By Andrew Warden, CMO, Semrush
The word on everyone’s lips as we head into 2023 is “recession.” Given the global economy’s unpredictability right now (Collins Dictionary declared their word of 2022 “permacrisis,” which they define as “an extended period of instability and insecurity”), the business challenge of navigating unknowns is here to stay for 2023.
So, how can brands survive — or better yet, turn these adverse conditions into an advantage? What types of content should marketers prioritize publishing given our 2023 uncertainty? And what will customers expect from the companies in the new year?
We analyzed the search data to bring you five digital marketing trends to guide us all this year. Here they are.
Trend #1: Invest in growth to overcome the downturn
In 2022, people obsessed over whether or not we had officially entered a recession. In fact, Semrush data reveals that global Google queries for “is a recession coming” increased by over 1287.5% from December 2020 to December 2022.
Consumers are searching high and low for a definitive answer. But even just the fact that people are aware of a potential recession is enough to start seeing its market effects. So, whether or not a recession is officially here, it functionally has already begun.
It’s true, taking a hard look at marketing channels and campaigns and pulling back spend on areas that aren’t producing results can help insulate your budget. But, it’s also true that investing in growth will lead the way to future growth once economic recovery takes shape.
In times of economic uncertainty, many companies will slash their marketing budgets. For those with the stomach–and indeed the budget flexibility– decreased market competition marks a great time to make gains with fresh and existing audiences.
Increasing ad spend in a recession has been found to drive a 17% growth in incremental sales and can lead to lasting gains in market share. On the flip side, decreasing media spend during a recession can have drastic effects as it can cause an 18% decrease in incremental sales.
Practically speaking, that's not for everyone. For those whose budgets are being cut, lean into organic marketing which will help you build momentum over time, and prepare you best when the economy turns around.
What to do about it:
- Don’t be afraid to pause any campaign or ad spend that’s not working– right now. That budget can be put to better use with investments in areas where you can achieve the most growth (hint: organic!).
- Focus on organic marketing to help grow your online visibility, even while paid ad budgets shrink
- Design creative and compelling content for your online properties that positions your brand for increased visibility, delivering long-term results that outlast any single paid campaign.
- Take advantage of tools that tell you what consumers are searching for and where they spend their time online. These findings inform how to publish high-ranking content that connects with your target audience(s).
Trend #2: Show your brand cares — and prove it
Now more than ever, consumers pay attention to the impact of the companies they support. From environmental to social issues, a company’s stance can be what draws new buyers – and keeps existing audiences loyal – to their products.
Semrush found that global Google searches for “brands with social purpose” rose by 133% from December 2020 to December 2022, showing growth of interest in companies that stand for something bigger than themselves. IBM found that purpose-driven consumers are now the largest consumer segment, accounting for 44% of all shoppers.
While the rise of the conscious consumer isn’t breaking news, the trend will intensify. Saying the right things will no longer be enough. Companies need to follow through with concrete actions like policy changes, public communication on social issues (including political topics), and more. Today’s consumer demands action from the brands on issues like climate change, gender equality, and human rights.
Companies like Patagonia and Nestle’s Nespresso are leading the way in this space.
The founding family of Patagonia ceded control of their company to establish a $3 billion trust and nonprofit that’s fighting climate change. Instead of selling or going public, the family chose to prove that they are purpose-driven by demonstrating their commitment to the environment, a cause closely aligned to the company’s outdoor products.
Another environmentally conscious brand, Nestle’s Nespresso, announced in 2020 its goal of reaching carbon neutrality across supply chains by 2022. And in 2022, they successfully hit that marker by reducing carbon emissions, implementing clean energy solutions in farming communities, and investing in reforestation and forest conservation. They now advertise their “carbon-neutral cup of coffee,” drawing conscious consumers to their brand.
Identifying which issues matter most to your customers can set the stage for corporate engagement that makes the world a better place and attracts your target audience.
What to do about it:
- Talk with customers to find out which causes matter most to them, and, connect with leadership internally to help bring these values to alignment across a company.
- Share insights on what issues your customers care about with the leaders across your company. Strategize an actionable plan for how the brand can help meaningfully advance those causes.
- Hold your company accountable by driving change and following-up! Pushing for change that matters to your customers will ultimately accelerate progress both for your company, your customers, and maybe, just maybe, communities we all care about the most.
Trend #3: Embrace of AI Generated content
From writing tools to bots, AI allows marketers to lower costs, save time and amplify creativity by automating tasks. AI also allows marketers to predict behavior to create personalized messaging for enhanced consumer interaction.
Semrush data confirms AI is on the rise; global Google searches for “AI marketing tools” increased by 310.3% from December 2020 to December 2022, showing a strong appetite for learning about the subject.
The demand for AI in marketing is skyrocketing. According to Statista, in 2021, the AI market produced 15.84 billion dollars in revenue. It is expected to increase to 107.5 billion by 2028.
We all felt it: ChatGPT rocked the world. Semrush data confirms that since ChatGPT came out on November 30, 2022, searches increased by 167,855.8% from November to December 2022. Created by OpenAI, ChatGPT can answer any question, explain any concept (no matter how complex) and even write a sales pitch according to your favorite methodology. Marketers can use ChatGPT to create original content for campaigns, copy, and virtually anything else.
2023 is the year for marketers to embrace AI - to stop fearing it. Copywriters, use AI to help you go faster! Designers– use Midjourney to help you create storyboards faster! Creatives, look at everything at your disposal… we could keep going. We’ll see more companies establish deeper connections with AI also - think of all the upcoming innovations with chatbots, personalized content and messaging, and even avatars. It will be a wild ride from here on.
What should marketers do about it?
- Ditch your fears — start using AI now- the more you learn the more you can leverage, and save your time.
- Don’t accept the initial or subsequent output, we will probably need humans to course correct for the next 2-3 years.
- Brush up and buckle up, as marketers, we know the game changes all the time.
Trend #4: Leave cookies in the past
Ever since Google first announced its plan to phase out third-party cookies in 2020, it’s been a major topic of conversation in marketing and business development teams. And even though the expiration date on cookies has been punted many times and is now slated for 2024, it’s a fast-approaching reality that marketers need to prepare for.
Are your hands stuck in the cookie jar? If so, you’re not alone. A shocking 83% of marketers still rely on third-party cookies. How can we make the change?
For me it’s quite simple: we can make the change by embracing organic marketing and associated channels. Investing in online visibility and organic marketing strategies empowers brands to take control of their online presence without relying on unstable tracking methods that won’t be around much longer.
The biggest question for most marketers is, “If I leave cookies in the past, how will I gain insights into customer behavior?”
With Organic programs it’s possible. Marketers can create organic content and attract users to their properties, where APIs can be used to collect useful marketing data on the audience while maintaining customer privacy (which is of increasing importance to consumers).
Until 2024 when cookies are banned from Google Chrome, paid advertising supported by cookies may not be as effective and can result in a reduction of leads and lower customer acquisition. Marketers must adapt to continue to understand customer behavior and intent in a sustainable way that protects privacy. Exploring organic programs puts marketers in the driver's seat irrespective of changes outside of their control.
What should marketers do about it?
- Advocate for your digital marketing teams to move away from third-party cookies as a way to prepare for 2024. This will take strong collaboration between marketing leadership across the team, as well as digital and organic marketing teams (if applicable).
- Use powerful online visibility software and find the right APIs to gather customer behavior and digital marketing data from users who visit your site and interact with your brand.
Trend #5: Put customer stories in the spotlight
While it’s easy to get excited about any number of digital trends, storytelling is at the heart of what we do as marketers. Compelling stories are more important than ever to cut through steep competition for attention. But what types of stories? And who should tell them?
One study found that customers don’t mind ads on social media, as long as the message is “fun, useful, entertaining, informative or moves me in some way.” Keying in on the types of narratives that will resonate with audiences in these desired ways should be a top priority.
Semrush data found that global Google searches for “storytelling ideas for business” increased by 300% from December 2020 to December 2022 which suggests people are beginning to consider how to incorporate storytelling into their business strategy.
Customer stories–that is, a customer’s testimonial or narrative on how they love or use the product or service, or in some way how it may have even changed their life–in particular are a great way to connect with consumers in a meaningful way, and it’s an increasingly necessary component of any marketing strategy. In fact, research found that 90% of buyers who read positive customer reviews said it influenced their purchasing decision.
For years, Dove has featured the stories of real customers in its commercials. The story-telling is not based on the products, rather it is focused on how the customers feel which leads the viewer to experience and build an emotional connection to the brand.
In 2023, consumers will expect authenticity, and they’ll want to see themselves reflected in the brands they support. It comes down to people hearing stories told by real people, not hired actors nor corporate talking heads. This type of human connection is invaluable.
For example, McDonald’s ran a 2022 campaign in honor of Black History Month about feeding communities in need. They partnered with Keke Palmer to showcase young Black leaders who are creating meaningful change in their neighborhoods. The campaign not only highlighted McDonald’s giving back but also put real, relatable stories at the center of the narrative.
What should marketers do about it?
- Create meaningful connections with customers and encourage them to share their experiences with your brand on the platforms they spend the majority of their time. Let audiences see how they could benefit from your product or service in the real world.
- Focus on incorporating real-life stories into your marketing, rather than relying on the brand’s company or corporate message.
- Consider running competitions to encourage customers to share their experience with your brand.
- Follow the trends and how brands are telling customer stories in their marketing campaigns to get ideas that are applicable to your business.
Andrew Warden serves as Semrush’s Chief Marketing Officer and leads a team of over 150 global marketing and communications professionals. Andrew has a demonstrable track record in building and optimizing global marketing functions from the ground up. He has lived and worked in some 20+ countries, with a primary focus on digital marketing and digital transformation.
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