3970181993_cec442599f_bI often tell clients not to focus too much effort on second-guessing future marketing trends, because more often than not, your investment in time and money will not be repaid. Instead, I tell them to keep half an eye on the future and be ready to jump when opportunities prove themselves to be worthwhile.

In the meantime, it’s best to focus on the here and now, and that means going big on mobile, getting smarter with advanced marketing automation, and investing your creative minds into killer content marketing strategies (particularly video) that cannot be ignored on social media, your blog, and your email campaigns.

Still, it’s always good to have an idea of what the road ahead will look like. We may be in for a few detours here and there, but we marketers are pretty nimble when it comes to switching directions and following new, more interesting paths.

So, here’s what I will be keeping half an eye on in 2017. I’ve already started testing in some areas (and don’t forget, testing is a vital component of any marketing strategy). In other areas, I’m making sure I keep abreast of advances by following my marketing peers and early adopters – whose mistakes I will learn from.

1. Virtual Reality (VR)

VR is already becoming a major game changer in a number of diverse industries ranging from entertainment and gaming to engineering and healthcare. In the near future in marketing, I can see VR becoming an incredibly valuable conversion tool. Could you imagine walking around a new property before it is built, sampling a holiday resort without leaving your home, or visiting your child’s future college without a road trip?

2. Live Video

I recently predicted that live video services like Periscope from Twitter could threaten the business models of online meeting and webinar services. Since then, Facebook Live has taken live video to the next level and Twitter is struggling to keep up. Live video shared via a social media platform not only provides a great way to share useful, informative and educational content with your audience – it also creates a very real opportunity for your content to go viral. If you are already producing webinar content, I suggest it’s time to also start pushing this content out via Facebook Live and see how far it goes. Remember – beyond making sure you’re not suffering from a bad hair day – the investment required to broadcast live via a social channel is virtually zero. Even if you only have a smartphone, live video is yours to grab.

Note: On the topic of social imagery, if you’ve not done this already, it really is time to get your head around Snapchat. Not only is it the social media channel of choice for millennials (who are becoming increasingly economically powerful as they age), it’s starting to make a real impact with more mature audiences.

3. From Small Screen to No Screen

Over the past few years we’ve seen Internet use move from desktop devices to hand-held devices (tablets, smartphones and even smartwatches). Despite the reduction in size, all of these devices featured a screen. However, many new Internet-enabled devices finding their way into people’s homes and offices, such as the Amazon Echo, work entirely by voice. These devices can read blog posts, stream audio (for example, audiobooks and podcasts) and perform any number of tasks simply by being asked a question. Even Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has been experimenting with creating a personal assistant for his home. Email is bound to become a vital skill set of these voice-activated “home assistants” and we may find ourselves coming up with new ways to create audio-friendly email content that does not require a screen to make an impact. In the meantime – I am giving a lot of thought to how my wider content marketing efforts can be made available through them.

4. The Quick and The Dead

In 2017, your customers are going to be increasingly demanding instant gratification by shouting “I want it now.” Next-day shipping for residents of major US and European cities is already seen as old hat. The speed at which you can get your products into your customers’ hands is increasingly going to be a key differentiator between online retail businesses. Slow and steady might have won the race between a tortoise and the hare – but in online retail, you cannot waste your customers’ time with fairy tales.

5. We’re All in the Game Now

Software as a Service will continue to bridge the technology gap between large and small businesses. That has been a major focus at iContact, particularly in the area of marketing automation. With the launch of iContact Pro, we are able to provide advanced and cost-effective levels of marketing sophistication, previously available only to big business, to the wider business community including many smaller businesses and nonprofits. With marketing automation, the playing field will continue to level and businesses and organizations will be better equipped to compete based on the quality of their products and services and not the size of their marketing budgets.

6. Back to Basics

As the digital landscape continues to diversify and the number of devices we engage with expands, I believe marketers will be forced to adopt more simple and direct marketing strategies – those that can be consumed and acted upon regardless of how they are relayed. In terms of email marketing, this will mean subject lines will need to be more concise and engaging, body text will need to be better targeted, and any call-to-actions need to be easy and interesting enough to follow. This might mean going back to plain text – but as a fan of the written word over bells and whistles, I don’t think this is a bad thing.

What do you have your eye on in the future? Share your comments below:

This post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog.