Predictions: 16 digital marketing trends for 2016

We’ve spoken to marketing leaders, analysts and industry commentators about the key ingredients needed for the digital marketing mix in 2016

9. Digital transformation moves to the c-suite

This year, marketers have been keen to make better use of the marketing technology tools available to them, kick-starting the digital transformation discussion. In 2016, Squiz’s Syriatowicz anticipated marketers will start to more effectively collaborate and share responsibility with senior management on these initiatives.

He expected collaboration will also broaden beyond typical IT teams and into any department, whether it be sales, HR or finance.

“While more of our projects for customers are being driven by marketing teams than ever before, these projects cannot sit with just one department,” he said. “In 2015, only 18 per cent of marketers described their digital strategy as visionary and 37 per cent felt their digital strategy was either inadequate or non-existent. More cross-department collaboration and buy-in from the c-suite will help projects get off the ground.”

ADMA’s Sangster agreed leveraging technology as part of an effective digital transformation strategy in 2016 will be all about forming effective partnerships.

“The rush to digital transformation has left many organisations with a wealth of technology but a dearth of people that can use it effectively to deliver its promise,” she claimed. “2016 is going to be less about the technology itself and more about the rise of consulting technologists who will work in partnership with companies to help them leverage the technology they already have.”

10. Marketing platforms consolidate

At the start of the year, Squiz predicted the growing number of marketing technology platforms available would drive consolidation over the next three years. Reflecting on customer behaviour in 2015, Syriatowicz said this prediction is still on track in the next 12 months.

“Customers increasingly want to consolidate their marketing platforms, rather than use multiple tools with disparate information in several locations,” he said. “Essentially, they’re looking for one point of truth that provides clear and valuable insight into their campaigns and how they are affecting the business overall. Consolidation of IT will continue in coming years, as marketers will increasingly want to simplify what tools and technologies they work alongside.”

11. More marketing mathematics

For Livefyre’s Scott, 2016 will also be the year of ‘mathematical marketing,’ where marketers become even more attuned to measurement, analytics and accountability.

“This will be particularly true among brand marketers as they push to measure engagement,” he said. “In 2016, brand ambassadors will share user-generated content, social experiences and participate in online communities. Building a loyal fan base is a necessity, but it won’t impress your board room unless you have the numbers and ROI to back it up.”

12. APIs to drive digital transformation

APIs will be one of the biggest drivers of digital transformation, according to regional VP of integration platform Mulesoft, Jonathan Stern. He saw businesses large and small increasingly recognising the important opportunities being created by establishing an open approach to data.

“The best way to accomplish this is through APIs, which allow for the fluid exchange of information between internal systems and those belonging to third parties,” he said. “When APIs can be more easily aggregated and delivered to developers on demand, the move to the new ‘connected enterprise’ – an enterprise that lives outside its own four walls – can accelerate.”

Stern pointed to Expedia as a prime example. The online travel site has an API that allows people using third-party websites, such as Kayak, to tap its functionality in order to book flights, cars and hotels.

“Nearly half of Expedia’s $4 billion revenue is achieved by delivering its services to partners through affiliate APIs, which have become a driving revenue source for the company,” he explained. “Cloud pioneer, Salesforce, meanwhile, generates 75 per cent of its revenue via APIs.”

Businesses can also reach a new group of promising customers by pairing their application with another company’s API in a similar industry.

“For example, United Airlines has recently been able to take advantage of Uber open API,” Stern said. “When a customer is in the United Airlines app, they can sync it up with their Uber account, so that in the event of a plane delay, the API communicates to Uber app to delay a driver’s pickup time. This opens up a whole new ecosystem of connectivity for United, therefore driving new revenue opportunities.”

13. Customers demand more authenticity

According to Guardian Australia’s McClelland, consumers are overwhelmed by the wealth of content available daily. To counter this, he said brands will need to look to connect with consumers on a more meaningful and authentic level.

This means integration between digital marketing and experiential will become increasingly more essential.

“We’ll also see greater emphasis on off-platform activity as we see the impact of Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat,” McClelland predicted. “Meanwhile, brands will need to increase usability and produce high quality mobile content to stay ahead.”

14. Data gets actionable for competitive advantage

Digital marketers will need to lift their competitive game if they want to remain relevant in 2016, according to Oracle Marketing Cloud vice-president, Paul Cross. And to do this, marketers need to focus on making data actionable.

“Using data to drive individualised, targeted communications and linking it to ROI is now normal – every marketer should be doing this,” he said. “The next step is building competitive advantage by creating unique data sets that enable marketers to out-perform their competitors in order to deliver more delightful, profitable marketing experiences than their competitor. The rapid rise of the Data Management Platform [DMP] is behind this.”

For Cross, data is vital in connecting customers with content that inspires transactions.

“If you don’t do this, your competitors will,” he warned. “This needs focus on organising your disparate data in one place, making content individualised, having the ability to execute automated, cross-channel marketing through all of the channels that matter.”

15. Refocus on nurturing relationships inside and out

Several industry commentators agreed that digital growth and maturity required an ability to develop nimble teams and foster close, professional business alliances.

Founder and director of online dining platform, The Urban List, Susannah George, predicted 2016 will be about fostering a culture of ‘educating up’. This is about enabling younger teams to lead the charge in exploring new digital techniques and platforms, sharing learnings and potentially game-changing insights with their superiors.

“Digital marketing has evolved from being a game of numbers to one of relationships,” she said. “It is imperative we cultivate relationships with our customers and prospects that are iterative and sequential, nurturing them through a discovery journey and providing them with the content or materials they need, dependent on their current standpoint.

“It’s about understanding what they have and haven’t been exposed to already, what their mindset is at the time of viewing your brand, and what will have the most impact on them when you next cross paths.”

As a result, George also saw 2016 as a year for building and nurturing stronger customer relationships outside the organisation.

“It’s about creating an ability to generate a stronger relationship with our customers, based on more insightful, effective nurturing – both through retargeting and automation,” she said. “This means forging connections and understanding of their individual needs and motivations. It also means increased customisation of our interactions and content creation, tailoring our content strategy and distribution to the wants and needs of individual readers, before they even know what they’re looking for.”

16. Forget digital, the future is all about technology

According to managing director of creative agency Imagination, Anthony Gowthorp, the concept of ‘digital’ will die in two years as it becomes a core part of every action, activity and engagement. The future, he claimed, is all about technology.

“Every creative does digital, it’s the ticket for entry much the same as ‘design’ was some 15 years ago,” he said. “But it’s where digital is moving that’s the game changer.”

Imagination has just launched an Innovation Lab to help marketers better understand how to use technology in customer engagements.

“Technology is able to broaden the spectrum of customer experience touchpoints beyond digital - be this proximity, ambient or another technology,” Gowthorp claimed. “We will start hearing more about the potential that technology marketing offers brands.”

It is the increasing prevalence of interactive technology that will shape key milestones for the industry in 2016 and beyond, he said.

“This is about truly experiencing a brand or a business message within an environment or situation outside of mobile phones and computer screens where people work, live and play,” Gowthorp added. “Nirvana for brands is their unobtrusive infiltration of where people work, live and play. This is where real engagement and traction is achieved. This is where technology - as opposed to digital - allows marketers to be in more spaces and in front of consumers, more often.”

Funnily enough, however, the key for marketers goes right back to marketing 101: Focusing on the business objective.

“Identify what your business problem is and who the people are that you want to engage,” Gowthorp advised. “If you focus on that, rather than delivery, you’ll open yourself up to this new world of marketing. But if you come to the table being prescriptive and determining what you want, you immediately put yourself in a box.”

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