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The Idea Email 2016 Forecast of Emerging Trends

In our most recent Idea Email, we compared annual predictions to card tricks: They’re entertaining, but really not that helpful, especially when you learn how the trick works. Forecasting is a better approach. Rather than focus on the certainty of a single event as an attempt at prediction, the goal of forecasting should be to discover and track today’s seemingly minor currents that appear to merge with one another and become part of a river of change. 

Here are three trends worth tracking.

1. Data blocking: Ad-blocking web-browser extensions have been among the most downloaded extensions since their introduction in December 2009. However, many web users just discovered the concept of ad blocking for the first time in September due to publicity and controversy when Apple began allowing developers to add the same type of ad-blocking browser extensions to Safari’s mobile version. Ad-blocking is a simple form of data blocking, but there are other one-click ways to turn off the types of tracking that marketing companies are investing billions of dollars in with the promise of gaining insights into customers’ purchasing patterns and preferences. Merge together loyalty programs, geo data from smartphone apps, credit card usage and every click made on a computer and smartphone, and the temptation to turn technology into one big sales engine can become too enticing to some marketers. However, such temptations to build giant data trains will one day run into the reality of how people react to mounting examples of criminal or state-sponsored data breaches. Data blocking will continue to grow with each new incident of data breaches like Target customers (75 million customers), JP Morgan-Chase (7 million small businesses) and the three decades of U.S. government personnel records (22 million). With one click, the savvy kinds of customers that big companies long for can block some, but not all, data from being collected.

2. Content Marketing vs. Content Marketing: The marketing strategy that’s been called “content marketing” for the past few years has been around since the earliest day of the mass media and mass marketing eras. The practice has had many names (custom publishing, customer publishing, etc.) However, with the push of marketing dollars to the web, the dot-com use of the term “content” to mean any form of human expression was too tempting to some custom media companies. Soon, “content marketing” became the umbrella buzzterm for “content” used in marketing. Now, however, global advertising agencies and media companies are re-defining the term to mean advertising that’s not confined to 30-seconds or a two-page print ad. Content marketing is now used as a label for everything from SEO to social media. And now, nearly every advertising awards program has a content marketing category that includes native advertising and commercials that run on YouTube instead of TV and cable. The latest trend spotted is the use of the bifurcated terms: paid content marketing and earned content marketing.

3. Visual grammar: What we’re seeing as trends today started as tiny currents with little connection to one another: dingbats, emoji (the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji was the Oxford English Dictionary‘s 2015 Word of the Year), emoticons, texting slang (LOL), infographics, data visualization and iconography. Put them all together and you have a continuation of the written communication evolution that began with prehistoric cave drawings in France. The use of icons in software development has introduced a nuanced current into that stream that allows a developer (or writer) to incorporate icons into the CSS of a browser or web app. Or, as seen in this post on our site, SmallBusiness.com, it’s a device for adding elements of type that evoke infographics but are added and managed within the coding of web text, not as standalone graphics files. Too geekish? All it means is that we’re seeing more and more small pictures in the body of text. One day, those little symbols will become buttons on the keyboard, and you’ll wonder how you read something without them. Latest current: Visual alphabets begetting visual grammar.

Forecast for marketers: Forecasting the future of marketing is a lot like forecasting the weather. Except with marketing, you not only can talk about it, but if you start early enough and closely enough, you can also do something about it.

Our next Idea Email will be sent on January 7, 2016. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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