The future of marketing is online and to fully compete it is vital that brands embrace digital transformation, writes Mulenga Agley, CEO and Founder at Growthcurve.

As we approach 2024 and a shaky economic outlook in the UK, several trends are poised to reshape the marketing arena and marketing teams will be expected to prove their effectiveness and aptitude for adapting to, and implementing, digital transformation across their business.

What is clear is that those businesses that are slow to adopt a technology-led approach to marketing will be left behind as customer demand for more personalised, localised and authentic content grows. AI and data analytics are no longer optional, they’re essential. As the AI revolution takes off further we will see the percentage of marketing spend allocated there rising – already more than 20% of digital budgets are invested in AI-related technologies according to McKinsey. 

With depreciating first-party data, data analytics has to prioritise a privacy-first approach. Privacy and data security are foundational to building and maintaining consumer trust which is strengthened by a commitment to authenticity – a significant differentiator among brands. This holds true in both content and brand values. More broadly, social platforms are reshaping content consumption, consumer behaviours and brand discovery. By using a growth hacker mindset to figure out new technological capabilities, testing them, and evaluating how to integrate them into next year’s strategy, marketers can put themselves ahead in the race to winning 2024.

AI-powered marketing takes centre stage

The integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in marketing is not just a trend; it's a revolution. According to a report by McKinsey, companies that invest in AI-driven marketing strategies are seeing a revenue uplift of 3- 15%and a sales ROI uplift of 10-20%. Marketers are harnessing AI to analyse vast datasets, offering personalised customer experiences and optimising campaigns for higher engagement. 

So what does Generative AI mean for marketing and sales in 2024? It can and will impact customer experience, growth and productivity. Venture Capital funding tends to indicate what the next big ‘thing’ will be, and investment in AI has grown 13-fold over the past ten years and will continue to funnel money there in the coming year. This will lead to an explosion of ‘usable’ data – able to formulate insights and suggest tangible actions for marketers to make the most of. Growth can be accelerated by leveraging AI to jumpstart top-line performance, giving sales teams the right analytics and customer insights to capture consumer demand. 

It further allows companies to target customer demand in previously untapped locations, or an audience that is clamouring for more. For instance Spotify has launched its ‘Voice Translations’ which is powered by AI, including ChatGPT. It replicates the voices of popular podcasters and translates them into different languages. Spotify claims this will create a more ‘authentic listening experience’ for more users and it definitively opens up an entire library of content to a new, even more global consumer base.

As customers grow tired of the noisy bombardment of ads and marketing material, personalisation has never been so key. AI allows businesses to use their data, individualise content and retarget. According to research from Ascend2 and RPE Origin, 57% of enterprise marketers now use AI in email campaigns, to do exactly that. And this is double the number from 2022. 

First party data: The new gold standard

With the decline of third-party cookies and heightened privacy concerns, first-party data is becoming the cornerstone of effective marketing. A recent research study revealed that 86% of consumers desire greater control over how companies collect and use their personal data. 

This shift towards first-party data ensures accuracy, compliance, and a direct relationship with the audience, allowing for more personalised and impactful campaigns. The modern customer expects a tailored experience – research shows that 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalised interactions. By running an evidence-driven strategy with a data loop to feedback on what is working and what isn’t, marketers can plan ahead and engineer around the results they are seeing – benefitting the business and the customer experience.

With data breaches becoming all too common, brands should prioritise transparent and secure data practices. This not only builds trust but ensures compliance with evolving regulations. Privacy-centric marketing will be non-negotiable in the coming year.

The rise of authenticity

Gone are the days of the picture-perfect influencer. All rise the unpolished content creator. Platforms like TikTok are ushering in a new era where raw, relatable content reigns supreme. The shift from the "clean girl aesthetic" to the "feral girl aesthetic" resonates with audiences seeking genuine connections. The evidence backs this up as trust in influencers is growing. The shares of Gen Zers and millennials who said they trust social media influencers grew from 51% in 2019 to 61% in 2023 and will continue into 2024.

To cut through online, you have to show real faces. Anybody can now be an influencer. This tidal wave of real people in ads can create deeper authenticity, longer retention, better quality customers, increased awareness, and better embed into the different subcultures or audiences brands are trying to reach. To sum up – it’s worth tapping into this potential in 2024 as 40% of marketing leaders have witnessed improved lead generation and sales outcomes because of their B2B influencer marketing strategies.

We’re seeing how brands with purpose shine bright. Consumers are aligning with brands that champion social responsibility and sustainability – 70% of consumers believe it’s important for brands to take a public stand on social and political issues. When McDonald’s quietly chose to remove ‘ESG’ from some parts of its website due to external pressures, the changes were widely reported and the fast food giant was called out for taking a step backwards. Authentic storytelling, backed by genuine efforts, will continue to be a differentiating factor in the crowded digital space.

TikTok: The playground of discovery

TikTok has blurred the lines between learning and entertainment. Consumers have begun to rely on social media channels to discover new brands and products. With 53% of consumers saying their social media usage has been higher over the past two years, compared with pre-pandemic, brands must have more than just a presence. Those that offer original, discoverable content will thrive in 2024. A third (33%) of global consumers turned to TikTok for information about a brand, company or products and services in 2023. Case in point: US dill pickle brand, Van Holten's, experienced such a surge in popularity on TikTok that it expanded its reach to the UK. Through this online interaction brands can boost their relevance in the ever evolving market.

Shopping is becoming increasingly social. Platforms are integrating in-app purchases and shoppable posts, streamlining the buying process. TikTok now wants all the transactions that result from product discovery to go through the app’s shopping platform, redirecting creators to the TikTok shop and launching a new logistics program, ‘Fulfilled by TikTok’ in the UK. Brands that optimise for this seamless experience are poised to reap significant benefits – by 2025 alone, social shopping is set to become a $1.2 trillion channel.

Overall, as we approach 2024, it is evident that embracing a technology-led approach is no longer a choice but a necessity for marketers in the digital landscape. Brands must make sure they are putting the customer first with personalised, privacy-centric marketing strategies that take into account evolving behaviours. Businesses must be willing to adapt, try and leverage new strategies to reach more customers and drive sales.