Wow. Saying a lot happened in 2016 would be an understatement.

A key shift I’ve observed this year is that digital is no longer a deliverable at the end of a client brief. The industry has finally grasped that it has a place at the strategic table. We’re solving business problems as it connects the end to end customer experience from communication right through to service delivery, as opposed to a focus on chasing ‘likes’ or a favourable click-through rate.

For the first time ever, we’ve seen digital media ad spend overtake TV to become the dominant channel.

So what’s next in 2017 you ask?

Well, one thing for sure is that we will see significant investment into digital transformation. The EIU did a study recently, finding that 86% of CMO’s believed that they would be owning the end to end customer experience by 2020 – that’s only three years away. And how does digital fit into this? Well, PepsiCo’s Brad Jakeman summed it up well when he said, “There is no such thing as digital marketing. There is marketing – most of which happens to be digital.

I know it can seem like a daunting task for marketers to keep abreast of the changes, hence the strategic role for the agency, however, I believe those who do are best set up for success. Below is a summary of seven trends I recommend considering for the coming year.

Trend 1 – Marketing Automation for the Masses

What is it? Technology that allows you to automate repetitive marketing tasks. It can be as simple as firing off automated emails based on a website action (e.g. abandoned cart email if you have ecommerce) through to a complex programme of automated comms across channels, based on how a consumer has engaged with your brand (e.g. comparing hotel prices in Thailand vs. dreaming about a family holiday to a Pacific Island vs. someone on an elite membership tier).

Why this is exciting? As marketing automation has become mainstream, more tools have become available that don’t require you to forego your entire marketing spend or get a degree in IT. For those wanting to dip their toes, I recommend looking at a MailChimp Pro account, as this is enough to get started. It could be as simple as a series of automated emails set up for anyone new signing up to your email database and linking with Facebook to create a custom audience in order to do relevant content.

For those looking for something more serious, well Ubiquity, Marketo, Salesforce and Adobe Marketing Cloud can do some really sophisticated stuff with a CRM solution at its heart. This is, in my opinion, marketing nirvana. You will have a single customer view enabling you to truly manage customer experience end to end, across all touch points, based on customer segments and previous behaviour.

Trend 2 – Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

What is it? Technology that either superimposes computer graphics into a user’s view of the real-world (AR) or creates a virtual world that a user can explore (VR).

Why this is exciting? I see AR and VR as an opportunity for brands, who are serious about creating an immersive experience for their consumers, to get cut-through and talk-ability. Who would of thought this time last year that we would see almost every man, woman and child verging on Mission Bay, hunting down cartoon monsters? Pokémon Go has done a great job, seemingly overnight, in educating the masses around AR. We’ve experienced an increase in appetite to capitalise on it, without clients wondering whether only a handful of people would give it a go or understand how to engage. VR is also a great way to offer an immersive experience to consumers around your product story or service, in a way that cuts through in a sea of content-sameness. Check out the video we created for Wither Hills, virtually taking our consumers on an immersive experience of the vineyard from the comfort of their own home, whether on their mobile or using a Samsung Gear.

Trend 3 – Experience through Interactivity

What is it? People are looking for more than just information or to be entertained; they’re now looking for virtual experiences. Content has evolved to become an experience through interactivity – we have live video allowing consumers to engage in real time, 360° video or photos allowing consumers to choose what they want to view within the frame, and filters allowing consumers to co-create with their surroundings.

Why this is exciting? The social media mantra of 2012 was “Will they care? Then they’ll share”. That’s now evolved to “creating social currency” for your audience. I believe that considering what experiences or level of interactivity you’re giving your audience through your content or campaign will go a long way to driving talkability. Case-in-point being Gatorade’s Super Bowl Snapchat campaign – there were more views of people sharing branded filter than the Super Bowl itself. Also check out the live Selfie-Cocktail campaign we did for Smirnoff. Incorporating the live element into the content helped drive 2x the engagement Smirnoff usually observe for their video content.

Another reason interactivity is exciting as a marketing tool, is that it creates an insight feedback loop from the consumer on what they like and what they don’t like, allowing you to inform activity moving forward.

Trend 4 – Cross-Device Taken Seriously

What is it? I’ve heard people saying that this is the year of mobile… for years. In 2017, I believe we should finally see an understanding that mobile has a place within an omni-channel environment. Advances in the Internet of Things (IoT) and analytics means we’ll be able to connect the dots better than ever before, truly understanding how devices play into consumer behaviour and how we can market more effectively.

Why this is exciting? If you don’t have a mobile-optimised digital experience, then do yourself a favour and book a meeting with us for in the new year URGENTLY. Smartphone penetration in New Zealand is now at 76%, cementing mobile as the constant channel taking consumers from the moment they wake up through to the moment they fall asleep. I recommend that mobile should be at the heart of your digital strategy, however it’s important to get an understanding of how this works as part of the wider ecosystem and plays into purchase for your specific vertical. There are some sophisticated analytics and reporting tools that will allow you to start measuring how your different touchpoints come into play from research to purchase to post-purchase care or customer nurture.

Trend 5 – Native, Native, and more Native

What is it? Paid content that takes the form and function of the platform it lives on, such as the editorial standards or meeting that consumers would expect to see. Isn’t this just advertorial? Kind of – it goes a step further in feeling a little more authentic since it’s often written in the same voice of the publication. Native is seeing exceptional growth globally at est. $30B, and publishers both her and overseas are investing to meet the demand.

Why this is exciting? We know that people love brands, they just hate ads. Therefore interruption is out (advertising), and engagement is in (content). Native allows us to tell brand stories in a way that feels less ad-like and more interesting. Not to mention the rise of Ad Blockers – 41% growth YoY, with 21% of all internet browsers in NZ with one currently installed. My favourite native examplewould be for the Netflix original series ‘Orange is the New Black’.

But does it work? Well we have an award winning Native Analytics Tool called Nudge, which is run out of our New York office. This will give you rich data on how your content is consumed, allowing you to understand how to optimise which placements perform in driving success.

Trend 6 – Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Almost Everything

What is it? As covered off in a previous post of mine, AI is an “intelligent” machine that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximise its chance of success at some goal. Machine Learning is a subset of AI, providing computers with the ability to teach themselves to grow and change when exposed to new data.

Why this is exciting? As AI becomes more mainstream, then there are more opportunities to incorporate into the way you market and your communications. These could include developing a new chatbot to offer additional value to your fans within Facebook Messenger, automate customer care, or predictive analytics to inform which channels will bring in the most revenue for your ecommerce store. My recommendation is to investigate how you can utilise existing AI / ML tools to do what you do smarter OR do what you couldn’t do before (e.g. there has been leaps and bounds in image recognition and language).

Trend 7 – FMCG Going Direct

What is it? FMCG brands have traditionally had a relationship disconnect, communicating to the end consumer at scale, but the retailer or store holding the end customer relationship. We’re starting to see FMCG brands opening owned direct channels so that they can control the end to end experience for their customers.

Why this is exciting? Well if you’re in FMCG, then this opens up a world of opportunity to build a deeper customer relationship, and test messaging to get insights on what drives purchase. Testing the waters doesn’t need to gobble up all your marketing spend either; I recommend trying out Shopify or a range of WordPress plugins. Once you have an ecommerce solution, you could also test Facebook’s new shop functionality – allowing your consumers to browse without leaving Facebook until they want to add to cart for purchase.

Well, hopefully that has got the cogs turning. We’re super pumped for 2017 – so much so that we’re not waiting, and have already started on our way with some of the trends above with clients. Make sure you get in touch to look at how we can help you make the most of these trends.

Do you want to find out how you can transform your marketing approach?

Read our white paper 'Modern Marketing' which explores the approach needed in this new marketing world. It describes how to think differently, be smarter, and to do work that makes an impact.