Look to the Past to Predict 2016

February 04, 2016 by Sean McMahon in Strategy 2016 Digital Marketing Trends Post Feature

Every year, about this time, a plethora of predictions pertaining to what’s to come in the new year are spouted forth by numerous industry luminaries and agency heads. Here’s ours.

For the most part, the predictions that are best positioned to play themselves out are the ones that are based upon unfolding trends and experiential observation. That is to say, if you pay attention to what has happened in the past, and how it is impacting innovation and performance today, you stand a better chance of identifying what is going to impact the future.

Several of us here at Ethology have been a part of the digital marketing industry even before it was recognized as an industry. The nascent “information superhighway” was nothing more than a gravel road compared to the dynamic cultural force that the Internet is today. In 1999, when I was fortunate enough to be a part of the founding team of a startup digital agency, we weren’t even sure how to categorize our company. We began as a search engine performance company, then became a search positioning company and ultimately settled on being a search marketing company.

Regardless of the nomenclature, our purpose (and the value proposition of most digital agencies at the time) was to enable our client’s products and services to be found by customers searching through the dominant search engines of the world (AltaVista being the most dominant with more than half of all daily search traffic, and an impressive ability to index more than 20 million pages). Popular taglines of agencies at the time included: “Search. Get Found.” and “We’re For Finding.”

As this fledgling channel eventually became a bona fide medium, we realized that we needed to revise our value proposition. With the advent of social media, it became important to convey to our clients that we enable brands to be in front of desired audiences, no matter where the audience is online. This shift at the end of the 2000s placed an emphasis on effective social media campaigns and the ability to generate engaging social content. It was no longer just about keywords and search results. Now it mattered where your brand was present within online networks and destinations. Because of this, digital agencies began adding content specialists and content strategy teams as in-house services.

Fast-forward to today’s marketplace, and it has become exponentially more challenging to connect with customers. A great deal of this tribulation stems from the fact that individuals today do not want to be perceived as “customers.” They are individuals looking for experiences — not sales pitches. Because of this, the most effective agencies are ones that are able to create genuine experiences that resonate with individuals and leave lasting impressions.

This novel strategy is currently being implemented for one of our clients, Farmers Insurance. Through in-depth research and advanced customer journey mapping, our team of content strategists is routinely integrating robust visual storytelling elements for Farmers Insurance into their online presence. Not only is this dramatically increasing engagement and recall, it has also resulted in almost 50 percent more conversions through our online campaigns. Great performance … but what’s next?

Throwing my prognostication hat into the ring, I am confident that effective strategies within the following three digital marketing disciplines will have the greatest impact upon audience influence and consumer behavior in 2016.

1. Mobile

Mobile matters — but not in the way it was first approached by our industry. Unless a brand is actively selling its products online on a daily basis, it is going to be more important to ensure that its website is mobile-friendly than to spend money developing and marketing a stand-alone app. (The recent notification from Google that mobile-friendly websites are assigned higher marks within their algorithm substantiates this fact.) Mobile should not be viewed as a separate channel. Rather, all elements of your marketing mix — from your website to your company’s Facebook page — need to be easily accessed on all mobile devices.

2. Social

Social media will continue to capture more and more paid media dollars as the three main players (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) roll out additional monetization schemes to sell directly to your customers. However, the driving force within social media will be user-generated content (UGC). Across the Internet, UGC is already capturing significant audience attention. This year, we should see this trend accelerate with new UGC offerings from the three big players, and new platforms from innovative startups. Social media offerings that allow individuals to host channels and publish pages will provide huge opportunities to promote free content surrounding brands to highly engaged audiences.

3. User Experience

The most probable-to-play-out forecast — based upon unfolding trends and experiential observation — is that the coming year will be all about creating unique experiences through personalized messaging and shared events. Evolving technologies have enabled Ethology to target optimized content for prospective customers across the right mix of channels in a manner that is both timely and highly relevant. Now, as we embark on this new year, we are already integrating customized customer experience elements into many of our engagements. The future is no longer just about eyeballs — it’s more about hearts and minds. And creating experiences that touch both.

2016 Is the Year of the Customer Experience

Winning brands in 2016 will be the ones that focus on achieving customer loyalty through personalized customer satisfaction. Exposure is no longer enough — today’s consumers care about experiences. Be sure that your marketing efforts are not stuck in the past.

Ethology’s goal is to optimize every part of the digital experience to drive measurable results. Our team can help you create a customer experience that drives the right traffic to the right places, maximizing conversions and impacting your bottom line.

Get in touch with Ethology

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Sean McMahon

About the Author

As AVP of Corporate Development & Marketing, Sean identifies and cultivates growth opportunities, maintains an understanding of internal KPIs and industry trends, and implements corporate strategy and business objectives. Sean co-founded EngineWorks, Inc., a performance-based digital marketing company in Portland, Oregon before it was acquired by Ethology, Inc. in 2011. Sean was also a member of the founding team at TrafficLeader, Inc., and helped grow it until it was acquired by Marchex, Inc. (NASDAQ: MCHX) in 2003. His passion for college football started as a walk-on at Oklahoma State University. Sean is also a founding board member of Search Engine Marketing Professionals of Portland (SEMpdx).

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