7 digital marketing trends that will shape the future

Digital marketing is evolving at the speed of light, leaving marketers grappling to keep up. So what are the trends you really need to know about? We spoke with two experts to find out.

Tami Iseli

23 November 2015

9 minute read

In 2014, it is estimated that humans produced around 8 zettabytes of data. That’s more data than all the preceding years put together. To put it into context, it’s equivalent to the storage capacity of 62 billion iPhones.

While the data itself has proliferated, so too have the marketing technologies designed to generate and manage it. In 2014, Scott Brinker’s well-known Marketing Technology Supergraphic featured 947 martech vendors. In 2015, the number had nearly doubled to 1,876 - surprising even Brinker himself.

So if you’re a marketer and you’re feeling a little overwhelmed right now, you can afford to cut yourself some slack.

To help you sort out what you really need to be focused on, we spoke to marketing technology expert Martin Orliac, Digital Marketing Manager at Rackspace, and Futurist Morris Miselowski. Here are the key trends they identified that are likely to shape the future of marketing.

1. Hyper-personalisation

The key thread that underpins all of the emerging technology in this space is personalisation. “Technology is pushing us into a very hyper-personalised space - we need to move away from mass communication,” says Miselowski.

“At the moment, we are still trying to guess what would be best for an audience to trigger the kind of response we want from them, and tailoring the placement of that message accordingly," he says. "But that’s the old model. In the future, technology will understand who we are, what we’re doing, what we value and what we want to know about, as well as when and how we want to receive information. It will be able to feed us messages that are relevant to us at a particular time, and those messages will self-assemble.”

Evidence of personalisation is, of course, already all around us. Think recommendation engines, geolocation tools, retargeting, voice activation systems that respond to our voices - to name just a few. However, Miselowski points out that we still have a way to go in getting consumers on board. “There are still issues around privacy that we have to overcome but I don’t think this is a difficult step given what consumers have already chosen to share, for example through social media. What we need to do is convince them that the trade-off of sharing is in their best interests.”

2. The ‘Internet of Everything’

Over the last few years, the Internet of Things has very much become part of our everyday reality. In today’s world, there are 18 billion connected devices globally - roughly three per capita. According to Orliac, this number will triple over the next decade. “By 2025, you’ll have a connected car, watch, radio, fridge, air-conditioner, sound system, virtual reality headset…”

This rapid rise of connected devices has brought us into a world where technology is simply ‘ambient’, adds Miselowski. “We’ve moved into a phase where technology is like electricity and gas - it just exists.” 

Having such ready access to technology will have a significant impact on how we frame our marketing messages, says Miselowski. “Today, many of our decisions are based around the particular communication platform and when and how consumers will access it. Over the next few years, that won’t be the concern anymore. We will just assume that they will have the technology with them - either in-store, in their pockets, in their handbags, or in their homes.”

An extension of this concept of the Internet of Everything is that people will be able to make direct purchases from a huge range of devices, for example, their television, radio or fridge. “Within five years, this will be an ordinary thing,” says Miselowski. “You’ll have the opportunity to learn about something, interact with it and buy it, all from the one place.” 

The Internet of Everything opens up huge potential for marketers in terms of understanding the way people interact with their physical environments, and how they use their internet-enabled devices to research and make purchases. All of these insights will become standard elements of the marketer’s toolkit in the years to come.

3. Virtual and augmented reality

Virtual reality has been a big buzzword in 2015, largely thanks to the now-Facebook-owned industry leader, Oculus. The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset that’s due for release in the first quarter of 2016. “VR (virtual reality) is going to completely change the way we do things; it opens up a whole new world of opportunity,” says Orliac. 

“For example, if you’re selling a house, you could create a VR experience where people could put their headset on and visualise themselves in that home. Or if you’re in car racing, you could put a 360 degree camera in the car and sell subscriptions to people online so they could experience the driving in real time with a VR experience in the comfort of their own home.” 

For now, the virtual reality experience largely remains tethered to physical headsets, but the natural extension of this is augmented reality, where the consumer will actually be completely immersed in the experience. 

“Augmented reality will really redefine advertising and digital,” says Orliac. “To deliver an advertising experience to users now, you need to have a physical platform, like a billboard or TV or some form of store, but with AR you can create that experience on the fly, anywhere you want. Every white space will become a potential advertising space. You could have someone sitting and waiting for a train and you could display an augmented reality car to them. They could then choose the colour and features and buy it on the spot.” 

4. Beacons

Beacons are low frequency chips, found in devices like mobile phones, that communicate with other beacon devices to form a network. Unlike NFC technology, which only works in very close proximity to a device (about 10cm or less), beacons can work over a range of up to 70 metres. 

The most obvious application is in retail. For example, a retailer may push a specific offer to a customer based on their in-store location, or help guide them through the store to an item they’re looking for. They can be used to tell how much time a customer spends in each part of a store and how the customer navigates their way around. Information from beacons can also be used to facilitate a hyper-personalised customer service experience, by providing staff with information such as the customer’s name, product preferences and purchase history. This information can also potentially be used to retarget the customer online. 

Beacons enable retailers to more accurately attribute a sale to online or in-store, based on tracking of the customer’s in-store behaviour. For example, if a customer browses in-store and then buys online, without a beacon that sale would be wholly attributed to the online store. With beacons, the retailer is able to get a much clearer picture of the customer’s pre-sale activities.

With Westfield recently releasing thousands of beacon-equipped digital screens in its shopping centres, this technology is very much here to stay. “They haven’t rolled out the full capability just yet,” says Orliac, “but these screens have the capacity to know where you’ve been and who you are, and they can tailor advertising specifically to you.”

From an advertiser’s point of view, beacons have the potential to open up a whole new level of transparency. “Back in the day when you were buying outdoor inventory, you didn’t really have proof of impressions,” says Orliac. “There was an element of trust involved, whereas this technology will allow full end-to-end transparency for the advertiser. You can see where your ad was displayed, how many times, and you can compare performance based on the location of the ads.”

5. People-based marketing (RIP cookies?)

As more people gravitate towards mobile devices, the role of the cookie will become increasingly sidelined, says Orliac. “The first thing you do on a mobile is go to an app, and apps don’t support cookies. If you can’t track your audience with cookies, you need to use people-based marketing.” 

People-based marketing is about linking the activity of web or app users with a form of identification, such as a log-in. “Today, the big identity trackers are Google, Facebook, and to some extent LinkedIn and Twitter,” says Orliac. “Their services (such as Facebook’s ad server, Atlas) allow you to track your ads and experiences across mobile devices and the web using identities.” 

The upshot is that marketers will increasingly become reliant on the custodians of identity data - such as the Googles and Facebooks of the world - to track consumers across mutiple devices.

6. Programmatic outdoor

While programmatic ad buying has clearly cemented its place in online, the concept has recently extended into outdoor digital displays - a trend that Orliac believes will revolutionise outdoor advertising. 

“Right now, the process of buying ad space on digital outdoor screens is antiquated because you need to buy it directly,” he says. “If you can do it programmatically, it will make the whole process more efficient. It will reduce the cost of the purchase and enable very specific targeting capability based on things like location, weather and even the outcome of sporting events.” 

For example, an umbrella company could pre-set its ad to run only when it’s raining, or a brand could run a different version of its ad creative outside a football stadium depending on the outcome of the game. 

7. HTML5 ads

Unlike the trends we’ve covered so far, HTML5 is not exactly a bright and shiny new technology, but it’s something that Orliac says digital marketers need to get their heads around as a matter of urgency. 

For the past decade or so, animated online display banners have been created predominantly in Flash. However, the writing is on the wall for Flash, with nearly all the major desktop browsers ceasing to natively support it. This means that users are going to have to install third party software to enable it. Rather than being served a visually dynamic animated ad, users would instead see a static banner in its place, effectively ‘blocking’ ads created in Flash. 

The necessary solution is to shift towards HTML5, a language used to create ads for mobile. There will be certain trade-offs involved in this switch, such as arguably inferior animation rendering capabilities, but as Orliac points out, the alternative is going to be a whole lot of wasted impressions when animated desktop banner ads fail to display as intended.

Don't overthink it - it’s still just ‘marketing’

While it’s easy to get distracted by all the bells and whistles of new technology, at the end of the day the technology is really just an enabler of solid marketing tactics. 

As Orliac advises, the key is to keep it simple. “Clearly define your KPIs, understand your audience, and try not to disperse into too many cool toys because they will just dilute your focus.” 

Miselowski expresses a similar sentiment: “Whatever the technology, the basic principles are the same. It’s about human interaction, it’s about sales, and it’s about engagement. We need to remember that humans are still at the centre of it all - it comes back to basic communication and marketing skills. Know the consumer and know what they want.”

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