Why marketing trends are always changing – and why it’s vital to be on top of them

If you work in marketing, you’ll know that there’s always something new to be staying on top of. Whether it’s the arrival of new technologies such as virtual reality or social media or the changing regulatory framework, this dynamic and interesting sector is always in flux.

The world of marketing has changed significantly since it first came to life around a century ago. The days of direct mail and billboard advertising are not necessarily over, but they’ve been significantly changed – and they now operate in a very different context. Few people would argue that a pure focus on so-called ‘old’ methods of advertising is likely to reap benefits – yet not everyone in the marketing world puts the required focus, knowledge and attention into ensuring that they know all about the ‘new’ and soon-to-be-new methods, either.

As a marketing professional, it’s incumbent upon you to make sure that you don’t let your knowledge slip. This blog post will first look at why marketing trends are so dynamic, and will then explain why you need to be sure that you’re staying on top of all the latest.

The role of technology 

If you had to pick one way that the marketing sector has changed in recent decades, it’s almost certain that the trend you would zoom in on would be the role of technology. It’s easy to see why: it feels like many lifetimes ago that technologies such as television were new to the world, and tools such as these have clearly been displaced to a huge extent by the arrival of digitalized, internet-powered technologies that have truly disrupted the sector.

Tech has always had a complex, and often generative, relationship with marketing. Marketing methods have often emerged around technologies, and sometimes even the other way around. When the television was first brought out, for example, marketers responded by ensuring that their clients had audio-visual advertising segments to broadcast. However, there’s potentially also an argument to say that marketers who were watching trends spotted the television’s potential to carry advertisements from the very start, and encouraged the creation and adoption of the technology for their own industry’s ends.

What is perhaps most striking about the current phase of technology’s impact on marketing is that it has splintered the relationships between the different players in the field. Social media, for example, has meant that the average consumer can now, in theory, set themselves up as a marketer by becoming a so-called influencer on a platform such as Instagram. Decades ago, when early internet technologies were coming about, they were still quite top-down – and tools such as email marketing relied on basic principles of marketing, such as the marketer’s role being to send out the communication and the consumer’s role being to passively consume it. That, of course, has now changed. It’s not necessarily going to be the case, then, that each wave of the marketing technology revolution has the same consequences as the next.

In terms of trends, it’s impossible to predict for certain what the next big trend will be in the marketing sector. Many are predicting that virtual reality might end up being the next big thing, not least because it is so realistic. Consumers are almost invited to suspend their disbelief when using a virtual reality headset in a marketing context: while this may also be true for television advertising and other fictional or story-telling marketing environments, the fact that virtual reality is so all-encompassing and potentially highly sensory in nature can increase the level of persuasiveness.

It’s also possible that the next phase will be something less obvious than the flagship technologies of the past. It could, for example, be the case that data collection is the new television when it comes to technologies that can revolutionize the sector. This would, in some ways, be much less glamorous, as it wouldn’t involve the excitement, color and sound of the television or a computer, for example. It also occurs ‘behind the scenes’, which makes it less visible to consumers. However, marketers who have an understanding of the vastness of the datasets that can be collected for marketing and re-marketing purposes, such as consumer preferences for different products and services, are likely to be at an advantage in the future.

Impact of regulators 

It’s also the case that regulators and lawmakers have changed some of the rules around marketing in recent decades. This has, in part, happened in order to keep up with technological changes as outlined above, and also to keep on top of the changes in monetization and commerce outlined below.

This is especially true for those who work in financial marketing. Back in 2020, for example, a leading US regulator said that it had changed its rules around investment advice – and that marketers needed to take note. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) acknowledged the fact that trends in the financial marketing world had been towards piecemeal and ever-evolving rules, and it was perceived by many in the sector that the current framework of rules was patchwork and even fragmentary. It was also thought that the rules failed to some extent to take into account the fact that new asset classes and modes of financial services had emerged.

Instead, then, the SEC decided to overhaul all of these rules and simplify them into one. It also tweaked some of the specific provisions. It said, for example, that those who were delivering presentations attempting to explain the performance of an instrument had to ensure that they included certain bespoke requirements. This simpler approach meant that any marketer who wanted to gain an understanding of what was expected of them could do so easily. However, it also meant that marketers had to stay engaged: if they hadn’t heard the news about the new simplified rule, they might have instead continued to follow their understanding of the complicated old rules, which could have exposed them to regulatory liability and also caused them to work inefficiently.

This also applies no matter which marketing vertical you work in. In many jurisdictions, it’s against the law – or, at least, against a code of professional standards of one sort or another – to present marketing collateral or information that is misleading, untrue or otherwise false, in any context. The increasing complexity of the marketing world, especially online, means that regulators are often making subtle changes to these rules – and it’s the responsibility of individual marketers to either keep up with these changes, or find an information supplier that can help them do it.

Monetization and commerce

A third way that marketing trends are changing is when it comes to monetization. In the past, the marketing sector’s monetization methods were relatively simple and straightforward: the relationship between the client and the marketer was more often than not quite direct, and the modality of the advertising was one of just a few from a relatively restricted range.

Now, however, that trend has changed. The monetization methods on offer in the sector have diversified to a strong degree, and it’s now the case that there are multiple overlapping but distinct ways for people to make money through advertising. One trend that has grown in recent years is affiliate marketing: in this scenario, a third party enters the equation and, in essence, shares the work of the marketer and takes a cut of the revenue. In the case of a content affiliate plan, for example, the main marketer might design the strategy and find potential affiliates, while the affiliate themselves might write the content.

In short, the way that marketing makes money has adapted in recent times – and it’s likely that this will happen again as time goes on.

Investing in your career 

There’s no doubt about it, then: marketing trends are destined to always be changing, and as a marketer, you need to know what’s going on so that you can continue to market yourself in the sector to a point where you can get ahead of the curve. Many people want to make it in this industry, but not everyone gets there: by being knowledgeable about different marketing trends and how they work, you can help ensure that you fall into the former category rather than the latter.

Take the example of digital marketing. If you had set out as a professional in this sub-sector back in the early 2000s, it’s likely that you would have been using tools that were in vogue in that particular area at that time. These would probably have included email marketing systems that took advantage of the burgeoning boom in that particular field of communications, or perhaps even the use of message boards or bulletin boards.

However, as a professional in this day and age, it’s likely that you need to have a broader skillset than just this. Focusing on email marketing is unlikely to be enough to make you a potentially prime employee: you also need to be able to work on other types of marketing, such as affiliate marketing, social media marketing, and more. Being able to range across different skills marks you out not just as someone who is a self-starter and willing to learn, but also someone who is potentially a safer bet when it comes to longer-term employment.

This is especially true if you’re just starting out in the sector. Some marketers are true specialists in one area or another of the sector, and hence appear to only have skills in that one area. However, it’s often the case that these are either people who have worked in the sector for a long time and can afford to specialize, or who are risking their careers by specializing too early.

Many entry-level marketing jobs are looking for a broader skill set and for people who can turn their hand to whatever the latest trends might look like. The rise of the integrated campaign, whereby marketing that happens through one vertical or channel is then aesthetically or thematically repeated in another, has reinforced this, as it means that companies and agencies feel a stronger need to recruit people who can ‘do anything’.

The marketing sector is also quite nimble, and companies often want to be able to pivot to other forms of marketing without a second glance. By hiring people who know the intricacies of the differences between TikTok viral videos and television adverts, then, they can hedge their bets.

There’s no one right or wrong way to actually go about making this knowledge investment in your career. For some people, it’s all about seeing it in action: they might, for example, choose to spend time around mentors who can show them how particular technologies or marketing management processes actually work. For others, it’s about learning – and continuing professional development courses, or postgraduate courses, could be vital here. Well-regarded universities and other institutions of learning can help you enhance your skills to create a regulation-savvy, monetized digital marketing campaign that works for your client or boss, so it’s worth looking into.

Future-proofing your work

In decades gone by, it would have been almost impossible for the average marketer to predict the way that things were likely to go. While some visionary computer scientists and far-sighted cultural commentators might have foreseen a fuzzy version of what is now our always-on social media world, most marketers were occupied with the tools of what was then their today – such as direct mail, television advertising, and more.

For today’s marketer, this experience proffers an important lesson. Future-proofing your own skillset is something that history has proven to be worthwhile – and by learning about the future as it begins to be unveiled, you can improve your chances of being able to pick up good work further down the line.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that you have to actually predict what the next wave of marketing toolkits are likely to look like. Not only is that impossible to do with any certainty, but it’s also not necessary. Instead, it’s best to just stay on top of the developments and trends that the sector news can offer, and educate yourself as something new – and potentially one day valuable to your career – comes about.

Defending yourself

Finally, and as alluded to above, it’s also important to remember that you need to stick to the regulations laid out in your area. Marketing is not the most regulated industry on Earth, of course, and there are arguably less serious consequences to breaching a regulation in this sector than there might be if you were, say, a medical professional such as a doctor or nurse. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to make mistakes that could have reputational or legal consequences – especially in the face of a changing regulatory framework. This could lead to what, in perhaps the best-case scenario, would equal lost clients and revenue. In the worst-case scenario, it could lead to you being unable to practice to work or even facing civil or criminal prosecution.

If you work in the advertising wing of the marketing sector, for example, you’ll need to be sure that you’re adhering to the codes of conduct set out by the professional bodies in your sector. In some jurisdictions, this is a very public process. Those who break the rules of the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK, for example, can be entered into a public database along with their name and the details of their misdemeanor – meaning that potential employers and clients can see.

These aren’t necessarily going to be legal rules, though in some places, they are. In other places, the worst that can happen is that you might end up finding yourself ‘named and shamed’ within the sector – which, while not a criminal offence, could have far-reaching consequences. By ensuring that you keep your knowledge levels up and remain on top of the way that the law and codes of conduct in this sector work, you can reduce the chances of a problem occurring.

In short, there’s no denying that marketing trends are always changing – and if you’re a professional working in this sector, it’s essential that you stay on top of the shifting sands of technology, monetization and regulation. From ensuring that you don’t fall foul of the latest changes in the law or codes of conduct to being certain that you know how up-and-coming technologies work, it’s vital to invest time and mental energy into being trend-savvy. You never know – it could even secure you the job of your dreams one day.