What we learnt from marketing trends in 2016
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What we learnt from marketing trends in 2016

From Brexit to Pokémon GO, we look at the events and stories that highlight the biggest trends in marketing over the past 12 months.

To borrow a familiar quote, a year is a long time in marketing. Here, we look back on the news stories, trends, innovations and campaigns that influenced marketing over the past 12 months, and reflect on what marketers can learn from them.

The campaign – Vote Leave, Take Control

Vote Leave, it could be argued, was the most successful marketing campaign of the year – in the UK at least. The campaign was built upon marketing channels including postal leaflets, door-to-door canvassing and out-of-home advertising – a reminder to marketers that, in our digital world, there’s still life in traditional marketing methods. Two other influential factors arose during the referendum campaign period: the appeal to emotion, and transparency. Both sides prioritised the former over the provision of clear information, each side attempting to benefit from direct appeals to voters’ heartfelt views on Britain’s future. This, however, also led to claims that a lack of transparency was detrimental to each campaign’s ‘brand image’ and resulted in negative headlines. By the autumn, as the US presidential campaign reached its conclusion, such appeals to emotion were becoming wrapped up in narratives about a ‘post-truth age’, while news agencies and campaigners were being targeted for spreading ‘fake news’. Why is this relevant to marketing? Because at a time when consumers are demanding greater transparency from brands, marketers would do well to remember that to build consumer trust, emotional campaigning is best backed up by fact.

The product launch – Pokémon GO

Without doubt, the product that got everyone talking in 2016 was Pokémon GO. It was a true crossover success that added new vocabulary – including PokéStops and Gyms – to the broader cultural lexicon, and resulted in mass media coverage and a snowballing of marketing activity from brands, retailers and restaurants as they realised Pokémon-chasing could drive foot traffic. Summer’s ‘silly season’ proved the high point for media attention, but events such as Halloween helped sustain interest and, by early December, a Gen 2 version of the game was promising to further boost engagement – not only with the public, but also with brands. Indeed, there has been much speculation about a huge Starbucks promotion across the US. Pokémon GO indicates that augmented reality (AR) – long touted as a means for brands to directly engage consumers in out-of-home settings, had finally started to come of age. With the real and virtual worlds colliding in this summertime brand success story, marketers can expect that other brands – and game designers – aren’t sitting idly by. New AR opportunities await.

The quiet revolution – mobile

Mobile internet use surpassed that of desktop in 2014, but – in terms of experience – there’s been something of a lag since then, so a scramble to play catch-up has taken place in 2016. Central to this has been search; everyone does it and, for most consumers, how it works is irrelevant – they simply want it to deliver. But search engine optimisation (SEO) has been undergoing something of a quiet revolution, and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) – which helps deliver faster page-load speeds on mobile sites – was rolled out this year. It potentially puts sites with different mobile and desktop configurations at a disadvantage. Fewer sponsored links in search results have also led to increased competition for paid spots – and higher costs for advertisers. Google Tag Manager and Analytics have been improved to allow analytics to be better integrated, for a more seamless experience across channels for marketers. The changes might not make the news headlines, but – for consumer engagement – they make a big difference. For marketers seeking to produce attention-grabbing branded content, it means building a mobile-first strategy is now a necessity.

The policy – sugar tax

In March, the government unveiled plans to introduce a sugar tax – set to come into force in 2018 – which will place a levy on sugary drinks sold in the UK. The aim? Combating obesity in children. The big soft-drinks brands will all be affected, and the ruling will also apply to drinks with lower sugar content, such as tonic water and alcohol-free alternatives, but not to milk-based drinks, smoothies or fruit juices. In the coming years, the public can no doubt expect brands to follow Coca-Cola’s lead – it relaunched its ‘Coke Zero’ as ‘Coca-Cola Zero Sugar’ and promoted it with a £10m campaign. Marketers will need to take note. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) can advise marketers on how adhere to such rulings, and chief executive Guy Parker told Catalyst magazine that falling foul of advertising guidelines is costly: "If you end up with an ASA ban, and it’s about children and food, the media will be all over it – it will gain a lot of publicity, and you’ll have a lot of explaining to do to your board," he said in September. As for the marketing campaign to introduce the ‘sugar tax’ itself, it was driven through a combination of regulatory bodies, celebrity endorsement, ‘crowdsourcing’ via online petitions and brands – and was so successful that it impacted and improved Government policy.

The social channel – a tailored approach

‘Fish where the fish are’, goes the marketing maxim, ‘but use the right bait’.  When it comes to brand marketing on social media – from the maturing mass appeal of Facebook to the dark-social waters of Snapchat – 2016 proved that not all marketing activity works the same across channels. For example, according to a study by business intelligence specialists L2, 56% of social media users say they follow brands to see products. However, for specialty retailers in the UK, Twitter garners less than 1% of the total combined interactions across the top three platforms. Meanwhile, 96% of consumer interactions with UK retail brands in Q3 2016 happened on Instagram. Facebook is investing in on-platform transaction technology and improved links to brand homepages to try to improve conversion rates. The bigger winner for social in 2016 is video content. Video platform Brightcove’s November 2016 report showed that 67% of consumers are watching more video on social networks than they did a year ago – with an average of 49 minutes every day. It is telling that 60% of viewers expect the amount of social video they watch to continue rising over the next year. Across social, video content looks set to drive consumer engagement in the coming years. It’s time marketers had a strategy for it.

If you'd like to learn more about how to plan and work with search marketing, sign up to our one-day Search Engine Marketing course. This practical session will take you through setting goals, budgets and keyword research. 

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