What’s Anchoring The Digital Marketing Conversation In 2016?

This year will be defined by three key topics: (the new!) CRO, content personalization, and mobile app optimization. Not only are they a powerhouse trifecta—intertwined and, at the same time, each individual foundational pieces of the digital marketing spectrum—but they’re all, incidentally, at tipping points in their own separate evolutions.

What’s Anchoring The Digital Marketing Conversation In 2016?

We’re already well into 2016 and, in these few short weeks, the digital marketing agenda already seems to be well set for the year. And here’s my sneak peek: It’s going to be a game changing year for all of us.

From where I sit, all of this fervor boils down to three key business topics that will hands down set the global chatter over the next 11 months. They’re already picking up serious steam and trickling into the industry discourse. Get excited.

So what am I talking about, specifically? Three topics: conversion rate optimization (CRO), content personalization, and mobile apps. They’re all intrinsically tied but, at the same time, deserve their own dedicated conversations—and, together, have the potential to tremendously impact our businesses, especially now. Here’s what it comes down to.

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

Yes, you probably already know what conversion rate optimization is—and, more likely than not, you’re dedicating at least some of your time and talent to CRO. So what’s the big deal about conversion in 2016? Lots. You might think you know what CRO represents but, in reality, the landscape has changed in a big way—and it’s all for the better. Given what’s bubbling to the surface, it’s clear digital marketers have been thinking about conversion through an incredibly narrow lens, and it’s time to shift our thinking.

Why now? Because there’s lots happening that’s broadening our view of what CRO really entails. In the last year or two I’ve seen so many optimizationally mature organizations hit a conversion rate ceiling and, as a result, move onto other things—different ad tactics, content marketing shifts, social activations, you name it. But now it’s essential to reinvest and redefine “conversion” and, with it, what it actually means to convert someone. And, from there, to actually dig in and do it.

So then the million-dollar question: What does it mean to “convert” in 2016? Today’s customer journey spans so many more platforms and experiences than it used to. In the past, a consumer came to your site and went from point A to point B to point C, weaving through the funnel or succumbing to fallout. Sure, that’s still a very real path for many businesses—but, at the same time, it led to us using the term “CRO” to define a very narrow, very nice, and very neat way of explaining this high-value process.

But now it’s 2016, and we have to open our minds. E-commerce companies, for example, might find that an increase in the conversion “rate” isn’t as valuable for the business as a revenue per visitor (RPV) improvement. Here’s a twist on CRO: How about optimizing for more app downloads? Many companies find that the apps deliver great value so opting for this success metric might prove to be a great CRO activity. CRO must take today’s conversion scenarios into consideration, including acknowledging that customer journeys may start through one channel or device and end up (and finish) in another. Obviously this has an impact on how those all-important microconversions, how we measure them, and the steps we take to optimize them.

My prediction? This is the year we take on more sophisticated conversion-driven projects and tactics. Our successes will be benchmarked not by moving people from A to B, but, instead, by peering in from our comprehensive and highly data-driven vantage point, giving us a clear view of how, when, and why a conversion takes place—and, even, how we can do things a bit better next time. It sounds simple enough, but most brands just aren’t doing it. But this year, they will. And the benefits will help marketers elevate CRO to a strategic level. It’s that important.

Content Personalization

The CRO conversation naturally dovetails into topic #2: content personalization. Why? Because you aren’t personalizing that content to simply create this lovely consumer experience—you’re doing it because you’ve got a real conversion goal staring right back at you, right?

This year, I predict, there’s going to be a tremendous amount of focus on content and the role it plays in the overarching personalization conversation. Over the past year we’ve made so many strides when it comes to infusing data into content experiences, and now it’s time to push the envelope a bit more. Now it’s time to see how much more agile we can all become with that high value content—how much more responsive to consumer signals, how much more we can pivot and flex as data becomes readily available and, overall, how can start to liberate ourselves from traditional website constructs that have come to define our roles and the industry as a whole.

Granted, I’m not sure this is the year my vision of 100% personalized content will be realized; at the same time, I’m confident we can make some serious strides toward data-driven content decisions that drive rewarding and highly relevant experiences. And when we do, marketers will be able to effectively and efficiently scale content personalization and deliver the lofty results businesses have come to expect.

The first step? Get your data and content houses in order. More on that in a follow-up post—but there’s no harm in making your list, checking it twice, and seeing what’s solid and what leaves something to be desired.

Mobile Apps

My final 2016 prediction? I’ve got huge expectations on the mobile app front. The last two years have been marked by a mass proliferation in the space including big investments, tons of attention, and enormous resource allocations from all corners of the industry. But, at the same time, there’s a tremendous amount of clutter clouding consumers’ decision making and, with it, their downloads. There are more than 1.6 million apps available for Android users to download, and 1.5 million+ in the Apple store alone—where do you even begin when you’re filling your device with the latest must-haves.

So there are millions and millions of apps—but is all of this legwork really paying off? The development, the production, the marketing, the outreach—it’s enough to get your head spinning. And, I’d argue, if we continue on the current path, all of this hard work and resource investment simply isn’t worth it. But that’s not to say I don’t support mobile app platforms—it’s actually the opposite. I think we’re on the brink of an app revolution starting right now.

Here’s the main issue: Many brands aren’t 100% clear what their new and existing apps are even supposed to do for their businesses. Trust me, more than a few companies I’ve seen have rolled out mobile experiences without giving as much as a nod to their end goals and KPIs. In their minds they have an app, and that’s good enough. It’s a little Field of Dreams, isn’t it? But here’s the thing: This isn’t a baseball field in Iowa. Just because you build it doesn’t mean the consumers will come. It’s as simple as that.

All of these challenges notwithstanding, I’m confident this will be the year apps begin to pay off in a big way—or, at least, start to. If you’re an app stakeholder, it’s time you thought long and hard about what those platforms mean for your business—what role these have-to-have apps really play for your brand and your marketing mix, in general. It’s crucial we understand what app engagement really means and, from there, how we monetize the high-value touchpoints yours represent. Then we’ll start monetizing—really, I’m confident we’re on the brink. And, as a result, in 2016 many of us will become razor-focused on app engagement and, increasingly, app optimization and personalization. And you can’t do that without considering CRO and content personalization.

This year will be defined by three key topics: (the new!) CRO, content personalization, and mobile app optimization. Not only are they a powerhouse trifecta—intertwined and, at the same time, each individual foundational pieces of the digital marketing spectrum—but they’re all, incidentally, at tipping points in their own separate evolutions. CRO and content personalization have a cut-and-dry relationship and one that needs to start extending to mobile app optimization. We’ll explore those connections and cross-sections in three upcoming deep dives, published here over the next few weeks. And, through this series, you’ll be able to better benchmark your business—see what you’re doing well, what could stand some improvement and, even, where the holes are. But it all starts here—and it all starts by diving into the conversation.