2016: What Did I Know?

Very early this year, I set down a series of predictions for what we’d see in 2016. Now that the run of the year is mostly behind us, it’s time to find out: What did I know?

Very early this year, I set down a series of predictions for what we’d see in 2016. Now that the run of the year is mostly behind us, it’s time to find out: What did I know?

1. Social media advertising is going to get bigger and bigger. I’m not saying that just because of the size of the networks or the time Americans spend on them. The real tipping point factor here is the ability to target your message to a small audience, and deliver it pretty accurately just to them.

Tribalism is one of the more important factors influencing all media today: People want to see only things they want and/or agree with, and the ability to build a custom social circle that filters news and conversations they’re exposed to reinforces this. To maximize the effectiveness of ads, and minimize the chance for a faux pas turns into a major PR disaster (I’m looking at you, Bloomingdale’s “spiked eggnog” ad), advertisers should be trying to capitalize on those same mechanisms.

The social networks, with their in-platform targeting options, are going to benefit from that development.

Frankly, i think predicting that social media advertising was going to get bigger was basically cheating. Of course it was going to get bigger.

socialmediaadvertisingBut I think I tuned a bit more into my inner Nostradamus with the bit about Tribalism. That played out like a Ocean’s 11 bank heist throughout the course of the 2016 election. It got so bad that fake news out-performed real news across Facebook this year.

Tribalism is a powerful force. People care about reinforcing their beliefs so much that it far outweighs facts or proof. With that in mind, I’m starting to wonder what marketing could look like in what you might call a “post-truth world.”

2. More marketers are going to use personas, they’re going to use more of them, and they’re going to get more sophisticated. Again, this is about targeting and understanding your audience. As marketers move further away from campaign-based strategies and deeper into personalized, ongoing marketing, the ability to optimize ads, offers, landing pages and whole websites to a segment of your audience is essential to successful execution.

The growth of individual-level data for targeting and personalization isn’t going to replace the need to do a lot of strategizing and optimization at a segment level (i.e., personas). The ability to build useful personas, include more factors in them (especially behavioral factors), and use those insights to boost ROI is going to be a major factor in the success of online marketing.

I think I might have been behind the state of the art on this one. Personas are important to marketing, but I feel like the growth area has really been on moving beyond personas and using machine learning to do things like find look-alikes or identify buying behaviors.

3. Google updates are going to cause less chaos. Google’s aim in refining its algorithms has become pretty clear: Google wants to give searchers what they want. If you deliver web pages that satisfy the person who entered that search query, you’re likely to continue to do well with Google. If you’re manipulating your site to get more SEO traction, you’re likely to take a hit at some point in the future.

Don’t aim for where Google is today, aim for where it’s going: Make search visitors happy.

I haven’t had to describe what i mean by the term “Google Ball” all year (a reference to “Calvin Ball” from Calvin and Hobbes, where Calvin changes the rules every time to suit him), so I think this one worked out pretty well. AMP is a big deal, of course, and page load speed in general has been emphasized, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything as disruptive as Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird.

Google is big business now, and unpredictability is bad for big businesses. I think Google is trying to shed its reputation for volatile rules changes and give website owners a more stable rules set they can count on.

4. You’re going to see more brand marketing in online direct marketing spaces. This ties into No. 1 a little bit, too. From banner ads to email and content marketing, a lot of online marketing evolved around direct marketing tactics and the call to action. I think you’re going to see more of that online marketing done as a way to promote brand content that in the past would have become a TV ad spot. The Ford In Focus videos Melissa talked about yesterday are a part of this trend. So is Red Bull’s content marketing.

This is a recognition of the content marketing fact that you need to earn time with your audience by giving them something they want to watch instead of constantly interrupting them. These types of content could have smaller audiences online, but they’re getting much more attention from the audiences they do attract. And the content can be targeted to those audiences can be targeted more effectively.

In essence, target marketing is becoming more important, even if it’s a little less direct than it used to be.

Every year, it gets harder to draw a line where direct marketing ends and brand marketing begins. But I don’t think the branding role has significantly moved online or displaced CTA-focused online ads.

The exception to that doesn’t come in the online ad space, but in the continued growth in content marketing and targeted distribution of that content.

So there’s my moment of accountability for 2016! How do you think I did? Are those predictions pretty much in line with what you saw? Are they what you expect to see in 2017? Let me know in the comments.

Author: Thorin McGee

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

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