4 Trends That Prove Marketers Are Bad At Predictions

January 30, 2017 Andrea Fryrear

by Andrea Fryrear

The marketing world runs on consistent cycles: January and February are for strategy and planning, June and July are for stressing about dips in website traffic, September through November is the conference blitz, and November to January is prediction season.

During this festive time, thought leaders from every niche peer into the void of the future, straining their third eyes to try and see what’s coming next for the industry.

Thanks to the laws of probability (and some luck), some of those predictions come true.

Most of them, however, don’t come to pass. They might be early, they might be partially accurate, or they might be outright wrong.

But even if we’re rarely spot-on, it’s important for marketers to spend some time every year trying to fathom our future. If nothing else, keeping an eye out for the next landslide is an important survival skill in a rapidly changing digital landscape.

Today we’re going to see how predictions from 2016 went, including some major upheavals that nobody saw coming.  

4 Misplaced Marketing Predictions from 2016

One of the reasons that marketing predictions often get proven “wrong” is that the phrase “digital marketing” now includes dozens of tactics, channels, strategies, and technologies.

The more variables are in play, the more difficult it is to accurately gauge what’s going to happen next.

Take, for example, my informal and highly unscientific analysis of 2016 predictions. After reviewing the first thirty results from several Google searches, I found only eleven trends that made it onto more than one list. 

With titles like, “The Top 7 Online Marketing Trends that Will Dominate 2016” and “7 Game-Changing Marketing Trends to Tackle in 2016,” I admit I was expecting more consistency in the content.

Among these lists of ostensibly industry-changing trends were several that didn’t have a great year. And then there were those that did disrupt the entire industry, but didn’t make it onto anyone’s prediction list.


1. Virtual Reality Does Not Go Mainstream

The prognostication, as stated by Forbes’ Jason DeMers: “Oculus Rift and other VR devices will introduce an entire new medium of online advertising, with integration to popular social media platforms, video channels, and even forms of direct messaging.”

While lots of cool tech rolled out in 2016, it didn’t find its way into many marketing campaigns.

The price of headset-based VR is still prohibitive for all but the most ardent early adopters. Until there’s more widespread adoption of the hardware, it won’t be fiscally smart for most marketers to incorporate this first phase of VR into their work. 

Kotaku’s Editor in Chief Kirk Hamilton believes that “2016 was not ‘The Year of VR.’ It was the year of the start of VR. Multiple major tech companies released impressive VR systems that were clearly the first of their kind; flawed and fascinating, destined to be improved upon and replaced. The age of immersive technology is upon us, but its future remains uncertain.”


2. Augmented Reality Goes Supernova

And then, of course, there’s VR’s less hardware-intensive cousin, Augmented Reality (AR).

You may know it through its most famous incarnation, 2016’s absurdly popular Pokémon GO.

While some marketing futurists predicted increased use of VR and AR, nobody saw this little app coming. Then, seemingly overnight, it had sent millions of people wandering the streets in search of monsters that weren’t really there.

Pokémon GO drove millions of app installations that delivered untold hours of user engagement, but its technical problems and lack of new content relegated it firmly to fad territory.

As we talk about predictions that are often proven wrong, it’s worth remembering this cautionary tale. Cool and cutting edge have their place, but even millions of users won’t save you if you charge in without a long-term plan. Don’t burn bright and brief like poor Pokémon GO.


3. Account Based Marketing Was All the Rage

Likewise, you won’t find any mention of the new buzzword on the block, Account Based Marketing (ABM), on 2016 prediction lists, even though it was clearly a breakout search term:

There’s even new software popping up that’s solely designed to help marketers tackle this complex new strategy.

Of course, when we overlay searches for ABM with those for “content marketing,” we see that ABM has a long way to go before it goes from buzzword to part of the marketing bedrock:

4. Voice Search Struggled to Find its Voice

The realization that spoken searches are vastly different from typed ones isn’t new, but when Google announced in May 2016 that 20% of queries on its mobile app and on Android devices were voice searches, voice search became a major topic of SEO conversation.

But, multiple predictions notwithstanding, Siri and her offspring haven’t rushed in to replace our trusty keyboards just yet. 

Like VR ascendancy, the voice search transition is almost certainly going to happen, just not exactly when it was first predicted.

Hope springs eternal during marketing prediction season, however. Recent roundups for 2017 have voice search ranking in the top three SEO trends for 2017, and a recent Forbes article declares, “2017 Will Be The Year Of Voice Search.”

If we keep predicting it, we’re bound to get it right eventually.


I Predict More Predictions

It’s entertaining to look back and chuckle at the inaccurate attempts of mere marketing mortals to predict the future, but these collective endeavors are an important ritual for an industry in a constant state of flux.

In a column for Psychology Today, David Ropeik says that predicting the future gives us a feeling, however unrealistic, of control over our fate:

“The study of the psychology of risk perception has found that one of the most powerful influences on fear is uncertainty. The less we know, the more threatened we feel.” 

When it comes to the future of our industry, marketers often feel like we don’t know much of anything.

In a year, there could be a completely new social media platform with millions of users. Or our customers could be ignoring our carefully crafted content while they wander their neighborhood searching for an imaginary Pokémon. Or a new competitor could storm into our niche and disrupt all our lovely plans.

Predictions help us feel in control of an uncertain future; it’s no wonder they’re a rite of passage from one year to the next.

So let’s keep peering through the mist to see what’s coming up next. It’s a lot better than closing our eyes, covering our ears, and hoping for the best.  


Speaking of predictions, don't miss Heather Hurst's roundup of top 2017 marketing predictions from around the web. Workfront CMO Joe Staples also weighed in with his own list of 2017 predictions

About the Author

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea is the Chief Content Officer for Fox Content, where she uses agile content marketing principles to power content strategy and implementation for her clients. She's also the Editor in Chief of The Agile Marketer, a community of marketers on the front lines of the agile marketing transformation. She geeks out on all things agile and content on LinkedIn and @andreafryrear on Twitter.

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