Marketing Trends for 2016 – Will we be in a post-digital era?

Our look at the latest trends in digital media and technology and how they will impact marketing in 2016

At the start of each year, there is always a lot of interest in predictions for the year ahead and the latest marketing trends."What's Hot?" and "What's Next?" are always the most common questions when I give webinars and talks!

What are the latest digital marketing trends for 2017?

I originally wrote this post in early 2016 and, as you'll know, the digital marketing world moves fast, so in a new post, I have recommendations on key trends for 2017. Hopefully, you'll find different ideas there. This post looks at integration and the challenges of digital transformation, the new post looks at 5 different types of trends each business should consider and specific trends that should change your approach.

What do you think will be single biggest trend in digital media and technology in 2016?

To inform my thinking on marketing innovation, I'm always interested to hear the view of "hands-on" marketers in businesses running digital marketing activities as to what they see as the most important trends and I'm grateful for readers input into research like that shared in our Managing Digital Marketing report which we will be updating later in the year.

In a poll launched in the Autumn I asked readers to give their views on which digital marketing techniques will matter most to their businesses in 2016. The question was:

Since we're talking trends, I'm interested to hear your opinion on THE biggest trend in digital marketing as shown by what will make the most difference to your business (or your clients if you work for an agency or as a consultant), i.e. which digital marketing technique will give you the most uplift or incremental benefits?

This graph shows the results of our survey as of 8 February 2016. Our poll received over 1,500 answers, so thanks to all those who took part.

Digital Marketing activities with the greatest impact

Here, for your reference, is the full alphabetical break-down of activities which helps explain the results. For example, Big Data is surprisingly high, but this includes market insight and predictive analytics

  • Big Data (including market and customer insight and predictive analytics)
  • Content marketing
  • Communities (Branded niche or vertical communities)
  • Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) / improving website experiences
  • Display (Banners on publishers, ad networks social media including retargeting and programmatic)
  • Internet of Things (IoT) marketing applications Marketing Automation (including CRM, behavioural Email marketing and web personalisation)
  • Mobile marketing (Mobile advertising, site development and apps)
  • Paid search marketing, e.g. Google AdWords Pay Per Click Online PR (including influencer outreach)
  • Partnerships including affiliate and co-marketing
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) S
  • Social media marketing including Social CRM and Social Customer Care
  • Wearables (e.g. Apple Watch, activity trackers, augmented reality)

Trends in consumer purchase behaviour

Following the views from marketers and businesses, changes in consumer use of digital media and technology is core to understanding trends in digital marketing. Today's consumer buying decision is certainly getting more complex...

The increasing complexity of the purchase decision

We're continuing to see consumer decision behaviour increase in complexity. This example of today's complex consumer purchase behaviour from research analysts GfK shows the complexity of today’s customer journeys across multiple devices and through time, particularly for high involvement or high-value purchases, such as insurance in this instance.

Car Insurance Multichannel journey

The graphic shows how involved today's purchase decision is. Over a 35 day period it averaged 9 visits to 5 different websites amounting to 34 minutes in total. The influence of online channels is clear with 82% of purchasers researching online against 4% using offline only.

Increasing mobile usage

This year we have also seen a continued strong growth in mobile use, shown clearly by Mary Meeker's annual mobile trends round-up from earlier in the year. So, unsuprisingly, the use of mobile marketing will continue to be one of key trends to follow in 2016.

Digital Transformation: From 'Digital Silos' to Integrated teams

For some time, there has been increasing talk of a need for a 'post-digital marketing world' marketing world where the use of digital media and technology in marketing has become so ubiquitous we no longer complete separate "digital marketing activities" since they should be fully integrated and simply part of marketing. This thinking is partly driven by changes in consumer media consumption where they continue to consume content in different formats without consciously thinking about which devices or channels. The 'post-digital' thinking is also driven by problems of managing marketing activities in a business where a common problem with upskilling in digital is that 'digital silos' are created where different parts of marketing and their agencies don't communicate effectively giving rise to campaigns that don't work across media.

For example, according to an interview with TFM, HSBC global head of marketing for commercial banking and global banking and markets, Amanda Rendle, has said she has banned the word ‘digital’ to encourage her team to think beyond organisational silos. Rendle says:

We need to go back to what marketing is, and the product is marketing. More people need to remember that, get off the drug of digital being something separate and get back to what we do best".

She says the types of roles she is looking for might end up being called customer engineers or customer journey engineers. A key problem for HSBC, she says, is that it has an abundance of insights on customers but having staff to translate that into actions is a hindrance.

"We need customer insight roles where their job is insight but it’s also about looking at what do those insights really mean? You have so much insight now but can you tell me what we need to do? How do you take all that and turn it into something really useful for our customer? That’s what we absolutely should be doing."

Similarly Jeff Dodds, the Chief Executive of Tele 2 Netherlands since April 2014 and previously CMO for Virgin Media speaking to the CIM Catalyst magazine in Sept 2014 says:

"To talk about digital as some kind of separate entity is to not understand it. Our lives ARE digital is not a thing, it is simply a more flexible, response and efficient way to do business."

He continues,

"There is too much talk about roles: digital job titles, digital strategies". Digital is not something that needs a job title. This perpetuates the myth that it is a singular, siloed thing. I find some of the terminology that is used incredibly frustrating".

Interesting. This certainly shows the way thinking should be heading in future, but it's a long way from the reality for many businesses who are only just starting to get to adjust to digital marketing. In his article, A "Post Digital" World, Really?, Y&R Chairman and CEO David Sable makes the case that, far from being post-digital, we are only at the beginning of being digital, and that fresh ideas can be found everywhere.

When I talk to businesses and we ask businesses to rate their digital capabilities I find that many are an early stage of adopting digital marketing techniques. Results from our new interactive "Digital Marketing Benchmarking tool" which asks about the detail of what could and should be marketing, shows that many are still at level 1 or 2 on a 5 point maturity scale.

The way I see it, at early levels of adoption you have to make the commitment to transform marketing by setting goals for digital marketing, setting an integrated digital strategy and bringing in specialist digital marketing skills - through a combination of new hires for new roles, use of agencies and re-skilling existing marketers. New marketing processes are also needed which integrate digital to the heart of strategy, investment and marketing campaigns. Naturally this can't happen overnight, particularly since changes in marketing technology are also needed to support the integration of digital marketing, so many businesses now have digital transformation programmes to support this.

Ultimately the aim in the mature organisations should be to reduce specialist digital skills and agencies as digital becomes integrated as part of marketing activities. Digital silos should shrink and specialist Digital marketing managers should reduce in number although I believe there will always be a need for a 'Digital Centre of Excellence' to evaluate the latest digital marketing trends, set standards, manage technology projects and complete advanced optimisation.

The rise of the Chief Marketing Technologist

Another trend within the management of marketing today is the shift in control of marketing technology from IT and Sales to Marketing. Selecting the most relevant Martech from the increasingly complex Marketing Technology landscape is a major challenge as we now literally have thousands of different cloud services vying to be part of the Marketing Stack.

The challenge of integrating digital and traditional marketing

Our latest research on Managing Digital Marketing in 2016 suggested progress as marketers move towards integrated planning of digital and traditional activities, but there is still plenty of room for improvement with only one-quarter of companies satisfied with their level of integration across digital and traditional communications and 5% fully integrated and optimised.'

assessment of integration of digital

The chart certainly shows this is a challenge which many businesses are trying to meet. The most detrimental factor to 'integrated planning' is the lack of planning, as many companies have separate traditional marketing and digital marketing teams who work independently when it comes to planning their marketing as Amanda Rendle refers to when she says:

“In many organisations where they are behind on digital what happens is they hire in someone to be a head of digital or ecommerce as separate functions.”

All of a sudden, that person hires a load of marketer/customer experience champions, so you end up with two marketing departments. For any organisation it’s huge waste of resource to have two teams doing the same thing. That’s the real danger

How do you see it - do we live in a "post-digital world" or do you think specific digital marketing skills and roles will be required.

To see more predictions from Smart Insights commentating on which marketing techniques you should pay attention to in 2016 see our compilation of Digital Marketing Trends for 2016. It covers social media, email marketing and search.

Share your thoughts

  • Content marketing is definitely the long runner in the field of promotion activities. As every product or service domain industry capturing the interest of the audience through unique concept selling only. Thank you for sharing the fact insights! It’s really helpful.

    • Thanks for your comment Minisha – indeed content marketing is here for the long-run – Content Marketing gives a great way to integrate all the digital marketing tools, particularly if you have a strategy.

  • Bhavana commented on August 30, 2016

    Very informative article Sir. Do you foresee any risks accompanied by such digital transformation?

  • Biggest trend for the remainder of 2016? I think ‘local’ SEO followed by mobile – thanks Dave 🙂

  • Very Important thought

  • Great!

  • Accrue commented on May 6, 2016

    Hey Dave, Great article! I think content marketing and mobile marketing is going to be the trend this year. In all my campaigns, I pay lot of focus on both of them and they seem to deliver really good results.

    • Sanjeev Kumar Singh commented on May 26, 2016

      This year 2016 will focus more on satisfying the needs of the stakeholders through stratified marketing focus. Consumers and customers are no more a ‘NEED’ in Marketing, they are only a ‘REQUIREMENT’. This year will focus on ‘Stakeholders’ if the firm wants to survive…

    • Sanjeev Kumar Singh commented on May 26, 2016

      There is more marketing strategies on B2C to satisfy both the consumers (Cash and Carry) also to the stakeholders, by more flow of revenue to the firm. Marketing Personnel emphasizing on B2C will be recognized and more possibilities of incremental benefits. This year and further will focus more closer to consumer and customer therefore timely updates about them is been fed to their corporate…. CONSUMER AND CUSTOMER ARE A “REQUIREMENT”, AND ‘not’ ANYMORE A “NEED”…. Profit Gearing will be the moto, but gain strategically, through communication and studying them.

  • Marc commented on April 28, 2016

    Cool post. I like it.

  • This is nice blog to read and well explained about the marketing trends.

    Chandru From Bizbilla – Leading b2b marketplace

  • I like how content marketing has been growing and it’s surprisingly above the social media marketing and seo tactics. I thought they would be at the top along with mobile marketing. Great article and thanks for sharing!

  • Great article Dave! I couldn’t agree more with your points on silos. As a marketing firm who specialise in websites, SEO & Social media, it still surprises me that a client will ask us to achieve one goal while telling a firm dealing with the traditional forms of media (ie. TV, radio, print) different advertising objectives. It not only makes our jobs harder to achieve, but also the entire campaign redundant in some cases.

    • Thanks for your comments – yes integration is a big challenge – our research shows it’s one of the biggest pain points. You show that you have silos outside a company too with different agencies responsible for different activities. In a post-digital world they will all have to work more closely together or be consolidated.

  • Amazing Post about of Digital Marketing !! We know that now internet time. Every business needs connect with social media activity. Thankyou for sharing post.

  • Great article Dave – I tend to see (and agree) that the big focus will be on marketing automation and particularly mobile customer experience. I also think that many companies still need to have ‘a plan’ to integrate digital into daily business life or simply fall behind their competition. I keep seeing ‘no plan at all’ but more ‘I need a website…or I need to be on Twitter’ but no cohesion. Thanks! Great read.

    • Thanks for your comment Mark! Yes, we still see that ‘no plan’ running at around 50% across businesses – that’s how we hope to help – with tools to create that cohesive plan.

  • Hussain Omar commented on February 8, 2016

    Hey Dave,

    Interesting stats, revealed a lot of data that will help us taking serious decision in 2016.
    I think mobiles and smartphones will continue to each from the desktop share this year too.

    Thanks for sharing

  • Hey,

    It’s a very interesting article. I agree that mobile will definitely dominate in 2016. Thank you.
    Maybe you would also be interested in reading my article on the same subject here – ?

  • Thanks for sharing the great information about the Marketing. This is the great article for marketing. It was easy to understand and also easy to implement.
    Best digital marketing services in India

  • In 2016, We will see Search, Mobile, Social, Display and Video as emerging trends of Digital Marketing that will dominate across industries and it will lead to proven ROI over any other marketing platforms.

    Please browse this presentation for reference –

    • With Google’s position on favoring mobile searches and the new Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), this is where we see the biggest increases.

  • Thank you for sharing a great post. Your article helps a lot to know the trends of 2016 in digital marketing

  • I saw an interesting quote earlier that said something along the lines of ‘Conversation is king, content is just something to talk about’.
    I think that sums up how our team are approaching 2016 – yes we have a focus on content marketing, but the purpose of that is to start conversations with our audience. We find them within niche communities and through work that we do with partners and associations. It’s important for us in 2016 to facilitate more discussions with our audience. That involves a real mix of the techniques above.

    • Hi Martin – thanks for the intelligent comment sharing your experiences in B2B Technology Marketing – basing CM assets around conversations would work well there. In B2C it’s similar – with the right asset – rather than simple ‘Content Distribution’ or ‘Digital Distribution’ many talk about.

  • Great poll! Looks like in 2016, digital marketers are predicting that content marketing and marketing automation will be the marketing trends for next year. 🙂

    • That’s right – it’s switched around a little since previous years – with Marketing Automation now moving ahead of content marketing.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Dan Jak
        Dan Jak commented on November 14, 2015

        Content marketing is a buzz word of 2015 meaning nothing, I think. What is it without marketing automation? It’s nothing, right?
        Great article Dave! Really good!

        • Hi Dan – it’s been a while – I hope your year was good – what’s new in your Email marketing world?

          I can see you’re just a tad cynical about Content Marketing! It does depend on sector of course – Email marketing still outperforms in many and it depends on the acquisition vs retention focus!


          • Dan Jak
            Dan Jak commented on November 16, 2015

            Hi Dave,
            Yes, long time indeed.
            My year so far has its ups and downs but it’s getting better now – third week in a new role makes this year worthwhile 😉 It’s been good, really good. How about you?

            Well, I’m not trying to be sarcastic, but only honest. There was a lot conversations about content this and last year, and its almighty power, but it needs to be super-amazing/cool/timely to be successful when it’s not targeted. Everyone remembers Oreo ad during Super Bowl blackout, but this will not happen to every content that is being published. I get the benefit of having rich content on websites around products when it stops potential customers going away to do their research. It may also stop them from getting a better deal somewhere else – the power of Google.
            What I was trying to say is that content is very powerful when presented to the right person at the right time.

            On top of this, in digital world, all of its strands go hand-in-hand i.e. there is no automation without content, and there is no content without automation etc. So, for all the professionals that nailed content this year, next year will be a year of automation and vice-versa. On top of this all sits data, which is the most powerful out of them all. I hope this makes sense 🙂

        • Thanks for the follow on Dan – this is a great way to express the power of CM in a retailer context. You’re right, if it’s just ‘meh’, then what’s the point:

          “I get the benefit of having rich content on websites around products when it stops potential customers going away to do their research. It may also stop them from getting a better deal somewhere else – the power of Google.

          What I was trying to say is that content is very powerful when presented to the right person at the right time.

          On top of this, in digital world, all of its strands go hand-in-hand i.e. there is no automation without content, and there is no content without automation etc”.

          Glad the year has picked up!

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