The best news of digital marketers

For digital marketers, 2016 was a year of innovation and change. And while some of the most prominent challenges were familiar, there were brand new hurdles that seemed to emerge daily. So, what were the most critical ones?

Related: How to Stay Ahead With Digital Marketing

As marketers close out the year and consider strategies for 2017, here’s a look back at five of the biggest obstacles they faced over the last year.

 

1. Ad fraud is still a big problem.

The United States has one of the worst ad fraud rates in the world. This year, the rates will cost the industry more than $7 billion in advertising spend — up, once again, from the previous year (in this case, 2015). For comparison, other countries like Australia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom all have better rates.

On the bright side, as the problem has grown, so has awareness among advertisers. This has led to supply-side changes, with publishers eliminating high-risk and potentially fraudulent inventory. We’re also seeing more industrywide standards and incentives in place this year than there were two years ago.

For instance, the IAB has put in place a Traffic of Good Intent Task Force, designed to combat ad fraud and offer recommendations and best practices. And, this past summer, the Trustworthy Accountability Group launched an anti-fraud certification program.

Together, these things are turning the tide — albeit slowly. As fraud lingers, however, marketers might look at other channels that have more inherent engagement and audience buy-in — such as mobile apps and email — as a means for launching launch campaigns.

 

2. Marketers are stuck on data collection.

Today, more than 92 percent of marketers collect information on customers or prospects. Data-driven marketing is the industry standard. But we’re still stuck in idle, focusing on data collection. Most marketers are just learning how to crawl when it comes to making data actionable at scale; and 2016 didn’t see much progress in that direction.

When it comes to data implementation, an alarming number of marketers still lack the internal experience — either at the functional or operational level — to be successful. This is why, according to a report from IDG Connect and Avention, more than 40 percent of marketers can’t draw insights from harvested data.

This will hopefully change as marketing tools offer more self-service, automating data analysis and implementation. And others will offer machine-learning capabilities to drive immediate applications of customer data.

 

3. Marketing software is too hard to use.

During this past year, 2016, technology’s ease of use has become a much bigger focus for the marketing industry. This is because of the complexity in the customer journey. Scott Brinker, the CTO of ion interactive, said it best when he characterized the funnel as “hundreds of touchpoints” that are “aching to be addressed every month.”

As the customer journey has grown more complicated, with more touchpoints and data, software supporting marketers needs to be simplified. Companies that do that will optimize adoption and support ROI.

Related: Tailor Your Digital Marketing to the Customer Experience

Marketing software shouldn’t be a rite of passage. To navigate the complexity of the modern customer journey, it must be built for ease of use, with intuitive UIs and functionality. This has been the focus of many software providers this year. Advertisers, agencies and marketers want more platform simplicity from vendors.

The Entrepreneurs Are Problem Solving

Gartner’s famous hype cycle has landed consumer hype for 3-D printing in a period of decline, but this has had little bearing on the advance of the technology. Despite waning consumer interest, 3-D printing has continued to grow at a rapid pace, largely due to adoption from entrepreneurs who see the technology as an integral part of the future.

3-D printing, which is most commonly associated with small-scale prototype development, is finally making the leap into market-scale production. What is driving the recent change? John Carrington, CEO and founder of ZVerse, a 3-D printing software company, explains, “Turning 2-D concepts into 3-D models used to take a significant amount of effort and expertise from the designer. It was immensely challenging to bridge the gap between idea and product fruition. With recent advances in software that support 3-D printing and its business integration, it has become feasible for entrepreneurs to leverage this technology to advance their businesses.”

Here are some of the top ways entrepreneurs are using 3-D printing technology to accomplish their goals:
1. Developing minimum viable products.

For entrepreneurs and startups, this is a significant development. One of the biggest hurdles in starting a venture is developing a minimum viable product that will garner early customers and investors. In the past, product development has been costly, not only because it requires highly-skilled design but also the expense of creating more units is often prohibitive for self-funded startups.

By providing low-cost production at faster speeds, 3-D printing is helping entrepreneurs develop minimum viable produc

ts at a much faster rate. This means that when it comes time to raise funds, instead of presenting an idea to investors, entrepreneurs can introduce an actual physical product. If they plan on crowdsourcing through online communities, it’s much easier to garner support with a visual presentation of a real product that crowd funders can get behind.

2. Unique medical solutions for healthcare startups.

A growing number of healthcare startups are using scans and machine learning to improve the medical field by creating detailed maps of the human body. Some of these innovators are also starting to use 3-D printing to model the information they discover to help doctors improve everything from diagnostics to surgery.

 

“When we look at the healthcare space, MRI and CT scan data is currently presented to physicians and patients in a 2D format. With 3-D printing, models can be made showing organs and tissues as they might appear in the body, which, as you can imagine, has countless benefits for planning treatment,” said Carrington. “Software has been the primary vehicle for making this process applicable for medical professionals.”

By casting 2D information into 3-D models, physicians can better assess the individual body composition of each patient in real dimensions to assist them in determining which treatments are best. As costs decrease due to adoption, these applications will be commonly available for medical practitioners.

Kinds Companies Will rising

Deciding to bring your company public is a big step that can take months of planning.

CB Insights, a firm that analyzes tech trends, predicts that 369 companies could have IPOs this year. Individually, the businesses in this IPO pipeline have raised an average of $262 million to this point. Altogether, these companies have raised $86.2 billion in equity financing to date.

 

Seventy-three percent of the businesses in the IPO pipeline are internet companies. Mobile and telecommunications is second, but that category has 39 companies on the list compared to the top spot’s 269.

The tech companies most likely to seek IPOs this year, according to CB Insights, are Utah-based software company Qualtrics, Zuora, a company that makes software for business subscriptions, meal kit delivery service Blue Apron, security software maker Okta, and Pluralsight, a company based in New Mexico that makes online video tutorials for tech skills.

 

Out of the 369 IPO pipeline businesses, 54 are based in New York, 21 are based in Massachusetts and 205 are in California. Rounding out the top five are Utah, with 11 companies, and Texas with 10.

The report found that that the venture capital firm that most had its finger on the pulse was Andreessen Horowitz. The firm, which has invested in companies such as Airbnb, Buzzfeed and Facebook, had the highest number of IPO pipeline companies in its portfolio that were valued at $1 billion or higher in 2016.

Dressed As Santa

Casey Neistat is wrapping up an incredible year. Fresh off his deal to sell his video-sharing app Beme to CNN for a cool $25 million, the YouTube star is looking for fresh new ways to keep himself entertained.

So, why not construct a drone that’s powerful enough to lift a human high off the ground? And by human, we mean Neistat himself. Dressed as a snowboarding Santa Claus.

Of course. Happy holidays!

What better application of drone technology, right? For fans of Wu-Tang Clan and the late ODB, the music will be a pleasant surprise as well.

This isn’t the first time Neistat has made a viral snowboarding video. Earlier this year, he shot a video of himself on a snowboard, being towed by a Jeep through the snow-covered streets of New York City. That video has more than 15.5 million views.

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg got actor Morgan Freeman to be the voice of his artificial intelligence assistance Jarvis (cheekily named after Tony Stark’s Jarvis AI from the Iron Man movies).

Zuck has been working on Jarvis for about a year, and in the video below, you’ll see him using it to manage many things in his household — including room temperature, his toaster and teaching his daughter Mandarin. You even see him use it to get one of his signature grey T-shirts to him by a cannon-like device.

 

The billionaire decided to create Jarvis after he wanted to learn more about AI.

“My goal was to learn about the state of artificial intelligence — where we’re further along than people realize and where we’re still a long ways off,” Zuckerberg said in a Monday Facebook post. “These challenges always lead me to learn more than I expected, and this one also gave me a better sense of all the internal technology Facebook engineers get to use, as well as a thorough overview of home automation.”

This one definitely gets a “Wow.”

How Interact With Ecommerce

2016 has seen remarkable changes in how people view online shopping as a whole. Last year, physical stores were full of people swarming to grab the lowest Black Friday deals, but this 2016, we’ve seen tides change as people now turn to online shopping because of its hassle-free benefits.

Even though sales were expected to go up, but that’s no longer the case. “In 2016, consumers can find most of those deals online over the course of a couple days, and they don’t have to brave massive crowds to do it,” Fortune concludes.

Online shopping has indeed reshaped people’s buying habits. Before, Black Friday sales were anticipated as its date comes near. However, this 2016, Amazon dared to change the status quo as they started their Black Friday deals as early as November 1.

TechCrunch has crunched the numbers for us, with a report on Adobe’s final numbers on Black Friday. They figured out that this year’s sales surpassed estimates, with $3.34 billion – 21.6 percent growth, year-over-year.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday mobiles sales were over the top, with top online retailers like Amazon, Target, and Walmart releasing numbers that mobile has opened a new era of online shopping, with its tumultuous contribution on their online sales via exclusive mobile app deals.

2016 is indeed the year of mobile ecommerce taking over ecommerce websites.

They added that, “in 2020, mobile apps are projected to generate 188.9 billion U.S. dollars in revenues via app stores and in-app advertising.”

 

Moving app: from web to app

Binny Bansal’s gamble on going app-only earned mixed reactions. It did not take too long before Amazon India caught up with their growth.

Flipkart has dared to go where other sites won’t try; an app-only ecommerce store in India. Despite the revenue and its ruling power in India, this only gave Amazon India the asset it needed to get ahead of the competition. Perhaps it was too soon to leave the desktop-only audience, however, Flipkart paved the way that it is possible to run a store that would reach any user from any part of the country (or the world) via a mobile app.

First Index and the Death of Desktop

Google just started rolling out the so-called “mobile-first” index. It’s going to change the way that your site gets ranked in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Here are a things you need to know about the mobile-first index so that you can optimize your website accordingly.

 

What is the mobile-first index?

By now, you probably know that Google crawls your site to add pages to its index. That is, it uses a bot to surf around your site like a real visitor and follows links on your pages.

In the past, Google crawled your site as a desktop user. Now, however, Google will crawl your site as a mobile user. That’s a distinction with a really big difference.

For starters, your website might present a completely different display to mobile users versus desktop users. In some cases, links that appear on the desktop version of your site might not appear on the mobile version. That’s bad because the Googlebot can’t follow links that aren’t there. As a result, your site might take a hit in the SERPs.

Keep in mind also that Google uses a number of ranking signals to determine where your site should land in the results list. If the bot finds that your site is hostile to mobile users or loads very slowly, you’re definitely going to lose rank.

The bottom line — when performing search engine optimization (SEO) for your site, start with optimizing it for a mobile audience. That’s the prime directive now.

 

Why is Google using a mobile-first index?

If you’re wondering why Google is switching to a mobile-first index, the answer is simple. Mobile is everything. That’s the short answer, anyway. The long answer is a little more involved.

For starters, the number of mobile users surpassed the number of desktop users a couple of years ago. If anything, Google is late to the game. In addition to that, Google says that there are more mobile searches than desktop searches. So it makes perfect sense that its bot should crawl pages as a mobile user.

 

What if you don’t have a mobile site?

If you don’t have a responsive website, you might be asking yourself: “What’s going to happen to my site?” You can rest easy. The Googlebot will crawl the desktop version of your site just fine, even though it’s using a mobile user agent. That means your site can still be indexed.

Free advice, though — you should definitely switch over to a responsive template. In this day and age, anyone who’s serious about making a statement online needs a website that adapts to a mobile platform.

Tech and Data are Transforming Small Businesses

As technology and data continually impact how small business owners conduct and operate their businesses, there will be new opportunities to transform business functions and leverage these capabilities for business growth. See how businesses are already changing and how technology can serve as an enabler to uncovering new ways to be successful.

Google just started rolling out the so-called “mobile-first” index. It’s going to change the way that your site gets ranked in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Here are a things you need to know about the mobile-first index so that you can optimize your website accordingly.

 

What is the mobile-first index?

By now, you probably know that Google crawls your site to add pages to its index. That is, it uses a bot to surf around your site like a real visitor and follows links on your pages.

In the past, Google crawled your site as a desktop user. Now, however, Google will crawl your site as a mobile user. That’s a distinction with a really big difference.

For starters, your website might present a completely different display to mobile users versus desktop users. In some cases, links that appear on the desktop version of your site might not appear on the mobile version. That’s bad because the Googlebot can’t follow links that aren’t there. As a result, your site might take a hit in the SERPs.

Keep in mind also that Google uses a number of ranking signals to determine where your site should land in the results list. If the bot finds that your site is hostile to mobile users or loads very slowly, you’re definitely going to lose rank.

The bottom line — when performing search engine optimization (SEO) for your site, start with optimizing it for a mobile audience. That’s the prime directive now.

Why is Google using a mobile-first index?

If you’re wondering why Google is switching to a mobile-first index, the answer is simple. Mobile is everything. That’s the short answer, anyway. The long answer is a little more involved.

For starters, the number of mobile users surpassed the number of desktop users a couple of years ago. If anything, Google is late to the game. In addition to that, Google says that there are more mobile searches than desktop searches. So it makes perfect sense that its bot should crawl pages as a mobile user.

How You Can Save The Newest of Technology

Until now, an outdated or half-baked app could be left sitting around, collecting a slow trickle of downloads even after its developers stopped pushing out updates. But that digital norm is about to change, as Apple recently announced its intention to clean up the App Store by evaluating and removing apps that fail to meet quality standards.

If you’ve received notice from Apple that your app is at risk — or if you just haven’t been diligent with your updates — don’t fret! Now is the perfect opportunity to tackle those updates and stay relevant while taking advantage of some of the newest iOS technology.

 

Roll out the updates.

Apple wants its users to love using their phones, and that means the apps they download need to function at a high level. To ensure that experience, Apple is purging the apps that no longer function as intended since repeated iOS changes left them behind.

Updates keep apps running smoothly. If Apple releases iOS 10.2, you either have to update the functionality of your app or deal with the inevitable bugs that pop up as the OS outpaces the software. And, over time, that chasm grows. The difference between 10.1 and 10.2 might be small, but the gap between 8.2 and 10.2 is enormous.

What does this mean for you and your development team? It means you now have an opportunity to reclaim some ground you might have given up ages ago with your app’s user base and functionality. That Instagram imitation from three years ago might have been hot at the time, but guess what? Instagram isn’t the same as it was in 2013, and neither are user expectations of how photo apps should operate. If you haven’t updated your app, not only is your product behind the times, but your understanding of current trends and user needs is also probably lacking.

But if your app is on the chopping block and you’re not seeing the download or review results you want, you might not be doomed. In fact, you may just need to refresh your app — and your understanding of the need it fills.

 

Freshening up your app

What new technologies have come out since you last overhauled your app? Could 3D Touch functionality make it more intuitive? What about Touch ID or a sticker pack to boost social capabilities? Fixing bugs is a big part of an update, but the real improvements come through added functionality.

 

1. Do ad hoc testing.

First things first. Open your app on the most recent device with the latest OS and put it through its paces. You won’t discover everything in one go, but it will give you a good idea of what your users experience. Companies such as Colligo depend on UX testing to iterate quickly and ensure they stay in touch with user needs.

The more testing you perform, the more you’ll begin to notice patterns in your software wherein the same features are the most prone to errors. In the early stages, though, there will be an element of randomness to where and how you focus your testing. Comparing how a certain feature operates on various devices, from a phone to a tablet to a browser, is a good place to start.

 

2. Dig deeper using Xcode.

Have development open the app in Apple’s Xcode to look at specific error logs. This will allow you to find many root issues that ad hoc testing would not. This action will also help you get to the heart of any functionality problems and take advantage of crash reports you should be collecting.

Xcode performs much of the work for you, categorizing and grouping every crash report users send to Apple and neatly laying out the common flaws that consistently cause your software to fail.

 

3. Check out the competition.

Once your app works properly, take a peek at your neighbor’s paper. What are competitors doing to keep their apps relevant? What features have they added, and how are they taking advantage of OS advancements? Be shameless about using whatever ideas you can gather to get your app noticed and downloaded. Learn from your competitors through their successes and mistakes so you don’t have to learn the hard way.

The Reality Will Change Storytelling

Virtual reality is no longer some futuristic concept from a 90s movie with bad CGI effects. Every household may not be equipped with the technology just yet, but consumers are getting a taste of it at technology events and retail stores. People bought VR “goggles” by the thousands during the holiday season this year. By 2020, Forrester predicts that there will be 52 million units in circulation as consumers and businesses find different ways to put it to use.

Related: Why Virtual Reality Is Vital

For marketers, the growing availability of VR headsets means rethinking many of the campaigns used to win over customers. Consumers will grow accustomed to immersive brand experiences, requiring businesses to create campaigns that are more interactive. Here are a few ways virtual reality will change advertising and marketing in the next decade.

A focus on storytelling

Storytelling is already immensely popular in today’s competitive marketing landscape. Storytelling helps businesses connect with customers in a way traditional marketing can’t. People generally become interested in the story behind a business or its products and they purchase based on the connection that creates.

With virtual reality, your business has the opportunity to tell a story from start to finish through visuals. This can be the story of how your company got its start or a behind-the-scenes look at how your company’s items are made. Storytelling provides the opportunity to bring customers into your showroom, factory or workspaces and helps them get to know your team on a personal basis. This could lead to more loyal customers who are also likely to tell friends and associates about you.

Create experiences

Virtual reality gives consumers the chance to experience things they might not be able to otherwise do, such as climbing Mount Everest or riding a zip line through the Amazon rainforest. While it may not be 100 percent like the real thing, being able to enjoy these adventures from the comfort of home is a huge bonus. NASA is working on software that will allow virtual reality device owners the chance to walk the surface of the planet Mars, demonstrating the many possibilities for the technology.

Related: How This Couple Is Amalgamating Virtual Reality with Architectural Visualization

For you as a brand, this means finding ways that your own products or services can be applied to a virtual reality experience. A sporting goods retailer, for instance, has a wide variety of opportunities for VR storytelling — from putting customers on the water to try out a new speedboat to playing basketball in the pros. A fashion retailer could create an online experience that allows shoppers to browse the aisles and choose products from shelves or racks, rather than having to enter keywords into a search engine.

Provide product demonstrations

In addition to putting customers in your store or on outdoor adventures, you can also give potential consumers the opportunity to try out your product. This is especially valuable if you sell high-dollar items that customers generally like to try before buying. It could be used in place of a prototype to let customers and potential investors learn more about a product without actually seeing it in person.

Falsely Pronounced Dead in Latest Twitter

This year, hacking group OurMine has successfully broke into accounts of major public figures — including Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey — who ironically are the world’s top tech executives (and Katy Perry).

Although these attacks pose a threat to personal information and data, most of these incidents have been harmless and, in fact, funny. On its website, the hacking collective OurMine states: “We have no bad intentions and only care about the security and privacy of your accounts and networks.” So far, this statement stands true, as the group positions itself as a security company offering services to help rather than harm online privacy.

For the majority of these high-profile hacks, the group posts variations of “we are just testing your security” and tagging themselves.

In July, matters got serious. Rather than another silly OurMine attack on a tech exec, state-sponsored hackers hijacked a computer network used by Hillary Clinton’s campaign — which may pose a “national security threat,” some sources say.

In August, the hacking trend seemed to be shifting from mischievous to dire. Last month, thieves broke into the second largest Bitcoin exchange and stole more than $65 million worth of the cryptocurrency. Just a few weeks ago, Russian hackers breached more than 330,000 cash registers at restaurants, stores and hotels.

The star for this week’s “hack of the week” is the World Anti-Doping Agency, whose break-in exposed medical records of U.S. Olympians Simone Biles and the Williams sisters.

Regardless of the hackers’ intentions — good or bad — the number of attacks is a growing concern. From Zuckerberg to Google’s Puchai to the Democratic party, the list goes on. Check out these big hacks of 2016.