The start of a new year is an ideal time to take stock, re-assess your marketing strategy and take on board new functionality. 2016 is set to be another huge year in digital marketing and it always helps to plan ahead, even if things need to be adapted closer to the time.

We believe that the best strategies are formed from a combination of four key areas;
1. Evaluation of past performance – statistics and qualitative data
2. The situation specific to your business planning, calendar, objectives, goals and audience
3. Opportunities to differentiate from competitors
4. Opportunities created from new or untested ideas or functionality and ‘trends’ in a changing marketplace

What is a Trend really?

A quick side note – we always suggest using what are termed ‘trends’ pretty carefully as part of your business marketing plan. By its very nature, a ‘trend’ can sometimes be a bit of a ‘fad’, and the risk can be a bit of a gamble. As with anything you take on and invest in, you need to question how well this fits with your strategy, aims and target audience. For example, for some businesses, the growing popularity of wearable technology might be tempting to hook into, but unless this is relevant to your audience, it is not worth shoehorning in to your annual marketing plan for the sake of it.

Some small or medium sized businesses prefer to take a back seat when a new trend emerges, letting the rest of the market road-test it and take lessons from others rather than being the potentially expensive early adopters. Depending on your situation, finance and business, this can be a wise strategy, especially for new social media platforms.

So we’ve decided to focus this post on “usable trends” which are most likely to be relevant to your small business. As with any ideas these always need to be further discussed and cross-checked against your own situation and adapted with a plan to optimise performance.

Usable Trends & Ideas for 2016

1. Mobile & Non-Desktop Improvements

Mobile trend

Last year, Google announced that more searches take place on mobile devices than on desktops in 10 top countries. On average, smartphone users check their phones a staggering 221 times per day! However, only 12% of purchases are made on mobile currently; the opportunity is huge.  It’s nothing new that mobile and tablet strategy is big news; but 2016 has been widely predicted as the biggest year yet for m-commerce. If you’re a retailer with a mobile site that is underperforming, emails that don’t display well on mobile or website not optimised for mobile conversions, there has never been a more important time to invest in this, and not doing so could be an expensive mistake. These days, forward-thinking brands are realising that a mobile strategy is so critical that it should be entrenched into digital, commerce and social strategies from the very beginning.

Social commerce is also big news, with Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter all increasing their ‘click to buy’ focus in 2015. According to Retail Week, mobile commerce will be worth £2.5bn by 2016, having grown at almost 50% year-on-year. KissMetrics highlights this change as ‘the blurring of the line between e-commerce, social and apps’ in their 2016 trends list. Google indicating that apps will be indexed in search has prompted some to consider apps as a potential solution to meet mobile demand.

Away from e-commerce, (for example a sale of a high ticket item which requires an appointment or a service product), browsing on mobile is an important common early-stage in the evaluation process, that won’t result in a direct sale. However, coming back to your objectives, the strategy for mobile may be to drive data capture and some of the big changes in mobile and social could help here. For example, acquisition using new Facebook mobile lead generation ads should be tested by any business who this might be suitable for. Landing pages for mobile activity will also be critical to test, and ‘one size fits all’ is no longer relevant for various devices; mobile and desktop ads need to be differentiated.

Another big area to consider is Instagram adverts – one of Mashable’s top 14 mobile marketing trends to watch in 2016.

Key Actions – Mobile

  • Review your mobile and tablet statistics; how many visits translate to conversions from each channel? We suggest researching your audience frustrations, beyond the Google Analytics breakdown of conversions. Look into mobile checkout abandonment rates to uncover potential spend and directly ask your customers (in online surveys, focus groups etc), where things could be improved.
  • Set-up your social channels correctly and create your social media strategy to optimise for social commerce
  • Review new functionality in line with your own business objectives and audience (e.g. testing mobile lead-generation ads on Facebook)

2. Personalisation

Starbucks personalised

One key theme that has been increasing in popularity over the past five years is personalisation. We all know that the more personalised the message and tactics, the more effective the piece is; whether this is email or direct mail. Consumers are also seeking more shopping personalisation, with over 1 in 3 consumers seeking personalised products or services (according to recent research by Deloitte), leading to big changes for some businesses.

The rise of big data and intelligence businesses now have on their customers is huge – and personalisation is the incentive that turns this into a commercial advantage for brands. Where it gets really interesting though is uber-targeting at scale; a more sophisticated version of the traditional social media targeting based on just demographics, for example. This in turn brings with it the importance of CRM, and as Hubspot quote, the importance of managing the entire relationship, from initial lead to retained long-term engaged customers. The focus is moving away from short-term quick-wins, as businesses seek to invest in customer relationships with personalisation at the heart. Entrepreneur also emphasise the importance of getting the right CRM software solution to bridge the gap between marketing and sales and reduce data loss.

We’re also moving to a world where advertising is more personalised to the individual; going beyond Facebook custom audiences, media agencies are planning granular promotions that are specifically targeted to time and place per person. This is also reflected in the increased investment in ‘virtual assistant’ type technology and search, we might better know as Siri and Cortana, as well as Facebook and Google’s own versions (Webfor).

Key Actions – Personalisation

  • If you have a digital strategy, chances are that you’ll already be considering and testing many types of traditional personalisation, but 2016 is really the time to expand and try new areas based on highly segmented audiences and the channel at hand.
  • One-size-fits-all is no longer fit for purpose, and now would be a good time to review all your communications, considering every variant of your audience. For retailers, personalising commerce, incentives and developing a sophisticated CRM model and software to support it should all be going towards the top of the list. For those more advanced, utilising big data and the single customer view would be one to finally crack in 2016.

3. Content Marketing

It will be no surprise that content marketing is huge news this year too, with growth in 2015 across both B2B and B2C. With its relative value for money against traditional advertising (62% cheaper per lead), it is no wonder that so many brands are investing in it. Content is one of those growth areas that has grown so quickly, it has left many organisations without a coherent plan, according to Smart Insights, leaving too much business on the table.

Content marketing and strategy should be about being effective and targeted with quality being more important than quantity. Not surprisingly, enriched and personalised content is most successful, with 56% higher response and engagement rates and 43% more conversion. Storytelling puts the consumer in the driving seat as well as helping drive brand awareness through real engagement, avoiding advertising fatigue.

Where, and how we do this is increasingly important; too many brands have been victim to the ‘post on our channels and hope it will be found’ philosophy! states that 2016 will be the start of the omni-channel publishing era, and that the magazine of the future is no longer the one you print yourself; it’s everywhere your audience hangs out (similar to social media and PR). It’s this sponsored (or native) content and how we drive audiences to each touchpoint that will be key. Leading on from this, the Head of BBC Worldwide Digital Studios highlights in Econsultancy that brands will become content creators, with even more content being told from UGC, and we’d add in partnerships with bloggers and vloggers as being central to this.

Omni-channel content strategy -

Omni-channel content strategy –

Key Actions – Content Marketing

  • Conduct a review of your current content, and using the model above define how you currently promote content, and what you’ll need to adapt going forwards. How will this change your focus, partnerships and internal management? Where can you seed or sponsor the right content to reach new relevant audiences?
  • Reflect on your 2015 content and honestly critique whether each piece has been for quality or quantity, together with objectives of each. Review your highest and lowest performing three posts – what worked well or not so well with your audience? Take any lessons on board when formulating your 2016 content plan.
  • Split the focus between paid and organic and have a strategy for each.
  • Plan ahead and consult internally and with partners to optimise your content plan for maximum impact.

4. Video

Video trend

The video market is another area that has been widely expanding and expected to really hit in 2016. In particular in mobile video ads, where the market is expected to reach over $13 billion by 2020 and has already grown rapidly in 2015 (AdGate Media).

Video content is also growing, with rich content becoming increasingly popular, with short videos under 30 seconds performing well last year on Facebook. Cisco predicted that video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic by 2017. Virtual Reality and Oculus Rift (now owned by Facebook) are all over every trends report, and any smartphone integration could lead to personalised as well as immersive video experiences. Facebook 360 also promises an immersive experience that can only be made richer via data personalisation.

World Surf League Facebook 360 Video

World Surf League – Facebook 360 Video

Key Actions – Video

  • Although some brands can struggle to produce a high volume of high quality video content, with user-generated content, video ads and short-form video such as Vine, Instagram and Snapchat can be used for informal and behind-the-scenes footage. Brands who haven’t yet considered video for richer content need to take note.
  • Live video (such as Facebook Live and Periscope – see below) is a big one to watch this year and certainly needs testing for your brand if appropriate. Brands with an active community on Facebook should test the Facebook feature to live-stream directly from the app onto users’ newsfeeds.

5. Emerging Platforms

Periscope trend

As suggested earlier, considering adding new social platforms to your content marketing strategy should always be taken with a pinch of salt. However, these can always go on your radar, in terms of monitoring and tracking competitor or industry activity, as ones to watch.

You can’t read many 2016 trends reports without coming across Periscope and Snapchat as the next big channels to hit social media for brands. Some have tried and tested these in 2015, with varied success. One thing they both have in common though is quick expiration of content, meaning brands need to find exclusive and enticing content to engage with immediacy and impact.

Key Actions – Emerging Platforms

  • As indicated at the start of this article, we always recommend that brands only operate a planned social presence on channels which match both your objectives and where your target audience are likely to spend time. However, we do recommend keeping an eye on new channels, especially where they overlap with other big trends this year, such as live video and personalised conversations.
  • We also recommend keeping track of emerging developments in your current platforms, to ensure you are aware of new functionality and changes, something that is a given with all social media!

6. Automation


Digital marketing has become increasingly sophisticated and time-intensive, resulting in many automations that may be familiar, such as social media scheduling and email responder automation. Latest waves in the last few years have brought on new areas, such as If This, Then That automation, which triggers a specific reaction based on an action (this became popular with social media automation and lead generation).

In the third quarter of last year, it was reported that programatic ad spend was set to surge, with 90% of advertising execs set to increase their “programmatic investment” by more than a third over the next year. Operational efficiencies, competitive advantage and improved targeting are among the reasons cited for utilising this relatively new media technology. The Trade Desk and The Drum cite this example of improved targeting to reach new relevant audiences:

“Brands can take that a step further. ‘Rugby lovers’ alone can be a small audience so that pot can be expanded by finding new people who behave like current customers. Are rugby fans more likely to be pet owners? Do they live in the city or suburbs? Known as lookalike modelling, it is the methodology advertisers use to define the users they are after on ad exchanges.”

Social Media Minute (from Social Bakers) notes though that we mustn’t go too far with automation and mistake this as a replacement for real and genuine customer service on social.

Key Actions – Automation

  • Take stock of your current processes and any automations – if you have any automation in place, ask if it is best-placed or if it may be taking away an interaction that should be human? If you don’t yet use automation, could you create some efficiencies without taking anything away from your brand values?
  • Any company who is serious about paid advertising should be investigating programmatic ad management and using the right tools to get the right audience for the best spend.

7. Customer Centricity

Customer Centric

It’s no secret that customers are increasingly at the driving seat. However, 2016 threatens to be the year that brands who fail to let customers take control and recognise the importance of this, will fail in other ways. Various new tools and techniques are likely to help reduce the gap between brand and customer, such as Facebook’s new website and brand page integration, through to more granular organic conversations throughout.

As social media customer service and customer opinion becomes increasingly weighted, who knows what aspect will be applied to what next. Perhaps Facebook response times or customer feedback ratings will be fed into organic algorithms this year! One thing is for certain, the customer is king, and any brand who closes their wall, ignores tweets or DMs from customers or otherwise doesn’t reach the increasing standards of customer support online is likely to face a backlash.

Key Actions – Customer Centricity

  • Audit your customer service activity, in particular online and social media support. Are there any common themes or trends, or areas that require internal investigation before issues escalate? Is the brand responding to queries appropriately and within good time? Are listening activities taking place to proactively respond to online conversations and improve sentiment? Plan and implement any changes, internally and externally, to improve quality.
  • Implement any new functionality to facilitate better communication with potential and current customers. Do you get a lot of traffic but struggle to convert sales on your website? Adding Facebook’s page integration or a live chat function to checkout could be a good test and may provide more insight into the sales process than you might think.

2016 Planning Process – Time to Get Started!

We hope you find these ideas helpful in kicking off your 2016 strategy if you haven’t had chance to review your plans at the end of last year. The opportunities are huge and implementing some of the above ideas should help to drive your planning process. It’s useful if this type of review can be a year-round activity too, or at least evaluated once per quarter, to keep your planning fresh and agile.

Due to the combination of speed and importance of digital marketing as part of your business strategy, it is important for any business to also take the time to evaluate their setup. For example, according to research by Smart Insights, many managers are struggling to hire the right skills into their digital marketing team (over 60% say it is challenging or very challenging), suggesting a skills gap. Not surprising, when the industry as a whole is looking for data scientists to lead on the increasing mathematical sophistication required. Depending on recruitment timings to find the right candidate, some brands might be best supported by external consultants at least in the short-term to help make sure the business is ready for the challenges of digital strategy in 2016.


We’ve found a few freebies on the web to help you get started:

Good luck with your 2016 strategy! If you have any queries about digital trends or our suggestions, drop us a line for a quick chat and receive more personalised recommendations.

Related posts – 2015 – Year in Review


Like our posts? Signup to our newsletter!

* indicates required