Influencer recording herself via phone in front of a ring light.
To garner consumer trust in social commerce, brands are improving their engagement with influencers on social media who have built trusted relationships with their followers. — Getty Images/mapodile

Why it matters:

  • Brands have become more adept at driving sales transactions via social media by leveraging influencers to build consumer trust.
  • Consumers are online 24/7, which is leading companies to customize their loyalty marketing to reflect a customer’s immediate, real-time situation.
  • Artificial intelligence is helping brands optimize their content and marketing platforms automatically in real time.

Marketing is continuing to evolve amid changing consumer habits and technological innovations that incorporate data in real time. Social commerce, in-the-moment loyalty marketing, and content driven by artificial intelligence are some of the key trends that are emerging as essential elements of marketers’ toolkits in 2022.

Three marketing experts — Kevin Collins of Accenture, Tim Mason of Eagle Eye, and Mike Kaput of the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute — shared their outlooks for these trends in the year ahead.

After establishing consumer trust, shoppers are more likely to support a small business via social commerce than traditional e-commerce

Social media has long been established as a viable marketing tool, but social commerce, whereby goods and services are sold directly via social media, is emerging as the next evolution of this platform. Social commerce is rapidly changing the way that people shop, said Kevin Collins, managing director of Accenture.

Accenture predicts social commerce will grow to $1.2 trillion globally by 2025, up from $492 billion in 2021. It is growing three times as fast as traditional e-commerce and eight times as fast as physical retail, Collins said.

“China remains the key market, with more than 80% of the volume, but social commerce in the rest of the world is now growing very quickly,” said Collins, noting that apparel and consumer electronics present the largest growth opportunities.

According to Accenture’s proprietary research conducted this winter, one of the biggest barriers to the adoption of social commerce, especially in developed markets, is the issue of consumer trust. This includes concerns about privacy and security on social media platforms, but also trust in social media sites to handle the basics of e-commerce, such as managing on-time delivery, order accuracy, product fraud like counterfeit goods, and returns.

“Non-traditional commerce players face consumer skepticism about their ability to manage these logistical basics to the standard set by the best e-commerce sites,” Collins said.

At the same time, e-commerce sites have struggled with building community and engagement in the way that social media sites have.

However, the industry is learning and responding, Collins said. Brands and retailers are improving their engagement with content creators on social media who have built sustained, trusted relationships with their followers.

“By tapping into conversations that creators are already having and prioritizing authenticity in their messaging, successful brands are building customer affinity in new and stronger ways,” Collins said.

For example, he noted that Maybelline’s Sky High Mascara stood out in 2021, “thanks to the product’s undeniable efficacy demonstrated in TikTok videos,” he said.

The makeup brand initially partnered with influencers to promote the mascara on the platform, but a viral video showing the real impact of applying the mascara from college student Jessica Eid set off a chain reaction of users trying and recommending the product in their own videos. In total, these videos garnered over 400 million views, according to Collins.

He noted that small and medium-sized businesses can use social commerce to gain awareness. Accenture’s research found that 54% of shoppers are more likely to support a small business through social commerce than when shopping through traditional e-commerce, he said.

[Read: How Startups Are Tapping TikTok to Build Buzz and Drive Sales]

By tapping into conversations that creators are already having and prioritizing authenticity in their messaging, successful brands are building customer affinity in new and stronger ways.

Kevin Collins, managing director, Accenture

Leveraging in-the-moment loyalty marketing ‘to reach consumers wherever they are’

The online shopping behaviors that consumers adopted during the pandemic have become more entrenched in their daily lives, and that means that loyalty marketing must become more immediate and relevant to their specific circumstances, said Tim Mason, CEO of Eagle Eye, a provider of loyalty solutions whose clients have included Coca-Cola, Southeastern Grocers, and Pret A Manger, among others.

“Retailers must elevate their approach to personalized marketing and relevant communications that reach consumers wherever they are — and that’s everywhere, on every channel,” he said. “We call it ‘marketing in the moment.’”

Delivering the optimal loyalty reward or offer at precisely the right time requires more data inputs than traditional loyalty marketing, which relies on a consumer’s demographic information and purchasing behavior to send scheduled promotions or marketing messages.

For example, “It's using real-time data to factor in the local weather — like if a storm's brewing, time of day, or whether the individual is using their phone to search or buy,” to offer consumers contextually relevant offers, said Mason.

Other factors that can be analyzed include a local event happening nearby or whether the customer has reached a specific loyalty milestone.

“There are so many variables that can influence a consumer's decision, and the marketing messages that businesses send to customers at a specific moment can be the deciding factor,” said Mason. “Aggregating various contexts like the environment, location, activity, and different loyalty system triggers is where loyalty marketing is headed.”

Data will be used to identify the exact moment to communicate with the consumer on their journey and the best method, channel and offer to reach them at that specific time, he said.

“It's that level of personalization and true understanding of the consumer's individual needs that will drive successful loyalty marketing initiatives in 2022.”

[Read: The Changing Playbook for Winning Customer Loyalty All Marketers Should Know]

Tapping AI to customize marketing messages at scale

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an essential tool for businesses to compete in the modern world, said Mike Kaput, chief content officer at the Marketing AI Institute.

AI, which allows technology to “learn” over time, enables companies to make continually better predictions, which lead to better business decisions, Kaput explained.

Use of the technology is having a big impact on marketing and sales, he said, noting that McKinsey & Company predicts that AI could create $1.4 trillion to $2.6 trillion in marketing and sales value to businesses globally.

As consumers are increasingly online full-time, brands need to be able to optimize the search results for their offerings to deliver the right message at the right time when consumers land on their site, Kaput said.

This requires language AI, he said. Language AI uses technology to determine the meanings of phrases or sentences and formulate appropriate responses, a capability that has advanced significantly in the last few years.

“In order to compete, companies will be forced to adopt AI for content and messaging, if they haven’t already,” Kaput said.

Companies such as Persado, an AI language platform, and MarketMuse, an AI content strategy tool, are helping companies in these areas, he said. Persado has worked with a wide range of companies across industries on language-driven AI solutions. Clients have included Chase and Vodafone, among others. MarketMuse, meanwhile, has worked with firms across a range of industries to use AI to improve their content marketing.

Global e-commerce platform eBay, for example, has improved the effectiveness of its marketing copy using a language optimization platform from Phrasee, according to a case study. Phrasee creates customized email subject lines and marketing messages automatically at scale, which helped generate a 15.8% increase in email open rates, according to the study.

In addition, Kaput predicted that AI tools will play an increasingly important role in advertising as the major tech platforms take steps to protect privacy and eliminate cookies.

“As it becomes harder to target individual customer behaviors on platforms like Facebook, marketers will need to turn to AI-powered ad tools that can use data from a number of sources to make educated predictions about who to target,” he said.

One company Kaput says to watch in this space is AiAdvertising (formerly CloudCommerce), an AI advertising platform that has worked with companies that including Holt Cat, the largest Caterpillar dealer in the U.S.

Holt Cat launched a digital ad campaign with AiAdvertising that enabled the construction equipment company to identify potential customers, predict which creative content would be most effective, and measure the messages that influenced and directly contributed to sales, said Jason Smith, senior director of marketing and digital for Holt Cat, in a statement on AiAdvertising’s website.

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Published March 30, 2022