9 Digital Trends to Watch for in 2016

Photo Credit: Magic Leap

In 2016, the media landscape will be more complex than ever. Audiences already discover, read, and share content across a multitude of media platforms and channels, and the ecosystem’s growth shows no signs of slowing down.

We don’t live in an era of binary choice — we fluidly shift from device to device, from channel to channel, and from moment to moment at will. And this trend is only accelerating. Imagine a future media landscape filled with augmented reality platforms and new one-to-many messaging apps that span across all of the moments of your day — the future is not as far away as you might think.

We want to help you carve out some clarity in an uncertain media landscape. Our team came together to identify the most important trends we’ll see in 2016 across the digital and media ecosystem—from the death of the website to the rise of adblockers. We want hear from you too—chime in with your own thoughts as responses.

The Death of the Website

Aaron Morrissey, Senior Manager, Client and Content Development

“I have a different vision,” noted the amazingly named co-founder of The Next Web, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten. “The death of the website.” I mean, sure, van Zanten’s notion surfaced in 2010, but that very vision of mobile engagement trends is growing ever closer to fruition.

While platforms that have always been mobile-native like Twitter were once prime examples of apps rendering websites secondary, brands are increasingly having to ask themselves the question: what medium serves my message better — a fully mobile-responsive website or an app? That notion may have been slightly absurdist in 2010 — but in 2016, with ad blocking, platform diffusion, and social referral traffic the order of the digital day, it’s a far more serious question that a much broader group of organizations will have to address sooner, rather than later.

Media as Event … or Air?

KC Sledd, Senior Manager, Strategy

Media as event, or focused-period-of-time-in-which-you-are-fed-content, seems to be waning as compared to media as air, or omnipresent-content-on-every-device. Netflix, Spotify, and every other content delivery system seem to be drowning album sales and weekly television shows. Or are they?

Programs like The Bachelor and Scandal capitalize on the “media as event” model, creating moments to engage with the cast, the show, and other fans on social media. Fans know #ScandalThursdays and join in because maybe Bellamy Young will tweet at you. I’m curious to see how Amazon and Netflix keep people engaged after 16 slack-eyed hours of binge-watching their favorite show.

Future Reality is Coming

Joshua Lasky, Senior Manager, Digital Trends and Insights

Did you check out The New York Times’ Google Cardboard experiment? It was the first foray of virtual reality into mainstream culture, and we can expect to see more experimentation as platforms like Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR hit the market next year. Although there is a lot of potential here for brands and publishers, this isn’t what I’m most excited about. I’m excited about augmented reality.

Imagine walking through the street, but seeing a fantastical landscape instead. Magic Leap, the company most likely to bring this to market first, shows a gymnasium full of children watching a blue whale jump up and splash the crowd. This technology opens up a wide array of use cases — from more practical applications like real-time visual navigation to education and entertainment. NYC computer scientist Ken Perlin has a name for both of these emerging technologies: “Future Reality.” Get ready for a big shift in how we experience content in the next five years.

Finally, Digital-First Branding

Maggie Fowler, Junior Graphic Designer

Photo Credit: Under Consideration

You used to just have a logo and that was your brand, but now the landscape is shifting towards a more digital focus. The rise of digital-first branding is challenging brands to create a dynamic identity system. It isn’t just about your logo anymore now that brands need to be reachable at all times. One great example of this is for the Ontario College of Art and Design, where their logo changes for different use cases.

The End of the Banner Ad

Andrew Werner, Client Development Lead, Strategy

I think 2016 will be the year that marketing executives are finally forced to acknowledge the lack of quantifiable ROI from standard digital banner ads. Marketers are going to start answering the question, posed in a Digiday article, “If I stopped advertising on [traditional] digital media right now, what would happen?”

I think for the last 15 years, the industry has blindly accepted the fact that banner ads have tangible value, when in fact they are not much more than smoke and mirrors. This will be the year the industry is forced to be honest with itself and have a more mature conversation about the future of digital advertising with an increased focus on the user experience.

Brand, Meet Podcast

Jason Tomassini, Senior Manager of Editorial Projects

We all know podcasting is exploding, yet only three percent of content marketers are using the medium, according to the Content Marketing Institute. It’s a missed opportunity I think brands will seize upon in 2016. General Electric and Slack have launched successful podcasts and Marriott and IBM are dipping their toes in the water.

In many ways, podcasts are a perfect medium for brands. Brands have the resources to create high-quality content and hire professional producers, competitive advantages in a top-heavy market flooded with amateur entrants. Podcasts offer a captive audience, so brands can develop long-term relationships with listeners. And podcast discovery is limited to a few major platforms and driven organic by organic growth. So brands can compete on a relatively level playing field with traditional publishers and media organizations. A brand may not create the next Serial in 2016, but expect to see a lot of interesting experimentation.

The Growing Importance of Messaging Apps

Nguyet Vuong, Senior Visual Designer

Photo Credit: Activate

In 2015, the number of active users on messaging apps surpassed the number of users on traditional social media channels. As this audience continues to grow, messaging apps will play an increasing role in the distribution strategy of brands and publishers. With the ability to launch their own official channels, combined with these apps’ highly engaged audiences, brands have an amazing opportunity to connect directly with millions of people at previously untapped moments.

Some brands have already started to explore this space, leveraging unique features of different messaging applications to experiment with new storytelling methods and community-building. Brands can experiment with mobile-first content in a fast, iterative manner, without the constraints of traditional environments. While this is uncharted territory for many, brands have the potential to explore different strategies for adapting their voice, or experiential offerings across an ecosystem of emojis (emojis are fun), images, videos, gifs, stickers, games, memes, comics and more.

For brands to stay relevant and have global reach, they need to engage audiences where they are and where they will be in the future. Messaging applications are the next frontier that brands should look towards to continue reaching the broader audiences of the future.

Tailored, Connected Storytelling

Jim Walsh, Associate Director, Editorial

A lot of the questions I heard this year in conversations with our clients and other professionals in the digital media space were variations on the theme of connection. Those who have embraced the idea of telling their stories on multiple platforms when and where audiences expect to find them are now grappling with the idea of how to tie it all together.

As we produce more and more things specifically tailored for the way in which people consume them, how can we make sure that each is connected to the other in the appropriate way? I think that’s going to continue to be a theme in 2016.

The Rise of Ad Blockers

Kristin Hume, Director of Brand and Marketing

Earlier this year, Apple made headlines by announcing that iOS9 will support ad blockers. The truth is, the tech giant’s big move is only part of a larger trend — ad blockers have been on the rise for years. Their rapid ascent proves something the media industry has been slow to admit: Users are not happy with the disruptive state of digital ads.

Photo Credit: NN Group

In fact, eyetracking studies show that users block out anything that even begins to resemble an ad. 2016 will be the year that the user experience becomes paramount. In reaction to all of this debate, publishers and brands will take strides to acknowledge their users as more than just clicks on a screen.

Digital trends are some of the many things we think about for clients at Atlantic Media Strategies every day. Sign up for our weekly newsletter, the Digital Trends Index, and get in touch on Twitter.