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Facebook and Instagram's top creative trends for marketers in 2016: Visual storytelling, virtual reality and the 'elegant sale'

Jill Gray, head of the UK Creative Shop for Facebook, and Al Cotterill, creative strategist in the Creative Shop for Instagram, have put their heads together to discuss top trends for marketers in 2016.

1. Visual storytelling will continue to dominate

The proliferation of mobiles and smartphones has changed the way brand are communicating, with a focus on imagery over text. The screens on our mobiles are getting bigger and the technology is getting even better, creating a more immersive and compelling canvas for marketers to use to reach their consumers.

In 2016, we’ll see more brands using visual communication in a number of formats, from short-form videos to real-time images. The benefits will be two-fold; brands will succeed in cutting through the noise by creating content that reflects the behaviour and preferences of their customers; and marketers will really be able to experiment with creativity.

2. More than ever, you will need to know your customer

People spend nearly two hours a day browsing on their smartphones and this creates a challenge for brands. How do you stand out in a sea of content? Today, great creative means more than just being clever or looking good. People expect to discover timely, relevant and engaging content on their favourite platforms without having to go looking for it and for that, content has to be personalised.

On our platforms, we can target marketing based on insights derived from real people, which means that a brand’s message can be delivered at the right time, to the right person, using the right device, in the context of what they are doing at that moment. In 2016, marketers should take advantage of what is available to them and really focus on unlocking the power of big data and combining it with creativity. If you get it right, the opportunity is huge.

3. Converting to the 'elegant sale'

On today’s platforms, ads are seen alongside personal content shared by friends and family, making it essential for brands to be authentic to earn people’s attention. People do not discern between a brand ad and a direct response ad — all that matters is that it is an authentic, engaging, and relevant message. Great brand work can sell products, and great DR work can build brands. With the digital platforms’ abilities to retarget, brands who are able to tell sequenced stories through the funnel will win.

Currently, direct response advertisers are limiting their success by speaking only about their product or service; and brand advertisers are missing a trick by not supporting their brand message with the promotion of a great product or service. In 2016, we should see more companies destroying the silos between these two advertising objectives, focusing instead on the 'elegant sale' which can achieve both to great effect.

4. We're on the cusp of another communication revolution

2016 will see virtual reality becoming available to consumers for the first time, and this has the potential to completely transform communication, entertainment and marketing as we know it. This incredible technology will give advertisers the opportunity to become inventors; anyone who does anything with virtual reality will be doing something completely new.

While it may not be mainstream technology for advertisers as early as 2016, the appetite is clearly there. Immersive video formats like 360 video, for example, will give marketers an immediate opportunity to inspire and engage audiences with something new. The potential for storytelling is unrivalled with immersive video experiences and excitingly, in the future, advertisers could give their customers the chance to live the impossible.

5. Digital is not a novelty

In recent years there has been a lot of commentary about how technology, in particular mobile, is shaping today’s marketing campaigns. But, we believe no matter what the platform, it still needs great creativity to unlock its potential. Yes, it is amazing that our creative ideas can be seen instantly around the world with just the click of a button – but that doesn’t mean any less time or thought should be put into the concept.

Consumers are far more likely to engage with advertising experiences that complement how they are actually using the platform, rather than trying to disrupt the space and get in the way of what they are there to do. In 2016, as always, a great creative idea, delivered in a considered way, will remain key to success.