The Nature of Marketing in 2020

Tim Wu’s 2011 book The Master Switch kicked off the decade prophetically.

Looking back into the history of information technologies, such as radio, telephone, and TV, Wu’s book revealed a consistent lifecycle underpinning all of them. Beginning as open and idealized, each new technology goes through a process that sees the development of major competing platforms, until the eventual monopolization by a dominant player.

Technology writer Ben Thompson details the business structure of these platforms in his excellent blog series Aggregation Theory. As we approach the end of the decade, it seems as though Wu was correct.

Everywhere I look, there are entrepreneurs distressed by the increasingly strict usage conditions imposed by the tech platforms that their businesses rely on.

E-commerce store owners with models reliant on Amazon Fulfillment (FBA) are being squeezed by unregulated competition and takedowns without warning. Facebook has consistently been giving lower ROI from their ads for years now, and promoting outside of niche groups is almost entirely pay-to-play as post visibility has gradually decreased.

Google — which is sometimes naively excluded from consideration — probably holds the biggest danger. Thousands of businesses have built traffic strategies almost entirely reliant on organic sources. Now Google is beginning to favor established authority sources, pushing out smaller players and rendering long-tail keyword strategies ineffective.

As the “information empires” continue to gather power, these platforms know that suppliers are becoming increasingly reliant, so they aren’t incentivized to keep their interest in mind.

As the trend continues, the playbook that worked in the 2010s isn’t going to cut it in the next decade. With the internet protocol layer becoming increasingly privatized, we need to look to more open areas to build audiences, spread influence and engage with the market.

To that end, here are my predictions for what will work in marketing for 2020.

What Will Work in Marketing in 2020:

Community-based promotion

Back in January 2019, the fantastic blog Grow and Convert listed a prediction for “community-based marketing” being a trend for the coming year. With the year now almost over, I realize I never saw this idea echoed elsewhere online.

I feel this trend has only just started to roll out in the latter half of 2019 — and it should continue. The proliferation of small communities forming in Discord servers, Telegram groups, subreddits, Slack channels, and Facebook Groups seems to support this.

I think Ronfeldt’s idea of the “ecosystem” structure is right on the money and extends to marketing strategy.

As platforms continue to dominate and compete, their internal components are fragmenting. Marketers can take advantage of increasingly niche communities by being prominent in the places their perfect customer resides. While not avoiding the platforms directly, diversifying across several platforms could help decrease risk and create more stable traffic.

Email marketing

Email is still underutilized and often completely overlooked. While the “information empires” have created platforms that monopolize usage of the web, it’s limited to that technology — the HTTP protocol. Email protocols are still relatively open by comparison and promise amazing returns for entrepreneurs.

Email is still the only way to build an audience that you “own”. Twitter and Instagram followers, Facebook group members, or LinkedIn connections can all be taken away from you without a moment’s notice. Building an email list is the only way to ensure you have a direct connection with your market from interested individuals who have granted you permission to contact them.

Email also offers consistently strong engagement. While platform-dependent marketers bemoan “algorithm changes” that upset their reach and effectiveness, email is immune. SendGrid’s annual 2019 Email Benchmark and Engagement Study shows consistent engagement across all metrics over the last four years alone.

As Campaign Monitor puts it, “Statistics show that email is still king”. With 3.9 billion active email users (more than any social network), an average of 2.5 hours each day spent inside their inboxes, and an estimated ROI of 38:1, it’s incredible to think it’s still underutilized by so many businesses.

There isn’t another platform that allows you to model and influence your customer journey, get such consistent engagement, and build a more valuable business than email.