in transforming digital marketing and thrusting the industry into a new digital age where it will be even harder to distinguish oneself from the competition.

After reading about the trends above, which one do you think will receive the most attention in the future? Are there any other trends you expect to emerge in 2020? Comment below on where you think the world of digital marketing is headed in 2020.