Nearing the turn of each year we predict what the major digital trends are likely to be, how the industry is going to change and how businesses and brands can prepare for the 12 months ahead (and beyond).
Predicting (and responding to) trends undoubtedly gives brands a competitive edge. Knowing what’s on the horizon – and using this insight to help shape business strategy – can help organisations exceed consumer expectations, deliver an experience that drives positive reviews and recommendation, and it future proof entire business operations. Brands that fail to incorporate change, or don’t adopt new practices such as a ‘test and learn’ mentality, may even fall by the wayside.
Whereas in previous years, our predictions have been around digital trends, we can no longer categorize them as such; more and more ‘digital’ trends are actually impacting how companies operate and structure their business. Therefore, this year we are looking at business trends in a digital world.
Technology coming into the mainstream
1. The rise of the intelligent personal assistant in the home
The first of the technology trends we will see come into the mainstream are voice assistants. In the home, the use of digital assistants such as Amazon Echo (and the Alexa voice system), Google Home and Apple’s Siri – which make our interaction with the digital world and online services easier – is predicted to grow exponentially.
The reason for this? The technology has been around for a while, but it works now, and it’s affordable. People will also expect brands to have a stronger audio presence in 2017 – and it’s an exciting space for businesses.
Chatbots have been a hot topic at Code for some time now; they were one of our trends to watch in 2016, and many trend pundits1 echo that Chatbots are now definitely here to stay.
With Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Google all introducing bots to help with bookings and customer service, the Telegraph even says that bots have overtaken apps as the primary way we will communicate with our phones2.
For businesses, Chatbots lend themselves well to supporting customer service – increasing assistance and digital chat around the clock, speeding up response times, meeting consumer expectations and freeing up staff for more complex enquiries.
Culturally there is greater acceptance too; we’re now comfortable talking to a bot3. A warning to businesses around this, though: in a quest to make business efficiencies, don’t lose sight of the need for human interaction as well. We’ve already seen some backlash from consumers in some cases and, in a bid to streamline operations, it’s important not to damage brand reputation in the process.4
3. AI (Artificial Intelligence), specifically machine learning
And so the third theme, related to both these trends, is a general increase in Artificial Intelligence and more specifically machine learning. This can range from predictive analytics and website design to product pricing and predictive customer service.
At a recent web summit, Affectiva’s Rana Kilouby talked about how AI is understanding emotion, while demonstrating technology that recognises changing facial expressions and reflects them as emojis. The technology has been used to test emotional reactions to adverts and games before they go live – there’s a similar ethos behind how and why we user test our products here at Code.
4. The Internet of Things and wearables
The IoT and wearables isn’t a new trend – but expect businesses to leverage the power of the billions of sensors and connected devices to new levels in 2017. The opportunity for brands is to enhance product experience in this space, rather than just marketing capabilities. There are products that lend themselves to the IoT, which is where we predict we will see most success.
5. Expect to see more brands capitalising on the VR and AR explosion
With this movement, gamification will enter business strategy and AR ads will enter our everyday lives. Pokémon Go showed us consumers are ready for more immersive experiences and the major VR headset suppliers as well as Google Spotlight stories are also driving this technology into the mainstream.
Within the business world, beyond games, we can expect to see storytelling and experiences via VR/AR; useful VR will take off most. We’re already seeing motor manufacturers offering test drives and hotels creating a 360-degree immersive experience, as two great examples. Brands with physical stores are also likely to experiment with VR and AR more in 2017.
But while consumer awareness of VR and AR is relatively high, and there will be experimentation, consumer polls are showing that we’re not ready for it to be completely mainstream yet and prices still need to come down.
A key point for brands looking to jump on the bandwagon of any tech trend is to make sure that it is an opportunity to add value to customers. With so many ways to engage with users and gain data, a word of caution: don’t do it for doing its sake and make sure everything is being tested and measured.
Shifts in digital thinking and new techniques for 2017
It’s not just technology that drives key trends and game-changing advances every year in today’s digital world. As Albert Einstein famously said, change is ‘about the thinking’. Changing ‘how’ digital products are created is going to be a major way businesses innovate in 2017, with a number of key elements to it. So what are the next big things in this space?
6. 2017: the year of the test and learn approach
Businesses can no longer waste time and resources implementing new tools and features that offer no value. As brands evolve their digital capabilities and ways of interacting online with consumers, the ones that succeed will be those that don’t go to market with a fully developed solution or a ‘big bang’ launch in the hope that this is what customers want – the clever money is on being quickest to market, rapid innovation through design sprints and a ‘test and learn’ approach.
Working iteratively, not simply thinking about what features to introduce, is an approach that most of the major dot coms with large in-house teams, currently take – but 2017 will see more agencies evolving the way they work with clients in this direction too.
7. Data driven decisions and personalised everything
We’ve heard about big data for a while now, but 2017 will be the year of richer measurement and data becoming a greater driving force behind a business.
Expect to see the rise of the data scientist and an increased use of data visualisation tools to interpret findings, resulting in an opportunity to get closer to the customer. The use of this greater insight will go beyond simply serving more marketing material, personalisation and automation; it will be used for machine learning and AI, catered responses and creating touch points that are specific and individual.
8. The death knell sounds for set projects
This is a shift in approach for businesses and the way agency briefs are set. As an acceptance that start-to-end projects have been superseded by evolution, product thinking will be a big trend in 2017.
Product thinking is a modern approach and mindset to developing customer-facing digital products using customer-centric problem solving design techniques combined with modern engineering practices, such as lean development. It flies in the face of traditional ‘project’ thinking, where a team is given a defined solution with a set of features to deliver, to a set budget in a set time. It’s an approach that ensures digital products are continually addressing real customer needs while simultaneously delivering real, measurable value for the organisation. When the initial problem has been solved, or new innovation developed, it’s about building and innovating around it to enrich it and further improve it.
9. Backlash to content saturation and taking social media to the next level
2017 will see a number of brands addressing the challenges brought on by fragmented channels and streamlining content. Some trend pundits are calling it a Content Crunch.
We will see brands re-addressing which channels are being the most effective and increasing focus on customer experience over broadcasting, streamlining content and increase niche targeting – targeting a narrower, more specific audience with more specific topics.
Similarly, expect to see consumers also ‘turning brand noise down’ or even muting brands as they become tired of being shouted at and sold to within ‘their spaces’. It’s a year to remember that if you don’t resonate with your target audience, you run the risk of failing.
10. Connected journeys
There will be greater investment in technology that increases connectivity across channels. While new channels have opened up exciting fresh ways to reach consumers, the need for greater connectivity and a brand’s message to be consistently portrayed has never been greater.
11. Digital Innovation 2.0
Digital best practice and optimisation are leading marketing teams towards a fixed point with the web platforms. Innovation in 2017 is more than the latest marketing or technology gimmicks; it’s about inventing new ways to interact with customers in service delivery or product engagement. 2017 will be the year many organisations finally embrace and capitalise on the broader oppositionists by adopting a customer first mindset.
To achieve this, innovation and creative thinking need to be embraced by multiple departments in an organisation. These traditionally siloed departments need to collaborate and use design/strategic methods to identify and solve customer problems or customer opportunities, which can lead them to real breakthroughs in what they offer customers. As we see a growing emphasis on user and customer experience, we’ll see this move beyond just the marketing teams and into the hands of operations, customer service, product development, etc.
Louis Georgiou is managing director at digital marketing agency Code Computerlove