It’s all too easy to get carried away with the latest digital trends, especially at this time of year. There’s endless posts on “2016 digital marketing trends you can’t afford to miss” and the like, and it’s even worse when you have stakeholders and Directors above “helpfully” sending over these links to make you aware that you’re not as smart as you think you are.

We all know it ain’t helping.

Most agencies are publishing tips for the hottest buzzwords of 2016, and most marketers are up to their eyeballs in a variety of new tactics and technologies, looking for the next big thing to grow their brand in the coming year.

Don’t get us wrong – we’re as keen to understand what’s on the horizon as anybody else. If you’re lucky enough to work in a cutting-edge environment where the basics have been covered, fill your boots.

However, for the bulk of marketers with challenging targets and limited resources, the next big thing can all too easily become an unprofitable distraction, while less glamorous areas with bigger potential are neglected.

Instead of releasing our own list of predictions, we want to help you cut through the noise: which 2016 bandwagons (if any) should you jump on, and which should you wave on by?

YOU DON’T HAVE TO FOLLOW TRENDS TO BE SUCCESSFUL

The annual lists of digital trends and predictions are usually accompanied by no small amount of anxiety – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when faced with the never-ending list of things you absolutely must be doing this year.

Our experience has taught us that brands need to adopt different technologies at the right time for them – which doesn’t necessarily mean when the pundits say “everybody” should.

In a perfect world, we’d be able to do everything we wanted, all at once. However, marketing managers have limited budgets and targets to hit, so decisions on where to divert resources can’t be made on the basis of what “everybody” should be doing.

So no, you don’t necessarily need to immediately adopt a “fully responsive 360-degree omni-channel cross-device transformative experience” to achieve your brand’s digital objectives (not this year, at least!).

WHAT’S THE BEST USE OF YOUR DIGITAL BUDGET?

We consider a range of factors when making recommendations for how our clients should invest their digital budgets for optimal performance. This varies significantly depending on our clients’ history, industry and current situation, but some of the core considerations are summarised below:

1. What’s the short/medium/long-term potential?

While short-term performance is key, it’s also important not to get too caught up in the moment. While it’s tempting to invest everything in the channels and activities that drive the greatest ROI right now, it’s crucial to consider the longer-term implications of marketing investments, and divert resources into areas that will drive long-term growth as well as short-term results.

A common example of the negative effect short-termism can have is brands who invest heavily into PPC without also considering SEO. PPC drives the short-term performance they’re looking, but over time click costs inevitably trend upwards, and ROI might be harder to sustain. Early investment into SEO might not deliver equivalent results to PPC in the short term, but brands often wish they’d started the long-term process of building organic visibility a lot earlier.

2. How easy is it to implement?

Practicality is also a big factor when considering new areas of digital investment. Sometimes, with the best will in the world, it’s just not the right time for your brand to invest in something, even if there are clear benefits to doing so.

If your current web platform won’t support a particular technology without incurring huge development costs, it might be better to hold fire until your scheduled redesign a year or two down the line. On the other hand, if you’ve got a new website build in progress, it could be worth putting in the foundations for your longer-term plans now, even if you don’t expect to use them straight away.

An example of this – we’re always flabbergasted when a brand launches a new website that’s not fully responsive. The extra investment for a responsive template is far lower than converting it further down the line, so it really is a no-brainer to do this when you have the chance.

On the other hand, we occasionally see clients spend significant amounts of time and money installing enterprise analytics or automation platforms on older web platforms, when the short-term benefits don’t justify the cost and it’d probably be better to hold off until it’s time for a new website build.

3. What are the dependencies?

No matter how ground-breaking a technology or technique, it’s not going to be operating in a vacuum. Understanding how a particular tactic will fit within your current digital mix is a vital part of assessing its potential value.

Some investments have the potential to impact a number of other channels positively – content, UX and accessibility are all good examples here, as they’re likely to improve the overall experience (and conversion) of traffic driven from all channels. However, others success rests squarely on other elements of your strategy – mobile advertising without a responsive site is likely to under-perform, for obvious reasons.

4. What area of the customer journey is affected?

One of the concepts we use to help prioritise recommendations is the customer journey. In theory, your traffic is made up of customers at a number of different points in the purchase process – from the very first research stages, all the way through to being primed and purchase ready.

For maximum impact, it makes sense to invest in the areas that will drive the most purchase-ready customers first, then broaden your strategy upwards through the customer funnel. So, if you’re missing out on branded paid search volume due to lack of budget, it makes sense to expand this area to target the customers who are specifically looking for your site before moving into generics.

This works across channels as well – some digital tactics tend to drive traffic that’s typically more “inspiration/research”-focused, for example organic search and social compared to paid search and email marketing.

For maximum impact, our recommendations are usually to get the easy stuff out of the way (customers who are ready to convert, today) before moving onto the colder leads.

5. Is the overall strategy balanced?

This is as much about risk management as anything else – putting all your eggs in one basket is a well-documented bad idea. For this reason, we’d usually suggest investing in a range of techniques before going deeper into a single channel.

For example, balancing paid search out with organic investment is a more prudent option in the long term (helping to protect your brand against rising click costs), even though additional paid search investment might drive more short-term impact.

The Pareto principle also weighs into our reasoning here – if 20% of the effort can deliver 80% of the results, it’s better in the first instance to get to 80% across a wide range of different channels than to chase 100% on just a couple.

In summary: Is your brand’s digital marketing mature enough?

All of the examples above are summarised by the concept of “maturity”: the best way to identify the digital trends to take advantage of is to gauge the level of digital marketing maturity your brand has reached, then take the next logical step.

It sounds simple, but in our experience a significant number of brands either under- or over-estimate the maturity levels of their digital marketing campaigns, which can lead to costly mistakes.

Brands who are new to digital can waste time and money chasing trends they see industry-leaders implementing, while neglecting the huge growth opportunities available to them from simpler, lower cost activities. We also see a large number of intermediate brands flitting from “next big thing” to “next big thing” in an attempt to chase quick wins, and spinning their wheels as a result.

Finally, more advanced brands that have already optimised their campaigns to a high level can get bogged down in minutiae, missing the signs that it’s time for a more fundamental change.

Introducing the right activities at the right time is the single best way to ensure long-term digital growth and prevent performance from reaching a plateau, so getting this right is vitally important.

Our really useful download, Digital Marketing Maturity tells you even more of what you need to know:

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