2015 Year in Review

It has been quite the year for digital marketing. Brands dedicated an increasing percent of marketing budgets to digital, targeting capabilities became more granular than we ever thought possible, and mobile (finally!) surpassed desktop.

2015 was a huge year, but what were the biggest changes? Here’s a list of this year’s most important digital trends and updates to help you prepare for 2016.

10 Things we learned this year

  1. Mobile became everything we thought it would
  2. Search got even smarter
  3. Performance-driven, (quality) content marketing
  4. Paid social knocked it out of the park
  5. Ad blockers are here
  6. Consumer journeys got more complicated
  7. Utilizing the IoT for personalization
  8. Engaging video takes the lead
  9. Agency partnerships strengthen
  10. Voice search gained steam

1.Mobile became everything we thought it would

Influenced by Mobilegeddon, consumers’ micro-moments, and the more complex, cross-device consumer journey, brands (finally) caught on and caught up to the demand for mobile inclusive marketing. A few examples illustrate this, like the move toward responsive sites, Google’s mobile ranking factors, increased mobile ad spend, increased social network revenue (for apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), and the shift to more searches happening on mobile than on desktop. You can even use Google to index your apps’ information in its search results.

2016 will be the year you need to re-strategize, if your brand’s strategy does not include a cross-device approach. To note, the growing importance of mobile apps in the digital landscape cannot be overstated – the amount of time people in the U.S. are spending on digital media is continually growing; according to comScore it has increased “nearly 50 percent in the past two years, with more than three-fourths of that growth directly attributable to the mobile app.”

2.Search got even smarter

No surprise here, but Google led the charge in 2015 in the advancement of search. Notable updates included Google reducing local search results “Packs” from 7 to 3, and testing conversion actions within local listings. It also enhanced the presentation of the Knowledge Graph, added more Quick Answers, and announced the RankBrain algorithm release, which uses machine learning to serve results for searches Google has never seen before. With Quick Answers rising in search results and local search rearing its ever-complex head, “markup” became a top buzzword; well-structured content with proper markup now has a higher chance of ranking in search results for highly searched queries.

2016 will be the year of the content experience. The continued rise of mobile devices and diverse search results features have increased the importance of having a clear structure to your website’s content. Structured markup (Schema.org) will become more influential over the next year, as Google pays more attention to the “how” of content presentation (in addition to the “what”). So get your technical search knuckles cracking and look for opportunities to markup your content!

3.Performance-driven, (quality) content marketing

This year, content marketers got serious about performance. The Nina Hale, Inc. content team was giving talks about data-driven content strategy back in May, and all year we’ve been testing and perfecting new content measurement strategies. Over the past year content marketers have shifted to thinking around groups (or collections, depending on your source), and we’re ready to scale the data we’ve gathered from them next year.

In 2016, watch for automating, scaling, and accelerating performance-driven content. It’s no longer about intensive discussions on which individual keyword drives the most traffic. We’re entering an era of advanced understanding about how digital content works for individual businesses — and we’re much more efficient when it comes to mapping content to consumer behavior, scaling content initiatives, and measuring performance.

4.Paid social advertising changed the game

2015 was an especially big year for social platforms and the sophistication of paid social — it has officially become one of the most nimble and successful advertising platforms for marketers. Worldwide social network ad spend is currently projected to reach $25.14 billion by the end of the year, a figure significantly higher than the $23.68B forecasted in April. Depending on your goal and target audience, paid social has given paid search a run for its money as far as the most efficient direct response vehicle.

We will see this trend continuing in 2016. Those who haven’t gotten on the paid social train yet will need to be strategic about joining the quickly expanding space. Those already testing the waters will need watch the market diligently in order to take advantage of all the updated targeting and advertising capabilities that are sure to launch next year.

5.Ad blockers are here

Ad blockers have been a huge discussion this year, and the debate surrounding them has seriously called the concept of viewability and the effectiveness of display ads to question. Ten years ago, you could negotiate all placements above the fold and assume 100% viewability on your banner ads.  Today, we generally top out at 55-65%. On the surface this difference is staggering, but as with most things these figures must be evaluated within the context of your goals—55% viewability is fine if you’re focused on conversions.  But if your goal is strictly awareness or impressions, there is cause for concern.

In 2016, you’ll need to rethink and focus on the metrics that matter most to you. If you create a well-rounded digital strategy and embrace what we all love most about digital advertising — the opportunity to be innovative — you’ll be able to recover from any industry shift.  It’s only a matter of time before there are legal rulings made about ad blocking, but there is no need to wait for that.  Start thinking about pieces of your media mix that drive awareness but aren’t affected by ad blockers – native advertising is one tactic I expect to see grow an exponential amount next year – now.

6.The consumer journey got way more complicated

The consumer journey used to be (relatively) simple. Now, thanks to things like the enhancement of social media platforms, emergence of the Internet of Things, increased use of mobile, and the development of micro-moments, understanding consumer intent has become incredibly complex. That said, for all the same reasons marketers can engage faster and better with consumer and learn more about who they are as they move across the internet. This also means that consumers have an elevated platform to advocate for brands, search for brands, and personalize their relationships with brands.

In 2016, what we aim for is to be absolutely everywhere when and where our customers need us to be, based on their behavioral patterns, search data, usage data, social sharing patterns, lookalike audiences, custom audiences and more. All of these sources tell us where and how audiences want to be found. But the research is only half the battle. Marketing will be all about producing the story that matches the sense that matches the intent at the moment of need. The processes of optimization, content marketing and media planning helps your story find your audiences.

7.UtilizING THE IoT for personalization

Thanks to development of mobile data and real-time location technology in 2015, brands were able to see how they could effectively scale their personalization efforts. One of the best examples? The ability to reach consumers during in-store experiences with beacons. Some large retailers already have installed beacons in most or all of their stores — Macy’s has deployed 4,000 beacons, all Lord & Taylor stores use beacons, and beacons are being tested in 50 Target stores in major U.S. markets.

In 2016, brands should sharpen their approach to personalization, and discuss where / how mobile signal technology could fit into their plan. And, because there will undoubtedly be substantial innovation to this kind of technology (like downloading an app and enabling bluetooth or location), the possibilities could become virtually endless.

8.Engaging video takes the lead

This year video became the content standard for marketers, and B2C and B2B users alike consumed more video than ever before. The proof is in the pudding: natively uploaded videos on Facebook surpassed YouTube video posts in October 2015, and by November 2015, Facebook users saw 8 billion videos daily — doubling the number of video views reported just six months earlier. Video is growing across all demographics, but millennials and (coming soon) their kids have been the biggest adopters. Important to note, search engines are seeing a growing amount of how-to searches, and content marketers are seeing lots of success satisfying these searches with with how-to videos.

In 2016, only having a single video on your website won’t be enough. Quality video content across the consumer journey — and targeted toward key audiences — is already the best-in-class standard for enterprise content marketers. The baby steps we’ve taken with video best practices (short videos! no sound for social!) will grow into fully formed data-driven video strategies. Content marketers will adapt more complex tactics and invest in video overall.

9.Agency partnerships strengthen

There was an enormous, unprecedented shift in agency partnerships this year; companies of all sizes changed their AOR configuration and gave digital agencies a seat at the head of the table. Searching for the next generation of thought, more often than not brands looked for and hired digital media agencies — agencies founded in innovation, curiosity, and drive. These agencies generate performance through digital media, and fuel success through measurable digital strategies. Clorox serves as a great example of the changing demand for partnerships from agencies.

Next year as more brands move toward integrated, digitally-focused marketing strategies, digital spends and digital CPMs will continue to increase. To this end, Global Brand Officer of Procter and Gamble, Marc Pritchard, notes, “we will more frequently look at our agency lineup, particularly in media, given the rapid acceleration of capabilities in the digital world.”

10.Voice search gained steam

This year we saw widespread adoption of artificial intelligence, starting with teenagers, natural language processing advancements, growth of personal assistants (Amazon’s Echo, and Facebook’s ‘M’) and voice-powered couch-surfing (Android TVs, Roku, Comcast, and Samsung).  Sometime very soon, search — both voice and standard — will continue to decipher our personalized mannerisms and expressions. The Internet of Things is here, predictive search is continuing to improve, and we’re moving to a world of voice-based search.

For 2016, the assistant market is still up for grabs and expanding quickly. I don’t think that our computers will be telling us “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” any time soon — but we’re reaching the point where the intricacies of human communication, even the words and phrases that previously only your loved ones would have been able to understand, may be decoded by your devices.


We are looking forward to what’s ahead and wish you every success in the new year.




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