Now the Christmas ads have launched and Black Friday/Cyber Monday is a distant memory, the industry moves on to looking at the year ahead.
But this year, we’re not predicting the key ‘digital’ trends of 2016, because digital can no longer be viewed in isolation. Today, digital trends lie at the heart of every business (or at least they should). Any growth strategy for the year ahead undoubtedly will involve embracing the key technologies across the business and its operations, as well as marketing, and satisfying digital behaviours of a business’ consumers or audience.
These five trends are the ones that I consider to be the most vital to business owners and marketers in 2016 and beyond.
Digital with physical is greater than the sum of parts
Over the last 20 years, the biggest change in digital has been in the formats by which we consume, see and hear media. Bookshelves have been replaced with e-readers, photo albums replaced with digital storage, CDs replaced with MP3s and scrapbooks replaced with Pinterest. The trend tells us that digital has simply replaced the physical way we do things; where the change has been in the way we create and consume, not in what we create and consume.
I see the next wave of change less about digital replacing the physical, but the interface of physical and digital, where digital and physical formats complement each other. We now have the ability to see the whole world through a screen the size of our pockets, and that presents us with some great opportunities beyond the home and even beyond mobile devices.
2016 heralds the end of dumb objects and the explosion of maximising the interactive potential of ‘everything’. As we see innovation in smart phones, tablets and even smart watches slowing down (yes, let’s face it, the Apple Watch is really a mini iPhone on a wrist strap with a tweaked interface) there’s suddenly a shift of interest to other wearable technology and ‘internet of things’ home technology.
As a group, wearable technology has been growing at the same rate as tablet adoption and this is going to continue. Just take a look at the technology section of Kickstarter, there’s over 800 tech projects ranging from contactless payment rings to smart air fresheners.
The trend is also moving away from single devices that can do everything (like your phone or tablet) to single feature products, focused on solving a specific problem or human need. One of my favourites is Amazon Dash. It’s just a tiny physical button that you attach to your washing machine and press to order powder when you run out, or attach one to your loo roll holder to order more paper when you’re stuck.
With wearables, we’ll also see more products focused on safety, particularly those aimed at parents to monitor their children. Wellness, health and fitness will continue to grow and begin to be taken more seriously by medical professionals too as they realise the potential of the data opportunities.
Finally, the ease of use and addiction of frictionless transactions (i.e. paying for your drinks with your watch) will start to change the way we expect all our interactions and data exchanges to happen and more devices will be trying to tap into this.
We seem to be in a stage of optimisation and refinement and 2016 will be a year where iterative change is the new innovation.
I think much of this is down to the nature of change we’ve experienced. We’ve made huge leaps in technology and our understanding of consumer behaviour. But this year tweaking is the new innovation.
It’s now about experiences made better over time; continual evolution versus digital transformation; improvement everyday – be that improving online performance, with ever more relevant experience design, or embedding digital technologies into a business to improve efficiencies.
We will see more clever use and adaption of established processes, more automated ways of doing things and better digital collaboration within other businesses. While we’re not ruling out big innovative ideas where applicable, tweaking to transform is certainly on the agenda for many organisations this year as a way to achieve long term and impactful change.
Less is more
I predict that in 2016 we will see more agencies advising their clients on the benefits of ‘less is more’ when it comes to digital platforms and communications strategy.
Let’s be honest, in the past we’ve crammed websites full of content to keep the search engines happy. And we’ve continued to add and add to platforms as we advance and embrace the infamous ‘content is king’ philosophy. But it is probable that no one looks at half of the information on your website!
This is often seen as an information architecture/user experience challenge, but it’s not. Just get rid of it (or archive it if it makes you feel better).
In 2016 the focus should be on doing the things that really matter and make a difference to consumers. If you really try to find out how to help and engage your customer and do one thing really well (based on the proper use of insights) people will find a genuine interest in you and keep coming back.
Trying to innovate or offer many things, often, will not be successful. Gaining consumer attention is a competitive task. Consumers will go somewhere else, and keep on going there, if you’re not trying to make a difference for them or if you’re bamboozling them with irrelevant stuff on your site. Embrace the trend, spring clean your site and clear out the content that your audience doesn’t care about.
‘Personalisation’ has become a real industry buzz-word this past year. But I have to admit in the past twelve months I’ve seen more and more cases where personalisation ‘gone wrong’ has done more harm than good.
Data is an invaluable tool but it can be misinterpreted. Maybe a search was carried out on a shared computer. Maybe a consumer searched for a news article to read an opposing view rather than because it’s his or her own. Or, maybe those items a consumer purchased were a gift and the similar items they are being shown now aren’t relevant to them. To personalise, it takes an element of assumption and this leaves the success of personalisation down to chance.
Don’t get me wrong, many brands are utilising personalisation techniques as an opportunity to get closer to their consumers and personalisation when used wisely can be effective. But my advice is, as you embrace the personalisation trend in 2016, don’t assume that it is the best method. Ask yourselves if it’s useful to customers and will develop the relationship you hold with them?
For us, the focus in 2016 should be on creating great experiences, first and foremost. It’s about re-shaping how brands connect with (and in some cases re-connect with) today’s consumer. If personalisation can help consumer interaction by being quicker or cheaper, then it should be used. But if not, maybe personalisation shouldn’t be applied ‘just because it’s a trend’.
The C Word
I’m NOT starting my final trend prediction with the most overused phrase in marketing since the start of the teens, but we can’t ignore content as a continue-to-embrace trend for 2016. But where is it heading in 2016? What can we expect to see marketers and business owners doing more of?
Well for a start, vanity metrics are out - engagement is in, but what engagement means will vary for every business; and this is the important shift for the year ahead.
Many businesses have been operating a content strategy for the past twelve months at least, trundling along creating blog posts, videos, quizzes and games based on best practice guides and what everyone else is doing.
This year the best content strategies will be based on insight gleaned from the evaluation of previous activity (based on real and relevant data based on bespoke audiences) and by taking content a bit more seriously; applying the same insight as we would to more established areas of marketing – from creating audience personas to setting clear KPIs. Tracking content is crucial and we’ll definitely see more of this in the coming year, learning and evolving content strategies. Those brands applying ‘lean’ principles to content marketing in 2106 will reap the biggest rewards.
Louis Georgiou is managing director of Code Computerlove.