Digital Conversations

Trends for 2013

2nd January 2013

Happy new year, and welcome to 2013. This time of year is about looking forward over the months to come, and so to that end we asked a few people at Reading Room what they thought might be the big trends for digital in 2013. The results are pretty interesting. Rob identifies the creation of a small number of competing ecosystems that are beginning to dominate the internet landscape, and how 2013 might be the year you have to pick sides; Shaun notes the continued importance of brands providing real utility to their customers; Tom explores how user experience skills honed on digital projects might have a role to play outside of just digital; Jenni sees augmented reality becoming more than just hype thanks to dedicated hardware and headsets; Adam points out the growing importance of human involvement in content creation and curation; Darren gets passionate around responsive design; Friendy looks at how behavioural targeting might help the growth of small and medium sized retailers; and James finishes up with a look at how mobile is forcing us to redefine how we think about internet access. And to start us off, I’ve written a short piece on how 2013 might be the year digital begins to truly impact every area of an organisation. We hope you enjoy the read, and let us know what you think in the comments.

2013, The Year Digital Business Goes Mainstream

By Adam Sefton, Global Chief Strategy Officer, from our London office.

It might be quite strange to consider digital, a term and group of technologies we are all now so familiar with, as something that has not yet gone mainstream. However, the truth is that digital so far has been largely ignored by the wider enterprise and left to the attentions of technology and marketing departments. Chief Technology Officers, reporting into CFOs, with the remit to keep costs down and, perhaps if they’re lucky, boost operational efficiency and provide cost savings. And Marketing Directors, tasked with using technology to create spectacle; digital as a ’360 campaign’, to engage with consumers across as many touch points as possible.

But treating digital as simply a method of saving costs, or a novel way of creating campaigns, doesn’t achieve the strategic value that is on offer. The truth is that digital represents a new way of doing business. Tied up in the culture and values of the internet are opportunities to make your business work better, to create new methods of distribution, R&D and product development, to use digital innovation as a strategic advantage. To do this requires a different way of thinking. It requires an acceptance that in an era defined by the flux of new technology, a 3 year strategy will be out of date in 12 months. You need flexibility, you need to hypothesise and experiment, and you need to be comfortable with the idea of being wrong the first time if it means you’re right the second and third times. Strategies that can evolve, that can be influenced by learnings taken from implementation, that can find a home in organisations willing to be flexible, will see great success in the coming years.

And we’re beginning to see evidence of this change. According the Gartner, by 2015 20% of organisations will have a Digital Business Officer. PWC’s 2012 Digital IQ Survey revealed that top performing organisations were almost 80% more likely to have a Chief Executive that was an active champion of digital. Those that understand that digital has the power to redefine their whole business, and not just their technology and marketing departments, are the ones set to achieve the greatest success across 2013.


Ecosystem land grabs reduce interoperability

By Rob Curran, Strategist, from our London office

In the past decade or so, companies such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google, have been quietly building environments (sometimes referred to as ‘walled gardens’) in which to house users. Each of these companies have launched their own takes on services such as online music lockers, document storage systems, media stores, and a slew of other assorted web apps. Although cloud computing is by no means a new concept (Steve Jobs even described the benefits of keeping personal documents and data in the cloud back in 1997) it has recently been increasing the speed and fervour with which these proprietary ecosystem are being built.

2012 has been an year in which these ecosystems have matured, but most are still used intermittently, with users dipping in and out of each company’s applications and cobbling together a set services made up of offerings from a number of different web companies. 2013 promises to be a year in which consumers are increasingly pressured to choose one company, and swear allegiance to a single ecosystem. Facebook, Google, and Amazon will continue to fight it out to keep users within their own environments in an attempt to have customers manage their entire digital lives using only their own services. During this ‘landgrab’ period, where companies vie for ecosystem dominance, those who have yet to choose a team sometimes lose out, and in 2013 many users may find their digital activities hampered as interoperability becomes a rare luxury.

There have been several instances in 2012 in which the convenience of users has been sidelined as companies fight to keep users from migrating from one ecosystem to another. One such example is Instagram recently disabling the ability to view Instagram photos through Twitter’s card function. The move is intended to ‘encourage’ users to commit to using Instagram (and its recently launched web presence) for all their web photo needs. This will only become more frequent as web platforms seek to squash interoperability – ultimately duplicating each other’s features and promoting proprietary environments in the name of monetisation.

In 2013 web companies will continue to encourage users to jump ship and wholeheartedly commit to their services over those of a competitor – some will be subtle with their encouragement, others heavy-handed. While each individual ecosystem gets better at serving user needs, the fight to lock down users means that using a wide selection of services will undoubtedly become more difficult.


Marketing as Digital Services

By Shaun Rowland, General Manager of Reading Room’s Melbourne Office

Brands will develop more digital services that provide customers with real utility and benefit. The pioneer of this trend was Nike with its Nike + running servicewhich fulfilled a genuine consumer need which resulted in a deeper level ofengagement with its audience than could ever be achieved with traditional advertising. The application has become a ‘must have’ application for runners worldwide and connects them to Nike in a meaningful way. Other brands such as Chipotle and Dominos have developed apps which make the process of ordering their products as easy and as transparent as possible.

Brands will release apps which help consumers improve their lives in a way that is consistent with the brand proposition – BUPA in Australia provides an app which helps its audience make healthy choices when shopping for food. The first wave of branded mobile apps floundered because they didn’t effectively answer the golden consumer question: what’s in it for me? As always, what makes a digital service successful is uncovering real insight into audience behaviour and needs and then providing a service which consumers find genuinely beneficial. Brands stand a great deal to gain by becoming a trusted service provider to their audiences not least the huge amount of behaviour data that can be mined from such services which can be used to target content and offers more precisely.


Service design: User experience design breaks out of the screen

By Tom Voirol, Head of User Experience, from our Sydney office.

Over the last 15 years, we have seen digital communications agencies slowly catch up with the realisation that they need to apply user-centric design principles and methodologies to the way they develop user interactions. Now, increasingly, clients are demanding that user experience design (or UXD) be no longer confined to just digital interactivity, but that it encompass all aspects of the – well – user experience.

Businesses and forward-thinking government agencies increasingly understand digital communications to be an enabler for true, strategic business results. As a consequence, they are more and more trusting their digital agency to extend their scope beyond the interfaces of websites, smartphone and tablet apps, and shape the full 360° experience, including all offline touch points.  When a customer has received your email and decides to visit the showroom, will you recognise them and treat them accordingly? How can you acknowledge a pre-existing offline relationship when a customer starts using your app? How seamless does the entire multi-channel purchasing journey feel to your users? These are the kinds of questions the discipline of service design helps answer.

Service design makes use of many of the same techniques as digital user experience design, including user research, personas and prototyping. Applying them to the offline context, however, makes even more obvious the need to have a user experience strategy that is derived from and aligned with your organisational strategy. Giving your digital agency a seat at the strategy table is a great start to ensuring your customers are delighted, regardless how they choose to interact with you.


Headset launch will mark the next evolution in augmented reality

By Jenni Allen, Strategist, from our Singapore office.

Augmented reality (AR) headsets will generate heightened publicity of AR in 2013, with the projected launch by Google and other manufacturers.

Whilst AR has become more prevalent due to the proliferation of smartphones, its application has remained limited because to date it has been enabled via software applications. The launch of AR hardware onto the consumer market will, therefore, mark the biggest step in AR since it was initiated into manufacturing processes in the 1990s.  The headsets will therefore enable usage like self navigation and the ability to view a person’s social profile as soon as you look at them.

While the price points of the headsets will not enable mass uptake, it will enhance business and consumer understanding of AR potential and stimulate increased creation and demand, primarily of mobile applications. We will, therefore see a surge in the number of businesses experimenting with AR elements in their mobile marketing.

Whilst Europe has been the innovator in AR, here in Asia, the market has grown fast and the opportunities are immense, particularity when you consider the scale of the smartphone market within the region.

Whilst marketing usage will be the most popular application of AR in 2013, most interesting will be the continual growth of AR in e-commerce and m-commerce as a method of product engagement and integration within the consumer purchasing cycle. Indeed, in October, China based e-commerce company Yihaodian announced its plans to launch 1000 virtual supermarkets across the country. This move will soon see others follow suit.


The Humanisation of Content Creation

By Adam McLeod, Project Director, from our Canberra office.

Yesterday, we uploaded 8.1 million photos an hour to Facebook, 78 hours of video a minute to YouTube, and we sent 294 BILLION emails. And that’s not counting all the check-ins, tweets, friend requests, Yelp and Amazon reviews, and pins on Pinterest.

The sheer volume of information we create, upload and save is growing faster than the majority of us can comprehend.  We’ve created autonomous tools to try to filter, organise, and present this content; we create favourites and lists, use apps like Flipboard to aggregate our interests, and rules to control the flow of email.  Yet despite all this many users feel like they are drowning in the sea of content being pushed or pulled their way.

But where do your potential users go when they need specific and clear information to make a decision about your product or service? There are lots of ways for them to engage with you on social networks, but the top choice for information seekers is still your website. In a recently released report , 89.3% of potential purchasers went directly to the company website.

What’s happened is the web has gotten better at making data. Way better, as it turns out. And while algorithms have gotten better at helping us organise it, they aren’t keeping up with the massive tide of real-time data.

So how do you sort the chaff from the wheat, so to speak?

In 2013 we see a trend back towards the humanisation of content creation and curation.

There is a driving need for those content superstars in your organisation to carefully craft content for your website or social media channels that is sharp, to the point and well-structured to stand out from the crowd .  Check out this cheeky Google ad on the challenges your users can have finding what they need when the content authoring has been left to an amateur!. Have your people understand your users through quality research and analytics, learn how they like to be spoken to and how they like to consume information, and then leverage that understanding to your advantage to take the crown as being the source of quality information that truly engages and directly addresses your audience.


2013, the year Responsive Design is understood

By Darren Cousins, Senior User Experience Developer, from our Manchester office.

We’ve heard it many times now that the mobile internet is going to be huge. We are all agreed on this. However, how we approach this is only just being understood and for the most part is still often mis-understood.

The terms “Adaptive” and “Responsive” are so closely linked in the English language that it’s hard to describe one without using the other; a simpler understanding is required.  Adaptive is what we are capable of achieving right now, mostly layout and, if we are extremely diligent, adapting content to the users’ needs based on solid research. However, squashing images and moving things around the screen is NOT a mobile solution.

The truth is that real responsive is not yet possible. For this we need real time evaluation of a user’s bandwidth and to change the page based on the quality of that bandwidth.  Initial discovery research shows that bandwidth conditions fluctuate wildly, and do not directly correlate with the type of device being used, thus this final condition for true responsive may yet lead to more technical hurdles.

So if Adaptive design is not always desirable, and Responsive design is not yet truly possible, what other choices do we have?

The full desktop version?

Unfortunately, this is just not fit for purpose on mobile devices, and in fact is not at all what a user expects. To illustrate, in the commercial world of retail, when I walk into a Metro version of a supermarket, I wouldn’t expect it to look EXACTLY like my full size Mega version of the supermarket, likewise, why should mobile try and pretend to be a desktop?

The Tetris Media Query version?

Maybe, if research shows that users wish for all content to be visible and usable on page load and displayed in a format best suited to their device.

A highly targeted functional version?

Unlikely, unless very strong research has backs this approach, this could be potentially seen as alienating lots of user and will certainly gain the attention of the usability and accessibility advocates.  Offering a link to a version of the site with full content will avoid any potential conflict with users and experts.

A simplified design version?

This is an “old is new again” approach, which involves simplifying the design for all devices and thus removes any need for any extra effort to make it work cross browser and cross device.  This is effective but limited, not every client or every solution can be reduced to a simple “stack it high don’t be shy” approach.

There is no right or wrong answer to this, ultimately it will depend on user needs and technological requirements.

The coming year will see a greater move toward user research to ascertain mobile expectations backed up by more in depth traffic analysis to serve the optimum delivery for the best user experience.

The screen resolutions and media queries that have served us well to this point aren’t disappearing but they will be joined with data quality analysis, dynamically adjusting image quality size and backed by solid user research to ensure we aren’t over delivering or underwhelming the largest growing sector in internet usage and commerce.


Retail Growth will be underpinned by behavioural targeting

By Friendy Sin, Lead Technical Developer, from our Manchester office

2013 will see a rapid growth in the online retail business. In 2012, online accounted for a record high of almost 18% of the total retail sales in the UK. Clearly, consumers are feeling more confident than ever in online purchasing.

To help increase sales, larger companies such as Amazon and eBay have embraced behavioural targeting: the ability to track consumer activities on site, to ensure the relevant products are displayed to that consumer. Whatever products the consumer browsed on his first visit to the site are given more prominence in future visits.

And targeting doesn’t just happen on-site. Information collected about a consumer’s browsing history and search engine usage is all used to determine products that consumer is more likely to be interested in.

In 2013, we’ll see a growth in this method of personalisation and behavioural targeting, with retail stores outside of just the big players picking up and using this technology. Some content management systems, including SDLTridion, Sitecore and Unbraco, now offer this type of tracking and targeting. They have similar kinds of marketing suite extensions to allow content authors to define promotional rules, helping to display relevant content on the homepage and advertising banners.

As this technology becomes more common, and therefore more affordable, it is not just the large commerce sites that will be able to benefit from it. Small and medium-sized retailers will be able to use this technology to help them increase the relevance of their online offers, and with it the size of their online sales.


The ‘Mobile’ in Mobile Internet Becomes Redundant

By James Hirst, Project Director, from our London office

During 2012 we have seen that people are taking up mobile devices at an unprecedented rate.  Smartphone ownership is ubiquitous and tablet ownership doubled in 2012 alone.

So lots of shiny devices – but this is not a technical requirement that you need to build to – this is an indicator of how people live and work and should inform how your business operates.  These devices have sold in huge numbers because of what people want from the internet and business needs to respond:

Users want instantaneous access to information – I need to be able to take out my phone, quickly check the scoreline, timetable or diary appointment within seconds.  I no longer “go on the internet”, I’m always on the internet.

This means information and content should be made available through Apps, APIs and cross-platform adaptive websites.  Don’t think about how best to show your content on your website, think about all of the places your information might be useful and ensure it is available.

Users want contextual information – My devices know that I am sat in a car, in Yorkshire on a weekend.  So when I perform a search, start from the assumption that I might want localised results.  Consider that because I am in a car, make the info accessible to text to speech so I can hear the results not read them and as it’s the weekend, maybe screen my work emails (sorry team!).  My devices should know that I support Leeds Utd, so when I search for football results, how about prioritising their results, instead of making me search through 3 pages of different leagues and competitions.

For this to work, information needs to have context, it needs semantic organisation (consider OpenGraph) and that needs considering from the very start of any internet project.

Users want ubiquitous, seamless access – My devices know that I have many other devices.  I want my calendar, email and content synchronised across all my devices.  I want messages to find me at my desk, in my pocket, on my laptop and be available from all. If I change my preferences on one device, I want the same change across all devices.  If I email a company, I want the option for them to contact me back by phone, email or twitter  – with my devices and their preferences choosing the most appropriate way of contacting me.

For this to work, we need to better understand our users and give them the opportunity to manage their communications with us simply and easily. As this begins to happen, so the need to specify ‘mobile’ internet access will increasingly become redundant.


(Image of 2013 dog from Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

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Planning, creative and technology, best described as problem solving. Chief Strategy Officer at Reading Room.

1 Response

  1. avatar Heward Simpson January 14, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Thanks for the very interesting articles. As regards mobile AR headsets, I have a lovely vision of streets full of people, cannoning into each other and being mown down by traffic as they search for baked beans in their virtual supemarkets. The human race hasn’t evolved fast enough to even cope with using a phone on the street safely and without causing problems for others – I tremble for the AR future!


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