In 2017 topics like programmatic advertising, business intelligence, data management, data security, mobile commerce and data-driven marketing per se will gain in importance. That’s not new. In reality, we already have to master all these areas and have to do “our homework” next year to drive and consolidate our knowledge and competences. Within the developments in the communication industry, especially in the digital field, we notice following main trends, which will more and more decide about “top or flop”:

  • Responsive Content
    2016 was the year of native advertising and content strategies – the focus was definitely on “CONTENT”. Online websites are (in most cases) responsive concerning the layout. BUT in the ideal case also the content adapts itself to the mobile device. There are many opportunities to improve usability and effectiveness of communication, with the background of the changing media usage. New ways and strategies to create and spread content successfully will gain a meaning – in this case in bits and pieces and not in 30‘‘.
  • Visuality & Iconic Turn
    Our world is becoming more and more “illustrated” – our environment is full of icons, pictures, videos. In the age of information overload we have to process information faster and more contextual. This means for the communication industry: Pictorial language and new ways of visualization will continue to be an important success factor.
  • Structuring data – Reducing complexity 
    Data management, data security, data-driven marketing, business intelligence – 2017 structured data will be more important than ever before. For all innovative systems handling data-driven marketing the ability of structuring data in a meaningful way is essential and inevitable. Making a complex world more simple – for everyone (customers & companies)!
  • Transition between Apps & Web 
    On the smartphone, we spend most of our time in apps, not in the browser. But marketers still focus their communication measures on the Web. 2017 priorities will shift. For example, there will be important questions about how to make the transition between app and web better – deeplinks and other gadgets can quickly become powerful marketing tools, especially in the area of mobile commerce.
  • Messenger Marketing
    Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger are the most important chat programmes and apps for communicating. Facebook is currently starting to monetize the Messenger, Whatsapp could follow soon. In 2017 mobile marketers must be there, where the target group is – and this is in any case also the messenger. It is time to enter into a dialogue on Facebook Bots.
  • Mobile Video content 
    In the meanwhile, the biggest “video problem” is solved for mobile devices. The size of videos is hardly an obstacle in LTE times. Videos are popular in all (personal) environments – with the strong tendency to live videos. Mobile video marketing must already be ensure in the production process that videos can be consumed in all living situations. Subtitling or a suitable call-to-action can be a way out.

Nevertheless we do not want to forget about the real communication trends, which we do not find in the media every day, but with which trend researchers are mainly concerned with. Digital detox, the non-existing disruption and related retro-trend, Postgenderism, (finally) customer-oriented NFC solutions and innovative e-governmental services will also be increasingly focussed in 2017.

For six months, chatbots have existed in Facebook Messenger and there are now more than 30,000 available for users. The initial hype has calmed down and now companies are wondering if bots actually have the potential to become relevant communication and distribution channels for their content.

All chatbots essentially work in the same way. Users ask the bot a question and the bot searches through its stored database in accordance with certain rules, in order to respond with a suitable answer. The greater the database, the greater the knowledge which the chatbot can revert back to.

Mobile driven user behaviour and technical developments smooth the way

The requirements needed for the success of chatbots certainly exist: On one hand, internet usage is extending increasingly to mobile devices and here communication occurs primarily through instant messengers. The approach to text messaging has finally become seen as an everyday matter and the users have got accustomed to this reduced communication form.

On the other hand, all major tech companies are investing massively in the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning and in the understanding and processing of natural language through algorithms. Bot providers can relatively easily incorporate offers and services of interested companies into chatbots via standardised interfaces.

Unpredictable human communication

It will remain some time before a conversation with a chatbot is indistinguishable from a talk with a real person, as many chatbots currently reach the limits of their communication rather quickly. Either they fail in the correct processing of human communication, including all unpredictable factors such as slang, dialect or typos, or their repertoire of responses is rapidly used up. Initial reactions of early adopters were sobering. Among other factors, this was due to the fact that Facebook opened the chatbot platform for developers only a few weeks before the official launch.

Facebooks vice president of messaging products, Davis Marcus, admitted that this time frame was possibly too short to develop a good chatbot. Since the launch, Facebook has made many APIs and much guidance available to developers. We can therefore look forward to seeing how the second generation of bots will turn out.

For long term success, however, two central requirements must be fulfilled, above all:

Discovery: There is currently no easy way to find chatbots for Facebook Messenger, as we are still waiting for the launch of the announced bot store. The user must therefore know the name of the bot and integrate it via the search function of Messenger. Other messengers like Kik, Telegram or Skype already offer overview catalogues.

Added value: So that users don’t delete a chatbot after trying it out just once, from the first use on, the bot must offer real added value. This can include various aspects:

  • Reducing complexity and information: shopping bots, such as Tommy Hilfiger’s chatbot, help users when looking for suitable products, by giving them a pre-selection of products through targeted questions. The added value of news bots like the one of CNN also depends upon a reduction in information. Users indicate which content they are interested in and then receive suitable contributions in return through push messages.
  • Time efficiency and problem solving: The airline KLM emphasises special service for their customers: if you want to change your seating place, for example, you don’t need to open the app. You can simply send a quick message to the KLM bot.
  • Additional offers: In several US cities, through the Absolut Vodka chatbot, users can find bars in which the product is available. The added value here is that the user receives a voucher for a free drink as well.

If these points are further optimised in the new generation of chatbots and the problem of discovering bots is resolved, there is much to suggest that these services will establish themselves as communication channels for brands. With a sufficient amount of offers, in Europe and in North America Facebook Messeger could become a mobile central service point for users, just as weChat, LINE and Kik have done in many Asian markets.

They already made traditional text messaging via SMS obsolete. And now instant messaging apps on smartphones are ramping up serious pressure on established social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Messaging apps have become an essential part of our private conversations. Apart from the rapidly growing install base of smartphones, their success can be attributed to one simple fact: Compared to SMS, the overall cost of usage is very low and in most cases even free. 75 per cent of all onliners worldwide use mobile messengers, according to Global Web Index. WhatsApp alone reaches more than 23 million users in Germany, and the average user sends over 1.000 messages per month.

But WhatsApp is not the only relevant player in a rapidly growing market. Among young target groups, a new generation of messenger apps is quickly gaining popularity. Snapchat, kik Messenger and Kakao Talk court the mobile generation with a strong focus on audiovisual communication and a wide range of additional features like games and photo albums.

According to the latest JIM study, an annual report on media and communication habits of 12 to 19 year olds in Germany, messenger apps have long surpassed social networks as the communication tool of choice for teens. The rate of success is not that surprising, considering how the apps cater towards central communication needs of their young audience. In times, where more and more parents are active on Facebook and potential employers are checking out the user profiles of future employees, younger users want to protect their privacy. At the same time, messengers act as a very informal way of meeting new people. And last but not least images, videos and emojis enable the users to express their thoughts and feelings a lot more individually, than texting ever could.

From SMS replacement to full-fledged communication- and service-platforms

Currently there are two major developments in the messaging world, that are highly relevant for brands and marketers: On the one hand, many apps try to foster growth by attracting new user groups and to monetize their often free services. Traditional display advertising is a very limited option, so many services try to make their profits with micro transactions, selling games, digital stickers or emojis to be used within the apps. Others focus on additional services beyond traditional communication like mobile payment solutions, music and video streaming, taxi services or grocery deliveries. Especially Line and WeChat, two very popular apps in Asia, are turning into central one stop solutions for every need.

On the other hand, the borders between messenger apps and social networks become blurry. Well-established social networking features such as user profiles, photo albums and friend finder tools start appearing in messengers. Snapchat enables media brands to publish their content in the discovery section within the app to reach new users and benefit from viral sharing.

CRM to branding: Messengers offer a wide range of marketing possibilities

Instant messengers also offer many interesting features for branding and advertising. Direct user access means messaging is an excellent channel for customer service, recommendations and promotions. Some retailers even go beyond that and have started to integrate messaging functionalities into their own apps. The Swedish retail platform TicTail enables users to contact customer support and ask questions directly from within the TicTail app.

Especially in Asia, messengers start to play an important role in e-commerce. McDonald’s uses the popular messenger WeChat for promotions, couponing and mobile payment in China. And the Britsh luxury brand Mulberry is running a virtual store within the WeChat app.

But messengers also are very useful for branding. H&M Poland utilized Snapchat to promote their new collection and Burberry let fans take part in a fashion show in Shanghai on WeChat.

On kik messenger, brands can run their own profile pages and use them for promotion activities. The British band One Direction shared exclusive photos and videos with fans on kik to promote their new album. Und Hellmann’s Mayonnaise enabled customers to chat with real chefs on WhatsApp to get cooking recipes in real time.

In comparison to those cases, developing branded assets in the form of digital stickers or emojis that can gain viral traction by being used in messages, is an easy and ideally very efficient branding activity. WeChat and Line already offer standardized interfaces for branded assets, on other platforms third party services are required, however.

Most marketing functionalities are still in earlier stages of development on many platforms, but the potential is significant as more and more digital communication, especially in young target groups, is going to continue to shift towards messaging platforms.