10 Trends That Defined Digital Marketing in 2016

As the role of marketing continues to expand, it’s more challenging than ever to keep a pulse on what changes are occurring in the field. Continued learning is critical, and if you’re not taking the time to keep up with industry news and marketing trends, your efforts may fall flat.

If you’re worried you might have missed something major this year, we have you covered. Read on for 10 trends that propelled the biggest changes in digital marketing this year:

1. Increased Social Search Functionality

Social media marketing is one of the fastest growing marketing niches, and 2016 brought about much-improved search functionality. In late 2015, Facebook booted Bing and replaced site search with their own algorithm that allows visitors to search all public posts. This year, Twitter updated its advanced search capabilities to allow for long-tail keyword searches. For marketers, social search is exciting because it allows for brand content to be discovered organically. However, increased organic traffic is just one benefit of enhanced social search functionality.

Social search is also an effective research and targeting tool. For example, marketers can search for any term on Facebook and find public posts using that term. Then, results can be filtered by source, location, and date, allowing you to find results for people that already follow your brand, are located in your area, and have posted questions about the term you searched for. These kinds of insights drive content marketing that speaks directly to your audience’s needs. Not to mention, B2B organizations implementing account-based marketing can use these unique insights to inform their targeted campaigns.

2. Real-Time Marketing

Real-time marketing revolves around current and topical events, and it’s an effective way to earn a big boost in traffic and visibility. It’s easier than ever to find trending topics these days: Google Trends provides you with daily updates on the most popular searches, Twitter tells you what hashtags are trending at any given moment, and Facebook provides up-to-date information on popular topics.

Here are a few brands that nailed it this year:

During the 2016 Super Bowl, Gatorade created a Snapchat filter that allowed users to share a Super Bowl tradition—dumping Gatorade on the coach—with their friends. The filter got more than 100 million views, and got Gatorade in on the big event without paying for an in-game commercial.

In another example, Greenpeace capitalized on Leonardo DiCaprio’s long-awaited Oscar win by snagging and tweeting a pro-environment line from his speech. The hashtag and timeliness earned them nearly 2000 retweets and some serious social media attention.


Then in September, Norwegian Air ran ads just two days after the Brangelina breakup that simply stated, “Brad is single.” before quoting their price for a one-way to L.A. Even the print ads set social media on fire.


Sometimes, real-time marketing finds you. A great example is “Chewbacca Mom” and her live product review of a Kohl’s Chewbacca mask. Within weeks, millions of people saw an average, middle-class mom praise Kohl’s return policy…and product. Then, 30 million saw the video of Kohl’s employees showing up at the woman’s home with gift cards and more masks for her kids. Well played, Kohl’s.

3. Live Video Streaming

Live video emerged as a key player this year. In April, Facebook launched Facebook Live. In June, YouTube released a new capability for live streams to be captured and served directly through the company’s mobile app. These new services have made live streaming easier than ever, and marketers are using that simplified access to achieve a variety of positive outcomes:

  • Increased engagement: Courtney Kemp-Agboh and 50 Cent publicized the premiere of the second season of their tv show Power on Facebook with a live Q&A session. The session resulted in more than 1,000 questions, 30K engagements, and 1.5 million impressions. Additionally, the Season 2 premiere saw three times more viewers than its first season and set a viewership record for Starz.
  • Damage control: When a technology failure at Southwest Airlines led to the cancellation of more than 4,000 flights over several days, the company’s CEO took to Facebook Live to provide an update on the issue. The stream was viewed more than 800,000 times and received more than 6,000 likes and loves—striking when compared to the fewer than 1,000 angry or sad emoji responses received.

4. Evolution of Pay-Per-Sale (PPS)

The traditional PPC advertising model is transitioning into more of a PPS model, as several social media platforms have added finite targeting capabilities that allow marketers to hyperfocus their advertising on audiences that are more likely to convert. In March, LinkedIn launched Account Targeting. In April, Twitter introduced Ad Groups. In June, Pinterest amplified its ad targeting capabilities with customer list, visitor, and lookalike targeting. In September, Facebook added category blocking.

On average, conversion rates for advertisers on Google AdWords are around 2.7% for search ads and 0.89% on display ads. Compare that to these case studies for targeted ads on social platforms:

  • VistaVu, a business intelligence and software company, saw an 18.2% conversion rate with its targeted LinkedIn display ads.
  • The San Jose Sharks employed Facebook’s ad targeting capabilities to earn 33 times more revenue than what was spent on the ad.
  • SiriusDecisions used Twitter targeted ads to promote sales of tickets to its annual B2B conference. The campaign resulted in an ROI of 16 times advertising spend.

5. Wearables

Everything from smartwatches to virtual reality headsets flooded the consumer market in 2016. This means people are accessing the internet with a wider array of devices than ever before, forcing marketers to come up with innovative ways to reach buyers across platforms.

Degree deodorant, for example, partnered with So You Think You Can Dance to equip the top 20 dancers with biometric monitors. Nike focuses on brand storytelling with its wearables, and SEO marketers across most industries are increasingly incorporating natural language and long-tail keywords into their strategies due to voice search features that are increasingly available on wearables like the iWatch.

6. Visually-Driven Advertising

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but today it’s worth much more. Shorter attention spans and media-driven lifestyles cause users—and thus marketers—to prioritize images and video that capture attention in fractions of a second.

In September 2015, Instagram opened advertising on the platform to everyone; eight months later, they added dynamic (retargeted) ads to the platform’s offerings. This year, Facebook shared that most of the videos on their site are watched without sound, Pinterest added Engagement Retargeting and Lookalike/Actalike Audiences, and Snapchat enhanced its ad targeting capabilities.

The demand for visual advertising is in some part driven by rising mobile usage: in October, mobile usage surpassed desktop usage for the first time ever. Marketers are using these visual platforms to create dynamic, visually compelling ads to attract attention.

The World Wildlife Fund took to Snapchat with a campaign titled “Don’t let this be my #Lastselfie,” an excellent example of both catering to the platform’s younger audience and appealing to emotions.

The marketing team behind Airbnb is even formatting their videos for mobile screens. When they show up on a mobile device, they fill the screen without any additional action by the user.

7. Remarketing

Remarketing has been proven to bring back customers who previously bounced. While Google AdWords, Twitter, and Facebook have offered remarketing capabilities for some time, in the last year, we’ve also seen the capability added to Instagram and Pinterest.

With a properly set-up remarketing plan, you’ll increase engagement across both search and social media while reducing the cost-per-click of your ad campaigns. Marketers can use retargeting in a number of ways. If a product is viewed on your site but not purchased, retargeting can display that specific product as an ad. Or a larger-scale approach can be taken that serves promotional offers to people who visited your site but didn’t convert.

8. Big Data and Real-Time Analytics

Big data is nothing new, but, historically, big data has required a significant amount of analysis in order for the information to have meaning. Many advances in big data have changed that and made finding meaning in big data more accessible with tools like real-time analytics, predictive analytics, and advanced marketing automation.

Big data is opening business opportunities and may even have the potential to cure cancer. Marketers are using real-time analytics to simplify processes, improve conversions, and more precisely target potential customers. For example, instead of targeting 18- to 35-year-old females with an ad for yoga pants, you can directly target them at the yoga studio after they enroll for a class and may be looking for a new pair.

9. Mobile App Development

First you needed a mobile-optimized website, then you needed a mobile app, and now many companies are combining the two via progressive web apps. Progressive web apps are a blend between a website and app that allows push notifications and offline access without requiring visitors to download a separate mobile application.

Given that most mobile app usage occurs on email, social media, messaging, and browser apps, progressive web apps allow marketers to abandon underperforming app initiatives. Instead, they can focus on building progressive web apps that marry the best parts of both sites and apps: faster load speeds, push notifications, the ability to have an icon on a phone’s home screen, and the ability to be indexed by search engines.

10. Speedy Website Experience

Quickly loading websites and pages are good for SEO and users: almost half of people will abandon a site if it takes more than three seconds to load, according to Kissmetrics. This year, Google made it simpler than ever to improve page load speeds on mobile by introducing the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP). Sites that implement AMP serve stripped-down content on mobile that allows mobile pages to load much more quickly.

Quick loading sites are critical, especially on mobile where people may have limited time for browsing and finding solutions to their problems. Slow page speeds have a huge impact on bounce rate: Google’s research on its own site found that by expanding search results from 10 to 30, it increased load times by half a second, leading to a 20% drop in traffic.

Planning for the Future

There have been major changes in social media, mobile apps, SEO, wearables, and big data this year—and you can be sure there are many more coming. It can be a lot to consume and understand, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Instead, as the year draws to a close and you start planning your 2017 initiatives, choose the ones that offer the biggest benefits and leave the rest for a rainy day.

What changes made the biggest impact on your marketing initiatives this year? What changes do you predict that 2017 has in store for marketers? Let us know in the comments below.