The rate of change in digital is nearing breakneck speed, however it’s important that brands take a step back to evaluate what that change means for their business and whether or not it’s a challenge that needs to be addressed head on or an opportunity to embrace (or perhaps it’s neither, and can stay within peripheral view).
While there are always some trends that brands can’t afford to ignore (the rise of mobile, customer-first marketing strategies, attribution modelling, data insights to influence digital planning, to name a few), there are some which, while relevant to others, need to be further evaluated to identify their long-term value (that’s the thing with trends, they’re not always here to stay!).
When we stop to think about what the year to come will bring, we like to consider wider trends that will impact business strategy. This year, my team have put together their thoughts on what they believe will be important to consider in 2020, spanning integration in retail, conversational analysis, changes to nofollow links, the rise of gaming and in-app advertising, and the value of public opinion at a time when customers are more conscious of how their data is used and the social footprint of the brands they engage with.
Bea Patman, client partner
Some years ago, Google posited that retailers should stop fixating on where a transaction took place (whether online or in-store) and concentrate simply on the fact that a transaction happened. The message didn’t really land at the time, what with the pressure of commercial KPIs on newly staffed-up digital teams and freshly minted eCommerce systems driving a race for online conversions. But then the high street began to slump, and brands started to realise that the power of a website to drive customers into brick-and-mortar stores was just as important as its ability to generate revenue online.
Now the relationship between the two is evolving further, and savvy retailers are wising up to the conversion-boosting power of a seamlessly integrated digital and physical shopping experience. Missguided is a perfect example of this, managing the unlikely feat of successfully turning a purely online business into one with physical stores, at a time when many retailers are shutting their high street shops. Its flagship Bluewater store is furnished with slick floor-to-ceiling digital displays, allowing it to showcase its products in the dynamic digital format favoured by its young, female demographic and ensuring that outfits previously researched online are immediately identifiable in store. Shoppers are also encouraged to interact with the #babesofmissguided hashtag to demonstrate their new wares, and do so in droves, thereby populating social media with a continuous flow of invaluable user-generated content and saving the brand untold outlay on digital content production and social spend.
At the opposite end of the retail spectrum is Ralph Lauren, which has installed interactive mirrors in its New York flagship store. As well as enabling shoppers to adjust the fitting room lighting and request different sizes, it also enriches the offline shopping experience with the ability to browse other items in-store, allowing the brand to boost basket value in a way that was previously only possible online. Shoppers can also input their email addresses so that they can be contacted if, say, their size comes back into stock or they want to wait until payday to complete their transaction. This kind of interaction facilitates laser-focused retargeting and customer engagement, serving to feed offline experiences into the brand’s online ecosystem.
Online retail has changed our shopping behaviour irreversibly, increasing the expectations we place on personalisation, communication, and visual merchandising. By working to meet these expectations in-store, as well as online, these pioneering brands are securing ever-rarer offline sales and placing some of the heavy lifting for their digital strategies (social content, data capture, and preference insights) into the hands of their customers. It’s a clever, self-feeding ecosystem that all retail brands should be considering if they want to thrive in 2020 and beyond.
In-game advertising is another booming corner of the digital marketing world, with brands jumping at the opportunity to grab virtual real estate within the rapidly growing gaming and e-sports sectors. But while the industry booms, the audience remains fairly niche – overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly young. This is why smart money is going towards app game advertising instead. App gamers are an incredibly broad church, with 2.2 billion people of all ages playing on their mobiles worldwide, split almost equally by gender in the majority of markets.
The ‘Candy Crush-effect’ is credited with opening up the world of app games back in 2012 (just think about the variety of players you’ve probably seen on your morning commute over the years), but it’s the evolution of mobile devices that has finally made in-app ad space a worthwhile investment. We’ve reached the point at which the majority of those 2.2 billion gamers are playing with touch-screen handsets, enabling them to interact with ads in a way not previously possible.
The KPIs being reported by the narrow range of brands already investing heavily here (mainly consumer packaged goods brands) are impressive, but it seems that the majority of advertisers are still being held back by inaccurately perceived barriers to entry – imagined costs and complexity. In 2020, we’re likely to see these misconceptions debunked, opening up this huge audience pool to a new wave of adopters.
Freddie Hudson, senior account executive
Back in September, the well-known Google link attribute "rel=nofollow" was augmented with two new fellow attributes, "rel=sponsored" and "rel=ugc" (which must be paired with one of the others). These arrive with some fairly large potential ramifications for how content is signposted on the web.
Historically, Google has said that nofollow links made no impact on rank and were ignored by its bots, as the use-case was for linking to poor quality sites. But all this is set to change from 1st March 2020, when all three link types may be used by Google for crawling, indexing, and even ranking, although the extent is as yet unknown.
It seems that there are a few possible routes this could go down. In one example, publishers such as Wikipedia may change its linking strategy from "=nofollow" to "=nofollow, ugc". It seems fair that this content might be more valuable than a straight nofollow link, so sites linked from Wikipedia may see their ranks improve.
There’s always an element of the unknown with Google Updates, but the introduction of a new link type adds another layer of complexity – how will the SEO community learn to manipulate them? And what will Google do to prevent this?
One thing is certain: change is coming, but we’ll all have to wait until March to see the full impact.
David Tillett, client partner
Gaming is without a doubt an already huge industry, and it continues to impress its dominance as the largest revenue driving form of entertainment across the globe. By the end of 2019, the gaming market will be worth circa $150bn, compared to the film industry’s worth of $140bn. And 2020 is already looking likely to further this gap, with new console releases from Sony and Microsoft and a slew of new game launches planned.
It’s no surprise then that both Google and Apple, two tech and media powerhouses, are now making their own waves across the gaming world, with the recent launch of Apple Arcade and the very soon to launch Google Stadia.
Google has stated that Stadia will adopt a subscription-based “games service” model, which has already been widely tried and tested by the likes of Microsoft, Sony and EA. However, you can’t help but feel that it will be yearning to monetise console gaming through advertising, similar to many hugely popular “free to download” mobile games. Indeed, Google itself has only been able to grow at the rate it has over the past two decades through the commercialisation of its search and YouTube properties. But, as a media form, the interactive nature of gaming is very different to the passive consumption of YouTube content and the necessary technical infrastructure needed to support such a model would be extremely costly. Perhaps Google will need to acquire its own game development house or commission dedicated Stadia games, with advertising baked into the core development, for such a system to work. No matter the outcome though, for an advertiser, the prospect of being able to log into Google Ads and target such a huge audience, across such a creative medium, is incredibly exciting. Layered with Google’s audience targeting capabilities and it becomes truly mouth-watering. What we do know is that Google likes to take an iterative approach to its properties; only time will tell which direction it tries to wrestle gaming away from the tight grip that Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft have on the industry.
Robbie Ashton, senior account manager
It’s been a tough year for brands and big tech companies alike. Many have faced intense public scrutiny over a wave of issues that the public has taken to heart – privacy, sustainability, and corporate responsibility, to name but a few.
As we go into a new decade, the eyes of the people are wide open. Take Google, for example, could it begin to leak traffic to Ecosia, it’s tree-planting, carbon neutral competitor? It’s hard to imagine anyone challenging Google’s hold on the web, but one thing’s for sure: companies have a careful tightrope walk to perform if they wish to end 2020 on the right side of public opinion.
Matthew Whiteway, client services director at Greenlight Digital.