Digital Transformation

Looking ahead to 2017: what’s going to be big next year in martech

By Engage Hub expert 15 December 2016

With not long to go until 2017, we decided to take a look at some of the key technologies that are going to be making waves in the New Year, and having the biggest impact on customer engagement.

Mobile first – you’ve been warned!

Responsive web design is not something new, but that doesn’t mean organisations have reacted as quickly as they might to changing market conditions and ensuring their customer engagement platforms are built to accommodate users browsing on any and all devices. Google’s announcement that it is creating a separate search index for mobile in the coming months – which will also become Google’s primary search index – is effectively last orders at the bar for anyone who hasn’t already taken appropriate steps to get their house in order and cater for an increasing swathe of users looking for and purchasing goods and services on mobile.

2017 will be the year that mobile laggards pay the price for not taking a mobile first approach to doing business, or at the very least, ensuring mobile is on an equal footing with other communications platforms.

Artificial intelligence – automated engagement

A couple of years ago, marketing automation was the in vogue topic of discussion. For Engage Hub, that was about having automated systems in place that might, for example, automatically send a customer an SMS if they’d already been sent an email but hadn’t opened it, or clicked on the appropriate link. But when Facebook launched its Messenger Platform developer chatbot API in April, it pushed a whole different kind of automation into the mainstream.

We are of course talking about artificial intelligence (AI), and the process of machine learning to enable ‘bots’ to assume a customer engagement function in a variety of different circumstances. AI will help businesses recognise patterns, learn from them and enable better decision making in ways, faster than we have ever known. Thanks to improvements in big data technology that enable real time decision making, it will become increasingly difficult for even the most discerning consumer to identify whether or not they are in communication with a real person, or a machine.

In September, Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft joined forces to create a new AI partnership to improve the public’s understanding of what AI is and the development of appropriate standards to ensure its proper use. Alongside all these altruistic endeavours, you can be sure that they’ll be looking to beat each other to the punch in delivering new AI technology to the market place, by throwing large sums of money at R&D and the acquisition of exciting new companies at the cutting edge of developments in this field.

With such heavyweights jockeying for early mover advantage this year, expect the arms race to kick into overdrive in 2017 as marketers say goodbye to manually segmenting lists to target categories of customers.They will instead rely on cloud-based customer engagement solutions to select the most appropriate communication channel and message to reach their customers in more targeted ways than ever before. Over the next 12 months, consumer experiences with brands will be transformed, as organisations and marketers use this technology to better understand their customer’s preferences, engage in deeper interactions and communicate to them in more contextually relevant ways – ultimately improving the overall customer experience.

Going over the top with OTT communications

Chat apps are lining up to build additional features behind their core service – namely messaging between individuals – and apps like WeChat have opened their own app store and are likely to embed many features around music streaming. With apps like Messenger that have a fully-fledged social network sitting behind them, a ubiquitous component of everyday consumers’ lives, it’s becoming increasingly important for business to take seriously their potential for engaging with customers, and deploying APIs on such platforms for enterprise use cases.

Music streaming alone presents exiting new opportunities for businesses wishing to engage with customers and prospects and with three times the number of OTT messages send every day compared to SMS, the number of instances where they will become the most appropriate form of engagement increases all the time. SMS, with its industry leading open rates high open rates still has a place in the communications waterfall, but 2017 is the time for enterprise organisations to develop innovative engagement campaigns that relay on an increasingly ubiquitous communications channel.

Lights out for beacons

Despite all the talk and hype surrounding beacons and their ability in a retail environment to improve customer engagement, the reality is that with the exception of some very narrow use cases, they haven’t worked as well as we all hoped for proximity marketing. While there is still value in using beacons for post campaign analysis, consumers still feel like they’re a bit intrusive and are often unwilling to share their location with apps they need to download onto their smart device to enable the interaction.

Not enough people are downloading these apps to make them commercially viable marketing tools in their own right. While supermarkets who chose to install tablets in trolleys may benefit from sending in-store location based messages, this requires a significantly greater outlay on hardware, and for all but those with the deepest pockets, may end be cost-prohibitive.

An alternative to location based marketing that might feel intrusive, is for marketers to include marketing messages and promotions as part of a pre-existing transactional conversation – be it through SMS, email, or other – between the customer and organisation. These messages have a far higher open rate than unsolicited broadcast messages, and given that they are based on a pre-existing relationship, likely to be better received.

These are just a few of the biggest trends – or in the case of beacons, non-trends – we expect to see take off in 2017, but we’d welcome your thoughts on what you are expecting to invest your time and resources in to improve how you interact with your customer base over the coming year. And are we wrong about beacons? Do you see long term strategic value in them beyond analytics and campaign attribution activities?