Now that the initial 'new year' furore around digital trend predictions has died down, it's the ideal time for brands and businesses to take a long-term view of their marketing strategy and establish exactly which of these might provide real opportunities for them to get ahead of the competition.
But which trends are pure hype and which will actually stand the test of time? Here are the digital predictions I feel we're most likely to actually see emerge over the coming year.
1. A focus on evolution over transformation
One of the buzz phrases often bandied about in 2014 was 'business transformation through digital'. But many have quickly caught on that undergoing such 'transformation' can be arduous, disruptive and costly (especially is you get it wrong), and that a 'quick fix' is no substitute for a long-term strategy.
Instead, in 2015, businesses will increasingly look to work with partners that can help them to gradually evolve -- rather than revolutionise -- their digital offering.
This means that digital agencies will not only need to deliver strategy and solution for their clients, but be prepared to work with them to enable ongoing adaption and growth in line with customer's changing needs.
2. Experience platforms will overtake CMS
The amount of different devices being used by today's hyper-connected consumers -- and their corresponding high expectations for digital experiences that deliver exactly what they need -- means that a standard CMS often don't cut it anyone.
We've already worked with a number of clients to re-engineer their digital infrastructure in order to streamline fragmented marketing tools and bring customer experience management under a single point of control.
These enterprise marketing platforms -- which act as content 'hubs' -- are more than worth investing in as they allow you to manage all digital properties in one place and create more personalised content that can be applied across multiple platforms for a more interactive, intuitive consumer experience.
Not only do enterprise marketing platforms help to reduce the amount of resource needed to maintain digital channels, but they're also future-proof as they can be added to and evolved to meet the changing consumer behaviour and device trends. And this means less need for large-scale, 'from scratch' website builds (all of which, of course, is very much in line with our first prediction around evolution overtaking transformation).
Having already delivered a number of Sitecore platforms, we're really excited about this year's major Sitecore 8 upgrade and the opportunities this will present for greater levels of digital sophistication.
3. 'Content first' -- and content strategy -- becomes even more significant...
While the idea of a 'content first' approach is far from new, I predict that 2015 will be the year that its importance really hits home.
Today, the right content, derived from digital insight and delivered using the most relevant technology, is what gives businesses the edge by helping them to create richer brand experience and command consumer's attention. In order to achieve this fine balance, decisions around content to be made hand-in-hand with decisions around tech through a comprehensive content strategy.
An effective content strategy requires a melding of digital skillsets; it needs strategist who can offer an insight into the target audience, User Experience consultants who can make sure content will have the desired effect, Copywriters experienced in writing across digital platforms, Digital Designers who make the content looks great, SEO specialists who can make sure it gets seen and developers who can ensure everything can be presented in the right way.
As such, with all these specialists under one roof, digital agencies are certainly better placed than PR of SEO agencies to advise on content strategy. So as more and more businesses look to explore a 'content first' approach, its digital agencies they should be turning to for guidance.
4. ... while 'mobile first' becomes the standard
The sheer amount of devices of different sizes and with differing capabilities that are now available is mind-blowing. Within such a landscape, the traditional classifications of 'desktop', 'tablet' and 'mobile' have essentially become meaningless.
Although the rise of responsive design attempted to address these challenges, the standard approach within the industry is still to design a 'full size' desktop website first, and then degrade that down to tablet and mobile format by removing/breaking functionality and force-fitting content onto smaller screens. I believe that this is entirely the wrong way to go about things; what's needed is a fundamental shift in the web design and development process to a 'mobile first' approach.
There's a common misconception that working 'mobile first' means prioritising the mobile experience over the desktop experience, but that's not the case. It's a progressive design approach which begins with gaining an understanding of users' content priorities and business needs and then designing an experience to present prioritised content on a small screen device first before building on and enhancing that experience to work on other devices with greater capabilities (such as larger screen size, touch, geo-location, etc.).
This helps create a single, seamless experience for the end user and means you're always delivering meaningful content at the right time and in the right place. It also removes the need to have to account for an unlimited (and, given the current pace of change, frankly unknowable) number of separate device sizes and technology sets -- and it means that you're also geared up for any device sizes released in the future.
In 2015, the industry will catch on to this and we'll see more production teams adopting this best practice approach.
5. Wearable tech and smart devices become mainstream
With the Apple Watch on the verge of being launched, this year will undoubtedly see a surge in the number of businesses looking to leverage wearable tech like smartwatches, wristbands and virtual reality headsets and other smart devices in order to stay ahead of the curve and attract, acquire, engage and retain customers.
Brands within the health, sporting and home sectors are already running with this trend, and I expect that we'll see more retail brands looking to take advantage of opportunities for mobile payment, location-based messaging and in-store communication, as well as customer service staff using technology to merge the physical and digital retail environments.
Success stories will emerge where brands approach the use of such devices strategically, taking care to develop experiences in-line with their customer needs; those who attempt to adopt such tactics just for the sake of it will soon fall foul once savvy consumers realise the experience haven't truly been created with them in mind.
The days of the isolated 'quick fix' are over. The new reality for digital agencies is that they should be working to support clients along evolutional journey of continual improvement, delivering something brilliant and then continuing to work with them to make it better.