TRENDS IN CONTEXT We have been producing trend reports for over 5 years, looking at new technologies that will become more important and relevant to clients. We’ve covered issues such as: wearable technology location and local payments beacons. Like these, the trends for 2016 are all growing in importance, and will all have implications for clients.

2016 trends


This year’s trends involve two big themes:


1. Walled gardens
2. New challenges in advertising
3. The evolution of search
4. Messaging & notifications
5. Algorithms vs. curation
6. Maps & location


7. Recognition
8. Sentiment
9. Dynamic Pricing
10. ‘Telepathy’


Digital media is becoming less open, and more like the ‘walled gardens’ and portals of the early 2000s.

A ‘walled garden’ is a safe, controlled publisher ecosystem - often within apps – instead of links to the wide web.

This has happened because it’s a faster experience than moving between apps and sites on mobile, and large publishers want to keep their audience for longer. Examples include Snapchat’s Discover, Facebook’s Instant Articles, Twitter’s Moments, and the YouTube for Kids app. Walled gardens often have content & adverts native to the platform, rather than adverts like banners which can run across multiple publishers.

The impact of walled gardens has already been seen in lots of ways. For example Snapchat has insisted that advertisers in its Discovery section use vertical video, as that format works best within its content.

Buy Buttons, where people can click on a button to buy immediately rather than go to a third party page, are safer within apps like Pinterest and Google Search, than the web at large – which is why these buttons generally only exist in apps.

The threat of ad blocking can be seen as an incentive to publishers to move to walled gardens – on the web (& mobile web) it’s easier to identify and block ads; within walled gardens publishers have more control over how adverts appear, thus making them more difficult to block with ad blocking technology.


Walled gardens are likely to continue to proliferate at the expense of the more open web.
Brands need to choose major partners, and work within these walled gardens, including making specific content and adverts. 

To do this brands need to set rigorous KPIs and be clear on the most appropriate ones.
In some ways this is beneficial to brands – it’s easier to guarantee a brand-friendly advertising environment.

There are two major downsides:

1) Brands need to produce more formats to fit into different ecosystems.

2) Bespoke formats mean that programmatic advertising is harder, and the data tracking delivery and performance will be more silo-ed.


There are a lot of new challenges in how advertising works, how advertising pays for free content, and the perceived value exchange between consuming ads and getting free content.

These challenges have emerged for two reasons:

1) Netflix, which now has over 69 million paying subscribers, has popularised the idea of paying for ad-free video content rather than have it free, subsidised by advertising.

The average subscriber household now watches over 2 hours of ad-free content per day.

This model is now being adopted by other services, most notably Amazon Prime and Sky’s Now TV and YouTube Red.

2) Ad blockers are free to access and install. Usage estimates vary, but millions are using them around the world, easily blocking ads on the web.

People generally use ad blockers to improve their experience (no pre-roll videos), to speed up load times, to avoid being tracked, and, on mobile, to reduce the amount of data they are paying to receive.


It’s important to state that adverts which aren’t delivered aren’t paid for, but brands need to develop strategies that ensure that their messages are still seen by relevant consumers.

Adverts in apps, and native ads, or adverts that are more closely integrated with publisher content, are less likely to be blockable.

Brands also need to be confident that people want to see their messages, and if they do, develop a content strategy and use sponsorship & partnerships more.

Brands can also experiment with being publishers themselves.


Search is becoming more specific to platforms particularly mobile (and voice), more personalised and tailored to the user, and it’s now possible to search within apps, and not just content on the web.

Mobile searches now outnumber desktop searches globally. Mobile means more voice search, more visual search, and more locationbased search, creating more opportunity for the results to be personalised. Google now offers demographic targeting for search ads. ‘Personal Assistant’ apps are starting to replace search by anticipating needs and providing prompts. The Google Now app acts as a personal assistant, providing notifications tailored to the user and context (location, time of day) to anticipate future needs and searches. Similar services are offered, or coming soon, from Bing, Facebook, Baidu and others. Google is also testing searches within apps, even those not on the searcher’s device, and will stream in search results from apps without requiring a download.

Siri and Cortana are both driving more search through voice, providing more competition for Google.


Ensure that your brands are visible to as many search technologies as possible. Organic search will become harder to get right as different providers look for different attributes in content. It may be harder for new brands to cut through on search, which will be an issue if their strategies are driven by search.


Messaging apps now have very high levels of users – WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat now all have more than 600m active users.

In 2015 more messages will be sent than emails, according to Juniper Research. New battle lines being drawn between these popular messaging platforms - as well as others like iMessage, Kik, Line and Jott - as separate ecosystems.

Messaging apps are also trying to replace the notification alerts and app stores of the major operating systems.

Messaging apps aren’t just for sending text between friends, they’re for sharing everything from pictures to videos to music, and can integrate with other apps and services.

WeChat pioneered the integration of other apps – for example you can integrate the Didi Kuaidi taxi-booking app to call a cab quickly, and pay through AliPay, which is also integrated – and we expect this to become the model for the others.

WeChat is now powering communication in some towns in China, letting users book doctor’s appointments, reporting incidents to the police, booking flights and more.

Facebook started integrating apps and games into Messenger in March, including Giphy, Memes, and Doodle Draw.

Integrating into Messenger gives 3rd party apps a way of reaching millions of people easily.

Facebook has been testing its ‘personal assistant’ M within Messenger, allowing people to ask it to do specific tasks, for example getting a refund from Amazon.

Messenger can also be used to contact companies securely.


Brands need to make their content fits into the new world of messaging, from ‘share’ buttons to full integration.

It’s not just a case of producing content that works in different mobile operating systems, it has to work with the ecosystems and protocols of different app platforms too.

There is also potential for brands to consider offering customer support on the new platforms in addition to existing channels.


Algorithms are becoming smarter, making newsfeeds more nuanced and giving search results more context, but there is also now a trend towards human curation in key areas providing greater value to ecosystems.

There is now a belief that human curation can produce better results for the end user in certain areas, specifically music discovery, commerce and news, where a sense of context or taste is important.

Twitter Moments has editors who create ‘moments’ of connected tweets, to make it easier to explore major events.

Apple Music’s Beats One radio station has DJs to help people discover the best new music, rather than relying on algorithms as Spotify does.

Pinterest has a curated store within its app, with taste-makers selecting the most interesting products, rather than the most liked or pinned.

YouTube channels like Eton Messy are creating compilations of music.

Within podcasts, RadioTopia is a curated collection of shows.

Long Reads shares a collection of the best journalism every week.


The skill involved in curation costs money, so there will be opportunities to advertise in, or sponsor curated content.

Brands need to learn to work with curators – for example you can see this as a new alternative to SEO for gaining popularity and traction.

This is particularly important for new brands – curators are very important for bringing attention to new products.

Curation makes trust and authenticity even more important.


As the world becomes more mobile, location and maps have become increasingly important.

Maps can be seen as their own ecosystems – users can create their own maps with tools from Google, but they can’t alter the data that the maps are based on.

Creating your own mapping ecosystem can give companies a special advantage – it can have features tailored to precise needs, and act as a differentiator.

A quarter of cars made now have in-built navigation systems and this will continue to grow. Mapping will also be vital for self-driving cars, if and when they appear.

A consortium of German car manufacturers, Daimler, BMW and Audi, bought Nokia’s mapping technology in August, seeing it as a crucial way to compete with Google for mobile advertising, and also develop their own points of difference.

Other bidders included Facebook, Baidu and Uber.

Uber has signed a multi-year deal with TomTom for access to its maps and traffic data.

Apple is buying mapping companies and also creating its own maps, as Google did with streetview. On Apple devices, Apple’s own maps are used 3.5 times more than Google Maps.

Google is letting developers integrate with Google maps to add predictive travel times.

What3Words is trying to map the world with easy to remember names for precise places.


Maps are becoming even less open, so brands need to make sure that they are as visible as possible on as many platforms as possible.

People look at maps when planning shopping trips. Brands should see journey planning as part of a communications strategy - consider geo-targeted prompts for example.


Technology is starting to allow people and things to be recognised in broad ways, like gender and (approximate) age, but also in more precise ways.

Lots of future technologies like self-driving cars depend on visual recognition, and just as voice recognition has become a lot more reliable and usable over the past few years, visual recognition is also improving.

Google can now recognise features in photos e.g. ‘Find the picture of me sitting on a boat’.

Pinterest has introduced visual search to help users find ‘visually similar results’.

Blippar can recognise some brands (& breeds of dog, and fruit), not just logos.


As recognition improves, it’s more important how things look, from distinctive logos to distinctive products – a potential consideration for new product development.


The social world is all about self-expression, so it’s more important than ever to understand the sentiment of what people are saying.

Like images, sentiment has always been a hard thing to interpret – automated tools have always struggled with context, slang, double negatives and more.

New tools are starting to make sentiment easier to determine, and more valuable.

Affectiva, a company that grew out of MIT’s Media Lab, uses facial recognition to try to assess emotional responses.

Microsoft has also launched an experimental site where you can upload pictures and challenge it to identify sentiment.

In media, emojis make it easy to read sentiment.

Emojis can now be searched for, for example on Instagram posts, and the text descriptions of YouTube videos.

Facebook is testing a new ‘reactions’ panel to supplement it’s Like button. The 6 emoji reactions are Love, Haha, Yay, Wow, Sad, and Angry, and should make it easier to determine sentiment than just the ‘Like’ button.


We’ve traditionally targeted by daypart as a proxy for mood – people feel different in the morning to the evening.

Targeting based on emotion could supersede this; targeting people based on how they are actually feeling.

The opportunity for brands, is to identify what sort of emotions people associate with them and what they can learn from this in order to serve their customers better, and create a deeper relationship.


The pricing of goods and services is becoming increasingly flexible and dynamic, based on real time data use.

Companies like Uber are using real-time pricing based on demand & supply, and retailers are starting to use data to influence pricing in innovative ways.

Dynamic pricing has become a big issue in retail and ecommerce, because it is now possible to factor in competitor prices and other data to vary prices quickly and in real time across multiple stores and platforms.

Retailers are able to price match at tills, and also give customers control over their choice of special offers.

Online it is possible to see a lot of information about a shopper – purchase history, location, operating system and more – and this data could be used to offer different prices, or promotions.

Uber can vary prices minute by minute based on supply and demand; higher prices attract more drivers to the streets, and discourage passengers until a new equilibrium is met.

Airlines have always varied prices based on multiple factors, but recently Iberia has experimented with auctioning airline tickets.


Brands need to know that this is happening and work out if any of the strategies could be applicable to them.

Brands need to make sure that they can measure and act on the most relevant customer and external data.

This needs both ecommerce and retail systems capable of responding.

It also needs a mobile strategy to integrate with live prices and drive footfall.


Mark Zuckerberg has joked that the future of communication is telepathy, but there are already services that you can communicate with without giving written or spoken commands.

For some services the future will be interaction via brain signals, or their reading of signs like a pulse or heartbeat.

Wearable devices like smart watches are already collecting this data, and it’s likely that 3rd party services will find ways to interpret these cues.

Uniqlo had an installation in a Sydney store that analysed customers’ brain signals to suggest a perfect shirt.

An agency created a ‘hands-free’ Tinder for the Apple Watch that swiped left or right depending on the user’s heartbeat.

Researchers at Telefonica were able to show when people were bored or stressed on their phones, based on frequency of opening apps, and intensity of use.


‘Telepathy’ examples like this show the nascent power of sensors, and of different services and devices working together.

Together with image and sentiment recognition, plus dynamic pricing, it shows how AI is starting to be used to remove conscious human instructions and provide an understanding between technology and people.

This could be used in the future to make services more intuitive and personalised to customers.

2016 trends
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