What digital marketing trends dominated 2016?

This time last year, like many other marketers, I wrote a post about the digital marketing trends to watch in 2016. It’s been an unpredictable year to say the least, but what changes did we see in the digital marketing landscape?

I’ve been taking a look back to see how accurate my predictions were and what major trends we saw in digital marketing this year. Here’s my round up:

Prediction: “Customer experience becomes a priority”

I predicted that customer experience marketing — focusing on making the customer the central point of marketing efforts by using targeted data to create personalised content, would be a key trend in digital marketing this year. Was I right?

Customer experience (CX) has definitely become a buzzword in 2016, overtaking mass advertising as a preferred channel to get in front of potential customers. There has been an increasing focus on customer satisfaction management and measurement, as brands seek to keep their customers loyal and turn them into brand advocates.

Adobe’s Digital Trends 2016 report found that 25% of global marketing, digital and ecommerce professionals cited customer experience as their priority.

Businesses can no longer compete on price or product alone, to rise to the top they need to deliver an excellent experience across all channels and interactions.

Even budget airline Ryan Air, famously known for being “customer hostile”, have recognised this in the launch of their ‘Always Getting Better’ initiative. They have spent time focusing on customer service and turned their social media into a service channel.

Increasing targeting and personalisation was a top digital task for 31% of executives in 2016, according to Adobe’s report, with 24% focusing on multichannel campaign management. According to an Economist Intelligence Unit report, 86% of CMOs and senior marketing executives believe they will own the end-to-end customer experience by 2020.

A personalised, effective and consistent customer experience will lead to customer loyalty and create brand value, and while this has dominated 2016, there’s no sign of this digital marketing trend slowing down any time soon.

Prediction: “User-generated content will be bigger than ever before”

Content marketing is a digital marketing trend that has dominated in recent years. My predictions included a rise in user-generated content as brands continue to embrace digital platforms and focus on giving more ownership to their customers. So what happened?

User-generated content (UGC) is content such as blogs, posts, tweets, images, Pinterest pins, videos etc, that is created by users. This helps convert leads because it is a more genuine voice — it provides social proof and builds credibility.

Instead of focusing on creating their own content, brands should be creating the opportunity for content creation and conversations, such as ‘Instagrammable’ moments and inspiring experiences.

As consumers become increasingly skeptical of advertising, celebrity endorsements and traditional advertising, brands are striving to create authentic dialogues on their digital platforms.

84% of millennials report that UGC on company websites has some influence on what they buy, and according to comScore, brand engagements rise by 28% when consumers are exposed to both professional content and UGC.

Instagram reportedly generates an average of 95 million consumer posts per day, which are often focused on people’s favourite brands and products. Major brands have embraced UGC across their social platforms and on their websites — such as beauty giant Sephora who introduced a “Beauty Board” to curate customer photos and show what products they are wearing.

Digital marketing is changing. In 2016 we’ve seen consumers take a more central, active role, and user generated content is bound to continue to grow as a key digital marketing trend in the year ahead.

Prediction: “Visuals take centre stage”

Social media became more visual in 2015, with video and image posts getting more engagement on average than text-based updates. Apple introduced ‘live photos’ and claimed to “change everything” with the latest iPhone, and 2016 was all set to be dominated by the visual marketing trend.

Visual platforms such as Instagram have seen massive growth in 2016. 7 out of 10 hashtags on Instagram are branded, as brands increase their dependence on UGC and turn their attention to visual platforms.

According to marketer and influencer Jeff Bullas, articles with visuals get 94% more views than those without. Infographics are everywhere, emojis are massive and visual content is here to stay, which is no surprise as research shows that our ability to recall information increases significantly when it’s presented as an image rather than plain text.

The release of iPhone 7 in 2016 was slightly overshadowed by the highly-anticipated Google Pixel, the first smartphone to be released by the search engine and marketing giant. It’s debatable whether iPhone 7 did in fact “change everything” as promised — most reviews said it was just more of the same from Apple, and declining sales this year seem to suggest they’re right, but with a superior camera, the Google Pixel has clearly recognised our love of creating and consuming visual content.

Take up of Facebook’s video profile picture feature has remained low, but video content has dominated the platform this year. Visual and video content continues to be a steady trend in digital marketing that is impossible to ignore.

Prediction: “Marketing messages will be consumed in real time”

Snapchat grew in popularity in 2015 and we saw live streaming platforms Periscope and Meerkat launch, allowing users to watch and broadcast live video from all across the globe. On-the-ball marketers began to embrace live streaming and even the 2016 US presidential candidates were using Snapchat, so this was a no-brainer when it came to predicting digital marketing trends for this year. How did it pan out?

Live streaming has probably been the biggest digital marketing trend of the year. The growth of Snapchat speaks for itself. The platform has gone mainstream, with over 150 million daily active users as of September 2016.

Over 9,000 snaps are shared every second, with the average user spending 30 minutes per day in the app.

Other social media giants have tried to catch up this year, which has led to an explosion in live streaming. Facebook and Twitter now both offer the opportunity for users and brands to “go live”, Twitter rolled out the “moments” feature for all users earlier this year and Instagram and Snapchat both introduced the “stories” feature, allowing users to create roundups of their experiences.

Facebook considers live videos as a new content type, different from normal videos, and they are likely to rank higher in newsfeeds (when they are actually live) as people spend more than 3 times more time watching live videos than those which are no longer live.

Live content is clearly engaging users across platforms and is another digital marketing trend that marketers need to embrace.

Prediction: Virtual reality — the future is now

I tried the Oculus Rift in 2015 before its release and predicted that it would change the face of the gaming industry, with big implications for digital marketing trends too. Forward-thinking brands had already begun to experiment with VR in 2015, and this was predicted as a major trend for digital marketing this year.

In reality, VR hasn’t exploded yet, and beyond branded entertainment experiences at large-scale events, we haven’t really seen it have a major impact in the marketing world. Penetration of VR headsets into households is still low, so it’s unlikely we’ll see this digital marketing trend really take off until more people own VR devices.

One big game changer that we did see hit headlines in 2016 was augmented reality (which lets virtual objects appear as though they’re in the real world), with the Summer’s hit mobile game Pokémon Go. When it debuted in July, the AR game quickly became the biggest mobile game ever and even surpassed Twitter in terms of active users within a week!

Savvy marketers jumped on the bandwagon as the world became obsessed with “catching them all” — from Pizza companies offering discount to users on higher levels, to large brands building Pokémon directly into their content strategy.

While the future of VR and AR remain uncertain, one thing this summer does teach us is that as digital marketers we need to be up to speed with the latest trends and able to respond quickly.

As I said in my article last year, the digital marketing landscape changes quickly. Marketing and advertising need to go hand in hand with tech innovations, keeping the customers at the centre of their efforts. 2016 had some predictable digital marketing trends, which hopefully marketers built into their strategy at the start of the year, and some more unpredictable ones, reminding us of the need to adapt and respond quickly in a digital world. Now is the time to review the digital marketing trends of 2016, understand what we learnt from them, and look to the year ahead to support our planning.

What are the biggest marketing lessons you learnt this year?

What trends do you think will dominate digital marketing in 2017?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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