Opinion

The five things you can’t afford to miss in the digital space during 2016

9 min read

20 January 2016

Business owners and entrepreneurs will likely benefit from a variety of digital technologies set to explode in 2016. And as the race to digital transformation progresses, we’ll start to see the leaders separate from the rest of the pack by setting a firm pace that’s fuelled by five essential ingredients.

With some of the most disruptive innovations over the past few years creating new opportunities for businesses exploring the digital frontier, we took a look at the trends that will become vital to business growth – and the domination of any sector.

(1) The rise of omnichannel shopping in order to compete for customers

At top priority, according to Emma Cerrone, co-founder Freeformers, is the race to successfully retain and attain customers through digital means. She explained: “Digital has given birth to a huge number of smaller challenger brands vying for the same customers as the incumbents.”

“This means it is crucial that an organisation’s entire workforce, from the boardroom down to the shop floor, appreciates what digital can do for them and their customers, adapts to new processing, products and services, and thinks and acts more like the startups trying to gain a slice of their business.”

At the same time, it has been suggested that retailers have realised the benefits of merging physical and digital spaces.

This was echoed by Pierre-Emmanuel Perruchot de La Bussière, general manager at Vend, who claimed there would be two large phenomena to look forward to in retail in 2016: the omnichannel “tipping point”, and the maturing of mobile.

“Omnichannel is here to stay and retail bosses will need to merge their physical and digital systems or face irrelevance,” he said. “There are a growing number of ‘omni-shoppers’ who expect this flexibility and want to be able to browse stock online, purchase a product and collect it the same day from a physical store. Having a single view across multiple channels is therefore essential to any modern retail strategy.”

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(2) The race for faster WiFi will end up enabling firms to gain better insight into customers

But what would reliance on a digital strategy mean without focus on WiFi? After all, consumers are getting more comfortable purchasing on smartphones, with an Interactive Media in Retail Group survey from February having highlighted that 40 per cent of online sales are made via mobile.

However, Gavin Wheeldon, CEO of Purple WiFi, suggested that despite businesses competing to launch faster 5G mobile internet speeds, bosses will be left waiting until 2017 to see any real results.

It’s not all bad news though, as Wheeldon believes it will enable companies offering free WiFi to customers to gain a greater insight into their lives and interests.

“This will happen across a range of sectors, including retail, leisure, hospitality and stadia,” he said. “As bosses look to website analytics to inform their online customer engagement, they see WiFi as a means to more meaningful interaction with physical customers.

“Location data helps businesses heat map customer footfall, which makes it possible to trigger automatic messages, including coupons and offers, based on the customer’s exact whereabouts.”

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(3) The Internet of Things has bestowed the manufacturing sector with the ability to speed up processes

The Internet of Things (IoT) has already set in motion a new wave of technological changes that will decentralise production control and trigger a paradigm shift in manufacturing. And according to Martyn Williams, managing director of COPA-DATA UK, while the sector may have traditionally been relatively slow on the uptake “a number of new trends are causing a growth spurt in industrial automation”.

He said: “Estimations suggest that by 2020 the number of connected devices on the planet could reach as many as 50bn. For manufacturers, IoT has enabled the rise of the smart factory. This has enabled organisational transparency and seamless connectivity from the sensor, right up to enterprise resource planning (ERP) level.

Johan den Haan, technology entrepreneur and chief technology officer at Mendix, added: “Driven by the proliferation of sensors and connected devices, we’ll see the merging of the digital and physical worlds. The challenge – and opportunity – is to harness the deluge of IoT data to transform companies’ operations, products and services, and business models.

“To do this, companies must become adaptable enterprises, capable of rapidly building and evolving applications in response to new customer and market needs. For instance, by leveraging data from connected delivery trucks, a logistics company could build software that optimises schedules and routes, improving operational efficiency as well as the customer experience.”

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(4) Virtual reality is officially on our doorstep

Juniper Research has suggested that there will be a significant uptake in virtual reality (VR) technology, hailing 2016 as its “watershed year”. It claimed that over the next five years consumers will benefit from a combination of improved VR technology allied to immersive applications – as well as reduced prices. 

It said: “The technology is now poised to transform the entertainment industry, including games and video, whilst offering the potential to quickly expand into other markets such as industrial and healthcare.”

BECause Brand Experience’s Joss Davidge, claimed that with businesses such as Facebook, Samsung and Sony on the verge of launching such products, there will undoubtedly be an increase in immersive experiences across marketing campaigns, exhibitions, educational and training events.

“VR and augmented reality (AR) have the capacity to completely transform live events by offering an entirely new way for people to connect with brands,” Davidge said.

“Live creative technology can offer up an infinite number of previously impossible experiences, such as the chance to travel back in time and explore unchartered territory. Storytelling is being placed firmly back at the heart of engagement, and this means exciting times ahead for marketers and consumers alike.”

(5) Content marketing is about to get personal

Simon Rutherford, managing director at social content agency Cubaka, suggested that 2016 will be the year in which social platforms will consider restructuring in order to reach customers based on their location. He also cited consumer generated content (CGC), instead of traditional marketing means, as key to reaching consumers.

Many surveys support his remarks, with The Content Marketing Association having released figures indicating that CGC now influences over £23bn of online sales.

“It showcases how much consumers today value peer-to-peer recommendations,” added Prelini Udayan-Chiechi, of Bazaarvoice. “This is a clear testament to the change in consumer shopping behaviour. Adopting CGC into marketing efforts is the new game changer for today and tomorrow’s marketing strategies.”

Amongst the trends to look out for in terms of customer interaction is the use of media to reach key audiences, explained Sarah Hall, author of “#FuturePRoof”. She continued: “This includes the use of inbound PR to drive web traffic and further adoption of third-party tools to simplify the public relations workflow.”