If one thing's for sure, it's that nothing stays the same; these are my predictions for 2016 in everything digital answering questions such as what will we use? When, where and how will we use it? Here are my 2016 predictions for search, social, PPC, Interface, new technology, and everything inbetween.
From pixel to particle
The more I read these days, the more I’m convinced that the future of the internet is not contained with the screen you are currently looking at.
The web, Internet or super highway - whatever you want to call it - has started to move from pixel to particle and now pervades more and more of the physical world we inhabit.
My vision for 2020 for Adido and the digital world in general is that we’ll be able to create far more interesting, relevant and emotionally engaging experiences to tell brand stories and solve people’s problems.
Want to know how to hang your wallpaper? Put on a VR headset and watch an expert next to you. Want to know where the best place to take your wife for your anniversary is? Visit a few websites and (virtually) taste and smell the food on offer. Planning a trip to Madrid? Let Google/Facebook/Apple create a memorable trip for you so that you can take in all of the places of interest you’d like to see using your years of search, behavioural and people data.
We are only a few years away from a time where everything will be personalised down to a one-to-one level between brands and consumers. The journey from discovery to sale will be tailored at every point, regardless whether you are sat on your sofa at home or walking down what is left of the traditional high street.
Whilst this all sounds perfectly plausible and could well come true, we are still some years away from it being the advertising utopia that brands, agencies and consumers hope for.
We live in extremely fast-moving times but for many reasons can only take small steps towards a fully-fledged 24/7 world.
The next 12 months
So what does 2016 hold for us? What will be the big areas to pay attention to next year?
The good news is that existing channels will continue to work well and be effective when it comes to delivering sales, leads or attention. As the world gets more connected and in some ways diverse, we stick to what we know; the safe bet's over the new entrants, convenience over kerfuffle.
The bad news is as new technologies and generations head online, the options for mass market penetration becomes harder. When half of your audience is on one platform, talking in near real time and another is occasionally posting on forums once a month - if at all - creating even several markets to shoot at becomes a real challenge.
Below outlines what I believe will be the key trends for next year broken down by major category:
Expect 2016 to be a battle of the interface between the biggest digital companies. There are huge power games going on in Silicon Valley between Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and several others. As the great Tom Goodwin has often been often quoted as saying ‘The largest companies in the world now don’t own anything apart from interface and platform’. This has never been truer.
What does Google own? Nothing. They just provide a layer on top of all of the content that is created. Facebook? A layer above the posts you make on its platform – same for any other social network. Uber? A simple and powerful interface to thousands of drivers (and now food) across the globe.
The route to understanding you is through data. It’s why these companies give you their product for free. The more they can get you to use their services, the more data they can collect and the better they can target adverts.
It still strikes me as mind-boggling how primitive these services are. My Facebook feed is stuffed with products I looked at on other websites recently which I’m either not really interested in or have bought. And there is almost never anything outside of this. Why doesn’t Facebook or Google show me things I don’t know about but might be interested in? Perhaps they do but they’re not doing a very good job of it. Twitter is by far and away the best service from a consumer POV at the moment.
I expect that to change in the next year. I also expect the way that we use these services to change from input and results to either input and delivery or prediction and delivery. Google Now has been around for some time and for me, has proved partially useful and occasionally extremely useful. I expect that next year it will really kick on and provide me with more content, services and apps as and when (it not earlier) so that I don’t actually search or click myself.
Facebook's M product provides a nice twist on this by allowing me to answer questions or book services through conversational input. I can book a train ticket to Manchester just by asking it in the same way I would if I were to ask a PA, and in doing so it’s saved me those precious minutes I’d have wasted searching, inputting and paying myself.
Both of these along with Siri, Cortana and others allow the chosen provider to effectively control the interface between you and the Internet.
Think of the implications of this: more data, more context and more revenue, and over a period of years, less choice, control and freedom.
Whilst there may be a time in the future where the internet becomes a handful of suppliers, with everything and everyone else being relegated to comparative triviality, this won’t be anytime soon. However, this is a trend worth keeping an eye in 2016.
A quick note on the trends and research looking at today’s modern consumer. We spend more time on our mobiles than on our PCs surfing the web. So if you’re not mobile ready for business then that’s the first thing to fix. And quickly.
We are more connected than ever and our expectations have never been so high. If I can’t transact in a few clicks then chances are I’ll go somewhere else. By spending more of our time online, we are becoming increasingly bombarded by advertisements, largely only there to annoy and distract. Advertisers are largely getting it wrong and expecting us to take their message on board when the vast majority of us are cognitively overloaded and struggling to cope to recall much at all.
To illustrate this point, according to recent research we take in roughly 31 hours of media each day. Thirty one hours! We're currently spending more time consuming media than sleeping.
Our attention is moving increasingly away from comfortably manageable towards ‘where do I begin’ - what I’m getting at here is that in order for businesses to be successful in 2016, we need to think more about how to get and keep the attention of our audience rather than just being another unwanted, unhelpful or irrelevant advertiser.
This could be something as simple as right place and right time advertising or creating ever so easy purchasing processes through to emotionally resonating experiences & stories which get your customers eulogising about you.
Whilst your business might be some way from this today, it is worth building this into your marketing and even business strategy in 2016. Any level of experience or personalisation that can be built into your marketing activity will help keep your audience’s attention that little bit longer and so help to keep you front of mind in an ever noisy world.
If we know anything about Pay Per Click marketing, it’s that it continues to evolve and become more granular and powerful each year. From humble keyword matching beginnings to now fully manageable targeting for a variety of devices, locations and even people, the options offered up by AdWords and Bing are hugely powerful.
In 2016 we expect to see more features being added to the platform which will aim to deliver more control as to how, when, where and what adverts are served. My hope is that attribution will become a proper conversation had by all Adwords clients as I believe this has been much overlooked in the main in recent years with the exception being the larger spenders. The customer journey has become extremely fragmented in recent years which has made piecing together true ROI much harder. As Google gets even greater market penetration via Android (which now powers HALF OF ALL internet traffic), I expect to see the data at a micro level improve to help all Adwords advertisers.
It also wouldn’t surprise me to see a proper rollout of the ‘buy with Google’ feature that was tested earlier this year which effectively removes the need to visit the vendor website. The race to the bottom could well begin in earnest next year.
In 2016, I don’t expect there to be too much change. We’ll still need to get on-site issues sorted, we still need to optimise for mobile and we still need to create and distribute great content that users want to read and share. The only thing I regretfully expect to see is even less visibility for the traditional organic listings as even more local and PPC ads take more top positions.
The days of monitoring rankings as an indicator of success and traffic are long gone. However, in 2016 I do expect to see them making a comeback. The difference this time being in that those rankings will be on established sites that dominate the best phrases for your business. The classic example here is TripAdvisor which owns nearly all local restaurant and hotel top rankings.
If we know that getting above this site will either take years or hundreds of thousands of pounds, then we need to optimise for TripAdvisor to ensure the best position on this site for the first post Google click. This could involve listing optimisation, paid advertising or instore promotions to generate more (positive) feedback. Or you could just try to improve your product to make it the best available locally – radical I know…
To get better organic visibility online in 2016 a truly holistic approach to customer experience should be considered. This will require a better relationship between marketing and MD/board to ensure there is consistency and all opportunities to improve recognition are taken.
I’ve included social on here as this is often overlooked area of search. When a lot of people want to find or questions something these days, Google is not always the first port of call. Facebook has been slowly building a better search product and (re)launched it in October this year. Want to know who that actor was in your favourite film? Chances are someone answered this on Facebook. Same goes for which car to buy, places to eat out, even clothes to buy for a wedding reception.
By using our social connections and conversations, Facebook, Twitter and potentially WhatsApp, Snapchat and others offer opportunities for local advertisers to sponsor various pages, phrases or questions that might be relevant. Where there are questions, there is intent and where there is intent, there is most likely money to be made. I’m expecting to see Facebook make its first search advertising product towards the middle of 2016.
We now live in an age where nearly anyone in the Western world can be reached through one social platform or another. There over nearly 1.5 BILLION Facebook profiles and other less popular networks like Twitter or Instagram still top the multi-million mark.
Thanks to our always on society, the expectation across nearly all age ranges is that you can be contacted and response times should be quick – really quick. Send a message to someone and the recipient is virtually (pun intended) obliged to give a near instant reply.
The opportunity to use social to improve almost any company's reach is vast yet still often unrealised. I believe there are two reasons for this:
The first is that most social measures and metrics are engineered towards popularity, not performance or personalisation. The number of followers, likes, shares or retweets etc are all bare metrics of performance but bear little representation of business or audience impact. We need to link these top-level numbers to real business performance by linking up website and sales analytics and I hope that in 2016 more businesses manage to achieve this.
The second problem I believe we still face is that we do not listen anywhere near enough. I believe this is partly due to the fact that the better social media listening tools are currently very expensive and only really accessible to larger business. Going on from this they require a secondary investment into someone who can look at and make sense of the conversations going on. If you are working on limited time and resources as most of us are, then the best we can really do is set up alerts using tools like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite or Topsy.
Until we spend more time listening to the conversations going on around us, it’s unlikely we’re going to add anything meaningful to the world we inhabit and hence fail to really get the cut through we really want. My hope is that business and marketers can understand the importance of listening and commit to more of it in the coming 12 months.
Organic social media
It’s been well documented many times that Facebook organic posts have almost no reach these days so if you do want to get some ‘free’ exposure, then your content really does have to be the best it possibly can be. Posting out small or irrelevant posts should not work in this day and age and should not be part of your strategy.
Twitter and other social networks still have good opportunities to reach a large audience very quickly. However, the half-life of posts on most social networks is less than an hour so don’t expect success to come quickly or easily. Adopt a multi-posting approach where you reuse content multiple times as chances are your followers won’t have seen it.
As with all good marketing, a large amount of your time should be spent understanding your users’ needs and finding gaps where others can’t or don’t help fill them. If you can do something quicker, better or more effectively using digital then you will be part of the way to success.
Paid social media
As mentioned, Facebook posts must have investment behind them to get any real chance of traction. If you don’t pay to promote your page or posts, then you might as well be on the second page of Google.
In 2016 I’m expecting more businesses use Facebook as a way to reach and engage with more people and those doing it to get better at testing and refining their approach. Like good PPC for search, good PPC for social requires a similar approach of ongoing testing, learning and refinement. The days of just posting and praying no longer work.
I’m also expecting to see more brands make use of the power of Twitter ads where their audiences are active on the platform. Nearly all of the targeting options that are available on Facebook are on Twitter but due to the nature of the platform, it offers a more real-time approach which can work incredibly well in the right circumstances.
Given Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and other services are nearing or now beating Twitter in terms of active users and have started to roll out advertising options to a wider audience. I expect these platforms to take some advertising pounds and once again this will be to the loss of offline budgets.
What to say? Email isn’t dead, and it won’t be for years. So if you’re doing it now, keep doing so. Better personalisation, segmentation and better understanding of data will only help so take any opportunities you can to link up your data sets to improve your email experience.
A lot has been made of wearables in 2015. The Apple Watch, the plethora of Android watches, Fitbits etc etc have all been in the news at one point or another. I’m still to be convinced of the usefulness of these devices aside from the small convenience they offer of not having to use my phone as much for checking alerts or steps walked in the day.
That said, we all love gadgets and as technology becomes cheaper and more readily available, I have no doubt we’ll see more and more people buying and using them. this in turn will create more data for businesses to use as well as a world with greater connectivity for us to create better touch points with our audiences. If Bluetooth is more readily used in the mainstream, this might offer up the ability for technologies like NFC to be better utilised for both the consumer and business benefit.
I wrote recently about where the world of VR and AR is and believe that despite its current fragmented nature, 2016 will be a huge year. Oculus Rift will launch and will get huge amounts of press and other devices like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear with their low price points, will allow more people to experience virtual worlds.
These experiences will be mostly be the domain of large scale or premium brands that can afford to invest in trying these.
The march towards a ubiquitous web is already well underway. Our phones already dictate a lot of our attention and increasingly spending habits. 2016 will be the year that mobile becomes the dominant interface for them and their clients either through the traditional browser or app. While existing channels like search and social will require additional investment as competition increases further we’ll also see new and exciting ways to interact with the digital world. Connected shops, streets and even cars will inch into our day to day lives and present new ways for brands to connect. With each new technology that comes along advertisers seem to find ways to annoy and badger consumers but it is my hope that with the newer technologies like AR and IoT, that they truly add value rather than increase frustration and add to our already overloaded brains.