The top 8 marketing trends for 2016

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What should marketers be on top of this year?

As in past years, I sat down with our strategy team and we compiled a list of marketing trends to look for this year. Below is WiderFunnel’s list of the top 8 marketing trends of 2016.

One major theme is the establishment of testing as a widely accepted business practice. If last year we were “embarking on the golden age of conversion optimization,” this year finds us fully entrenched in it.

Here are our 8 marketing ideas to understand:

1. Only the best content will survive

The ever-increasing volume of content produced for marketers makes standing out more difficult. And in 2016, Google and Facebook will try to address the problem by tightening the screws on low quality types of content.

Content marketing is often seen as a default strategy for many companies and they feel pressured to produce high volumes of articles, posts, infographics, contests, videos etc. Andrew Golis illustrated this resulting consumer overstimulation, or “content shock”, with a bunch of dots.

Too much information!
Andrew Golis illustrates consumer overstimulation with a bunch of dots.

Whilst in earlier years it was possible that if you produced good content it would get found and shared, almost by virtue of its quality, this is no longer the case. There is now so much content that even producing great content is not enough. The bar is way higher. Popular sites with great content are also being affected by content shock.

Steve Rayson, BuzzSumo

Content marketing inevitably requires marketers to continuously produce more and more in order to compete. This rapid production of content often means sacrificing quality in favor of quantity and sacrificing original thought in favor of repackaging someone else’s ideas.

In 2016, Google and Facebook will update their algorithms to further prioritize quality, weeding out bait headlines. Lazy publishers won’t be able to rely on formulaic titles like ‘…you won’t believe what happened next’ and ‘13 things your conversion optimization needs to succeed’.

Only the best content, distributed to the right audience, to answer their real questions will survive.

2. The optimization of ubiquitous internet

Consumers already have near-constant access to the internet on their phones.

Apple watch
Are you wearing the internet on your wrist?

Now, with wearables such as the Apple watch and the Internet of Things (IoT), internet has become ubiquitous. These devices are converging to create the always-on consumer.

This will mean increased marketing opportunities, of course. But on the flip side, consumers will become even more inoculated against marketing tactics.

To get through to your audience requires continuous A/B testing and improvement. But testing will also get more technically complex. You’ll need sophisticated optimization strategies to move your messages through effectively on all channels.

Optimization teams will have to expand their skill sets to include the understanding of the contexts in which users interact with their content.

The term “mobile optimization” will be as meaningless as saying “website optimization.” As we’ve been saying for the past few years, mobile is a context, not a device.

3. Seamless retail and omnichannel optimization

‘Omnichannel’ has been a buzzword in the retail e-commerce community for a few years now. Typically, it refers to an improved integration between online and in-store shopping. So, for example a shopper could easily buy online and return in-store. And now, they’ll begin to expect to complete a transaction across devices, creating true seamless retail.

Retailers need to optimize the shopper’s experience wherever it occurs, viewing their shoppers holistically, as people.

Location-based optimization could play a part in this. With technology like iBeacon and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), marketers can detect and trigger messages based on the actual proximity of a shopper.

If marketers are able to link this messaging to that shopper’s online persona, real-time targeted and personalized marketing will be possible. And then optimized.

4. Bite-sized silent video optimization

Video snippets that are embedded within social feeds such as Facebook and Instagram will drive how marketers utilize and format video. Typically, these videos play automatically, but silently, as a user scrolls down their feed.

If you’re a marketer using video content, you’ll need to optimize for those users who do not click on the video to get the full audio experience.

You’ll need to learn how to get your message across in 3 to 5 seconds, soundlessly. ReelSEO offers 20 tips for optimizing video for social media, including emphasizing the first few seconds, choosing a compelling thumbnail and keeping your video ‘short and sweet’.

The right video tactics to use will be media-dependent. What works on your website won’t necessarily work on social. You should test that!

5. Marketing conversations will continue to disperse

Let’s face it, Twitter has become a landfill for content marketers. Social is still evolving and the best channels for useful conversations will solidify in 2016.

More meaningful discussions will happen in public Slack groups, such as the new conversion optimization discussion created by the Global Optimization Group.

6. The conversion optimization tipping point

When we first launched in 2007, we had to focus our energy on convincing companies of the value of conversion rate optimization (CRO). Almost 10 years later, there’s no more question of whether an optimization strategy is good for business. Now, the questions are about how to get the best results.

All companies that produce revenue from web or mobile will need to address their CRO strategies in 2016. Many are developing in-house teams dedicated to CRO, which is smart. But without a proven process and strategy, these teams are getting inconsistent results.

The best approach to CRO in 2016 is a hybrid between in-house and specialist agencies. In our experience, companies who do this get the best results by using their in-house teams to run a high volume of tests while simultaneously leveraging specialist agencies to provide a fresh flow of new ideas.

We see our clients go through stages in their optimization maturity, as they work to achieve this type of hybrid strategy:


As more and more teams bring CRO in-house, listen for more discussions about processes, frameworks and other scalable solutions for ongoing testing.

7. CRO achieves C-suite buy-in

In the past, CRO was handled predominantly by junior level staff: a web analyst, web designer, online sales manager, or perhaps a product manager. It was relegated to the back room and given minimal resources or support within the organization. It was often not even given a full time role.

It’s now getting the attention of senior decision-makers. They may view it as ‘lean’, or growth hacking, or optimization, or kaizen method. Regardless of what it’s called, the success of test-and-learn approaches is widely recognized by business leaders in all industries.

As CRO passes a tipping point of majority awareness, there will be more scrutiny at the C-level in 2016. This will require executive education, as many in the C-suite won’t have had experience in the trenches of statistical theory and scientific methods.

They may not be interested in the details, but they’ll need to understand what makes CRO so effective. Be prepared to answer questions about how the results of your tests tie to the financial reports. You’ll have to show how you’re impacting the business results and backup the reliability of your A/B test reports.

Feel good marketing is over. CEOs, CMOs, and every other influencer in the C-suite will look to marketers for data before, during, and after campaigns to validate return on their marketing investments.

8. Insight management tools and optimization suites will emerge

A new industry is popping up to serve the project management needs of the professional CRO team. Many of these tools are still in beta, but this year will see definite growth and development.

Conversion rate optimization can get messy, especially when you’re trying to keep track of multiple complicated experiments. These tools are meant to help you manage and organize your CRO efforts.

Experiment Engine, for example, allows you to crowd-source experiment ideas and helps you manage your experiment workflow. Effective Experiments is more focused on detailed experiment documentation and idea workflow management.

WiderFunnel’s own Liftmap, while still in beta, seamlessly integrates with Optimizely and features project management utilities specific to A/B testing: you can manage and document your tests at the same time.

Other tools to keep an eye on include Project (formerly known as Canvas by Sean Ellis), Iridion, and MonkeyWorks.

What won’t change…

Marketers will continue to chase the ‘Hey, squirrel!’ shiny new technology and miss the strategy completely, leading to a lot of spinning wheels and little traction.

Sadly, tools will often be sought before strategy, and will be under-utilized in the directionless confusion. But, there’s plenty of reason for optimism when we consider how quickly industries have adopted A/B testing as a core strategy.

Bonus! Future trends we’re keeping tabs on

1. Augmented reality (AR) optimization

Steinway's AR app
Steinway & Sons recently released an AR app to help users find the perfect piano.

As AR becomes a real thing, so will the need to optimize these experiences. AR will revolutionize how we buy and sell, from previewing products, to selecting products from a catalog. It will enable further integration between print and video marketing. Trigger images within print marketing will activate promotional videos when scanned by an AR-enabled device, for example.

The technology may not be there just yet, but keep an eye on this over the next 5 years.

2. Artificial intelligence optimizer bots
AI will evolve enough that we will be able to teach bots a set of psychological principles, which they will be able to apply to copy, design and UI elements. These bots won’t need testing tools, they’ll be the testing tools.

They’ll make decisions on the fly, based on every perceivable piece of data. Forget personalization: these bots will optimize for your mood, based on recent Google searches, the time of day, and of course, the weather outside.

Each January, there are a million predictions as to what the top marketing trends of the year will be. These are our picks for the 8 most important marketing trends of 2016.

Want to know why we left something you see trending off the list? What are your thoughts? Please add your comment below!

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  • Shane Sparks

    Hey Chris, I’m curious about what percentage of companies in your estimation actually have CRO one their radar and whether it’s truly moved from a thing they “should” be doing, to a thing they “are” doing and resourcing.

    • We’re seeing the trend anecdotally based on the inquiries that come into WiderFunnel.

      Also, the most recent Econsultancy report on conversion rate optimization says: “Almost half (46%) of client-side respondents say their companies now have more than one person directly responsible for improving conversion rates, the highest proportion since the launch of our inaugural CRO survey in 2009.”

      • Thx Chris. I wonder how much of this is related to the size of the companies. We still see people mostly fixated on SEO/traffic building, social media and paid search.

        • Yes, I believe that’s true, Shane. Smaller companies are mostly still in the traffic generation phase.

  • Chad Moston

    Hey Chris, can you give more information on how to join the the Global Optimization Group public Slack channel please?

  • Very interesting point of view on trends that may dominate in 2016