I’ve been a marketer and entrepreneur for more than 20 years, and each year seems to bring a new whirlwind of change. In 2016, social media grew even more powerful, dictating the news and shaping our public discourse. Chatbots and artificial intelligence started to gain traction and are opening entirely new avenues for brands to reach customers. And the shift to mobile continued to gain steam, with everything from ordering dinner to booking a vacation now done on smartphones and tablets.
Marketers are racing to keep up, and 2017 is about to bring more changes. Here are four trends I see shaping marketing in the coming year:
1. Brands will look to chatbots to stay useful and relevant
Chatbots are an exciting prospect, but brands need to provide relevant and useful information to use this channel successfully. Consumers are growing weary of so many messaging touch points, and chatbots need to show real value to be welcomed in.
We’re seeing signs of this in the retail space: Nordstrom just launched its first chatbot on Facebook Messenger and the Kik messaging service, to help shoppers find the right gifts this holiday season. The Mall of America also announced a chatbot, partnering with IBM’s Watson team to build a “mobile concierge” that helps guests find what they’re looking for at the mall.
Next year, I expect to see more enterprise companies use chatbots to connect with customers and create more personalized, relevant ad experiences. According to a survey by Oracle, 80 percent of sales and marketing leaders are using chatbots today or will be using them by 2020. The technology can be a valuable way to reduce friction and churn; we’ll see how marketers perform in the year ahead.
2. Ad blocking will stabilize as publishers catch up
Marketers were knocked back on their heels by ad blockers, and for good reason. One recent survey from Informa Group predicted that if publishers fail to combat ad blocking, they will lose $35 billion by 2020. The 2016 Reuters Digital News report shows ad blocking is most commonly used by online news consumers under 35, a demographic expected to grow in coming years. Consumers have been in the driver’s seat, and publishers have struggled to respond.
But the growth in ad blocking may plateau in 2017. Most people who want an ad blocker already have one; if they haven’t installed one by now, they’re less likely to in the future. Publishers have also devised techniques to combat ad blocking, like forcing consumers to pay for content or whitelisting websites, or risk being denied the content. And because ad blockers are far more prevalent on desktop computers, the ongoing shift to mobile for media consumption will make it easier for marketers to reach consumers on mobile. Ad blockers are still a threat, particularly for small desktop-oriented publishers, but I predict they’ll be less of one starting in 2017.
3. The martech industry consolidates
The marketing technology sector has ballooned over the past few years, from just 350 martech companies in 2012 to over 3,500 today. The number will start to shrink next year as consolidation takes hold across both ad tech and marketing tech.
The advertising giants — Google, Facebook and Verizon/AOL — may look to acquire startups as they build out their marketing engines. Content providers like Disney, Netflix, Viacom and Time may also be on the lookout for shiny technologies that help get the highest ROI from their content. Meanwhile, advertising agencies and consulting firms will likely invest more in marketing technology to help build their businesses and retain clients in a world where media buying will continue to shrink as a margin generating business for them.
While the best marketing technology companies will have their pick of buyers, solutions that don’t offer unique value will struggle. In 2017, we will expect to see some marketing technology startups buckle and tech giants gobble up formerly independent companies.
4. Brands will favor quality over quantity in digital video audiences
To say video is on the rise is an understatement. Cisco predicts that video will make up 82 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2020, up from 70 percent in 2015. Another sign is the emergence of hit startups like Cheddar, a millennial- and technology-focused, subscription-based news network that launched this year.
When marketers first started using video, they wanted as many eyeballs as possible. The number of views mattered far more than tracking conversions. But as video channels proliferate, brands need to get better at measuring success. According to a 2016 agency survey from Strata, only 10 percent of agency professionals said they were “very” confident about their ROI from video ad purchases.
Next year, we predict marketers will become more strategic about the audiences they target. Instead of shooting for 50 million views, they’ll be satisfied with hundreds of thousands of consumers who may actually want to buy their product at some point in the near future. This should benefit both consumers (who’ll get more relevant ads) and marketers (who’ll get improved conversion rates).
As the martech industry consolidates, the stakes for marketers will get higher. Successful companies will look out for shifts in behaviors and listen to what customers want. They’ll do this through new channels like Facebook Messenger and by using data-driven techniques to find the right audience.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.