Virtual reality, machine learning, and more: Our 2017 predictions

It’s that time of year when we all look to our crystal balls to predict what will happen in the B2B industry next year. This year, we’ve asked some of our esteemed colleagues to share some insights into what they think will happen in the following areas; Creative, PR, Digital, Professional Services and Content Marketing.
Gary Brosnan

Gary Brosnan, Creative Director

Creativity in 2017 will be about providing an experience to the audience, as opposed to presenting them with traditional messaging. The challenge will be creating something that audiences value, so dive deeper into exploring what will incite action and passion from customers. Playing to people’s passions rather than focusing on generations will be where creative storytelling will really drive audience awareness and participation. In addition, I believe virtual reality will become more accessible to people than ever before. This year, Cannes was all about virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 videos, so next year will be less about the ‘wow’ and more about the ‘how’ in using VR in public relations and storytelling. Finally, I believe there will be more emphasis on a ‘mobile first’ approach to digital campaigns. The mobile-first approach to design has been around for a few years now, but with mobiles now officially named as the primary devices used for browsing the web, more brands are realising the importance of having a site that effectively delivers content on a smaller screen.
Katie Potts

Katie Potts, Client Director

Although the comms industry has moved on leaps and bounds in recent years, when it comes to PR, box-ticking and bagging column inches for the sake of it without considering the commercial impact are unfortunately still too prevalent. We’ve all heard about how PR is deemed to be the poorer cousin in the comms world; struggling to prove its value. But this year, I’ve seen some great examples of how the scope and scale of PR campaigns have been expanded, leading to real and (dare I say it!) measurable business benefits. With that in mind, I think in 2017 we’ll see the same data-driven disciplines start to be applied to B2B PR, as we do to demand gen programmes. Fewer press releases will be written and distributed for the ‘sustained noise’ factor. I expect to see more strategic communications programmes based on how engaged the target audience is; how was the story, comment, press release, or tweet shared, and by who? How much conversation on social media is there around a particular topic and is it worth trying to get involved? Or is there even an opportunity to talk about something slightly differently?
Matt Boakes

Matt Boakes, Head of Digital

As marketing automation continues to develop and becomes even faster to implement, the next logical step is to fully integrate machine learning into the automation process. Currently, the majority of marketing automation systems utilise rules and workflows to nurture contacts and promote them to qualified leads. Although this works well there are limitations, as rules are implemented based solely on assumptions marketers have of their customers’ buyer journeys. Machine learning can - and will - improve this model by removing the manual elements of campaign setup and optimising campaigns based on analysing large data sets to predict future outcomes. Take the simple example of email send rates; as a rule of thumb campaigns are sent at different times of the month to decide what works best, however with machine learning this delivery can be in real time based on when an individual is most likely to open, with optimised subject lines and personalised content to engage that individual contact at that specific time of day. The key to machine learning is that as the system learns what’s working, it continually optimises - reducing manual user time and increasing ROI. It’s not there yet for most of us, but it’s not that far off so start considering the potential it could offer your brand.

Angela Richmond, MD Loudhouse

In 2017, B2B research is going to have to get granular. The use of technology to market, sell and deliver B2B services and professional services has dramatically reduced the cost of entry in many markets. Established players are having to fend off competition from fast-growing start-ups on the one hand, and stalking giants who decide to diversify on the other. To succeed in increasingly crowded markets, B2B businesses need to ask two key questions: What makes us different? And who should we target to? B2B research will need to get deeper and smarter to answer these questions. We expect clients to be asking more demanding questions around where the market potential is, where the sweet spots are. We’ll need to get more granular on the types of businesses which represent the greatest value to our clients. And we’ll need to drill down deeper into the needs to different audiences and personas to understand who’s driving the decision-making proves and what matters to them. Clients will still want to see customer journey maps, but they’ll need an emotional overlay which gives insight into how customers buy as people, not just as businesses. And this insight will need to loop back to brand, positioning and communications, to ensure that your message stands out in the crowd.
Pete Hendrick

Pete Hendrick, Director

I expect two major content marketing developments in 2017: one among clients, one among agencies. In-house marketers have been experimenting with different content marketing approaches over the last couple of years. I see 2017 being the year when they really commit to a long-term content marketing strategy that delivers sales leads. This will be the year that the commercial impact from great content marketing will make CEOs and sales directors sit up and take note. Meanwhile, from an agency perspective, everyone has been calling themselves content marketing agencies. As a result, the very definition of content marketing is subjective and varied in the extreme - and it’s confusing for in-house buyers. We will see a much clearer segmentation of content marketing in 2017 as agencies become more confident and commit to their own proposition.