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Hindsight is 2020: Which Digital Transformation Predictions Came True?

Streaming! Blockchain! Instagram! It’s impossible to name all of the major technology developments that have occurred over the past few years that have revolutionized the way people experience everyday life. One thing is certain though: in just a decade, organizations have embraced new technology headfirst and completely redefined how they communicate, serve and understand their audiences. 

From self-driving cars to personal voice assistants to cloud computing, it can be challenging for businesses to stay up to date with the latest tech trends and distinguish significant digital innovations from the flash-in-the-pan shiny gadgets. Rather than buy into every single new platform and analytics tool and end up with a bloated, incompatible tech stack, organizations need to strategically focus on the key technologies that allow them to deliver the experiences their customers want now and will continue to expect in the future. As we approach 2020, we’re looking back at the biggest digital transformation predictions to see which ones came true, which missed the mark and which still have the potential to make an impact in the decade ahead.

Prediction: Chatbots are out and humans are in

Last year, Acquia spoke to digital leaders to see which trends they didn’t expect to stick around in 2019, and many saw chatbots as a passing fad. Citing the lack of personal understanding and struggles to communicate with many early chatbot models, digital marketers largely expected this channel to be obsolete and for more real person-to-person marketing tactics to crop up in its wake. In its 2019 Predictions series, Forrester claimed: “Customers will lead a community-based revolt against corporate chatbots.” This was echoed by Joakim Ditlev in the Content Marketing Institute’s 85+ Predictions on Content Marketing in 2019, who believed that “2019 will be the year content marketers start to value creativity over technology...Chatbots will self-destruct, and we’ll get back to basics.” 

So, in the ongoing battle of human vs. machine who actually came out on top?

Verdict: False, chatbots and AI are here to stay (and so are people)

The answer, not surprisingly, is both! With the recent surge of voice tech devices and boom in businesses leveraging messaging apps to engage customers, the chatbot trend is here to stay. According to 2019 Salesforce research, “53% of service organizations expect to use chatbots within 18 months — a 136% growth rate that foreshadows a big role for the technology in the near future.” However, even the best AI communications require a human touch. Marketers need to deeply understand their consumer base in order to teach automation platforms to deliver personable, empathetic customer service. 

What’s next?

Hopefully, 2020 will put an end to false creative/analytical dichotomy. If there’s anything to be learned from digital efforts, it’s that both human instinct and analytics are required to build digital experiences that connect with customers. While people want streamlined, 24/7 solutions, they also want to feel as if they are being listened to by a real person. This requires marketers to spend time gathering customer data and glean insights into the preferences of different audiences throughout their journey. Our latest, Customer Experience Trends report found that “77% of marketers  intend to make AI and machine learning part of their marketing strategy in the upcoming 12 months.” 

Once marketers understand how their customers prefer to engage with their brand, whether that’s via social, voice or chatbot, they can then utilize AI and machine learning tools to deliver the right messaging at the right time. AI also frees up marketing, sales and customer success employees to focus on solving more complex issues like mapping out an overarching brand tone or purpose.

Prediction: Personalized customer experiences will take priority 

Mere decades ago the idea of a brand knowing your name, favorite color or location sounded like some Big Brother Orwellian nightmare. However, today, customers don’t even bat an eye when Walmart greets them like an old friend. In fact, they expect it. 

Marketers have been sending out basic “personalized” email campaigns since the early 2000s, hoping that by including simple details like calling a subscriber by their name or referencing a past interaction, they’d be able to foster longer-lasting, authentic relationships. Today, personalization is everywhere. We commute to work listening to Spotify playlists carefully curated to match our exact music preferences; we pick a spot for lunch by Googling “food near me” and letting geotargeting do the rest and we wind down at night by scrolling through what’s new in our Netflix recommendations. 

Verdict: True, but we’ve got more work to do! 

In just a few years, personalization has gone from a “nice to have” to a requirement for brands who want to deliver valuable customer experiences. According to Acquia’s recent CX Trends Report, 83% of marketers say, “personalization for customers and personalization for potential customers is part of their marketing strategy for the next 12 months.” That said, brands need to grow their personalization efforts from the basics, like offering content based on location or device type, into more multifaceted personalization efforts that take into account ongoing behavior, predict a customer’s next actions and offer content that makes sense with where they are in their journey.

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What’s next?

In the decade ahead, personalization efforts will evolve to be more data-driven, contextual and timely. Powerful personalization requires much more than just adding “Hello, [First name]” to your email subject lines. Personalization at scale is a cross-organizational effort that spans across channels and offers a holistic, unique experience to visitors. To deepen their personalization efforts, marketers need to be able to connect and access customer data and integrate that data with all of their systems to reach people at every point in the journey. 

Still, as sophisticated data-driven personalizations become more common, there’s also greater pressure on organizations to maintain consumer trust by treating their data responsibly. If we learned anything from the flood of recent data privacy scandals like Cambridge Analytica and Google Plus, it’s that people want stronger transparency into exactly how brands use the data they collect. Forward-thinking brands eager to engage millennials and Gen Z audiences need to find a balance between individualized experiences and informed consent when it comes to how they leverage data. Consumers are eager for more personalized products but want transparency into how the personal info they provide is being leveraged, or they’ll quickly go elsewhere. In Acquia’s 2019 Consumer Privacy Survey, we found that “65 percent of today’s consumers would stop using a brand that was dishonest about how it was using their data.” 

Prediction: Everyone needs a digital experience platform (not just a website) 

If you needed to apply for a job today, would you walk down to the office with a printed copy of your resume or just fill out an application online? Or if you wanted to try a new spot for dinner, are you going to flip through a Zagat guide or consult online Yelp reviews? Today, digital is the default. When he launched Drupal more than a decade ago, Acquia founder and CTO Dries Buytaert believed that having a website was key to success. Today, Acquia has evolved that belief to encompass the entire digital experience. We’re backing the idea that brands need to be able to deliver top-notch experiences on websites, mobile apps and any place people and tech converge (so...everywhere). 

Verdict: True! 

Back in the 1990s and early aughts, it was fresh and cutting-edge to “move your company online.” Now, practically every business today has at least one website. (Even my local dog bakery has one!) In 2015, Forrester determined that on average a single large enterprise manages 268 properties across various channels, and that number has grown year after year. As organizations continue to expand their digital presence across social channels, microsites, community platforms and everywhere else, it becomes more complex to keep track of it all and basic web management isn’t enough. That’s why we’ve seen rapid growth in Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs), which comprise an integrated collection or set of technologies that allow organizations to optimize customer experience across a vast and growing number of channels. 

Forrester first published its Forrester Wave for Digital Experience Platforms in 2014. Within a  few short years, the digital experience space has already grown in prominence and ability, including everything from marketing automation platforms to customer journey mapping to analytic tools and beyond. ResearchandMarkets.com recently projected that the DXP market will grow from USD 7.9 Billion in 2019 to USD 13.9 Billion By 2024.”

What’s next?

The future is uncertain which is why going forward brands need to be agile and flexible with how they approach technology An open DXP model that leverages flexible APIs will allow brands to integrate seamlessly with whatever technology is next to arrive on the scene and avoids the pains of getting locked into an outdated system. To prevent getting stuck in the past, organizations need to be proactive when launching new experiences or introducing new products into their digital ecosystem. The 2010s may be quickly coming to a close, but the future of digital transformation is wide open.

Paige Breaux

Content Marketing Manager Acquia

Paige Breaux is Acquia's Content Marketing Manager. Paige is a lifelong storyteller and enthusiastic editor with a background in writing and digital marketing for B2B tech brands and online lifestyle publications. Before joining Acquia, she worked in content marketing for a global SaaS+ company and interned for various trade publishing houses. She can regularly be found around Boston reading, running, or sipping on iced coffee.