The most important marketing themes of 2016

The end of the year marks a time of reflection, so we’re taking a look back at 2016 and some of the top marketing trends. Their importance lies not only in their impact this past year but also in their opportunities for the year to come.

Each of these themes is currently changing how we reach target audiences, leads and consumers — and moving forward, they have the potential to grow and change the ways we communicate and work. It’s time to stay informed, learn more and consider how you can best apply these trends to your own marketing plan.

Marketing automation meets media buying

Automation is a hot topic in marketing, but in 2016, it had a significant impact on the area of media buying specifically. Programmatic media buying allows marketers to buy ad space in two ways: across a variety of sites through automated real-time auctions — what’s known as “programmatic RTB (real-time buying)” — or through specific media publishers via a more automated, simplified and targeted process than traditional buying — what’s commonly referred to as “programmatic direct.”

While many brands are still learning about programmatic media buying, its growth in 2016 makes it something marketers need to pay attention to. This year, U.S. programmatic digital display ad spending is expected to reach over $22 billion, representing 67 percent of total digital display ad spending and an increase of 39.7 percent over last year. And in 2017, that number is predicted to grow to $27.47 billion, making up 72 percent of the total digital display spending. Mobile, specifically mobile video programmatic spending, is driving much of this growth.

Opportunities to connect and interact with audiences expand

Consumers are watching more online video, expanding their mobile usage and even starting to venture into the world of wearable devices — all creating an environment of increased connectivity and interactivity and an opportunity for marketers to reach them in new ways. While tactics like interactive content and livestreaming have been around for awhile, especially in the B2C world, this year saw more brands experimenting with these channels and expanding their presence.

As consumers look for a greater authenticity and transparency from brands, livestreaming offers an opportunity for marketers to show a “human face” or a behind-the-scenes look at their business, culture and people. For B2B marketers, livestreaming is a great way to share information, including product announcements, demos, how-tos, webinars and events. Interactivity comes into play when brands invite the audience to participate in real-time Q&As, but the videos can also be saved and repurposed for broader reach.

Interactive content, such as calculators, quizzes and interactive infographics, has a number of benefits. It grabs attention, boosts engagement and provides a personalized experience—and thanks to the interactive element, it can even gather consumer information and generate leads. B2B brands in industries from healthcare to mining are now getting on board and creating unique pieces of interactive content.

Data helps build relationships between consumers and brands

We’ve all heard about data and how it can help marketers to better target audiences, predict consumer behavior, assess performance and use marketing budgets more efficiently. But data has a unique role in allowing brands to build relationships with consumers, an impact that more marketers are noticing and utilizing to encourage even more data-sharing.

As brands use data to understand consumers’ preferences, needs and habits, they can then create value for those consumers, whether that’s in the form of personalized product recommendations, special incentives or a new service feature. The result? Happy customers who develop a deeper trust in that brand or business. Because marketers are providing value and building a relationship, consumers become more open to data-sharing. They see the value in it and have confidence that the brand will protect their information and use it in positive ways to benefit their consumer experience.

At a higher level, these three marketing themes — automation, interactivity and data — are not necessarily new, but the ways marketers are using them has changed and grown in 2016. And the three are closely tied as they each relate to real-time exchanges, information sharing and increased connectivity. As we move into 2017 and keep an eye on the growth of these trends, we’ll be better positioned to build relationships with key audiences and deliver the messaging, content and value they want.