Monday, December 21st, 2015 | 16 min read
Remember the scene from Minority Report when John Anderton walks through a tunnel of advertisements that scan his eyes? In depictions of the future, marketing is portrayed as an evil presence—like Big Brother isn’t just watching you, he’s also calling out your name and bombarding you with inescapable, unwanted propaganda.
Full disclosure: marketing is moving closer to hyper-personalization every day, but it’s not a bad thing—it’s actually great news for consumers. 2016 will be a year for brands to enhance their customers’ experiences through marketing. Information about customers will be used to eliminate the need for broadcasted advertisements. Marketing will be individualized, and the content pushed to customers will be content that they actually want to see.
Brands now have to earn the right to engage with their customers before trying to sell them something. That’s the future of marketing, and we’re all living it.
Here are six marketing trends to watch in 2016, with some predictions about how they’ll revolutionize the customer experience.
The jury is still out on what virtual reality (VR) marketing will look like in the coming year, but a lot of VC funding indicates that it’s here to stay.
This type of technology was initially created for gaming purposes, but marketers and brands are already exploring how it can be adopted to create immersive content experiences.
In early November, the New York Times Magazine ushered in a new era of “virtual reality journalism” when they gave away 1.2 million Google Cardboard devices to their subscribers, who they invited to view a short film about three children growing up in the global refugee crisis. The Times also rolled out a VR viewing app and partnered with General Electric and MINI to release a pair of branded VR videos.
Google Cardboard is by far the most affordable VR device, selling for as low as $14.99. Other more sophisticated devices will come out in 2016, including the Facebook-supported Oculus Rift and Sony’s Morpheus Headset. Meanwhile, Oculus and Samsung have partnered to create a $99 VR device that works with Samsung smartphones.
The combination of VR and smartphone tech will allow for a range of VR experiences. Netflix and 20th Century Fox are already on board to bring TV and movies to VR devices. It’s also easy to imagine VR technology being used to live stream events or offer a more personal, in-your-face video chat experience.
In a recent article, Contently called the New York Times’ VR initiative the future of content marketing. It’s easy to let your mind run wild with all of the cool stuff we’ll soon be able to do with VR tech.
Imagine someone is using a VR device to explore Mumbai, where they’ll travel to in a few months. Wouldn’t it be cool if the ads and promoted content that they saw were tailored to their interests? For example, they could receive a discount code for Air India or a branded video about the history of the city.
The up-close nature of VR devices will force marketers to innovate in a way they haven’t needed to, as of yet. Customers’ eyes will be closer than ever to content, and they’ll likely watch on personal devices, so marketers will have to create especially entertaining, hyper-personalized content.
Imagine that you’re trying to find a new pair of comfy shoes, so you check out the Crocs website. Below the promotional images, halfway down the page, you find a series of images submitted by people who own and love Crocs. There are pictures of people wearing Crocs on the beach, little kids romping around outside, even a kitten crawling over a shoe.
User-generated content (UGC) is like a positive review, an advertisement, and a display of brand loyalty, all in one—and it will surpass branded content in importance in 2016. Both CoverGirl and Revlon have fan content to thank for 99% of their views on Youtube, and 84% of millennials are influenced by UGC when looking to make a purchase.
While customer reviews will always be valuable, brands that also use content created by users (like the images on the Crocs website) will pull ahead. People often doubt the authenticity of online product reviews, but UGC that validates a product is a lot harder to fake.
Using content created by customers not only makes them feel loved and recognized; it also creates a more native feel for consumers. UGC can also open doors for interaction between customers. If a person following Airbnb on Instagram sees a photo of a place they want to visit, they could easily follow the photographer and see what else they did on their trip.
Similarly, GoPro uses their Instagram account to bring together a community of adventure-seeking people who can follow and engage with one another. In return, GoPro gets incredible images from their customers, showing the world how their products can be used.
Social platforms have come a long way since their inception. Gone are the days of simply logging on to see photos of your friend’s recent beach vacation or catch an update about your former co-worker’s new job. Social platforms now function as media hubs, e-commerce sites, and powerful search tools.
Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter all adopted social buy buttons in the past year, and while Facebook leads the charge in terms of overall site functionality, others will likely follow suit.
Facebook’s new search function not only scans all of their social content for results; it also provides web search results. Meanwhile, their publishing function, “Instant Articles,” is changing media as we know it, as customers will no longer have to leave Facebook to read articles from nine major US and UK based publications.
In the coming year, social sites will continue to add functionality that allows users to accomplish more on their sites.
Social platforms with a wide range of functionalities provide a more holistic experience for customers. Online shoppers can discover, purchase, and share products all in one place, and people can consume video and articles without leaving their social platform of choice.
That’s exciting if you’re a social platform, because it means that people will stay on your site for longer. It also makes things easier for customers, as they won’t need to have so many tabs open while doing their last-minute holiday shopping.
Perhaps, in the future, people will become increasingly loyal to one or two social platforms that best meet all of their needs, and the rest will fall by the wayside.
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to everyday objects connected to a network, allowing them to send and receive data. So far, wearable technology, like fitness trackers and smartwatches, has made the biggest footprint in this space, but there are many household smart devices—most involving temperature regulation, energy saving, and home security.
By 2016, IoT is expected to see a user adoption rate of 28%, which will provide a better picture of what individuals like and what their needs are through real-time, behavioral data. Marketers can then refine their messaging and create more personalized content, resulting in higher consumer engagement.
Say someone has a couple of fitness apps on their phone, and their FitBit has data indicating that they frequently run. When their news feeds have ads for discounted running gear, or promotions for half marathons, they’ll be more likely to engage because it’s relevant to what they care about. But, as users grow to expect more relevant content, marketers have to be ready to use their targeting powers carefully—blasting customers with unwanted content can actually make them less loyal to your brand.
You walk into your favorite store, and your phone buzzes. You receive a list of discounts on offer that day; hand towels are 50% off. You need hand towels. Life. Made.
Beacon technology allows marketers to utilize the proximity of customers to brick-and-mortar stores to deliver relevant content. It can combine the benefits of online shopping with an in-store experience by sending customers promotions, suggesting items to buy, and helping shoppers find their way around the store.
Brands like Duane Reade, Macy’s, and McDonald’s have already begun to experiment with beacon technology, and several have found innovative ways to deploy location-based marketing.
Many major brands are still in the testing phase with beacon technology, but in 2016 we’ll see the technology adopted even more widely.
With location-based technology, customers can log in more quickly at events, airports, and hotels; find what they’re looking for in stores; and receive personalized coupons while shopping. Beacons have the potential to bridge the gap between virtual and physical experiences by offering features in-store that are typically only possible online. Items can be recommended based on things customers have already viewed, and promotional materials can be sent to customers while they’re shopping.
Promotions can also be tailored to customers’ specific interests, making it more likely that they’ll use them.
Research shows that using retail apps in conjunction with beacon technology can encourage 5 times the typical in-store engagement. Moreover, by making the shopping experience more intuitive, personalized, and interactive, beacon technology has the potential to alleviate the pressure on busy in-store employees.
The modern customer expects a lot out of customer service. Brands already know that they have to meet their customers on all of the major social channels, but many will take their customer care even further in 2016 with streamlined multi-channel customer service.
Brands will need to provide consistent experiences on any platform their customers choose, transfer customer data seamlessly between platforms, and instantly recognize a customer (and his/her history with the company) no matter where they interact with the brand.
Imagine how great a customer would feel if, after emailing a brand when a zipper on a new pair of pants broke, they receive a phone call from a customer service rep, who already knows their name and what their problem is. A few days later the customer receives a package in the mail with a new pair of pants as well as a prepaid box for them to return the faulty ones. And the next time they visit a brick-and-mortar store, the person swiping their credit card asks how the replaced jeans are holding up.
Improved customer service experiences increase customer retention and brand loyalty. Streamlined multi-channel customer service will enable people to more easily interact with brands when they need help fixing problems. They will also avoid the hassle of having to explain their problem multiple times on different platforms.
The digital revolution and the magnitude of social has transformed consumer behavior, and multi-channel customer service is one way that brands can begin to catch up. Meeting customers where they want to be met will not only help brands stand out from the competition, it will soon be compulsory.
Brands will have to invest in a more integrated technology infrastructure—a customer experience cloud—in order to have complete profiles of customers across all customer touchpoints. This means moving away from one-point solutions (think a tool for content marketing, another for social media marketing, and so on); instead, they should focus on integrating data and processes across departments, from marketing to sales and customer service.
Advancements in technology make it easier than ever for marketers to connect with consumers in a more human, authentic way—mainly through providing remarkable experiences. Enhanced customer experience comes from several themes present in the six marketing trends predicted to dominate in 2016, including personalization, hyper-relevance, high entertainment value, and timeliness. And since 89% of businesses are soon expected to compete mainly on customer experience, organizations that weave these themes into their marketing campaigns throughout 2016 are poised to stand out from the noise and win over loyal customers.
About the Author: Shauntle Barley is a Content Associate at Sprinklr, based in New York, NY. She recently graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies and a minor in German.
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