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10 Stunning Marketing Predictions for 2016: Digital Continues to Drive Marketing Trends

10 Stunning Marketing Predictions for 2016: Digital Continues to Drive Marketing Trends Kent Lewis
For the past 10 years, I’ve made it a holiday tradition to put together a list of predictions for the year ahead. For the past five of those years, I’ve relied heavily on the expertise of the Anvil team to provide insights into upcoming trends. This year is no exception, as we took the time to review and rate Anvil’s 2015 marketing predictions as well as share a few of our 2016 marketing trends. We hope you enjoy our predictions and share your thoughts in the comment section.

Anvil’s 2015 Marketing Predictions: How did we do?

  1. Traditional advertising will integrate more with social media. In 2015, brands will finally figure out how to integrate social media into their traditional advertising campaigns. It may not sound bold, but stick with me on this: commercials are great for generating awareness, but by integrating hashtags and social media channels, brands can tell their story beyond the :30 spot, print ad, or billboard. Traditional is the introduction to a product or service and social media is the dialog and body of the conversation and experience that converts to sale. Millennials make up one-third of the US population, and advertisers’ desire to connect with and engage this audience, and make them into lifelong consumers, will have us seeing more #hashtags in 2015. [Self-assessment grade: B+. While we agree that there is a good deal of room for improvement in this area, brands evolved traditional marketing campaigns to incorporate social media elements like unbranded hashtags more commonly and effectively. We expect this trend will continue, but also not be considered newsworthy moving forward.]

  2. Real-time marketing will drive real results. We predicted that in 2015, real-time marketing will become a crucial strategy for driving real engagement between fans, brands, and content. This approach takes the “brand as publisher” approach and pushes it even further to create a “brand as journalist” approach to marketing. By bringing relevant content and coverage of events to their customers/fans/followers, companies have an opportunity to engage and grow their audiences far beyond the product-centric stories that currently dominate the content narrative. This trend accelerates the integration of experiential and social marketing to create a completely customer-centric approach to content marketing. [Grade: C. While we’ve seen some evidence of real-time marketing over the past year, it’s not nearly to the level we predicted. Expect brands as publishers to become far more prevalent in 2016; we were probably a year too soon on this one.]

  3. Experiential and digital integration will impact CMOs. Experiential has been the second-fastest-growing marketing category behind digital, and the most effective strategies integrate the physical and digital worlds together. However, very few at the C-level understand the disciplines with enough depth to factor it into their corporate communication strategies. Twenty-fifteen will accelerate the need for top-down support and understanding, and all new hires/promotions at this level will need to have this prerequisite as part of their experience. [Grade: C-. We’re not seeing experiential take off as predicted, unfortunately. The primary reasons for a slower adoptions may include the lack of ability to scale, measure or generate sufficient ROI. Of course we agree scale is difficult, but not the measurability or ROI, at least when Anvil is involved.]

  4. Amazon’s new ad platform will be a major paid search player. Amazon’s new paid platform is due to launch next year and provide real competition for Google AdWords. By collecting data on users’ actual browsing and purchase data, Amazon will have the targeting edge over Google and Facebook in the e-commerce space. Combined with a comprehensive suggestion system and large ad inventory, Amazon will be a force to be reckoned with. [Grade: B-. While we believe this is happening based on anecdotal evidence, the impact is not nearly as pronounced as anticipated and we don’t expect much in the way of change in 2016 either.]

  5. Online video platforms will improve and simplify ad products and infrastructure for advertisers. Major brands invested in online and streaming video in 2014 (Disney acquiring Maker Studios, Amazon acquiring Twitch) to capture a growing millennial and younger audience. As a result of these investments, video platforms will see increased interest from advertisers industry-wide, and are likely to provide the means for advertisers to take advantage of their platforms in a more streamlined way. [Grade: B+. We’ve seen significant movement in the area of online video platform usage growth and expect that will continue through 2016 on a similar trend line, although we may have been overly-aggressive in our estimated impact in 2015.]

  6. Fully automated bidding and budget management will arrive. With the continued increase in flexible bid strategies for Google along with the use of close variants in both Google and Bing, the way has been paved for continued automation — including automated bidding — to focus on specific strategic campaign goals. With these tactics, there is no reason to manually bid on keywords when there are max and minimum bid limits that can be set. When bidding is automated, budget management is also more automated. This allows for a campaign budget to be set and less management is required because the bidding will make sure the budget is achieved without the manual pacing and budget intervention. [Grade: B-. We may have been overly excited at the idea of fully-automated bidding capabilities after one too many drinks at the holiday party last year. That being said, we have seen movement here and expect more of the same in 2016.]

  7. Engagement ads will be the main display driver. As search evolves, ad types do as well. The newest and most interactive ad type is called an ‘engagement ad’ which allows for a larger light box to appear once an ad is hovered over for more than 2 seconds or is clicked on. Once the ad is opened, the user can choose between watching videos, shopping directly within the lightbox, or engaging in other ways with the brand, without ever visiting the brand’s site right away. Because of this, brand engagement will dramatically increase, causing incremental conversion gains and increased use of engagement advertising. [Grade: B+. There has been a shift to engagement as a driver for display ads to be sure, but the number of followers, sentiment, conversion rates and ROI are also primary drivers. Google continues to evolve their product offering in new ways, including more engaging ad types as found in Gmail. Look for more of that from Google and its competitors in 2016.]

  8. Having a non-responsively designed website will now hurt your SEO visibility. We know that Google has been quantifying user experience into metrics that they can use as ranking factors for a while now. We also know that their search team’s public statements have emphasized the importance of mobile-friendliness and expressed surprise at the fast growth of the mobile web user base. Accordingly, mobile user experience is about to become essential to success in search, such that it will no longer be good enough to plan on making a new mobile-friendly website sometime in the murky future. I believe your non-compliant website will be penalized starting in 2015. [Grade: A+. We nailed this prediction and did so early in the year, even when it was considered aggressive by some. We’re pleased Google has taken a strong approach to lackluster mobile marketing efforts.]

  9. Faced with no other choice, SEO content authors will start doing excellent writing. Google’s semantic search leaps of the past year have been great enough to transform the entire project of content optimization from a contest of keyword density and exact-match to one of topical relevancy and depth. Starting next year, the only way you’ll be able to outrank your competitors on a given keyword is to write a page that does a better job than their page does at helping Google understand what that keyword means. [Grade: A-. While we called this one, it was a fairly low-risk prediction. Anyone surfing the web regularly notices the volume of new content is high but the quality is relatively low. This created a tremendous opportunity for brands and agencies to step above the noise with unique, relevant and engaging content. This will only continue to become more important in 2016.]

  10. Don’t ignore Yahoo and Bing: Firefox’s new partnership with Yahoo will bite into Google’s market share. While Google’s spot at the top of the search engine pile is firmly in place, and optimization efforts should always focus on Google first, Yahoo and Bing will get a boost from Yahoo’s partnership with Mozilla and deserve your attention. Yahoo and Bing currently hold a combined 30 percent market share compared to Google’s 67 percent; expect that share to increase 5-10 percent. [Grade: D+. We missed the boat big on this one, but that’s what happens when you go out on a limb with predictions. It’s fairly clear this partnership did not bear the fruit that was intended, but then again Yahoo! didn’t do much well in 2015.]

  11. Social media marketers will say “so long organic reach; hello paid media.” Facebook, along with many other social channels, have brought organic reach to a halt. The only way to play now, is to pay. As content continues to be a main focus, ad spend on social will rise in order to get content pieces in front of consumers’ eyes. [Grade: A-. This prediction is unfortunately all too true, with further ratcheting down of the organic feed to maximize monetization by social platforms. While we can safely say organic feeds will continue to be throttled back, we hope the platforms realize they are walking a fine line by compromising the reach in exchange for a few dollars, which may lead to mass exodus by fickle user.]

  12. Engagement with young millennials via social will increase. As social applications such as Instagram and Snapchat continue to be hits with the younger demographic, we will see a shift in social media focus and ad spend in favor of these newer platforms in 2015. [Grade: A. We believe this prediction has absolutely come to fruition, but the prediction was just about as safe as predicting a sunrise. That doesn’t diminish the implications of the power of an engaged millennial customer base, however.]

  13. Video content optimized for social will increase. Traditionally, producing video content has been cost- and time-intensive for brands. As the core audiences that marketers intend to target are dominantly present across social networks, there will be a shift in content creation and budgets in 2015. Video content will start to become optimized for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, demanding highly engaging, creative, and concise content. We even saw Facebook video views on desktop surpass YouTube’s for the first time ever in August. [Grade: A. This prediction was another safe bet and the trend will continue in 2016.]

  14. Social media reporting will become more sophisticated. As social networks become more sophisticated and streamlined with data collection, targeting options for paid media will become more focused. Twenty-fifteen will yield greater demographic/psychographic inclusions into platform analytics reporting to help inform paid media targeting. This will result in more in-depth and actionable social media reports. [Grade: B-. While platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have improved their reporting capabilities, particularly on the ad side, we expected more from the juggernauts in terms of improved UX, customization and insights.]

  15. Mobile shopping platforms will become more important than ever. As more and more retailers go mobile and more mobile services spring up, wireless payment becomes ever easier. The process of people searching for a product on their mobile device and making a purchase by the click of a button is becoming easier and it will be more important than ever for retailers to have a mobile shopping presence that allows for easy mobile purchases. [Grade: B-. While this prediction was well-intended, as written, we’re not sure the adoption has transpired as expected (in terms of mobile platform usage by shoppers). That being said, mobile commerce has increased meaningfully, as illustrated by Black Friday & Cyber Monday sales numbers. That means mobile is here to stay and is taking over the ecommerce world one way or another.]




Our 2016 Predictions

Enough about 2015, which is so “last year.” Let’s talk about marketing predictions and trends we anticipate for 2016 and beyond. These are in no particular order, but they all should provide food for thought and be just a little less-than-obvious, if we did our job well.

  1. Experience Is Everything. Google has put ever-increasing emphasis on user experience in its ranking algorithm the past few years. This trend will only become more apparent as websites with a well-designed interface and thoughtful navigation will outrank sites with similar domain authority. A quality user experience will also factor in multi-screen user access via responsive design yet also factor in ADA considerations and social integration. Look for website being rewarded (or penalized) based on its user experience in 2016, whether via a major algorithm update or through a series of smaller tweaks and discussions in the search marketing community.

  2. Brands Will Go Native. With ad blocking becoming more prominent with consumers, brands are forced to get more creative. While it is a safe bet advertisers will increase their investment in native advertising, we predict the investment will be both significant and unsurpassed in 2016. Similar to our prediction that 2009 would be The Year of Mobile, this trend may be somewhat premature (as we are early adopters) but the growth rate will raise eyebrows on Madison Avenue. Related article: How ad blocking will change digital advertising.

  3. Better Analytics = Better Marketing. We believe 2016 will be the year brands reap the benefits of significant investment in analytics platforms and integration with other marketing and measurement systems. CMOs and CTOs will increase their value to large organizations will smaller marketing departments will benefit from more affordable alternatives. With improved measurement platforms, expect to see brands renew focus on cross-channel tracking, multi-touch attribution, real-time and predictive analytics. Specifically, look for significant growth in analytics revenues, venture funding for new or evolving platforms and a higher profile for analytics within the C-suite.

  4. Audience Exploration and Expansion. As the economy strengthens, brands will look for new growth opportunities more so than in the past decade. Smart brands will invest significant marketing resources and dollars to tap new and emerging markets, including Baby Boomers, Millennials, Hispanics, Ethical Consumers and global markets. Greater technology sophistication along with lower cost, will allow even smaller organizations target new markets cost-effectively. Look for greater levels of discussion, planning and campaigns around significantly new markets by larger brands. Related article: 6 Secrets to Marketing to Ethical Consumers

  5. It’s All About Meaningful Connections. After experiencing the launch of “Mobilegeddon” (an algorithm update that focused on penalizing websites that failed to comply with modern mobile optimization), it’s clear that the on-the-go consumer is at the forefront of Google’s future. This one specific update is responsible for the significant overhaul we have seen to local search rankings, with the release of the local three-pack, a new quality algorithm for content, and more than a dozen other updates that ultimately support mobile consumers’ ability to: 1. find what they want as soon as possible, 2. engage with the most meaningful, relevant content and 3. progress through their individual search as easily and fluidly as possible. Because of the level of investment Google continues to make in creating a better online world for mobile consumers, strategists should be on the lookout for the following trends that are sure to change the way campaigns are approached, developed, and executed. Look for these updates to take effect in algorithm updates throughout 2016.

  6. Forget Desktop Optimization; Mobile Is King. The days of optimizing traditional forms of meta data (page titles, meta descriptions, headers) in order to successfully rank on page one of search listings has already diminished in value over the last few years. This trend will certainly continue as Google and other search engines will require strategists to align with the growing number of mobile users and how they interact with their immediate communities (geographical and social). Mobile searches exceeded desktop queries for the first time this year, so you can expect to see this trend only get more pronounced, as access to mobile devices and associated technology becomes more available to emerging demographics and economic classes. Google has already made it clear through a variety of events and statements that desktop-specific sites are not necessary, and their adjustments toward the local three-pack only confirms their continued investment toward an all-encompassing mobile experience that easily translates across each and every type of device.

  7. Digital Assistants Will Dramatically Affect the Way Strategists Approach Search. Intelligent assistants like Siri and Cortana allow Windows and Apple phone users to speak directly to their devices in order to operate their applications and search online. How consumers verbally communicate significantly varies from how individuals type out search queries. Because of this variation in behavior, you will begin to see more long-tail keyword queries; this will allow you to create much more accurate and intelligent key phrase strategies, since more granular data will be available around consumer behavior.

  8. Social Content Will Be Easier to Locate in Search Results. Continuing with the value of social marketing, it is important to understand the type of professional relationships that are developing between Google and major social entities like Facebook and Twitter. As the popularity and usage of social platforms and applications continues to grow, it makes perfect sense that Google will want to increase their bottom line and attract new users to their platforms by creating business relationships that leverage detailed consumer behavior information from these types of social networking sites. Google has already established deals with Facebook and Twitter that sees their news articles populate in search listings. Because of this, you should continue to see individual tweets indexed in 2016. In this scenario, the division between the World Wide Web and social media will begin to merge, creating a more socially dynamic experience from an SEO perspective.

  9. Social SEO Will Continue to Influence Visibility. The concept of Social SEO essentially creates a world where content that is validated by human engagement is able to connect with more online consumers than content that is simply published on a particular website without any shares, comments, and other metrics associated with consumer engagement. There are plenty of reputable strategists who debate the validity of how social links affect online visibility. However, studies illustrate a direct correlation between volume of shares and meaningful engagement with superior results dedicated to visibility, conversions, and even online revenue. As the New Year approaches, you should continue to implement social strategies that encourage meaningful follower growth (‘meaningful’ refers to connecting with real people who are actually interested in who you are and what you offer) and user engagement. However, it’s just as important to understand that this singular concept should not be considered the be-all and end-all for SEO success. The fact is, studies also show diminishing returns where articles that are supported with thousands of shares and hundreds of comments are not permanent in their original position within search listings. Being able to leverage a robust social audience is helpful for maximizing immediate exposure and conversions, but you still need to do much more in order to achieve long-lasting success. Look for the search algorithm to put an increasing weight on social signals in 2016 in a meaningful manner.

  10. Search is Going Hyper Local (as in Your Pants). Algorithm updates like Pigeon and the way that search listings have evolved to provide users detailed information about desired services found within their local community are why strategists should expect local search to absolutely explode. Wearable devices like the Apple Watch are becoming more popular, along with the increased level of sophistication of Google’s local indexes, you can see why specific types of local search queries will significantly increase. In 2016, local rankings will populate based on an individual’s exact location, such as what street they are on within a specific neighborhood. Look for a perfect storm of wearables, Internet-of-Things (IoT) and proactive brand marketers to change the face of geo-specific search targeting.


So that sums up our top 10 (digital) marketing predictions for 2016. We hope to garner more A’s than C’s when it comes to self-grading in December 2016. Special thanks to Julian Connors on the Organic Search team at Anvil for his significant contributions to this piece. We’re relatively pleased with the accuracy of our 2015 marketing predictions, but not all the trends moved as fast as we’d like them to. On behalf of the team at Anvil, we wish you a prosperous 2016 and look forward to reading your thoughts on 2016 trends in the comments section below.

With a background in integrated marketing, Lewis left a public relations agency in 1996 to start his career in search engine marketing. Since then, he’s helped grow businesses by connecting his clients with their constituents via the...

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