Trade Marketing Insights

Trade Runner 2049: The Future Of Trade Marketing

Posted by Callum Hornigold on 13-Dec-2018 16:40:05
Callum Hornigold
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The future of trade marketing

Why Read?

This article will cover:

  • The future of trade marketing within the next 30 years.
  • Technological advancements in online shopping, trade shows and POS with voice-activated assistants, Big Data, holographic displays, digital scent technology, robotics and VR.
  • Future cultural and technical challenges facing trade marketing managers.

The following information is written by a trade marketing manager in 2049. Based on current research and professional predictions, it describes how the profession will likely evolve as new technologies emerge.


Please click below to jump to the section that interests you the most. Alternatively, read on for an overview of the trade marketing manager’s role of the future. 


My name is Matt Dawson. Tomorrow I’ll be 74 and approaching the end of my career as a trade marketing director working for some of the world’s largest environmentally friendly FMCG companies.

Trade marketing has changed beyond recognition since my first job as a trade marketing assistant. Huge technological advancements have been made with IoT, voice-activated searches, AI, and exciting VR.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine a world without them, much like it is to imagine a world without the internet when I was a young boy.

Here’s how the trade marketing landscape has evolved since I started my career.

IoT will determine the future of trade marketing

The rise of online and IoT

At the beginning of the 21st century, the mass exodus of consumers from traditional to online shopping forced brands to invest in digital promotion.

Soon, the convenience of ordering shopping online and receiving your shopping within two hours by drone delivery superseded traditional bricks-and-mortar stores and a multitude of stores were forced to close. While it was a hard sell at first, the rise in smartlock technology enabled consumers to have their shopping delivered and packed in their refrigerator by delivery staff, without the need to be at home.

Only the stores that weren’t encumbered with legacy systems and had the budgets to invest in experiential technology and highly trained store assistants survived.

As retailers’ online stores grew in popularity, larger portions of marketing spend were invested into digital. Digital provided brands greater accuracy on the impact their trade campaigns had on sales and offered the consumer a more personalised experience when shopping.

But even logging onto a computer to do your shopping soon became less common. In-home voice-activated assistants like Alexa enabled consumers to build, reorder and auto-replenish their shopping lists on household devices with voice commands.

IoT refrigerators now utilise 3D scanning and homeowners are alerted when food items are running low, or consumers can set the devices to simply reorder items automatically.

This technology permeates throughout the entire household, spreading to other FMCG items such as toilet roll and bleach. In today’s household, everything is in its right place and always stocked with little to no effort.

However, the convenience and ease of auto-replenishment poses huge challenges for trade marketers in 2049. If it’s made so easy to stick to your preferred brands, how can we disrupt this and get consumers to switch to our brand? 

One method is Big Data.

the future of trade marketing is big data

The Future of trade marketing is Big Data and personalisation

Retailers will aggregate shopper data to pool audiences into highly specific segments and match them with certain brands. 

Brands will also pay to promote their products via the IoT, with voice-activated assistants recommending their brand according to previous search data.

These days, consumers want highly tailored recommendations, which includes precision nutrition.

The adoption of precision nutrition first started in the late 2010s as consumers became increasingly health conscious, with pioneers such as Tesco forming partnerships with SpoonGuru

Such platforms enabled Tesco’s customers to filter their food searches considering various intolerances such as lactose and gluten, and diets such as vegetarian, vegan, low fat, and low salt.

Soon, there was a government-backed initiative to tackle the rise of diabetes and ease the strain on healthcare, influencing consumers to engage in these platforms. The whole concept snowballed.

Offering that level of precision and personalisation was a huge draw for customers, and the onus was on trade marketers to supply detailed product information to retailers.

The demand for precise nutritional info was further increased in the late 2020s when voice search became even more advanced.

For example, a common voice-activated search would be, “Find the cheapest low fat yogurt that’s on offer at the moment.”

Purchase decisions became less based on branding (in the traditional packaging sense) and more on data, reviews and PR. Consumers could ask the voice-activated assistant to instantly inform them on detailed nutritional information, customer audio reviews and the brand’s press coverage. Brands truly had nowhere to hide and trade marketing managers needed to ensure all that data was easily accessible to the retailers.

Advancements in precision nutrition progressed even further in the 2030s, with retailers themselves offering
DNA nutrition matching opt-ins. This took the dietary personalisation to a whole new level, enabling retail platforms to recommend products based on very specific dietary requirements.

For example, “Find the cheapest, low-fat yogurt that’s best for my health.”

The system would then take into account any nutritional deficiencies / needs of the consumer (such as ‘high in calcium’, for example) and recommend the best-suited products.

Personalisation also had a huge impact on the sell-in stage for trade marketers. AI algorithms enabled retailers to identify consumer trends with high detail, understanding subtle nuances in shopper behaviour.

For trade marketing managers, going through the procurement process became very data-oriented. Due to Big Data, retailers had very detailed insight into consumer trends, which meant that Procurement had very specific briefs.

With developments in AI, procurement became highly automated, automatically connecting the retailer with prospective suppliers based on the product information the trade marketing manager uploaded into the procurement system. AI can even negotiate contracts and produce purchase orders.

This meant trade marketing managers needed to really understand their products, from product descriptions and specs, right down to detailed nutritional information.

Of course, AI can only base decisions on the data it has already been provided (at least in its current capacity). When it comes to product innovation, retailers still require a human buyer to understand the creative concept.

This means traditional trade marketing activities such as trade shows still exist. However, they’re much more exciting these days.

future trade show trade marketing

Developments in Trade show technology

I have to admit, I get as excited exhibiting at trade shows as I did visiting theme parks when I was a young boy.

In fact, there isn’t much difference between them.

As digital technologies skyrocketed in 2030 when technological capabilities finally caught up with the human imagination, trade shows became even more experiential.

One of the main developments was the widespread use of holographic displays. In their infancy, holographic displays simulated product manufacturing processes and highlighted features and benefits.

Now, they’re much more advanced, providing a 3D virtual environment buyers can actual walk amongst and interact with.

Much like the early days of VR with brands such as Patrón Tequila demonstrating its production process and highlighting its fine ingredients, VR still plays a huge role at trade shows.

However, these days virtual environments are almost identical to real life. 

Brands have long had the technology to create HD displays at the same resolution of the human eye

And this experiential engagement has paid dividends when it comes to telling your brand story and communicating its benefits to create sales leads.

AR and VR at the Point of Sale

While online shopping presented trade marketing managers with the challenge of getting their products into the hands of consumers in the 2020s, VR technology bloomed in the 2030s and completely revolutionised sales and marketing.

This enabled consumers to visually experience the product in a photo-realistic 3D environment. Most refrigerators now come equipped with VR glasses to be used in home, should the consumer want to visualise the food products before they buy.

Using VR technology, consumers can pick up the product from the comfort of their own home, discover nutritional information and experience immersive brand stories. This saw brand and trade teams join forces to create highly informative and immersive VR experiences that could be modified for both a trade and consumer audience.

However, technology is not yet refined enough to perfectly replicate the nuances in a product's taste. Many brands still rely on sending free samples when a consumer autoreplenishes their shopping list. This is triggered when the retailer matches the consumer to your specific audience segment based on their previous purchase data and browsing history. 

While VR dominates the point of sale in homes, for today’s surviving bricks-and-mortar retailers, augmented reality has been widely adopted as a smarter way to shop. 

Initially, AR on phone handsets enabled consumers to search for deals, compare product data and identify all kinds of nutritional information.

future of trade marketing with AR promotions

Now, shoppers are able to instantly see all this through AR glasses. AR glasses have been around for some time, pioneered with products such as Google Glass, but it took consumers a long time to adopt them, once they were lightweight and seamless enough to wear comfortably.

The consumer can now use AR glasses to see deals and shopping ‘modes’, which enable them to instantly find specific products in store.

The AR platform's ‘Health Mode’ directs the consumer to the healthiest options within a certain category, considering data such as salt and fat content. ‘Budget Mode’ highlights the cheapest deals within your chosen category. And there’s even ‘Gift Mode’, which connects to the individual’s public Amazon wishlists.

Much like old-school slotting fees for shelf space, promo displays and seasonal features, our brand has to pay a premium to appear on the AR platform’s featured section.

I am responsible for negotiating promotions with retailers. This still includes traditional trade promos such as BOGOF, gift with purchase and on pack prizes / competitions. After all, they still influence purchases of FMCG products such as toilet roll – there’s only so much data you can provide on toilet roll on an AR platform and if people are in a rush it often comes down to which one’s the cheapest.

I also negotiate our digital in-store promotions, including what AR modes our products will feature under and how frequently, plus traditional shelf space.

When a mode is on-trend (‘Christmas Mode’, for example) featured space is at a premium. So getting featured on the retailer’s augmented reality platform is highly competitive.

While retailers and manufacturers traditionally shared data to improve sales, bricks-and-mortar retailers upped their game to harness their in-store data and improve their AR experience, relying less on supplier data.

However, even today, brands hold the key to detailed product information and how well their products are performing in other stores and across all other sales channels. As always, a strategic alliance is essential. 

Digital scent technology is also a relatively recent development in both consumer and trade marketing that has aided manufacturers and retailers alike, particularly within FMCG.

Digital scent technology allows consumers to experience the smell of a brand’s entire product range. It is now used widely within POS displays and sell-in product pitch presentations.

Some argue it’s arbitrary and nothing more than a novelty, but what is known as 'olfactive branding' 
has been proven to increase in-store sales. We recently incorporated it into all our coffee ranges, allowing consumers to quickly navigate through the different scents.

We can even harness the data to discover the most and least popular scents based on how long the customer samples the scent and how this ties in with sales data.

Although this basic technology existed since the dawn of VR with companies such as Feelreal, brands could only replicate general smells such as ‘chocolate’.

It hasn’t been until recently that brands are able to simulate the subtle nuances in smell from a range of FMCG products such as washing powders, detergents, fruit drinks, toothpaste, crisps (or chips) and candy, which seems odd considering mankind’s historical ability to replicate sights and sounds in such a sophisticated manner.

But it’s here now and it’s here to stay.

future of trade marketing with robot assistants

Robotics: Walking, talking sales machines

In my 50 years as a trade marketing professional, I’d say robotics has made the most technological advances in retail.

I remember the old robots in Lowes that helped people navigate stores and recommended products. Here’s a video I managed to dig out — at the time, these robots were revolutionary.

I laugh as it all seemed so advanced at the time.

Our company is currently rolling out a new fleet of robot assistants. They can read emotion and appropriate their tone of speech to a high level of accuracy.

They know your passions and your fears, utilising complex AI algorithms to make judgments based on your previous purchases and activity across various channels.

They know exactly which of our products to recommend in order to maximise sales. 

If you’re not sure, they detect uncertainty and provide more information. If you’re still not sure, they recommend another item. They even can explain to the customer aspects of the supply chain, such as where ingredients were sourced and the ethical procedures they adopted.

Robot assistants are walking, talking sales and PR machines all rolled into one. They don’t need to take a tea or coffee break and will grab consumer attention far better than those ancient wobblers or FSDUs.

It’s important for trade marketing managers to work with retailers to ensure all the correct product information and brand storytelling is uploaded onto the system so the robot assistant can effectively promote your products.

All the data they collect is stored on a central database. Machine learning ensures they improve their service each time.

These days, I’m glad I work for a company that harnesses robotic assistants for the greater good. Ethically speaking, there’s a current moral panic over how well trade marketing managers allow in-store robots to play on our emotions and insecurities. 

Just seven years ago, I was turned down for a trade marketing director position at a leading cosmetics brand because I refused to manage the deployment of robot assistants into major retailers that used AI to recognise acne in teenage girls and recommend beauty products.

Fortunately, there’s been a new wave of governance in recent years in FMCG to ensure POS adheres to moral code.

It’s always a challenge with so many brands competing, willing to potentially sink to new lows for quick profit. But I sleep at night knowing that they never survive for long. These days, there’s nowhere to hide.

Once upon a time, manufacturers held the power. Then it became retailers. In 2049, the consumer holds the power. The future of trade marketing exists in a data-driven world. A world where personalisation is key and trade marketing professionals have a huge responsibility in ensuring all aspects of their products are communicated effectively.

What Do You Think?

What future challenges do trade marketers face and how do you think retail will evolve?

Let us know in the comment section below and, if you enjoyed reading this article, please share the love. 

And if you want to rewind back to the present day, feel free to take a look at The Ultimate Guide To Trade Marketing.

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Topics: trade marketing, digital trade marketing, trade marketing technology

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