11 Marketing Trends to Watch in 2016

We’re nearly a month into 2016 and Microsoft has already updated their Bing logo, Google’s announced an algorithm update, and a new social network has entered the social landscape. Marketing moves at a sprint—no leisurely jogs allowed.

New tactics, ideas, trends, continually challenge marketers to find new ways to augment their marketing. We’ve outlined 11 trends that we predict will have an impact on marketing this year. We encourage Modern Marketers to explore how these concepts could enhance their unique marketing plans as they navigate 2016.

1. Storytelling in Video

Last year, marketers perfected storytelling in pictures, and this year we’ll have to take it a step further to pique audience attention. Preferences are leaning in favor of video. Marketers will have to create moving pictures to make their brand stories stand out. 51.9 percent of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the type of content with the best ROI, and we expect this stat to rise. Sharing your tale through video extends the message from one visual moment to a more comprehensive story. It allows your viewer to look at your brand through a larger window.

Google’s prepared to address the video trend by potentially offering video as an option for promoted search ads. If audiences aren’t intrigued enough by text or a photo, video could pique their changing interests and entice them to click. Now is the time to start brainstorming how to communicate your brand story through video. As more marketing teams integrate video into their strategies this year, you’ll need to follow suit, so you can reach your audience on the same level.

2. Live Storytelling

Not only will storytelling make a move to video, but it could very well be live. 2015 saw the rise of live streaming apps, including the highly publicized, Periscope and Meerkat. These socially integrated platforms give brands and customers an equal power to broadcast their world to a curious audience.

Stories and expertise shared in real time appear more natural and personal, a quality audiences crave from brands. Host a live seminar or Q and A for businesses in your industry, so they can communicate with the faces behind the brand. This tactic closes the gap between businesses and their customers. You’re no longer a business selling to a business—you’re a knowledgeable advocate sharing useful information with another person. Give customers the opportunity to instantly ask questions and provide comments—this makes them part of your story. When customers have a voice, they become invested and more likely to emotionally connect with your brand. Innovative brands this year will use these emotional bonds to build loyalty with customers and drive sales.

3. Immediate Communication

If live video tells us one thing, it’s that we’re in an age of immediacy. Our customers expect experiences and information to bring value as they engage with our brands. They want answers five minutes ago and impeccable customer service, yesterday. The length of time it takes for your brand to reach out is the amount of time it takes a potential customer to consult Google to find alternate options. This is the year to address this need for immediate communication.

As audiences migrate to popular messaging platforms, Modern Marketers need to meet them where they’re at. Just before 2015 came to a close, Facebook released a Page Plug-In update so businesses could add a live chat box on their page. Social audiences can talk with a brand representative to get any questions or concerns taken care of, instantaneously. Facebook also announced a future development—Facebook Messenger will work with brands to make online chat available right from brand websites. This allows businesses to communicate with customers at the very spot where some buying decisions take place. Marketers need to take advantage of developments like these to ensure they’re satisfying the buyer’s need for immediate communication.

4. Influencer Marketing Goes Mainstream

In the quest for immediate information, businesses typically first turn to those they trust. This often translates into market leaders and professionals who have known expertise in their industry. This concept manifests as influencer marketing. It’s a type of marketing that relies on widely known experts to share knowledge. Companies trust influencers for guidance. Traditional influencer marketing was reserved for those who could invest in a loud platform to build their reputation or for large companies who had a built-in following due to the size of their business.

This is about to change. Businesses and their leaders will become influencers, no matter their size, role, following, or budget, through new platforms and sharing opportunities (i.e., live video and messaging apps). To become an influencer you need to understand your industry, create good content, and strategically release your content. As a result, audiences will consume, share, and, eventually, trust you. Write an ebook and promote it over social media. Host a weekly live webinar. Answer business inquiries instantly over chat, with thoughtful, knowledgeable responses. Modern Marketers and their brands will seek out influencer opportunities this year to grow their industry clout.

5. Data At Every Stage…

…Of the marketing and sales cycle. Data software is so advanced now that it’s available at almost every stage of the marketing and sales cycle. While data used to come in the form of a monthly recap, it’s now available at every minute of every day for nearly every touchpoint with each customer.

Analytics programs and marketing automation platforms bring us data insights into leads, social media, websites, email, sales collateral, and everything in between. This year, marketing and sales (as one) will analyze each customer touchpoint and each marketing strategy tactic as they go, constantly improving strategies. Data will not sleep.

6. Marketing and Sales Fusion

Over the past few years, experts have insisted marketing and sales must work together for both to succeed. This year, these departments will become one. The traditional sales cycle has transformed from a linear path to a personalized journey consisting of a series of brand touchpoints and communications unique to each customer. As a result, salespeople must use Modern Marketing tactics and marketers must reinforce sales to ensure each lead gets personal attention from your brand as they move through each phase of the sales cycle.

How do we guarantee this marketing and sales fusion takes place? Data and visibility. Pull data from marketing campaigns and sales movements. Share insights with the entire team so both departments can inform their strategies. Exchanging data information is an example of how complete visibility from both sides can benefit the entire organization. Double the insights, double the opportunity to improve. When marketing and sales become one, leads, customers, audience members will have the positive, cohesive, consistent brand experience they’ve come to expect from brands.

7. Mobile, Mobile, Did We Mention Mobile?

Our mobile devices have earned a top place in our lives. They are a constant in our daily activities, communications, and life’s most important milestones. This ubiquity means mobile has also earned a prime place in our marketing strategies. Almost every trends listicle we’ve encountered this year has dedicated a spot to mobile.

The evolution of mobile payment technology is a common trend on the horizon. Customers are still cautious about using their devices to make payments and it’s still more prevalent in B2C businesses than B2B. This may shift in 2016. As business professionals become more comfortable with payment technology as consumers, they may become open to using that tech to make business transactions. Beacon technology is another rising concept that isn’t yet widely adopted but has the chance to influence our marketing this year. iBeacon, for example, alerts businesses when someone with their brand’s mobile application is nearby. Marketers may be able to use this to target leads in person with tailored messaging. As this mobile technology evolves, our marketing must evolve with it.

8. Digital Assistant Optimization

Another major development in mobile to watch this year is digital assistant technology and its access to online content. When a user asks a question, Siri, Cortana, Echo, etc., pull from a library of information to provide an informed answer. Depending on the assistant, this often means using Google data or another search engine-like database.

Every year, digital assistants get smarter as the tech behind them matures. Companies like Apple are developing their own web crawlers, like Applebot, to provide information. Ensuring your brand is getting noticed by these web crawlers, is key as digital assistants are utilized more and more. Smart marketers will stay on top of digital assistant developments and optimize accordingly. Think SEO of the future.

9. Virtual Reality Adoption

If digital assistant optimization is the future of SEO, virtual reality optimization is gaming of the future. Virtual reality has been on the cusp of a big break for the last few years, but, with heavily anticipated system, Oculus, shipping this spring, this will likely be the year we see significant movements in VR.

How does this affect marketers? Virtual reality is an alternate world the user lives in. As marketers, we must meet our customers where they are to answer to their needs. If our audiences are soon to inhabit a virtual landscape, we need to meet them there, as we met them on-the-go when screens went mobile. As VR affects our audience’s needs, desires, ways of life, we need to adjust our marketing to account for this. There may be new advertising opportunities within VR just as there are when a new kind of app comes on the market, and Modern Marketers will be ready with a plan when this day comes.

10. Blurred Lines

As the worlds of our audiences blur from real to virtual, our marketing tactics will also blur from separate systems, to a single unified marketing experience. We’ve already seen mobile and website marketing become team players with responsive design, and we’ve seen social media and ecommerce combine forces with buy buttons on social networks. This year, we’ll see a whole lot more of these strategic partnerships.

Advertisements, ecommerce, social media, mobile applications, email marketing, sales, digital marketing—they’re all fusing together. Modern Marketers will find their own ways to make each strategy work together in a way that will benefit their brand and streamline their marketing.

11. Hyper Local Targeting

A key blurred line strategy marketers navigated last year was the synthesis of IoT, mobile, and wearables. This on-the-go marketing became a key component in our strategies thanks to these three elements becoming larger players in the marketplace. Apple Watch, Nest, Fitbit, Amazon Echo, gave marketers pause. We had to think about how these technologies could be used to reach customers.

The result? Local targeting. And this year, we’re talking hyper-local targeting. Mobile beacon technology is a prime example of how marketers can reach out to their customers in person, at their exact location. Technologies like mobile beacon technology encourage marketing in the most personal and intimate of spaces. Marketing in the home. Marketing on the body. This means marketing to audiences exactly where they are, when they are. Not just in the same state, not in their general vicinity, but where they’re living and breathing. This year marketers and audiences are going to get closer than ever.

As you build your 2016 marketing strategies, keep in mind that not every trend will work in your favor. Pick and choose the ones that best apply to your brand and use them to strengthen your marketing in 2016.

Katie Yohn

Katie Yohn

Forever a student of marketing and the written word, Katie is always on the lookout for new ways to connect with audiences. She enjoys learning about emerging trends and sharing what she's learned. She also has an affinity for alliteration.