Owen Sagness, general manager of Microsoft Advertising & Online in the UK, looks at the digital trends we can expect to see in 2014.
We’re in an era that people will look back on in 20 years’ time and say, "I wish I was part of that". For us, innovation after innovation has become something of the norm – but never before in history has this ever happened at such a pace. In technology terms 2013 was momentous – look at the whirlwind that is 3D printing for example – and as we move into 2014 I believe we’ll see equally impactful advancements.
Consumer expectations of what technology can and should be able to do is racing ahead of what is currently possible. This is having a profound effect not only on the manufacturing of technology and software but also on the digital advertising world where there is a similar – less well documented – revolution happening.
Brands at the forefront of digital advertising understand how to personalise 1:1 engagement through the use of data and insight, knowing their audience’s intent and predicting their behaviour. This fundamentally moves the traditional advertising maxim from ‘one to many’ to a new world where brands are able to connect on a ‘one to one’ basis, but at scale.
This allows relationships between consumers and brands to be formed through respectful, useful and serendipitous engagements that inspire people to open up and let brands into their lives. We recently launched a cross-platform campaign in partnership with Warner Bros UK for the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It ran across MSN, Xbox360 and Windows 8 and featured a 3D printer component – bringing fans a real-world, useful element to the digital advertising. I have to say, the campaign was pretty cool, but it is only a flavour of the type of engagement that we want to explore with brands in the coming year.
To accurately predict what’s going to happen in 2014 is tough. The industry’s rapid evolution means our digital toes barely touch the floor. From Amazon’s 'delivery drone' to a visit to Microsoft Research’s laboratory, a look at the future can be overwhelming, if not a little fantastical. That said, here are a few of the trends I’m excited about:
1. Digitally invisible
In a constantly connected world, people are seeking smarter ways to reduce information overload and online clutter. Consumers want technology and experiences that aren’t ‘always-on’ but actually help people switch off. They want technology that is intuitive and informed. In fact in a recent study from Microsoft 42 per cent of UK consumers said they now expect brands to know when the right moment is to engage with them. 2014 will see brands becoming more aware of this demand, experimenting with tailored approaches and appreciating that forming personal relationships is of increasing value in today’s digital advertising landscape.
2. Valuable data exchange
2013 saw consumers really understand for the first time the value of their data to brands. With all the sensitivities attached to personal online data, last year we started to see the power of data and what it can deliver. We always put our consumers first and we are still in the process of educating them about how this data, when used properly, produces the experiences they enjoy online. This value exchange will continue to evolve, as the industry relies on more and more data, and consumers continue to evaluate the worth of their information.
In 2014 brands and publishers will need to make clear the benefits of engagement for the consumer, outlining upfront what that value exchange looks like in order for their audiences to choose to interact with them. As this relationship becomes more transparent, consumers will become more relaxed about offering “all you can eat” data about themselves – in safe, controlled environments – in exchange for the best experiences online.
3. Stop searching, start finding
Search is already fast and it is now moving toward being semantic and embedded in almost all of our everyday online actions. The proliferation of “I need this now”, wherever I am, whatever device I am using, is the evolution of search in 2014 – and being there in that particular moment is what brands need to strive for with their search strategy. Building this capability is a big part of what we are doing with Bing. If I am in Windows 8.1, Smart Search is merely a swipe from the right side of my screen, whereas if I am on Xbox, search is just a voice command away. On Windows phone, we even designed our interface around making it one click away.
‘Search’ is no longer just about ten blue links on a web page, it’s about discovering exactly what you need in the moment – whether it be on the internet, in your cloud services or on your device. Tomorrow is all about finding and for brands to be in that relevant moment of discovery for a consumer is very powerful.
4. The future is ‘appy’
As we enter into the second generation of app creation, 2014 will see individual services combine – likely to be facilitated by search in a similar way as I describe above. As APIs become smarter and the level of integration built into one app increases, apps will overtake web-based experiences in no time. With the creative might and intellectual power of current and emerging developers, the future of the app universe is really still at the start of its creation and an era of new intuitive experiences is just beginning.
5. Return of the native
Native advertising has caused controversy in 2013 and I’m sure it will continue to do so in 2014. As new formats are developed to provide useful, relevant experiences, regulators are, perhaps understandably, wary as the lines between advertising and editorial blur. This is seen across multiple channels as consumers demand interactions to be more immersed into their experiences – jumping from one to the other more seamlessly than ever before.
Apps provide the most natural integration of native advertising, as brands better understand audience intent when immersed in a particular app experience. The future will be brands using this information, combined with the data of the individual, in real-time across any screen, to provide bespoke brand offerings. This is still far away – I predict it won’t happen in 2014 – but this is ultimately what the power of big data and app proliferation will bring. The power of 1:1 marketing at scale – by drawing on insights rapidly from the data consumers can and are willing to provide – has the potential to offer more tailored experiences than ever before, generating the best ROI for brands.