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July 10, 2017


(Slideshare) The Future of Marketing – What will marketing look like in 2021?

by Tom De Baere

future of marketing 2021


What is the future of marketing? Not far away, but only 5 years from now. Not the future according to futurists and dreamers, but realistic: what can we expect with great likelihood?

And what is the impact on marketing organizations, the job of marketers and the skills we need within 5 years?

I have been researching this subject for a while now, and it’s impressive to see how marketing will change in just 5 years. Everyone in marketing should prepare and “buckle-up” as things are going to go fast !

If you are short in time, scroll down and quickly access the Slideshare on the Future of Marketing, at the bottom of this post….

Exponential technological change ahead



Exponential change is something very strange. You won’t notice anything for a while, and then suddenly everything happens at the same time. That’s what’s called exponential change, and 2017 seems to be the pivotal moment where everything is getting into an accelerated pace.

Think of a couple of years ago, where self-driving cars where just a dream. Today they are reality. The same goes with chat-bots, augmented reality or artificial intelligence.


virtual reality arcade pods - fourth digital transformation

Virtuality VR arcade pods of the 80’s (Ben Delaney)

I still remember myself as a student experiencing virtual reality back in 1996, through virtual reality arcade machines.

But the history of VR is much longer, going back to stereoscopic photo’s and viewers in 1838, early flight simulators in 1929, and the first VR head mounted display in 1960.

So VR has a long history. But then, suddenly, technology catches up and things get into an accelerated pace.




Technology that seemed “sleeping” as technology, such as artificial intelligence, and chat bots, now suddenly are coming to the market in an accelerated pace. Similarly, suddenly, VR headsets are available everywhere, at affordable prices.

The rapid pace of these innovations and technological advances also had a major impact on marketing strategies. Think about these marketing domains have evolved the last decade:

  • customer touch points (moving from letters, to phone, email, websites, social media, chat, voice recognition, beacons, artificial intelligence, …)
  • customer behavior (purchase, recency/frequency/monetary, loyalty, online behavior, omni-channel, personalized, predictive, …)
  • advertising (catalog, personalization, automatic, …)
  • logistic innovation (store, delivery, 1 hour delivery, drones, 3D printing,…)


The biggest challenge for most companies is  how to introduce these innovations in a fast way, so technology doesn’t catch up by the time you finish your implementation.


9 mega-trends and 2017 as a turning point in history


Mankind will change more in the next 20 years than in the last 300 years. A statement by futurist Gerd Leonhard that makes you think about the impact of what is to come.

But what exactly is to come? Without going too futuristic, there are some very clear trends that will very quickly have a big impact on the future of marketing and on humanity in general.


1. Computing power goes exponential

future of marketing computing power quantum computing


D-Wave, a computer developed by the Canadian company D-Wave Systems, uses quantum computing power. By 2025, this kind of computer will have the computing power of an entire human brain. That might not sound like a lot, but it actually is a big thing. By 2050, these types of computers will have the computing power of all people on earth.

Today, these types of computers are not so practical at all: D-Wave consumes the electricity of a whole city the size of Brussels in Belgium. For the time being we won’t be able to have this kind of computing power into our pocket ;-)


2. Algorithms affect 1 billion jobs by 2020

future marketing - impact automation robotics

Source: Above and Below the API, Forbes, 2015


In an article by Peter Reinhard the progress of automation and the impact on future jobs is projected. He divides the job market into two types of jobs: “Above the API” jobs and “Below the API” jobs.

In principle, most jobs run by a programming interface (API) will be replaced by an automated process.

As examples of APIs, Peter Reinhard names Uber and 99designs as companies that allow people to perform tasks, while ultimately can also be done by robots. Think about autonomous vehicles, software-generated designs, etc.

While the jobs under the API will become smaller, this will secure the jobs above the API. And who are the people above the APIs? Software engineers of course.

Either way, software engineering / computer programming is the absolute ‘over the API’ job of the future.


3. Everything becomes SMART

future marketing smart IOT internet things


Everything becomes SMART. Smart seems to be the new green. Just about everything is smart today.

Take a word, put the “smart” in front of it, and you have what you see today: smart cars, smart refrigerators, smart printers, smart cities and even smart flower pots.

This is about the Internet of Things (IOT) here: smart and cheap sensors make that everything can be connected to the Internet.

This connectivity adds value and smart brands are already busy in the to build an open platform and eco-system around their smart products.


4. From belongings to Experiences and Trust

future marketing experiences


We often don’t notice it,  but books, movies, music, mobility, content on the internet and much more things are more and more abundantly available and almost free or inexpensive. Distribution of these goods have gone down dramatically, or have become entirely free. That has created totally new business models like the ones of Uber and AirBNB.

And because everything has become so abundant, you get the effect that possessing tangible things is no longer what people want.

Personally I notice this trend with younger people. They are looking for things that are unique, and often they turn to experiences as the new way of owning things. Just look at the rise of the various types of mobility services offered by the major car manufacturers. They do not sell cars anymore, but they sell mobility as an experience.

Another element that cannot be brought in abundance is: trust. Trust must be earned over time. As we prefer to do business with brands we trust, we are also willing to pay a premium. Since long time in marketing we call that branding. Brands may request higher prices for similar products and services than companies without brand because we trust them for what they promise.

Trust is not tangible and has an even greater value in a world of abundance.


5. Self-learning machines have become better than people

future marketing self learning machines


In only 5 years, from 2012 to 2017, machines have succeeded in getting extremely good in recognizing speech and images. Google Speech Recognition is already today able to reach an accuracy of 96.1% even in noisy environments.

Speech recognition also evolves to voice recognition: computers know who speaks and can respond differently based on the recognized voice.


6. Ask anything to “smart agents”

future marketing smart agents voice


We can ask questions to smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo. What will the weather be like today in Belgium? What does my calendar look like? What is the traffic this morning to work?

Soon we will not even have to ask for things. Artificial intelligence will know what we want, in advance.

The first examples of this are found in Google Now and also a bit on the iPhone with Siri. Amazon is also experimenting extensively: they are trying to predict and send you products before you indicate that you want to buy them.


7. Visual Search – Your smartphone camera will be your new Google

future marketing visual search


Look through your smartphone to a billboard and you can instantly start a chat conversation with a store and proceed to a purchase.

Blippar, VIV.AI and Google Lens are some of the first examples of this “visual search” future.


8. Live 360° video broadcast

future marketing live 360 video broadcast streaming


Live 360 ° video broadcasting on Twitter, Google or Facebook is possible today. Today you still need special hardware on your smartphone, but give it another 5 years and the hardware might be integrated into your smartphone or smart glasses.


9. Precise location detection

future marketing location tracking spatial computing depth sensing


Based on accurate tracking and spatial computing, smartphones can provide an accurate picture of their environment. This allows to add images through augmented reality. Google has been working with Google Tango for a number of years to optimize this and also brings more and more devices on the market that have deep and space views. Apple with their Apple ARKit are going to amaze us from september 2017 onward.

With this exact location, you can for example exactly pinpoint, guide and find the location of something in a store.

Retailers of stores are increasingly forced to bring digital, virtual and physical together. They need to become hybrid retailers: virtual store, e-commerce webshop and interactive store. And all of that connected to each other.


What will the future of marketing look like in 2021?

With all these mega-trends in mind, how will marketing as a discipline look in just a few years?

Everything will be about technology

future marketing technology ibm watson google tensorflow


As has been evident for a number of years, marketing is increasingly becoming a technical discipline. IBM with IBM Watson brings the domain of artificial intelligence closer to marketers under the form of an API. Feel free to think in terms of “apps” that we can start using in our marketing environment.

It’s the “appification” of Artificial Intelligence.

Also Google is working on an open source platform (Tensorflow) that brings machine learning and artificial intelligence possibilities towards an ever-growing community of developers.


From products to experiences

future marketing product experiences


Customers want to more and more experiences. As a brand, we must think how we can bring these experiences on top of or as part of our existing products and services.

There are already a lot of examples, mostly big brands, of how experiences can be brought on top of products:

  • Marriott, which offers customers through VR their hotels for those who visit.
  • Autodesk showcased customer designs to demonstrate their technology.
  • A Bulldozer firm that allows customers to “play” in a giant sandbox.
  • The Northface that allows customers to test their products in VR environment.


From brands to open platforms


Pushing your brand to customers does not work anymore, that much we know. Everyone trusts his friends more than brands when deciding on a purchase. As a consequence, brands must speak to the individual. Yes I’m talking personalization. Future marketers understand this and get closer to their customers and even bring in customers who help them.

Therefore, brands need to build digital connectivity with their customers and evolve into open platforms and ecosystems, rather than closed systems. If you ever had to deal with an API, you know what I mean.

There are already many frontrunner examples on the market that explain what I mean:

  • Think of Nike who has opened their Nike+ platform to an eco-system of developers & hardware developers.
  • Flavorprint from McCormick sells herbs and made a website, where the platform can learns the taste preferences of their customers, and then make personal suggestions on that basis.
  • Gillette has a platform that connects with men (you take a picture of your face, and you can try different types of beards in a virtual way). After that, you can get in touch with 3rd party product suppliers and even body grooming experts.
  • General Electric adds more and more sensors to their products, and through an open platform (called Predix), developers can contribute to the power of the platform.


What will your marketing job look like in 2021?

marketing change


Marketing organizations have changed little over the past 40 years. That’s going to change dramatically…


Top 5 Skills needed in 2021

future marketing top 5 skills


Anything that can be digitized and automated will be replaced by some form of artificial intelligence. But the reverse is also true. Anything that can not be digitized and automated will become extremely valuable.

Critical thinking and creativity are difficult to digitize and automate, and as such these skills become very valuable to companies and employers. Start preparing for the future of marketing right now by thinking how you will introduce these skillsets into your organization.


Liquid team structures

future marketing liquid fluid teams


Due to the rapid evolution of technology and higher amount of (digital) communication channels, marketing teams will have to be able to respond to innovations faster and faster.

Marketing teams will therefore need the following features:

  • Multi-disciplinary teams with flexible roles and changing responsibilities;
  • Created and assembled to take speed, make quick decisions, take calculated risks, and make creative use of art, science, data and technology;
  • Teams that are dismantled fast, and quickly deployed or morphed to fit other projects or programs.


Strategic thinkers become very important

future marketing strategic thinking thinkers


With the internet and technology taking an ever prominent place in the strategy of companies, brands have created new digital channels and media.

Today, these new media and channels need more volume and speed, and there is a need for a new strategic role: the Chief Content Officer of CCO.

A chief content officer (CCO) is responsible for the creation of digital media and its publication in a multi-channel environment. He is also responsible for the internal organization around text, video, audio, animation, etc.

Because of the speed in which everything evolves, we also need more “big picture thinking”: people who can see a pattern out a lot of information and noise, and then distillate the relevant trends for their business.


More creativity in strategy, data and execution

future marketing creativity strategy data technology creation


In 2021 creativity will become more and more important.

And this on all levels:

  • Creativity in bringing experiences
  • Creativity in promoting your products
  • Creativity in using data
  • Creativity in the use of technology

Perhaps  we need artists and designers in the management team?



How can you prepare for 2021?

The race towards technology, experiences, platforms and creativity has begun.

But how do you make your internal organization, your marketing technology and your brand ready for the future of marketing?

In the past I have written about modern marketing organizations, accelerating marketing innovation adoption, and personalization

Those are just 2 elements that you’ll probably need. But there’s more… I guess that will take another blog post 😉.

Thank you for reading this post until the end!

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Warm regards from sunny Belgium !
Tom De Baere

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