In today’s world, the relationship between marketers and consumers resembles a high-speed freeway moving in the same direction – but only intersecting at distinct points. As technology continues to evolve toward seamless, intuitive experiences that are more pervasive in the day to day, consumer expectations are rising at an increasing rate. This challenge is very real and marketers are looking toward the proliferation of touch points for new opportunities to challenge themselves and the meaning of engagement for brands. This is clearly illustrated by the top marketing buzzwords searched on the Bing Network this past year (U.S. only, 2015).
As we move into 2016, this challenge isn’t going away. So, how do marketers get ahead of consumers and deliver what they want? First, you need to understand a consumer’s online journey and brand interactions across their favorite services and surface areas. Brands can gain a lot of valuable information from learning consumer behavior, which leads to making the right decisions in media buying and messages that meet the right consumer in the right context. Getting this right and making advertising incremental to the online experience, means brand engagement is welcome. As has been proven by the Microsoft Consumer Value Exchange Study (2015) which surveyed over 7500 people, 60% people would share data for services that enable them to get things done, 90% would share data in exchange for significant discounts and in fact, 92% would prefer to have free online services in exchange for advertising.
As search becomes more universal across services and devices, it’ll continue to drive a massive shift in strategy and possibilities for brands. Here are six predictions of what to expect in 2016 and where we see opportunities for brands:
1. Search marketing will harness the majority of digital marketing spend: Search marketing will represent 45.4% of digital marketing spend in 2016 according to Forrester Research Digital Marketing Forecasts, 2014 to 2019 (US). Search marketing is also projected to continue to represent the majority of digital marketing spend through 2019 and beyond. And let’s not forget that by the end of this decade, spending on digital advertising will surpass all tradition forms of advertising, including broadcast and cable TV.
2. Search as critical to informed real-time business decisions: In 2016, we will continue to see marketers recognize the ubiquitous nature of search. Search will permeate more devices and services than ever before, becoming smarter and more important as a source of consumer understanding and real-time engagement. Future marketers will look to the intelligence of search to get smarter about their strategies as consumer audiences get smarter in their online interactions. Marketers will recognize search as a foundation stone for understanding audiences and formulating marketing business strategy.
3. Search will drive marketer productivity and claim a bigger stake in the marketing mix: Search is no longer a purely pull mechanism, but through the wealth of insight generated across a multitude of people’s online interactions, is now able to understand intent and propose timely and richer ‘push’ brand experiences across a breadth of online environments. Trajectory marketing, for instance, will geo-target consumers based on the location they will be at for a particular activity, rather than where they currently are. And moving forward marketers will be able to leverage search insights to drive precision audience targeting, deliver content marketing in the context of search and customize mobile search brand engagement. It’s about leveraging intelligence to power efficient methods in order to seed the right message, to the right audience, at the right time. And it’s around the corner.
4. Paid Search advertising strategy will go beyond the keyword to audience and action buying: Paid search will be a medium via which marketers can deliver unique ad formats across screens, devices and platforms to a defined and understood audience and drive actions (direct conversion). For example, a voice initiated search via a digital assistant on a mobile device for a restaurant would empower technology to book the restaurant either directly or via an app on behalf of the user – making life easier for the user and actioning purchase for the brand.
5. Mobility is the realm of personalization: Consumers are on the move, through work and play, and expect more information at their fingertips. Mobile is becoming an extension of self, making the ability to inform in a personalized way much greater and easier. On average, businesses personalizing the customer experience report a 14% uplift in sales according to Econsultancy and Adobe’s Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing, January 2015. With search permeating the full set of mobile services, search will be the key informer of personalized marketing strategies in 2016.
6. Voice search drives new behavior and understanding for marketers: The adoption of voice recognition and gesture control demonstrates that consumers today don’t want to rely on typing; they expect to interact with information in more natural ways. According to Atym’s Voice Assistants survey (October 2015), 36.5% of U.S. consumers have used a voice assistant. As a result of increasing usage in this new interface, 2016 will see new search behaviors emerge, focused on the conversational nature that voice search supports.
7. Using data to predict outcome: Search engines are the database of intent – which is being driven and dictated by consumers. And social networks are the depository of sentiments. Search engines have developed the ability to process, analyse and understand these two information sets together in order to predict outcomes of future events, such as when Bing predicted Rugby World Cup results with 87% accuracy. Think about that for a minute. Search has the ability to predict the future and to help marketers more accurately understand consumer behavior.
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