The world of online advertising is complex and ever-changing, but it's also exciting and filled with promise. As innovation in advertising technology continues to evolve, old-hat tactics, such as direct response marketing, are quickly becoming obsolete.
It's no secret that early-adopters of new channels get a leg up on the competition and solidify their positions as leaders in their industry, so here's a list of digital marketing predictions set to reshape the online advertising landscape in 2016.
Prediction #1: Ad blockers will shed their status as public enemy no. 1.
The emergence of ad blockers has had the entire digital marketing industry up in arms in 2015 -- even South Park recently weighed in on the debate in an episode dubbed "Sponsored Content".
There's such a furor because advertising is the lifeblood for most publishers; they rely heavily on advertisers to pay the bills, and with no way to monetize their audience they fear their revenue models will crumble. But the reality is that ad blockers weren't created to wipe out digital publishers -- they were built to tame the influx of disruptive advertising messages that are involuntarily being thrust upon web users on a daily basis.
My prediction is that ad blocking companies will begin to whitelist trusted programmatic advertising partners who promote truly valuable content. As a result, we're likely to see a measurable decrease in clickbait--web content that's created solely to generate advertising revenue, sometimes to the detriment of quality and accuracy.
Advertisers and publishers: lay down your pitchforks and torches. Ad blockers aren't the evil advertising adversaries they've been made out to be. Throughout 2016, there's likely to be an industry-wide shift whereby they won't be perceived so much as "blockers," but more as "filters" that allow only the best content to percolate through to the screens of web users.
Prediction #2: The worlds of ad-tech and mar-tech will continue to collide.
Marketers and advertisers are ultimately working toward the same goal: they're both dedicated to driving revenue and consumer behaviour. Yet historically, they have used completely different technologies to reach these common objectives. But that's all set to change in 2016.
The new year will see a greater convergence between advertising technology and marketing technology. Where advertising is traditionally more about "push" strategies, marketing typically leans towards "pull" tactics. Despite their differing purposes and target audiences, the two are increasingly joining forces through software integrations.
This amalgamation is largely being fuelled by the industry-wide data explosion.
"From a brand's point of view, ad-tech companies facilitate the buying and selling of online ad space, where marketing technology companies have traditionally provided services including email services and CRM -- helping brands to run more effective campaigns to power sales," explains Mike Peralta in Digital Marketing Magazine. "However, with the valuable data that can now be gleaned from such activities, the services offered by both types of company are beginning to overlap."
The rise of programmatic advertising is further blurring the lines between ad-tech and mar-tech solutions. Once a means of media buying that was left solely to the "experts," programmatic is fast becoming central to every digital marketing strategy and will account for the majority of online advertising spend over the next few years.
Prediction #3: Content capabilities will be brought in-house.
Brands are increasingly sidelining agencies in a bid to become publishers. The marriage between technology and publishing has meant that brands are increasingly forming their own in-house "newsrooms" and content hubs. These hubs treat consumer engagement in the same way that a publisher would treat its audience, further demonstrating that brands are ditching sporadic media coverage in favour of continuous flows of content designed to build audiences and drive conversation.
In-house content production allows brands to better align their messages with current events, popular culture and industry trends on the fly. Throughout the next year, we're likely to see a rise in the adoption of brand-side technologies designed to aid content creation and curation, the seamless licensing of user-generated content, and content amplification.
Prediction #4: Live-streaming will take social engagement to new levels.
Interactivity is at the heart of what the Internet is all about. It's what differentiates it from other forms of media, like television and radio, which rely on captive audiences. The emergence of popular live-streaming apps (like Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat) are facilitating a massive change in the world of online video advertising, and 2016 will see more and more brands tap into this exciting new channel.
Brands including Spotify, Red Bull and General Electric are already exploring ways to integrate live-steaming into their digital marketing strategies in an effort to build thought-leadership and drive engagement, particularly to target millennials -- a consumer segment that's increasingly responsive to live-streaming video. I predict brands will leverage it to showcase new products, facilitate live Q&A sessions, and offer consumers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their organizations.
Prediction #5: Narrow artificial intelligence makes inroads into online advertising.
Believe it or not, 2015 has been a big year for narrow artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, a senior fellow from Google even remarked that computers are "starting to open their eyes." The pace of advancement in AI is speeding up, and tech industry giants including Facebook, Microsoft and Google have now each created their own AI labs dedicated to research and development within the field. But how will their findings help to advance online advertising?
The Guardian's John Still suggests that, in a way, we're already using artificial intelligence in digital marketing. "In advertising, we can offer a hundred different variants of a banner ad and target them in a granular way. Or we might as well make one single banner and let it choose one of 100 states. The outcome is the same, but it starts to sound a bit like artificial intelligence," he explains.
"Then if you give the system a bit more power to choose combinations of elements, even a language engine to create its own copy, and give it feedback to learn from, maybe by measuring interaction, you have the beginnings of artificially created ads."
Advertisers are looking for new ways to create deeply engaging experiences for consumers, and AI might be just the ticket. In 2016 the same logic that's been applied to banners may begin to trickle down into the realm of content-driven marketing campaigns, and savvy brands and agencies will be at the forefront of its research, development and implementation. AI may also provide a means of helping marketers better understand the impact of content beyond rudimentary engagement-based metrics, such as time on site and social shares.
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