Top 10 digital marketing trends for 2016

It’s that time of the year again, when industry experts put their reputations on the line to make their predictions for the year ahead. Viewability and ad-blocking dominated conversations in 2015 and data scientists spun gold with their Golden Tickets, with the rise and rise of programmatic and big data likely to extend far into 2016.

Programmatic cloud

2016 will be the year when big data really needs to take a lead role in digital marketing. In order to capitalise on effective targeting strategies, brands need to link their CRM data with marketing acquisition strategies to inform and drive more profitable customers. As an increasingly essential component for CRM systems to ensure effective attribution, big data needs to underpin all activities; the success of campaigns across all devices and platforms will depend on it.

Here are the top 10 digital marketing trends for 2016 I expect brands will need to focus on to ensure they are reaching the right audiences, engaging with them on an individual level, to deliver impactful and more relevant engagement.

Quality advertising

The rise of ad blocking and concerns over viewability is a very real challenge facing the industry as a whole. In 2016, we expect publishers, advertisers and end-users to re-evaluate their relationship and take action to focus on the value exchange that takes place between the three different parties.

Dutch footballing magazine, Voetbal International, cut its available inventory by one third in 2015 and after a first difficult few months it is now seeing revenue growth from media buys. We expect UK media to follow suit: prioritising the quality of the inventory, rather than just the impressions on a plan, will lead to better targeted and more impactful ads for a more valuable online experience for all parties involved.

Programmatic TV

With programmatic now accounting for more than half of the UK display advertising market, the next phase will be TV synchronisation. Programmatic TV offers advertisers the ability to monitor TV ads airing in real-time, which can subsequently be tied in with paid search to trigger tailored ads to mobile devices. Households increasingly find themselves dual-screening, watching Internet-connected TVs alongside their mobile devices.

Advertisers are much better equipped to interrogate and use resulting big data to identify smart ways to target customers with the right message for the right product at the right time. And this is no longer the domain of big brands – programmatic TV offers great display advertising opportunities for brands of all sizes.

Cross-device tracking

Mobile is the main driver behind cross-device marketing across all sectors. It dominates desktop for Search but punches below its weight for direct Conversions. According to Google, 90% of consumers start an activity on one device yet finish on another. Cross-device tracking proves that media budgets are actually working harder than previously thought and lowers the Cost Per Acquisition (CPA).

We expect advertisers to capitalise on ‘micro moments’ this year – those short moments when users watch an ad or browse a website on their mobile while travelling to work, for example, prior to completing an action on a different device. The next step will be targeting but advertisers need to take a softly softly approach and place the customer first or risk alienating them altogether. Real-time and live (main)streaming.

On-the-go broadcasting and real time activity on platforms such as Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat make it much easier for brands to engage with their customers in the moments that matter. The platforms will no doubt increase their popularity and in turn develop better commercial opportunities for advertisers.

Expect more brand-generated content from live-streamed events, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. With more consistent and high-quality content from users and brands, audience growth will surge and that will only help to attract that big player investment.

Social commerce

So far, social commerce has been slow to conquer the market, but we expect to see big changes in 2016. Being able to shop within a social network provides the best of both worlds for retailer and consumer. The overall user experience is better as consumers can complete their shopping without leaving the site, while the propensity for converting a sale is higher for retailers.

Last year, Pinterest and Instagram added e-commerce to their networks, following in the footsteps of Twitter and Facebook. Pinterest buyable pins are yet to be rolled out in the UK, but it’ll be interesting to see what impact these buttons will have on the retail market and social channels themselves.

Big screens, little screens

Size matters in 2016! Audience screens will get both bigger and smaller simultaneously – think 24” HD monitors for office use vs. the Apple Watch on a user’s wrist. This trend has the potential to cause brands a huge headache when it comes to web development strategies and contextual advertising.

The mobile-first approach sounds great on paper, but brands mustn’t forget about all the other devices in the eco system. This could mean a move away from responsive websites to dynamic content serving.

The Apple Watch makes it easy for advertisers to quite literally get ‘in the face’ of a user, but there are drawbacks. This year, brands need to learn how to strike the right balance between invasive vs. contextual advertising. No-one likes to be bombarded with irrelevant messages, but advertising in the right context is the next logical step.

Dynamic serving

Responsive has become synonymous with ‘mobile friendly’ but it has its limitations especially as scaling a website is not always the right solution (think Apple Watch screen size). The leaders in web technology such as Amazon, Google and MSN all show very different websites depending on the device being used – and on the same domain. Although highly technical and resource heavy to develop, we predict that smaller organisations will start investing in websites that change in a more fundamental way across devices beyond scaling and re-arranging elements, as ultimately this will drive better conversion rates.

Video ads

Video ads will soon emerge from the recent growth of mobile video. Google recently moved TrueView Video campaigns into the standard AdWords platform, giving them the same targeting options and campaign structure as existing search and shopping campaigns. This lends itself very well to video ads appearing in SERPs soon.

Bing recently announced that they are releasing Betas to include video and image ads, so they could soon be trumping Google in this space.

Voice search

Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Now have changed the way people search. Within device Search activity, we see more instances of users starting their query with “OK Google…”. People increasingly use the voice command functions of phones and smart watches and the next logical step is to build voice-led results and ads.

Brands will expand their Search activity to capture this voice search traffic by adding conversation type searches. Examples include: ‘Where can I…?’; “What is the best…?’; ‘How to…?’. Optimising Search activity with these voice questions is an excellent way to get clicks at a lower cost and drive even more conversions with leftover budgets.

Emoji marketing

With an emoji becoming 2015 word of the year, brands are keen to capitalise on this universal language to engage with users cross-borders. Charities in particular have already started to use them to tell stories and engage with people across social networks. The WWF campaign to raise awareness of endangered species was a great way to demonstrate how this engagement can also lead to donations. As a first truly global language, charities we spoke to found the emoji marketing trend very interesting and were keen to look at ways they could incorporate them into their campaigns. Watch this space….

The fast pace of change makes the digital industry one of the most interesting to work in. With new platforms and initiatives launching every day, it’ll be interesting to watch the trends unfold in 2016, and more importantly see how advertisers respond and adapt their digital marketing budget and strategies. Will digital marketers capitalise on everything big data and digital marketing has to offer? We’ll have to wait and see.

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Andrew is the Founder and CEO of equimedia. Read more about Andrew

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