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These 8 digital themes should be on CMO's agendas


We are heading towards the conclusion of the eventful year 2023. In most ways, a year to never forget but leave behind us. Economic struggles, war, disasters, there has been quite a lot going on in the world. But, at the same time, 2023 has been very interesting for to our marketing business. It feels like a pivotal year in which the shift to 'the human agency' really gained traction. By this I mean the turnaround that authors like Andrew Keen have been preaching for years. The turnaround where the user is in control in terms of privacy and data. Or, as my iO colleagues nicely described it: 'from targeting to trust'. Apart from that, it was an interesting year from a digital marketing perspective anyway, given the accelerated development of 'digital first marketing thinking' among many brands. Partly forced by economic stagnation, partly by changing customer behaviour because of (among other things) the covid pandemic. McKinsey, for instance, published a piece on the accelerated digital-first media transition back in 2020.

The recent 'explosion' of AI is only going to drive these developments even further. While I think we all hope that the world will have a quieter and especially more peaceful year ahead, when it comes to digital marketing, there is actually a very exciting year ahead. In this article, I try to put into words some of the developments that I think will define the digital marketing year. Of course, in many cases it is a continuation of developments already underway, but as a CMO, the items below should be at the top of your strategic calendar.

1.The switch to owned media
No matter which CMO or marketing manager I speak to, it is always to a greater or lesser extent about the heavy reliance on paid media for performance. The well-known 'Google & Meta drip'. With rising costs, more and more brands are struggling with their budgets and performance. These developments are largely caused by the disappearance of third-party cookies, the tightening of privacy settings and the phasing out of some targeting options. Recently, this development got another boost with the possible ban on Meta to target advertising. Thongs will probably not appear as extreme as they might seem in the first place, but it is a very obvious trend in the market today.

2024 is going to be a turning point for many brands in their digital marketing strategy. The swing from 'paid to owned' was already initiated in 2023, but the vast majority of brands have yet to make the move in the coming years. Building your own (first-party) data will become an absolute priority. So start thinking about your owned media strategy today and build off your reliance on paid. The swing towards owned media also ensures that the loyalty industry will gain new momentum, as a way to build first-party data.

2.Accelerating digital-first media engagement
It's old news that media engagement is changing. But, this transition has significance for the entire marketing chain. After all, a different type of media deployment often also involves a different type of production. The advertising world is struggling. The reluctant economy of the past period has caused brands to switch to digital media at an accelerated pace, whereas immediately after Covid there was still a considerable growth for traditional media. Judging by what I see happening around me in the market towards 2024, I think many brands will make even more extreme choices in terms of media budget deployment. Partly forced, partly by the changed media consumption of their target group(s).

3.Privacy centric and cyber resilience policies
No one will have escaped the news in recent weeks about Meta. A ban on targeted advertising seems imminent. As a solution, Meta is coming up with a subscription model. It's not the first sign of issues in the digital media landscape. Many organisations have policies in place for crisis communications. In case of recalls, for instance. Next year companies have to make sure they have a clear policy on privacy and cyber resilience. As an organisation, how do you deal with the limitations in advertising (e.g. by focusing more on owned), how do you show your customers what you use their data for and what do you do in case of a data breach or cyber attack? It is no longer a question of whether you will have to deal with it, but when.

4.Short form creator content
Short form video is 'the new standard' in digital. All the big tech players, whether it is Google, YouTube, or TikTok, are betting heavily on short form within its apps. And when it comes to short-form content, it is almost always also about 'creators'. More and more brands are usingcreators for their owned content to generate more authentic content. In recent months, we have also seen more and more brands using creators in their paid media funnels, instead of 'only' in their owned content. In short, creatorship will increasingly determine the character of your entire content strategy, both owned and paid.

5.AI is an opportunity, not a threat
The year 2023 was undeniably the year of AI. The world seems to be splitting into 2 sides: proponents and opponents. I totally belong to the proponents' side. I see endless possibilities with AI for marketing communications, without losing sight of the important human role. In 2024, the deployment and growth of AI will also partly be driven by the tough economic climate, which will 'force' organisations to start using AI a bit more often to cut costs. But, in the end, I am mostly convinced of the value of AI to increase the quality of our work and our efficiency. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is using AI to support your copywriting skills, or for image generation. But, also consider the huge improvement AI can bring about in chatbots. Another interesting application of AI, which we at Positive use a lot ourselves, is in pre-testing. Until recently, pre-testing was often not done because of high costs or long lead times. With AI, you can do pre-tests at very low cost and in a few hours. Approachable and effective.

6.A 'tech savvy' marketing team
What is the composition of your marketing team? Does it mainly consist of 'crafts' such as copywriters, designers, analysts and strategists? No problem of course, but it is worth looking at the adoption of technology in your marketing department. Marketers are not necessarily big fans or adopters of technology, while it is really crucial to start building that adoption (indeed, integration) of technology as an integral part of your marketing. Invest in your marketers' knowledge of technology, it will definitely pay off. Or add some more 'tech savvyness' to your team through fresh blood.

7.Social media as a SEO channel
Search engine optimisation remains one of the most powerful means of reducing your reliance on paid media. Hence, SEO is and remains highly relevant too, especially within the framework of the switch to owned media described earlier. But we still rarely make the link between social media and SEO.

Whereas in the past, social media has mainly been used as an outreach channel and to seek engagement with your target audience, SEO has always been a more 'technical' part of our field, based on keywords and analytics. But, the two have more in common than you might think. Indeed, for a large proportion of young internet users (Generation Z), social media app like TikTok and Insta are the new search engine. This is something to take into account in your digital strategy. Social media is also going to give you an ever better chance to get into the search behaviour of your target audience. Take advantage of this opportunity.

8.Digital live experiences and shopping
We should also talk about live shopping! Big in China, but a bit of a failure in the Western world to date. And yet I think this trend will continue, not the least because the tech giants are firm believers and continue to invest. Also, brands keep making attempts. Recently, for instance, L'Oreal decided to start live shopping again after all, via Amazon. Live shopping is often mentioned in the same sentence as social commerce. Not illogically, the overlap is certainly there. Expectations are that social commerce will also grow in importance, especially now that TikTok, for instance, recently added shopping in America.

9.Finally, hidden topic number 9: where have AR and VR gone?
The rapid rise of AI has caused the hype around AR and VR to fade a little. But let's not forget the developments in virtual. This will continue irreversibly. This means that we will move from static (2D) websites increasingly towards 3D experiences. In short, from 'pages to spaces'. Certainly big events and tourist attractions will definitely take advantage of this in the future. Suppose you go to the website of a theme park, where you already be welcomed 'in' (a 3D representation) of the park? Yet it doesn't look like 2024 is going to be the year when this development will experience a breakthrough. Hence this development at the end of the list.

So it promises to be another year of truth for digital marketing. Will brands be able to slowly but surely transform their reliance on targeted advertising and third-party cookies into 'owned' first-party data? We will see. Are we missing a trend that should definitely not be forgotten? If so, please let me know. No doubt this list will not be exhaustive.

Sjef Kerkhofs
Managing Director Positive Netherlands 

This blog is also published in Dutch on FrankWatching

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