7 predictions for 2016 – what does the future hold for business, marketing and digital – and how to make the most of it

It’s the time of year when people look ahead and start thinking about what the next 12 months hold. The marketing industry is no exception so thought I’d be brief and to the point.

Here are my views on some of the biggest trends that I think will occur in 2016. With each one I have written a small ‘actions’ section which is intended to help brands be prepared and make the most out of developments.

  1. Digital and marketing continue to blend into one

Digital can no longer be viewed in isolation and while many brands have accepted this I see 2016 as being a pivotal. Siloed organisations continue to struggle to implement co-ordinated cross-channel strategies with different teams responsible for different channels – often with diverse KPIs. Digital is yet another example of these walls breaking down.  Digital lies at the heart of every business and digital trends are very much marketing trends and wider business trends. A brand’s digital capability is a core piece of its marketing – tied to everything; offline, online advertising, email, social, TV – you name it, the website is involved. So for brand’s to continue treating digital as a separate genre or channel is absurd.


More senior people with digital backgrounds need to be involved in important decisions and the silos need to be eradicated.  New strategies will involve new technology and techniques which will need to be embedded across the business and, you guessed it, digital experience is at the crux of this process.

  1. Sales evolves into ‘Relationship Marketing’

Sales from a single touch, phone call or email will increasingly be a thing of the past in 2016. The future of marketing is all about relationship building; relationships with brands and individuals (in B2C and B2B). From now it will be about building a customer journey over time and the building blocks of that journey are relationships. Some people call this Social Selling’ but in reality it’s simply using the channels you have to build your brand and communicating with potential customers on and around topics they are interested in.

This means more accurate and relevant content, social media outreach and the flexibility to respond promptly and with the correct information. Loyalty and engagement are the results of a sale built on relationships and with loyalty comes advocacy.


Empower your sales people to think about their personal brand and make them reconsider their relationship with the content itself. Are they having a say on what’s being written? Are they contributing? Are they even reading what the brand is producing? In order to establish strong relationships sales need to be up to speed with the latest views and opinions. Engaging positively and adding value to online debates will stand sales people in good stead when potential customers find their way further down the customer funnel.

  1. The continued growth of marketing automation

OK so it’s not necessarily new. Far from it in fact – we’ve been talking about it for years, it seems. But the simple fact is that in order to run effective cross-channel interactions in real time you cannot rely on manual marketing. Intelligent interactions need to be guided by sophisticated analysis and driven in real time by marketing automation. Customer expectations are always increasing and as the uptake of marketing automation continues so will it become the norm.


If you’re on the way with automation then good on you – just don’t stand still. It’s not a plug in, turn on and then leave approach. There are all sorts of things you can do with automation – some simple and some sophisticated. Above all you should be looking to add value to you customers’ experiences, making it easier for them to find what they want.

If you’re not currently using automation then join the party ASAP. Start small with newsletter sign ups, content follow ups and basic lead nurturing and then look to polish your approach through test and learn. Again, never stand still.

  1. Context

    Marketing in 2016 will be all about integrating context – what you know about your audience

    Ads becoming content and vice versa

2016 will see the lines blur between what’s content and what’s advertising. Consumers are entering a hitherto unknown era of choice. Not just in what they buy – that’s been around for a while – but rather in what they are shown and what they consume. With increasing privacy laws on the horizon and with the need to deliver a positive customer experience only increasing, more and more consumers will take control of which brands can communicate with them, how and when. Adblocking software is one example of this but as is the evolution of native advertising and the refinement of content marketing techniques.


Make sure your content is good. It’s as simple as that. Your content strategy needs to be based on what your customers want and need. Delve into what’s bothering them and what information you can provide to help them. You need to be producing content that people want to see. We are moving towards an utterly ‘opt-in’ marketing society so you’d better start forming relationships with customers otherwise you’ll find yourself shouting alone in an empty room.

  1. Search will evolve… once again

Google alone makes hundreds of changes to its algorithm every year so clearly organic search is going to continue to evolve. What will that look like? Well in my view all future changes will involve two factors 1) making the search engine more of an ‘answer engine’ so as to refine results to answer queries instantly – often within the search platform itself and 2) how search adapts to changing behaviour.

In my view the biggest challenge will be how search engines incorporate mobile apps and in-app content into their search results. Just because it’s in an app doesn’t affect its validity as the most useful piece of content available to answer a query – especially considering the on-going dominance of mobile.

Secondly, the continued development of the voice activated search assistant (each search engine has a different one) will prove interesting as it changes the dynamic of search behaviour (more towards ‘answer engines’) and how the search engines develop this process will be fascinating.


From an app perspective this one is simple – make sure that (as long as it’s relevant to your product and consumer) you have an app. Otherwise you may find yourself missing out on new SERP real estate that never existed before. It could be that after Mobilegeddon we’ll see more of a shift towards app content being given preference. Don’t jump into it though – to benefit the content has to be good, accurate and in the right place.

In regards to answer engines this could open up a whole new area of SEO – it’s a different dynamic and brands need to take control of where they appear and how during this new process of delivering content. So have a look now – check what tends to come up and start taking that into account. The more you understand it now the better placed you’ll be if/when it becomes more dominant.

  1. Instagram and snapchat ads will take off

It’s now totally normal to have more than one social network that you are regularly active on. Lots of accounts all linked and interacting with each other – how does that look in a customer journey? It’s tricky, that’s what it is. How I think this will pan out is that ads in the likes of Snapchat and Instagram will start to pay dividends.

This year we’ll see more and more methods across social media that provide direct action through engagement. This means click to buy buttons which can be placed to make the most of positive engagements and mean there are fewer steps for the consumer to take – anything from ‘purchase through a tweet’ to mobile click to call features.


Get a social presence on these platforms – share content and respond to inquiries. It’s about relationships and engagement so share things which are relevant to you and what you do. Do it well and start building communities of people interested in your offering. That way when you have the choice of CTAs in social media you’re talking to people already engaged. Don’t push it though – the relationship building comes first. All you are doing with a button in a post is making it easier for interested parties to make a purchase. In no way are you forcing people to do anything.

  1. User generated review culture content will take over

The media world has been quaking at the thought of User Generated Content (UGC) for years. Well now it’s the time for brands to feel the pinch. Yes brands are publishers and I can’t see this going away anytime soon but UGC content and review culture will have a significant impact. This will include online reviews, starring systems, Facebook posts and blogs. In the future there will be a very strong yet strange (almost symbiotic) relationship of content co-creation between consumers and brands.


If UGC is going to get as important as I think it is then there will be a huge need for brands to have more positive impacts on their customers. It (as always) will come down to great experience and great customer service. You will also need to make sure that you are best placed to make the most of positive feedback and capable of dealing quickly and efficiently with negatives and criticism (ideally don’t have it but if/when you do solve it quickly and effectively.

What do you think? Have I missed anything? Disagree with any of the above? Let me know in the comments or get in touch.

Experian Marketing Services is a leading global provider of consumer insights, targeting, data quality and cross-channel marketing. Through the Experian Marketing Suite we help organisations intelligently interact with today’s empowered and hyper-connected consumers.

By helping marketers identify their best customers, find more of them, and then coordinate seamless and intelligent interactions across the most appropriate channels, Experian Marketing Services’ clients can deepen customer loyalty, strengthen brand advocacy and maximise profits.

This article is about: 2016, Contextual marketing, Digital marketing, predictions