My 2016 Predictions, Reviewed
A year ago, I wrote a blog article titled 6 Digital Trends for 2016, in which I summoned my 20 years in digital technology to predict how this year would play out.
Let’s see how I did...
Prediction #1: ROI for MVP
In the original article I dropped one of my favorite quotations about advertising, from John Wanamaker:
Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the problem is, I don’t know which half.
And I went on to describe how digital marketing is putting an end to this confusion. We can track, to a tenth-of-a-penny, how well digital advertising is performing. But doing so requires both a strategic savvy and nonstop attention.
This emphasis on ROI held true in 2016, as more organizations than ever are investing in various forms of online advertising and promotion—e.g., SEO, search engine advertising, display ads, remarketing ads—all with their own highly calibrated landing pages
Other digital products, however, are trickier to track.
For example, effectively redesigning a website should produce more visitors, deeper user engagement, and a higher conversion rate. But how many of those conversions can be inextricably tied to the website redesign and not other factors? It’s hard to say with precision.
So the onus is on people like us, TradeMark Media, to continue to track and prove how digital initiatives—e.g., improving your user experience, conducting usability tests, writing great content, and deploying sophisticated marketing platforms—is directly responsible for boosts in metrics and money.
One way we do this is by beginning every project by helping our clients define what, exactly, success looks like. Which metrics would indicate you’re doing well?” And then we design to, and relentlessly track, those goals.
An additional note:
In 2016, Apple introduced native ad-blocking software to its iOS—allowing users to, by default, block advertisements on their mobile Web browsers. In less than a year since its release, this feature is already having implications for both advertisers (ads cost more) and publishers (they have to reduce free content). It’s still early days, so we’ll have to wait to see how the industry skirts ad blockers, but there’s reason to be concerned about ad-blockers’ effect on the quality—and cost—on Web content and credible journalism.
Prediction #2: The End of Redesign
My point a year ago was simple: Instead of wholesale website redesigns, more organizations will opt for a quick, light redesign followed by ongoing iterative improvements. They’ll treat their online identities like bonsai trees—caring for them, being patient with them.
The ongoing, iterative approach is (usually) less expensive and (definitely) more flexible and responsive.
Many of our new projects this year involved quickly architecting and designing a Version 1 website—immediately followed by a second and third round of enhancements. And as predicted, this allowed us to identify new opportunities and respond in an agile manner.
But we still commit a huge number of hours to getting it right internally. Sure, we may get an inaugural version of the website up much more quickly, but that doesn’t mean we scrimp on the work itself.
For example: If we’re going to, in rounds two or three of a website’s enhancement, launch a sophisticated user account system (with usernames and logins, etc.), we need to (a) know that during round one and (b) architect the site in a way that allows for this eventual addition. Not to mention the visual design and CMS decisions we make along the way.
Verdict: 94% Correct
Prediction #3: Mobile Apps on Life Support
I could hardly contain my glee when I predicted the fading importance of native mobile apps because I knew that, 9 times out of 10, it was an unnecessary expense for our clients. Apps require a huge outpouring of resources to keep them updated—and if you can’t commit to maintaining your app, your users will drop you in a heartbeat.
For years, whenever a prospective client asked whether we could build them an app, I’d reply, “Sure, but are you sure you need one?” Mobile Web browsers have become sophisticated enough that they can do most—most, not all—of what only apps used to be able to do.
There are still plenty of reasons an organization might want an app of its own—usually having to do with the app needing access to mobile hardware like GPS, the camera, or the microphone. Also, apps can sometimes make great standalone properties that are offshoots of an organization’s larger purpose.
But as Web browsers on mobile devices continue to evolve, they’ll be able to deliver the same user experience as an app without the storage drain (for users) or nonstop maintenance (for the app designer).
Verdict: Mostly Correct
Prediction #4: The Internet of Things
This one ain’t going anywhere. Last year, I wrote this:
In 2016, more small-and-medium businesses will begin to think seriously about how to engage the Internet of Things for their purposes.
Voice-connected devices, such as the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, are going to be the Christmas gift du mois. We even posted a fun, lengthy analysis of these devices a couple of months ago, including a peek into how major brands are starting to leverage these new pathways.
And sure, we’re seeing more Web-connected objects making their way to the store shelves—e.g., smart refrigerators that order food on your behalf, wearables like the Apple Watch and certain Fitbit models, and just about every new car on the market, including those that drive themselves.
But in 2016, we remained at the dawn of this new age. The Internet of Things is, today, a lot like mobile phone technology a decade ago: promising but burdened.
For starters, it’s more logistically challenging to build physical objects than software. Manufacturers have to spend more time and money getting it right before firing the factory up than do software designers.
And second, 2016 saw very little progress in the ability to agree upon design and development standards for Internet-connected objects. Until devices can speak seamlessly with the Internet and each other, they won’t deliver on their life-changing promises.
It’s probably best to temper our expectations for when the Internet of Things will be integrated with our daily lives. We’re still several years out. But make no mistake, it’s coming.
Verdict: Half Correct
Prediction #5: Because … Content
In 2016, something is beginning to dawn on organizations across every industry and sector: Content is the whole point.
My point last year was simply this: If you want to compete in the market, you have to generate great content. It’s no longer enough to make a great widget; you have to talk about your widget in engaging, practical, helpful, and beautiful ways and places.
As Web technology and accessibility grows globally omnipresent, our focus is naturally shifting from getting the Internet into people’s hands to filling the Internet with worthwhile content. Because after all, the Internet is nothing but a content-delivery tool. And it doesn’t matter how fast your Web connection is, if you can’t find great content, you’ll use it less and less.
Not to mention how savvy users are becoming. Your website visitors expect a delightful user experience. They get it on certain other websites, so why shouldn’t they get it from you, too?
If I was running an organization hoping to stay relevant and profitable in the coming years, I’d hire a team of excellent writers, thinkers, graphic designers, and video producers—and I’d set them loose to create the highest-quality, most interesting, and strategic content they can.
(Bonus points to me for not using the word “viral” in that last sentence.)
Prediction #6: What’s a Laptop, Anyway?
I admit, this one wasn’t fair of me because it was so devastatingly obvious: Mobile devices are on the rise—and companies had better catch up, quick.
In fact, in 2016, global mobile Internet usage outpaced desktop use for the first time. (In the U.S. it’s roughly 50/50.)
But yet, how many times do you visit a website or view an email on your phone and find yourself having to pinch and zoom to read it—or, more likely, just leaving the site altogether because it’s not worth the hassle?
For me, it happens regularly. And in 2016, with the abundance of mobile-responsive Web design tools available, there’s really no excuse.
Simply put: Not having a mobile-friendly website and email system is going to lose you users and opportunities.
Verdict: Correct for Time Eternal
The Final Word
To be fair, last year’s article wasn’t a set of predictions, per se, but rather, an exploration of common digital trends. And while some of these trends are growing at a slower pace—see: Internet of Things—or in a different manner—see: The End of Redesign—than we’d anticipated 12 months ago, none of these trends are dying.
Soon, I’ll share my thinking on what 2017 might hold for us. I expect it’ll have more to do with marketing and user research than pure technology.
But whatever the future holds, you can be sure TradeMark Media will be there, helping you make sense—and good use—of it all.