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16 Online Marketing Trends to Watch for in 2016

The holidays are wrapped up and the new year is just beginning, meaning focus in your marketing department has likely shifted from cookie-baking contests back to online user cookie tracking. Over the past 12 months, we saw many of the predicted trends from 2015 come to life in brand campaigns and marketing activities around the web. Prep yourself for this year’s changes with these 16 marketing trends that will shape the digital scene in 2016.

1. Branded Video Makes a Long Play

movie theater stock vector
movie theater – film strip by igor kisselev

Over the past few years a move to social media has caused some brands to shorten video assets into lightweight chunks that can be viewed in a tween-sized attention span. However, it’s already becoming clear that brands that invest in extended-length videos, or even short films, enjoy added rewards for the extra production value. Moët & Chandon, JetBlue, Johnnie Walker, Canada Goose, American Girl, and Lagavulin all released long-form video content in Q4 of last year, aiming to provide audiences with quality content that could captivate even fickle online viewers.

2. Visual Assets Drive E-Commerce

The fact that strong visuals are a prerequisite to driving meaningful engagement online is almost undisputed at this point. But as 2016 unfolds, we’ll see how visual assets contribute to more than just engagement and actually support online purchases. A study by visual commerce platform Curalate showed that 77% of marketers feel pressure to prove an ROI on their visual content, yet only 10% of marketers think their current visuals are actually working. More than half of the marketers in the survey were skeptical that they could show how visuals were contributing to online revenue. With more approachable revenue-tracking companies like Curalate, this problem will quickly become a thing of the past.

3. The Internet of (Every)Things

paper cut out city stock photo
Paper-cut city – 3 layers of paper by igor kisselev

It’s difficult to find devices today that aren’t connected to the Internet in some way. The Internet of Things has become so ubiquitous that more than 70% of travel and hospitality companies use apps to track and engage customers, according to eMarketer. Yet even in this industry, which is leading the way in IoT technology, only 20% of companies have implemented location sensors, and only 14% are using product-based sensors to gather customer data. Businesses have barely scratched the surface of where IoT can take marketing efforts.

4. Instagram Advertising Unleashed

After running a pilot program with a select group of advertisers, Instagram opened up its ad platform to businesses in 30 countries starting in September of 2015. With only a few months of access so far, most businesses haven’t jumped on the Instagram ads bandwagon just yet. But with more than 400 million users, Instagram will be an appealing channel for marketers looking for new points of access to consumers. To make the platform even more appealing, Instagram just announced 41 tech partnerships with companies who can help brands build, launch, and optimize campaigns.

5. Celebrity Influencer Marketing

guitarist huge mouth stock vector
loud singing guitarist – huge mouth by igor kisselev

A picture is worth a thousand words, but it turns out certain pictures are worth upwards of $230k. That figure is exactly how much some celebrities are being paid for a single social media post promoting brands or products. The vast majority of celebrity influencers (89%) have active Instagram accounts, but top sponsorship dollars go for posts published across multiple social networks. A ranking by Zefr showed that the top celebrities on Instagram include Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner, Taylor Swift, Kylie Jenner, and Leo Messi. While six-figure partnerships may be out of reach for small businesses, the influencer trend exists at all levels of social status.

6. Data Scientists

living in virtual reality: creative thoughts orbiting human head by igor kisselev
living in virtual reality: creative thoughts orbiting human head by igor kisselev

Having access to big data is only a business asset if someone on your team can break down all of the digits into actionable insights. Data scientists have already been called “The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century,” but until now, dedicated roles have largely been limited to deep-pocketed startups. However, with online data science courses more widely available, the candidate pool for these roles is growing rapidly; in 2016, data scientists will become more commonplace in small- to mid-sized companies. This investment will pay dividends as companies look to optimize marketing efficiency and run profitable campaigns despite the growing issue of click fraud in the industry.

7. Adapting to NextGen Social

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram may still have some of the largest social media audiences on the planet, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only places to focus marketing attention. With each new social network that pops up comes a new niche audience of early adopters, along with new ways for marketers to leverage the technology. Messaging apps are the latest social darling, enabling easy communication without all the formality of texting or (heaven forbid) a phone call.

Two such apps, Whisper and Kik, have already attracted Hollywood studios to run campaigns aimed at tween and teen audiences. While family-friendly movies like Disney/Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur have taken to Whisper to connect with potential viewers, this channel won’t be a first-pick for every marketer. Messaging apps come with inherent risks, namely in promoted content being hijacked and warped by users into something completely different (and usually negative). But in the upcoming year, marketers will learn how to accept these risks and challenges, and use messaging technology to craft innovative campaigns.

8. Moving on From Millennials

runner passing the baton to teammate by igor kisselev
runner passing the baton to teammate by igor kisselev

The youngest millennials are just barely out of high school, but it looks like they’ve already lost their clout as the darlings of the marketing world. Over the next year we will finally see marketers turn their attention to Generation Z, the first generation of true digital natives. A study from Goldman Sachs speculates that this generation will be more debt averse and brand agnostic than the millennials we’ve come to know and love, meaning marketers will have their work cut out for them in the years to come.

9. Coming to You Live(Stream)

Meerkat and Periscope exploded onto the market almost simultaneously in early 2015, inviting endless comparisons between the two. Depending on the month and who you asked, the winner could go one way (Meerkat: Adweek, June), or the other (Periscope: Variety, July), or the other (tie: Chicago Tribune, August). The fact that a clear winner still hasn’t been established in this showdown goes to show that this market is a wide-open playing field, and marketers need to pay attention. Whichever app you align your brand with, planning to integrate livestreaming into your social strategy for 2016 is a must.

10. Adapting to Ad Blockers

With Apple’s release of iOS 9 in 2015, marketers went into a frenzy over the introduction of content blockers for Safari. This euphemistic ad blocker underscored what has been a growing pattern: Nearly 200 million people worldwide use ad blockers when they surf the web. What this indicates is a need for marketers in 2016 to think about how they will adapt to ad blocking technology, likely incorporating native advertising and partnership strategies to supplement typical search and display tactics.

11. Trying on Wearable Tech

wireless smart eyeglasses - wearable technology by igor kisselev
wireless smart eyeglasses – wearable technology by igor kisselev

Revenue from wearable devices will reach $53.2 billion by 2019, which should come as no surprise to any marketer watching Fitbit in the past few years. Fitbit still leads the market when it comes to shipment volume, but Apple and Chinese Xiaomi are gaining ground as competition heats up. Even (and especially) marketers outside the industry of wearable technology need to be looking at integrations, partner apps, and sponsorships to take advantage of this physical connection with consumers.

12. Marketing & Sales: Together at Last

There has historically been a pretty clear top-of-funnel line drawn between marketing and sales efforts, but new tools and new ways of thinking mean that marketing teams are now generating customized emails for clients via a CRM instead of mass newsletter tools. A data-driven approach to optimization will encourage marketers to work their magic throughout the entire sales funnel. Emphasizing sales enablement activities in 2016 will bring marketing efficiency to complex sales cycles and ensure that sales teams are prepped with customer data.

13. The Changing Face of Content

clear idea concept stock vector
explain your idea clearly by igor kisselev

Content marketing has been a key priority in the industry (and Google algorithm updates) for several years. But while content marketing in the past few years meant having a solid content calendar and regular blog updates, content marketing in 2016 will look a little different. Facebook Instant Articles (a convenient retooling of the misfit Facebook Paper) debuted midway through 2015 and offered users a better reading experience with quick-loading articles right in the app. Google and Twitter are jumping on the publishing train, too, promising similar features in the upcoming months. All of this innovation in the name of seamless reading will force content creators to rethink who actually owns their content and how they can measure success.

14. Native Ads Take to the Airways

Native advertising online was one of the hottest marketing trends of 2013-15. The ability to reach an engaged audience without all of the attached advertising stigma was an offer marketers couldn’t get enough of. With an uptick in broadcasted podcasts (and listenership), this will quickly become the next big arena for native advertising. While podcast hosts wrestle with the journalistic ethics at play in delivering native ads in their own voices, anxious advertisers are hoping to be the next MailChimp (or, more aptly, Mailkimp) to piggyback on Serials success.

15. Relationship Marketing

make an impact concept stock vector
make an impact – starting impulse by igor kisselev

While many companies may be doing relationship marketing by happenstance, in 2016 they will put a name (and a strategy) behind the effort. In an age when online reviews can do as much harm or good as a hefty ad campaign, nurturing good relationships with existing customers is critical. In the upcoming year, marketers will be finding ways—big and small—to develop stronger brand champions and leverage that goodwill online.

16. Acing the Marketing Test

The overwhelming accessibility of data has empowered marketers to better understand user sentiment and behavior online. Current marketing testing best practices go as far as A/B test strategies, or perhaps even multivariate testing for larger sites. But in the next year, testing capabilities will expand in both breadth and depth, enabling marketers to test at a more individual level the entire way through the funnel. This personalized testing will unlock marketing efficiencies, and improve user experiences as they interact with a brand across channels.

These are the biggest marketing trends we see coming up next year. Which trends are you excited to work with in 2016?

Top image: spread the word : informal communication channel by igor kisselev

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