It’s that time of year where we all start talking about marketing trends – as if something miraculous is going to happen in the industry once the clock strikes 12 on December 31st. Of course, this is never the case and we have to be a little bit careful about which trends we get swept up in.

Despite all the hype – and there always seem to be a lot of it – many trends turn out to be little more than gimmicks. So what’s the verdict on the hottest ‘trends’ marketers have spend most of 2016 rambling on about?


Chatbots make their claim

Chatbots have got all the makings of a marketing gimmick. They’ve created half of the industry headlines written this year (a very rough estimate) and all they’ve really done so far is create more problems than they’ve solved.

That said, the technology does show some potential in creating a more streamlined shopping experience. And, it’s the first platform to really make personalised marketing messages a workable reality – something we’ve been talking about for years.

So chatbots will definitely be one to watch in 2017. For business owners who are smart enough to develop bots that genuinely make the shopping/content process easier, there’s plenty of potential. The risk is there’ll probably be too many hideous, frustrating and outright gimmicky bots for the technology to take off as quickly as it could.


Verdict: Trend (for better or worse)


Still waiting for personalised marketing

This is the one we’ve really been waiting for and chatbots could be the first genuine step to making it a reality. As things stand, though, the process of collecting data, creating personalised marketing messages, targeting users and then getting reliable feedback data is too expensive and complex for most businesses.

This is the biggest strength of chatbots – they open the possibility (albeit a highly limited one) to all kinds of businesses in an affordable package.

Whether this will be enough to really kick off the age of personalised marketing remains to be seen. We’ve already got email marketing on our sides, of course, but it feels like we still need a few more channels for things to get serious.

As the new flock of personal assistants take over the web, it becomes easier to see this happening. Of course, it will be completely monopolised by the likes of Google and Apple (what else is new) but they’re the only folks who have the financial clout to bring the necessary data and technology to users and businesses. The question is: at what price?


Verdict: Trend (but not in 2017)


Virtual/augmented reality promises the world

If chatbots have written half the marketing headlines this year, the other half has been dominated by talk about virtual reality. Boy, those tech giants really want us believe this is the future of marketing, education, healthcare and everything else. And plenty of people genuinely believe that will be the case.

All we know is VR/AR is going to be expensive for any business to get involved – at least in the early days. Hopefully, we’ll have third-party developers building platforms for specific needs in the same way we’re getting with chatbots now. So every fashion retailer that needs an virtual fitting room, for example, can use existing frameworks, rather than building their own app every time.

The other big problem with VR/AR from a marketing perspective is seeing how it will actually do anything useful at this stage. Sure, virtual tours of hotels, apartments and previews of holiday packages have some potential. But how is it going to help insurance companies, lawyers and the other biggest spenders in online advertising?

Even the fashion retailers have to question how useful/trustworthy a virtual fitting room is going to be. Another suggestion we heard recently was VR test drives for cars – as if you can’t already go out and do that in the actual car for real.


Verdict: Gimmick


The last chance for beacons?

When Apple told the world beacons were the future marketing we all listened, eyes wide open and slightly jittery with excitement. All we had to do was wait for the technology to take off and we’d be doing marketing like sci-fi boffs in Minority Report. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Okay, so it’s only been three years – but that’s a long time in this industry and beacons are pretty much sitting in technology’s attic gathering dust.

Why? Well, it turns out the devices were too large, difficult to install, hard to maintain and had a nasty habit of falling off of surfaces they were “attached” to. Then there was the implementation on the user end: people first needed to download specified apps and then manually opt in for messages to be sent to them. All of which happened at around about the same time the industry went nuts for UX design. Hmm.

There’s light at the end of the beacon tunnel though and (big surprise) Google has plans to make it all kick off.

Google beacons promise to be smaller, easier to install and generally more loveable than its distant cousins. And, more importantly, Google’s move towards an app-free web means users won’t need to download anything to receive your messages. They’ll still need to opt in – at least until any legal changes come in – but Google could be about to wipe out the biggest barrier to beacon adoption on the user end.


Verdict: To be continued…


So that’s our verdict on the most talked about marketing trends coming into 2017. We’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the points we’ve mentioned today or other trends you think deserve a mention – especially if you’re a touch on the sceptical side!