Interest in mobile apps (with the exception of messaging app) appears to be fading. Location-based marketing may help retailers and other brands bring in customers. And the speed at which your mobile website loads is only going to become more important.
These are just a few of the mobile marketing trends experts say you can expect to see play out in 2017. To find out what you should be planning for the year ahead, we asked for input from digital marketers. Here are 10 trends these experts predict you’ll be buzzing about in the coming months.
1. Mind those mobile apps
In 2016, app launches grew 24 percent year-over-year, but app installs only grew six percent, according to the 2016 Adobe Digital Insights Mobile Benchmark Report. Meanwhile, five out of 10 apps are used only 10 times, Adobe’s research finds.
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The takeaway: “Consumers will stick with what they know and the app graveyard will continue to expand, compounding the challenge for marketers,” notes Matt Asay, vice president of mobile for digital marketing platform Adobe Marketing Cloud.
Consequently, mobile marketers “must realize that building a large app audience should not be the end goal,” Asay explains. “A small but highly engaged group of loyal users can contribute disproportionately to the bottom line. To attract these people, marketers should turn to mobile web first. This will be an entry point for the overall audience, and the most engaged users can be funneled into your app. Once that captive base is there, marketers must consider ways to serve them in moments of need as opposed to monopolizing their time. This will differ for every brand. A boutique fitness brand can let users ping the front desk when they’re running late for a class, while a retail app can provide you coupons for items purchased most frequently.”
2. Engage with mobile customers via messaging
While mobile app fatigue is rampant, interest in mobile messaging apps, like WhatsApp, Line, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and Apple’s Messenger, remains strong. “The largest (messaging) services have hundreds of millions of monthly active users,” according to Business Insider. “Falling data prices, cheaper devices, and improved features are helping propel their growth.”
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In recent years, marketers have followed users to messaging apps — a trend that’s particularly noticeable with the rise of in-app chatbots from the likes of 1-800-Flowers, Uber and Dominos.
“Over the years, we saw social networks evolve from spaces where we interacted with close family and friends to a channel for people to engage with brands,” says Asay. “We anticipate the same happening with messaging apps, as marketers begin seeing this as an optimal way to connect with customers on a one-on-one basis.”
But marketers must walk a fine line in messaging apps, as these spaces “are highly personal,” Asay continues. “Consumers are accustomed to connecting with their inner circles on these channels, and the introduction of brands will be met with initial hesitancy. A good starting point is to identify the most fundamental need and make that the entry point. For many brands, this can be as simple as customer service. Give consumers a channel to ask questions and resolve issues, and once the trust is there, engage them deeper with other services and content.”
3. Take advantage of location-based marketing
In 2017, look for more brands to use location-based marketing to engage consumers. “Mobile devices travel with the consumer and generate a lot of contextual data, much of which has been untapped,” Asay says. “All of this can be leveraged to augment everyday experiences, changing not only how consumers interact with the world around them but also how brands engage.”
Location-based technologies, such as in-store beacons, “can be the most transformative aspect of a brand’s mobile strategy,” Asay believes. “Once consumers have agreed to that relationship, it opens up big possibilities. Take retail, for instance. Brands with a heavy physical presence are struggling to keep up with ecommerce in part because the physical shopping experience hasn’t changed much over the years. Location technology can enable everything from one-click ordering of out-of-stock items to shoppers engaging with digitized parts of the store through their smartphones. Additionally, location data can boost how brands personalize experiences. For example, knowing that a particular promotion induced customers to visit a physical store is highly valuable information for a marketer.”
4. Pay more attention to mobile site load speeds
“If your customer can’t find what they’re looking for in three seconds, you won’t win the mobile moment,” says Mike Frazzini, CTO for travel gear etailer eBags. “For every second over three, conversion rates go down 20 percent. Removing friction in mobile with relentless user testing, split-testing of features and feature enhancements, mobile-friendly payments, and continuous mobile site speed improvements” helped eBags achieve a 70 percent increase in year-over-year mobile sales in 2016, and a 53 percent increase in mobile traffic, Frazzini says.
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Focusing on mobile speed will help “make sure your brand delivers a best-in-class consumer experience and rank well in mobile searches,” Frazzini adds. To increase mobile sales and traffic in 2016, eBags reduced mobile checkout pages from seven to one; added support for mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay; increased mobile site load speeds; and incorporated adaptive design to optimize the eBags site for mobile.
“We’ve also invested heavily in developing services like the eBags Connected Tag and Steals of the Day programs to drive customer engagement and loyalty through our mobile app,” Frazzini says.
5. Get on board with Google’s AMP
In 2017 and beyond, more companies will take advantage of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), which, as the name suggests, loads mobile pages with lightning speed. Google likes to give users the best experience, so AMPs — because they deliver a positive user experience — are likely to be ranked more highly in search results, according to Nathan Barber, a digital analyst from marketing agency daWorks.
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“AMPs are still in their infancy, without many companies getting on board yet with their mobile websites,” Barber explains. Right now, AMPs aren’t that flexible. Visitors are taken from mobile search results to a specific AMP from your website, without being able to explore other areas of your site. The content on an AMP is “currently stripped down to a simplistic manner, inhibiting conversions or revenue earning,” he says. “That’s going to change soon as AMP’s open source will enable developers to create ecommerce plugins that will increase conversions for websites that sell goods and services.”
Barber recommends “getting on board as quickly as possible” with AMPs, so that you can “reap more benefits than your competitors. Visitors will enjoy their experience on your website from their phone, which will send strong signals to Google that you should be ranking higher,” he adds.
“AMP is a must for mobile marketing of content in 2017,” adds Yulia Khansvyarova, head of digital marketing for SEMrush, which provides online tools for search marketers. Major media organizations have seen positive results from implementing AMP, with the Washington Post increasing returning user visits by 23 percent and Wired magazine increasing click-through rates by 25 percent, Khansvyarova says.
6. Adapt to augmented reality
Though virtual reality (VR) is a hot topic among marketers, it is a niche technology for “niche customers,” says Nicholas Kinports, executive vice president of strategy for NOTICE, a social content agency. A better bet, at least in the near future, is augmented reality (AR).
“Google didn’t quite get it right with Glass,” Kinports explains. “But Snapchat, Apple, Microsoft, and many more are building an impressive portfolio of second-generation AR technologies aimed at disrupting the way we experience reality.”
Soon, we won’t need our smartphones to experience AR, Kinports believes. “We’ll also watch as flexible OLED and next-gen screens get plastered on everything. You won’t need augmented reality contact lenses to find surfaces bursting with light and color. You can already find this tech popping up all over Asia, and it’s only a matter of time before we see it in the world’s most lucrative advertising markets.”
What should digital marketers do to prepare? “Much like the shift from desktop design to mobile versioning to responsive design to mobile-only design, marketing professionals will need to quickly shift to understanding how creating for 3-D AR and screened devices like store windows and walls will impact the customer journey,” says Kinports.
[ Related: Why is Apple hyping augmented reality? ]
7. Pull away from popup ads
In a Jan. 10, 2017 post in its Webmaster Central Blog, Google declared that mobile pages “where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high” in mobile search results. And what would cause content to not be easily accessible, according to Google? “Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page” is one of three examples Google gave.
The end result: “If you’re a mobile marketer, you need to stop using popups,” says Billy Peery, an independent SEO analyst. “Or if you do, at least make sure they only cover a small portion of the page.” There are exceptions, Peery notes, such as sites where visitors must be older than 18 or 21 to view content and restricted access is required by law. Google won’t penalize these sites in rankings.
8. Make way for mobile video
Video is the most popular form of online content, according to HubSpot.And eMarketer predicts that spending on digital video ads will see double-digit growth every year through 2020. At the same time, 92 percent of mobile video consumers share videos with others, HubSpot says.
Video will explode in the mobile environment in 2017, predicts Christina May, CMO and managing partner for Illumine8, a marketing and PR firm. “While video isn’t new, video’s application on mobile is more advanced than anything we have seen to date,” May says. “If you haven’t jumped on the video train yet, I’d suggest you hurry, because the train is about to leave the station. Brands late to the game will be left behind as users form relationships with brands that have a mobile video presence already.”
[ Related: Hulu exec talks mobile video and offline viewing ]
9. Get ready for voice search.
Twenty percent of searches in Google’s mobile app and on Android devices are voice searches, reports Sherry Bonelli in a post on search marketing blog Search Engine Land. “The total number of voice searches overall is actually much higher when you take into account personal assistants like Amazon’s Echo (a.k.a. Alexa), Google Home (a direct competitor of the Echo), Siri and Cortana — tools that are solely based on voice recognition,” writes Bonelli.
Alex Porter, president and CSO of Location3, a digital marketing agency also sees this as an important trend for marketers. “We’re going to see voice search become a bigger part of mobile strategy in the next few years,” he says. “Eventually, search engines and users will start preferring voice-optimized mobile content. We’ll also likely start to see how data marketers can harness voice search to inform their mobile strategies, and even paid media opportunities in voice search, in the coming years.”
Consequently, marketers will need to optimize content for voice search, Porter adds, such as developing various forms of content that answer questions customers are likely to ask in voice searches.
Voice input is likely to become more important in 2017 and beyond, too, with big brands like Starbucks adding voice ordering to their mobile apps and virtual assistant platforms like Amazon’s Alexa.
[ Related: Ordering Starbucks coffee on Amazon Echo easy but not fast ]
10. Understand your mobile customers
Mobile marketing is going to become even more personal in the year ahead. “This is the year when cross-device identity resolution, and really cross-channel identity resolution, becomes attainable for most digital marketers,” says Austin Miller, product marketing manager for Oracle Marketing Cloud.
“Knowing who your customers are beyond their device identifiers or channel identifiers has been at the top of the priority list for most digital marketers,” Miller continues. “That’s because identity resolution is the only real way to speak to each customer as an individual, regardless of the medium. Conversations with customers will be influenced by the context of all previous conversations. In short, identity resolution will allow marketers to come as close to the ‘holistic customer profile’ as possible.”
Until recently, identity resolution was “very difficult to do while preserving customer privacy,” Miller explains. “It required tremendous investment in data science and even then, privacy concerns existed.”
New technologies allow marketers to “easily anonymize and match first- and third-party data in a safe environment,” instead of having a “massive amount” of data that’s siloed, Miller says. As a result, “marketers will start to realize the value of all their currently unstructured mobile data in terms of how it can be used in other channels (besides mobile). This realization will transform the way we think about mobile marketing. It will no longer be looked at as another channel, as much as a firehose of valuable data that marketing departments can leverage in all their activities.”