What will 2017 look like? Marketers from Virgin, IBM, Facebook, FCB Global and more share their predictions after an eventful year

What can we expect from 2017?

Will Trump-style leadership set the tone for 2017? Will chatbots become the new norm in brand/consumer relationships? And are we seeing a return to simplicity in marketing?

Brexit, Trump’s election, the death of David Bowie – 2016 was certainly a year nobody could have predicted. We turned to a cross-section of marketing thought leaders to find out what they think 2017 could hold.

'A divisive year' – Leo Rayman, chief executive, Grey London

2017 is already sending us strong signals. An uncertain world, stalked by fear. A feeling not just alive in our societies, but on our streets and in our offices. 2017 will be a divisive year for brands and marketers.

On the one hand we’ll see some retrench, play safe unthinking. Some of these will do well, connecting with a deep nostalgia that exists in culture. On the other hand, we’ll be inspired by those prepared to stick their necks out.

These ones will find themselves powerful because they’ll have something to kick against. I know which side I’m on. Let’s expect the unexpected. Let’s face the fear – in life and work.

'Sitting on the fence is no longer an option' – Kathleen Saxton, founder and chief executive, The Lighthouse Company

We believe that the macro and micro events of 2016 will continue to reverberate in the year to come; leadership, transparency and talent will remain under the microscope.

While I’m not expecting a Farage or Trump to appear in the advertising and marketing world, I believe their leadership styles set an interesting tone for 2017. A chief executive sitting on the proverbial fence is no longer an option.

With transparency haunting every media agency in the market, the ANA report might just have been the start. Despite distractions and delays, clients, media owners and agencies are all playing a part in driving margins to the bottom.

Finally, The Lighthouse started 2016 seeing a 68% increase in leaders wanting to move client-side. 2017 will echo this, along with a continued shift from media agency to media owner and even the creative fraternity chasing the best of media agency talent.

'Media talent will be given the value it deserves' – David Indo, chief executive, ID Comms

Firstly, the number and value of media pitches will increase because many smart marketers and procurement teams have used 2016 to really work out what they want from their media partner.

Secondly, we think we’ll see more high-profile client-side media appointments. The reality of the chief media officer will first appear at the biggest brands but will slowly trickle down to smaller brands.

Finally, we think that media talent will at last be given the value it deserves. With clients seeking to boost in-house skills and digital players also looking for similar expertise, agencies must compete hard to hold on to their second management tier.

Advertisers continue to face the ad blocking threat

'The quality of ads is not matching the momentum of mobile' – Ben Williams, head of operations, AdBlock Plus

Without a doubt, one of the biggest trends we will see in the year ahead is the continued boom of mobile advertising. In the US at least, 72% of all digital ad spend will be on mobile, reaching an unprecedented $65.87bn by 2019. And if you factor this on a global scale, especially with growing internet accessibility on mobile, you’re going to continue seeing soaring budgets in mobile ad spend.

But whilst this all seems well on the surface, the real truth behind this is that it has also been met by a growing number of adblockers, with PageFair’s report claiming 419 million people are blocking ads on smartphones, almost double that of desktops. This tells us is that the quality of ads is not quite matching the momentum of the mobile platform as a whole, and represents a serious call-to-action for both publishers and advertisers to react effectively, otherwise 2017 will be marked by soaring numbers of adblocker users.

'The fastest change is coming from young Muslim women' – Shelina Janmohamed, vice-president, Ogilvy Noor

The face of our global future is a Muslim woman (and she is an icon of cool). Globally, Muslims make up 1.6 billion people. One third are under 15 and two thirds under 30. Generation M is one segment among them – young Muslims who believe faith and modernity go hand in hand, with no compromise or contradiction between the two, and each makes the other better.

Among this rapidly rising group, the fastest change is coming from young Muslim women who increasingly assert their spending power and are calling for brands to better engage with their needs.

Brands like Unilever, Apple and Uniqlo are testing the Muslim consumer market and receiving a positive response. In 2017, the race will be to see which brands will lead the way with an audience that – remarkably – remains unaddressed by global brands, and which has $2.6tn to spend each year. Taking a piece of this (halal) pie is a new year’s resolution worth making.

'People are feeling manipulated' – Susan Credle, global chief creative officer, FCB Global

'Fake news' ­- two words that trended in 2016 and will have an impact on 2017. Now more than ever, consumers are looking for news they can rely on. WSJ.com declares, front and center: 'COVERAGE YOU TRUST. INSIGHT YOU NEED'. And, just since the election, subscriptions at the New York Times have increased by more than 40,000.

People are becoming slightly paranoid about the content they consume. Casual conversations often include talk about algorithms and articles in social feeds. And the conversations aren’t positive. People not only are feeling targeted, but also manipulated.

This should be taken seriously by advertisers who are leaning hard into targeted communications. On the one hand, we are trying to get the right message to the right person at the right time. On the other hand, it can appear as if we are stalking and infringing on the privacy of the very people we are trying to embrace. Fear of fake news will also put pressure on brands to be completely transparent when it comes to “branded and sponsored” content.

Another type of fallout from this fake news trend will be how we look at data. We learned this year that data and facts don’t always reveal the truth. In 2017, we are all going to have to think a little bit more for ourselves. And that’s a good thing.

'The rise of the angry consumer' – Lisa Thomas, global head of brand and managing director, Virgin Enterprises Limited

In 2017 I predict the rise of the angry consumer. 2016 has been a time of pivotal change and political turmoil. The inability of the polls to predict the outcome of the US presidential election and the EU referendum shows that we are working with a new type of consumer. Angry people are unpredictable and traditional methods of understanding them have failed us.

There is also clearly a lack of trust in governments across the world; people want to disrupt the status quo and so we need to find new ways to engage. We need to better understand the issues, break down barriers, find creative ways to connect and bring consumers closer to our brands.

'A more inclusive view' – James Whitehead, chief executive, JWT London

In a year when we get closer to the reality of Brexit, the industry will play catch-up, swinging towards a more inclusive view of what relevant, effective creative looks like. There will be less obsession with middle-class, South East and London winners, and more embracing of what resonates with broader Great Britain, reflective of the diverse culture that we are.

'Deciphering unstructured data will be a key differentiator'– Jeremy Waite, evangelist, IBM

It’s all about the data – but where? 2017 is the year of the data, but in a different context from before. In a digital age, we are walking data generators, creating quintillions of bytes of information about our daily habits, needs, and experiences. At the mercy of customer experience, marketers are tasked with the daunting prospect of being able to understand this data to provide a personalised experience at least on a level with a consumer’s last-best interaction.

Understanding customer behaviour has always been difficult. We all know that data is on the up, but it’s also changing its form. 80% of today’s consumer data is unstructured. We form part of a collaborative, visual online culture where content shared comprises images, videos, sounds and data that traditionally was indecipherable to the modern marketer. The ability to sift through this data and develop an understanding of an individual, or at least a lookalike individual, in context, will be a key differentiator for marketers in 2017, and the key to this lies in the analysis of unstructured data, image tagging and natural language processing.

'A segment of one' – Tracy De Groose, chief executive, Dentsu Aegis Network UK & Ireland

2017 will be the year in which the digital economy starts to fulfil its true potential within the marketing industry, and starts to create an environment that is better for businesses, for talent and for consumers. Three aspects that we see accelerating rapidly in 2017:

1) The rise of the new brand experience. The advertising industry has been fairly slow to react to the creative potential of the digital economy, but 2017 is the year when both clients and audiences will demand new forms of creative work – faster, more relevant and more personal. The industry needs to rise to the challenge.

2) Data becomes more human. As consumers we all feel the moments of awkwardness when our data is used in slightly the wrong way, but the state of the science is advancing to a point where we can really speak to a ‘segment of one’, harnessing data and tech capability to a much deeper understanding of people and the relationships they really want with brands at different moments. This should make communications more human, not less.

3) Agility is the key to momentum. Teams which are able to adapt at speed, who are comfortable with fluid identities and ways of working, and that genuinely empower diverse backgrounds and diverse ways of thinking are the only ones that will be able to maintain momentum in a volatile external environment.

Brands are using Instagram Stories to engage younger consumers

'Crafting work for new platforms' – Ed Couchman, director of agency partnerships, Facebook

The rise of video is transforming the way people engage with content and with each other. It’s naturally becoming the most viewed and shared content in the news feed. I think we’ll see brands become more sophisticated in their use of video and grasping the importance of crafting work for the mobile feed.

New platforms such as Facebook Live and Instagram Stories are quickly becoming some of the most popular ways for people to discover and share content. Brands are also starting to use these platforms to tell stories and engage with customers, but we’re only just scratching the surface and I’m excited to see these platforms take off. This will be aided by new streaming technologies, better content, faster connection speeds, and bigger data plans, which will lower the barriers for adoption and enable more brands to experiment with real-time campaigns.

To help brands keep pace with the changing demands of consumers, agencies will evolve their talent profile and we’ll see the emergence of marketing technologists and data scientists in media and creative agencies (just look at Bountiful Cow or Hearts & Science).

'The competitive set is growing' – Debbie Klein, chief executive, Engine Europe and Asia Pacific

Collaboration and a move to a new communications business model will be one of the key trends of 2017. Clients are increasingly looking for ways to make their budgets work harder. We will see more insourcing and outsourcing on the client side, as brands navigate this new environment and adapt the way they work with agencies. Agencies on the other hand will be looking to respond by further expanding their offer to adapt and take a larger slice of the increasingly fragmented pie.

Another trend we are seeing is that the competitive set is growing, with management consultancies coming downstream, challenging the existing agency model. We will see an increase in this type of M&A activity. Those agencies that can adapt their model and show truly agenda-free thinking and seamless execution will win.

There is also bound to be a Brexit effect. Public affairs and PR consultancies in particular will be sought after for their Brussels expertise. Brexit will impact not just the UK but countries with existing trading relationships with the UK. There are a lot of unanswered questions and confusion at the moment, and those who can help wade through that will be in demand.

Tech is behaving in an increasingly human way

'Tech is behaving in a human way' – Alison Hoad, vice-chairman, RKCR/Y&R

If 2014 was the year of the selfie on Twitter (following Ellen’s Oscar selfie) then 2016 was the year of Pokemon Go (trending third pipped only by the Olympics and the US Election). Sure, Pokemon Go is a wakeup call to any business that hasn’t evaluated the potential of AR and VR as a mass consumer platform, but the learning goes much deeper than the platforms themselves. I believe what we are witnessing is an increasing awareness of, and openness to, virtual tech behaving in a human way. And that goes way beyond teens and gamers. This year we have seen a trial of driverless lorries on the M6, Deep Mind’s super computer winning at Alpha Go this year, and Siri's coming of age with over 65% of smartphone users using digital assistants. My children cannot understand why I would search in any other way and they are not alone – one in five searches are now voice (and if you’ve never asked Siri to say Beatbox, you’re in for a treat).

I predict that we’ll see customer service transformed online through the proliferation of chatbots. At first, conversations with these robots may be inferior to service from a human, but as machine learning develops it will become harder and harder to tell the difference. Getting the tone and content of this conversational commerce right will mean that marketers need to understand the personality of their brands inside out. Brands will have to decide how best to keep up and stay true to themselves as they do.

'Fewer, bigger campaigns' – Matt Edwards, chief executive, WCRS

Marketing has changed more in the last five years than in the previous 50 and as each new channel, trend or technology emerged it was eagerly added to the marketing arsenal.

Until, faced with 37 different agencies, fragmented spend and no clear, joined-up way to measure effectiveness, a tipping point has arrived for marketers.

Across our client base and with new business prospects we’re seeing a desire for focus, simplification and agreement on a few key performance metrics. This will accelerate in 2017.

Expect fewer, bigger campaigns. Scepticism of any new channel or trend without proven sales effects, and more informed planning around the likely short-term and long-term campaign effects.

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Staff Writer

The Drum is a global media platform and the biggest marketing website in Europe. We produce The Drum magazine, 30 awards and events and manage The Drum Network which aims to make independently minded agencies more successful. We also help brands find the right agencies to work with through the Recommended Agency Register (RAR).

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