Virtual real-life experiences, the primacy of third-party channels, and campaigns that deliver usefulness, are all set to be the major trends for marketers in the coming year, according to Hotwire’s seventh annual Communications Trends Report.  

The agency predicts that as people demand a perfect marriage between experience and data, virtual reality will become a key trend for 2016, with brands aiming to bridge emotion and fact.

The Report also forecasts that brands will be forced to relinquish their tight control over their content. Instead, there will be a growing willingness to hand over distribution to third parties, as we begin to see the end of "clumsy calls to action or forced visits to external websites."

"2016 will be the year of setting our content free," said Hotwire group CEO Brendon Craigie. "Savvy marketers will publish content where the audience already is, rather than sharing a link and expecting them to follow it."

“We’ll focus on actual experiences rather than selling a product or service. The campaigns which succeed will either solve a problem for consumers or provide a great experience, whether through physical or virtual reality.”

Hotwire's communications trends for 2016:

1. Platform wars – embracing third-party mediums

Websites will become a channel rather than an end-point. While they will still be a place for us to publish, we’ll increasingly see information spread across the web as publishing channels like Medium and LinkedIn pulse, which have built in distribution services, become a staple of marketing campaigns.

2. Funnel reversal: marketing in the Age of Amazon

The traditional funnel model for purchases has been flipped. Consumers now go straight to the source for purchases. But where Amazon goes for breadth, brands can go for depth, targeting content and campaigns which create a brand experience that will keep customers coming back for more – building a stronger connection with the customer and reversing the funnel at the same time.
3. Our audience is killing advertising

iOS9 has enabled ad blocking – but the industry isn’t ready to respond. In 2016, marketers will absolutely need to get better at native advertising as well as explore new ways of generating top of the funnel awareness – from sponsored podcasts and influencer partnerships with bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers through to a renewed commitment to experiential activity.        
4. Death of the millennials

2016 will be the year we finally stop targeting ‘millennials’ as one whole demographic. Instead brands will look to target audiences based on a specific mind-set and certain values. We’ll see increasingly sophisticated content, targeting different groups of this younger audience and that targeting will be age agnostic. We may even forget about age in general – it’s just a number – and focus marketing on what really motivates our audience: their passions and the life they choose to live.

5. Living in the moment

2016 will be about living in the moment. Marketers will rely less on content calendars and more on gut instincts and guidelines. Those that can free up their teams to create content in the moment and embrace the lack of perfection this moment implies, will help their brand communications feel a lot more natural.
6. Go big. Go hyperlocal.

In 2016, marketers need to go granular – creating individual messages for every section of our target audience and tying these to their distinguishing feature. In this new hyper granular world, four or five pieces of copy are no longer enough – we’ll need to create 10, 15 or even 20 messages, each of which targets a specific sub section of our audience.
7. Be relevant. Be useful. Be heard.

The great marketing campaigns of 2016 won’t be about making noise, they’ll be about providing a service. We’ll learn from the big boys who have cottoned on to this already. Where it’s IBM providing shelter from the rain with their outdoor adverts or Samsung mounting giant screens on the tailgate of their lorries – streaming live traffic from a camera on the front of the vehicle, to show drivers when it was safe to overtake. Marketing campaigns will increasingly become an active, not passive part of daily life.
8. Virtual reality as your channel of choice

As consumers demand more experiences and less linear communication, VR will become a key trend for 2016. The hardware will become pervasive as a result of the gaming and entertainment community, but it will be the content creators and communicators who ensure the platform bleeds into all walks of life, not just gamers. Marketers need to not just understand the impact the technology can make on our strategy, but know when it can be used and who to call upon to make it work.
9. Brands as the new activists

Values hold communities together, but they must be lived and seen in action. With consumers increasingly forming judgements based on a brand’s social and economic policies, we will continue to see brands putting further weight behind social and political issues that people care about – placing values at the core of their communication strategy.
10. Cutting the cord

2016 is the year the industry gets its act together on online video – combining experts in video production, planners and account teams with a deep understanding of the channels video works best on.