As each new year rolls around, we at Marketing Week set about gazing into our crystal ball to give marketers our predictions on what to expect in the coming 12 months. This time last year, we were expecting big things for mobile messaging and programmatic buying of outdoor media, to name but two emerging trends.
So how accurate were our predictions for 2016? Here’s a look back on what we forecast, and what came to pass.
1. ‘Message commerce’
While we may not have succeeded (yet) in our efforts to coin a name for it, it’s fair to say we knocked this prediction out of the park.
True, ‘message commerce’ hasn’t made it into the lexicon, but the concept of using messaging apps to make purchases and contact brands has exploded in recent months, with everyone from the Guardian to Starbucks launching chatbots on platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Consumers can even order a Domino’s pizza via a chatbot.
This time last year, brands’ interactions with customers on messaging apps were just a nascent phenomenon, with KLM and Everlane among the very few dipping their toes in the water.
But along with the rise of artificial intelligence that allows software to respond automatically to natural language, chatbots are now predicted to become mainstream marketing tools in the very near future, with many brands set to use them to accept orders and take customer feedback.
Verdict: Spot on
2. Mobile-only brands
This prediction was partly premised on the launch of the UK’s first mobile-only bank, Atom Bank, which went ahead as planned in April 2016 – albeit in a small-scale, gradual manner with around 25,000 pre-registered customers. The bank’s 2016 annual report shows a net loss of £22.5m, but as its financial year ended in March, that doesn’t tell us much about its success or otherwise.
Judging by the app’s reviews on the App Store and Google Play, however, it seems to have had teething trouble, with an average rating below 3 out of 5 on both platforms.
Will we see this trend take off in future? The answer has to be a resounding ‘maybe’.
Uber, meanwhile, has endured a difficult year of reverses in its battles with various national regulators, including in the UK, where it was told in court that it must give its drivers employment rights that will increase its cost base. It continues to expand and grow rapidly worldwide, but with reported losses of nearly $1.3bn (£1bn) in the first half of 2016 and increasing restrictions on its business model, one wonders if it will eventually turn a profit.
One brand we cited in our article has a more promising outlook. Snapchat‘s ad revenues will reach nearly $1bn (£790m) in 2017, up from $367m (£291m) in 2016, according to estimates by eMarketer, and the image- and video-sharing app is reportedly preparing to float on the stock market, though it is not yet believed to be in profit.
With the exception of Pokémon Go, examples of the mobile-only craze catching on in the UK were few and far between, especially in more traditional brand categories. So, will we see this trend take off in future? The answer has to be a resounding ‘maybe’.
Verdict: Not quite there yet
3. Delivery wars
We’re going to call this one another win for Marketing Week’s clairvoyance. Takeaway restaurants and retail brands in particular are now defined by how, when and where they deliver as much as by what they sell, thanks to a huge expansion of fulfillment options this year.
Amazon has been leading the way with its one-hour delivery service. In 2016 it has moved into delivering groceries, via a partnership with Morrisons, and takeaway food. It also launched its Dash button, which connects to WiFi and can be placed anywhere inside the home, allowing consumers to restock goods via the Amazon app with a single press.
Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s acquisition of Argos owner Home Retail Group creates a key player in both food and non-food retail with access to hundreds of new click-and-collect points and a same-day delivery network.
That’s before we even get to all the new entrants and high-growth startups offering on-demand delivery of food and parcels such as Deliveroo, UberEATS, Jinn, Doddle, Pronto and Henchman, all of which have become more prominent presences on UK streets in the past 12 months.
There’s no doubt consumers are going to continue to demand ever greater levels of flexibility in fulfillment as the options increase. The big questions for these brands now are how much people are willing to pay for the privilege and how sustainable their current business models will be in the long term, given the huge amount of competition that has surged into the marketplace in an incredibly short time.
Verdict: Spot on
4. Marketers win over the C-suite
It was always optimistic to suggest this battle would be won by the end of 2016; in reality this prediction was about marketers making inroads in an ongoing struggle. The debate, as always, is still polarised, but the evidence suggests marketers haven’t taken much of a step forwards in the way they are viewed by senior management this year.
Provisional results from Marketing Week’s annual Career and Salary Survey for 2017, the full findings of which will be published in January, suggest there has been little movement in either the number of companies that have a marketer on their board or the number that treat marketing as an investment in growth.
Indeed most of the stories Marketing Week has covered on this topic in 2016 have painted a negative picture, demonstrating serious knowledge gaps and continuing struggles to prove the effectiveness of channels such as content and mobile. These reversed the more hopeful narrative of last year when marketers and CEOs seemed to be queuing up to herald a golden era of marketing influence in businesses.
One thing is for sure: if marketers want to secure a legacy for the work they have done to improve their profession’s reputation for accountability and driving growth, they cannot rest on their laurels but must keep improving their knowledge and must always make robust business cases for their investments.
Verdict: Not quite there yet
5. The big data lockdown
The title is more sensational that the reality – at least for now – but as predicted 2016 has been a landmark year in consumers’ relationship with data, thanks to two significant new laws that passed after much delay.
April saw the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation finally adopted into European law after more than four years’ debate – and despite Brexit it is highly likely to be retained as a statute in this country.
Then last month the UK government passed its Investigatory Powers Act, known as the ‘snooper’s charter’, which among other things will allow police and security services to hack into electronic devices and access people’s internet connection records – though not the pages viewed – without a warrant.
The former puts more limitations on how brands can process personal data, while the latter is likely to make consumers far more wary about their use of digital services – potentially pushing them towards greater use of encrypted technologies that make them harder to track online
While this prediction still has some way to run, the direction of travel is clear.
Consumers haven’t turned off the tap of personal data entirely, however as we noted in our 2016 predictions, brands have had to stop thinking of it as a business asset. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution has gone so far as to request a new opt-in from every single supporter, and won’t send direct marketing to anyone who doesn’t oblige. Apple’s refusal to give the FBI access to the locked iPhone of a suspected terrorist also shows that battle lines are being drawn on where privacy should begin and end.
Consumer concerns are only going to keep growing as long as brands remain leaky where data is concerned. Serial hacking victim TalkTalk has again been targeted in the past few weeks, with thousands of consumers’ internet router passwords potentially compromised. So while this prediction still has some way to run, the direction of travel is clear.
Verdict: Not far off
6. Programmatic in traditional media
There’s no doubt progress has continued at speed in this area.
As we predicted, out-of-home advertising has been the most prominent proving ground for programmatic among ‘traditional’ media this year, with a wealth of case studies from brands including Diageo, Missing People and Minicabit utilising the emerging functionality. These followed the roll-out of Outsmart’s new data management application, Space, which categorises each digital outdoor site in the UK under a unique code number in order to facilitate online auctions.
Other traditional media have so far been slower on the uptake, although programmatic TV is starting to gain traction in the US, where eMarketer expects spending to more than double over each of the next two years from a forecast of $710m (£561m), or 1% of the TV ad market, in 2016. In the UK, programmatic has a foothold in broadcasters’ video-on-demand services and is likely to spread into the ‘long tail’ of less watched TV programmes on smaller channels.
Verdict: Not far off
What we missed
We weren’t the only ones who didn’t foresee Donald Trump’s victorious campaign for the US presidency as being such a defining event, either for international affairs in general or the world of political marketing more specifically. Nor indeed was Brexit mentioned as a potential fly in the ointment for economic growth and marketing strategies in 2016 and beyond. Both events seemed less than likely this time last year.
The growth of ad blocking was perhaps the one other big marketing story absent from our predictions of agenda-setting issues, but it was a topic we had already covered extensively in 2015 and so was already well under way.
In general, though, we think we can take some satisfaction in our successful picks. Fingers crossed we score at least as well next year.
Overall verdict: More right than wrong