October 2016.

I want a career in marketing. What are the most exciting opportunities for marketing start-ups?

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There are five areas of innovation that are pivotal for the marketing industry right now. Startups who can promise one of the following revolutions are ripe for investment:

Reinvent retail. The in-store retail experience may have become pretty stale for digital consumers, but if retailers can bring their online and offline shopping expertise together, they can offer the speed and convenience of online shopping in a bricks-and-mortar store. Startups who can offer exciting new technology in physical stores will create the most compelling retail experiences we’ve ever had. We’ve already seen Topshop offering augmented reality (AR) dressing rooms, where you can “try on” outfits using a headset, and IKEA’s AR catalogue, which lets you “place” furniture on your own home using your phone or tablet. If your company can create simple apps that enhance retail, you’ll be attractive to investors because these apps are massively scalable.

Transform consumers into co-creators. Today’s consumers have an infinite number of content choices at their disposal. We share 277,000 tweets, 2.4 million Facebook posts and 216,000 Instagram photos every minute of every day. Game-changing innovators like Netflix, Spotify, Vice and Buzzfeed already offer expert curation of compelling content, but with all this choice also comes the rapid uptake of an advertiser’s worst nightmare – the ad blocker. Marketers can no longer rely on the advertising mechanics they used to, so there is a massive opportunity for startups who can move consumers from being passive consumers to being co-creators. This doesn’t just mean involving them in the content creation process. It means literally giving them the keys to a product’s creation, like Mondelez International did with their awesome 3-D printed Oreos. People were queuing for three hours to make a single oreo. When they are co-creators, consumers choose to spend time with brands.

Make data personal. Marketers now have the ability to communicate with people on a scale of billions and still talk to you on a one-on-one basis, using completely bespoke messaging. Super-smart chat bots like Twyla can deal with customer service issues or technical support entirely through text messaging, which is instant and automated but still feels personal. Other chatbots are already automating your Burger King order, connecting American users directly to medical care through HealthTap, or walking you through your KLM flight booking. But in order to do that, consumers need to be comfortable with providing these insights, and business needs to use these insights in a way that is useful. That means not like Microsoft’s Twitter monster Tay, which was supposed to adaptively learn the language of millennials but ended up regurgitating the worst kind of social media bile.

We’re going to see a lot of investment targeted at innovative startups in the mould of SumoMe, a free set of WordPress tools which helps companies to grow their mailing lists. Companies like this put consumers at the heart of brand engagement and provide the right content at the right time.

Reimagine business as a force for good. More and more multinational companies see working with the civil society and startup communities as being key to making their activities more sustainable. Unilever’s Bright Future initiatives include having Domestos partner with UNICEF to end poor sanitation, Persil helping to get more children to school and Dove working to increase teenagers’ self-confidence. Simple steps like scrapping paper receipts could have massive benefits – the paperless payments startup Square estimates that receipts waste a billion gallons of water, 10 million trees and 250m gallons of oil a year. Social welfare niches like these create exciting opportunities for socially-minded entrepreneurs who want to scale up their impact and ideas.

Invent new technologies for the next generation. Millennials are bombarded by 5,000 marketing messages a day. This ‘always on’ generation lead busy lives and they have an average attention span of eight seconds. They’ve learned to tune out anything that doesn’t immediately resonate with them. So brands need to work hard to be inspiring or useful to millennials. They need to think with the Netflix mentality, and adapt their pitch and product to ever-evolving lifestyle trends. Entrepreneurs who build on the work of adtech startups like AppNexus will be instrumental in creating the insightful marketing campaigns that enable brands to talk to this exciting and hard-to-reach audience.

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