With 2016 now behind us, it’s a new year with a fresh budget to spend. Here are 5 areas where we think you should be focusing your digital investment for the coming year.
1. Mobile apps – get one
Until recently, companion apps have been the exclusive purview of big chains. Irrespective of the perceived user benefits, smaller companies have seen them as just too much investment:
- They don’t have the initial capital to build them
- They don’t want to put up the money to maintain them
- They don’t have the additional marketing budget needed to effectively drive downloads, making earlier investment less valuable.
Subway, Staples, Home Depot, banks – these are the types of enterprises who were getting apps for their stores – not Dave’s Groceries down the road. But in 2017, we think this is going to change.
For starters, this trend is already underway – Small Business Trends reported that 50% of small businesses will get an app or be working towards that objective by 2017.
Second, the standard for user experience constantly increases. Pressure on all companies is higher than ever and will only be turned up in 2017. One way to stay competitive on mobile devices is with mobile app development.
Finally, mobile is increasingly the device of choice for people. Whether it’s the super fast processors in the latest smartphone or using a keyboard with your iPad Pro, the traditional computer (let alone the desktop) is becoming less important for work and play. If you don’t have a mobile app yet, we think it is a worthwhile time to start thinking about one.
2. Start delving into location-based communication
Beacons and GPS, geo-fencing, and NFC are all examples of ways companies can use physical location to link the user to a digital experience. While these innovations have been on the books since around 2014 (especially for retail stores), the cost continues to drop, and they get easier to implement.
Currently, location-based signals are one of the best ways to provide a cross-channel experience, taking users from your brick-and-mortar locations to your online properties and back offline again. For example, you might use geofencing technology to identify customers in your physical stores, and then be able to retarget them with email broadcasts or push notifications with new offers or messages, seamlessly blending your different marketing channels and identifying your highest value targets.
3. Optimise for AI
For the past year, there have been countless conversations about the role AI will play in our lives in the next 5-10 years. And in 2017, some brands are already rolling out ambitious AI projects.
But for most companies, what we can expect is greater chatbot integration across a broad range of industries. Basically, people have become accustomed to using Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant as an interface to engage with products and services online. Now, it’s up to companies to meet that expectation.
To do that, there’s going to have to be a twofold investment.
First, in building out back-end systems to literally talk to Siri and her friends, making your service easier for your customers to use automatically.
Second, there will have to be increased investment in content that can be optimized to pull an answer when users ask a question into Google. For example, a robust FAQ about your industry with common questions and answers, all tagged as structured data, will help users find what they want faster than ever.
2016 saw extremely high-profile hacking incidents – including for both political camps during the US election, as well as Yahoo’s massive data breach. Collectively, these events have raised consumer awareness of IT risk to new heights.
We’ve reached a point now where security is a zero-sum game for online producers. Even one hacking incident could have significant repercussions on a business, to both its economics and reputation. The new normal will have companies balancing the security of their digital properties with an effective user experience.
5. Augmented and virtual reality
Finally, augmented and virtual reality.
So far, we’ve focused on things that are actionable tomorrow – most companies can turn around and start building an app or conducting a security audit right away, should they want to. Augmented reality and VR are a bit different. Yes, the hardware appears to be mainstream enough now with multiple providers on the market. And yes, the lesson learned from Pokemon Go was that augmented reality is a whole new platform for brands to reach consumers with.
We wanted to mention it because, frankly, everyone else is predicting that 2017 is the year of mass deployment for an industry that is projected to be worth $120 billion in 2020.
But there are a few things to consider before you invest a portion of your budget into VR headsets.
First, most of the early applications focus on gaming. Yes, there are some token efforts outside of gaming and digital optimists are all screeching about the various other applications, but for now, the focus remains on gaming. As for augmented reality, yes it is a new channel to reach customers. But Pokemon Go is perhaps an inaccurate predictor of future success. After all, Pokemon Go had the distinct advantage of being first to market. Plus, it was a game.
So for 2017, we think that VR and AR will see big strides. But unless you’re a gaming company, you can probably hold off investing in 2017, and instead, focus on honing existing channels of communication. It will also give you time to truly think about how your business can properly leverage AR/VR in a year or two when the technology is more commonplace and can demonstrate true value, as opposed to simply appearing as a gimmick for early adopters.
2017 is looking to be a great year for companies to refine their digital products and services, helping consumers by forging stronger cross-channel experiences, improving mobile experiences, and interacting with customers with AI in a simple, customized way. We’re pretty excited about it.