The twelve days of predictions for 2012.

Predictions 2012

It’s always a tough task doing annual predictions. Aim too high and you’re way out - 3D printing, the Internet of Things in 2012 anyone? - but simply stating that Facebook is likely to grow renders the whole exercise quite pointless.
 
Instead, we’ve aimed somewhere in between. Each day in the 12 working days before Christmas we gave our predictions for what will become mainstream in 2012.

12. Multiple device strategies become commonplace…

In 2011 we saw lots of worthy chat in the user experience community about developing device-sensitive design, but what this usually boiled down to was making sure a desktop website didn’t break the minute you tried to view it in any other context. We also all got a little distracted by our infatuation with the shiny and oh-so-pretty n’ slick Responsive Web Design trend that rose up this summer.

What 2012 may see the firm arrival of is the logical extension of this; multi-device strategies. Again, this is not new, but it is not practiced widely enough yet to be considered old hat either.

A digital solution has multiple lives, so design teams need to focus on making one that works in a variety of bespoke ways, each tailored specifically to a given context. A desktop browser can display something big, beautiful, expansive and broadband-enabled, a mobile device has an address book, GPS service and camera, a  tablet can display lick-ably gorgeous media to someone slumped on a sofa or standing in a crowded train, whilst a touch-screen kiosk is great for localised practical information.

Next year will see responsive design of one solution become commonplace, but only 2012’s more inventive and resourceful digital solution providers are going to go the extra step and create bespoke solutions for multiple device contexts simultaneously.

11. Search is on the move once again…

One of the most crucial things for marketers to consider when planning their 2012 search strategies is mobile. Mobile search is not simply another channel, but a totally different mindset. The latest research from Google tells us consumers are looking for local content, are on the move, and are primarily performing task-orientated searches. With this in mind, marketers’ mobile search strategies need to be tailored to the customers needs rather than simply porting their web search strategy to mobile.

How Google develops in next year will also be crucial, in particular with its personalised search functionality. Personalised search relies predominantly on being logged into Google, which is estimated to be between 10% and 30% of all users at present. This is growing through the integration of Google+ and, for SEO, could have a significant impact on how campaigns are planned and forecast. One important side issue to this is Google’s decision to encrypt searches conducted whilst logged in, making it extremely difficult to prove the ROI from any SEO activities.

Two other key initiatives we’re likely to see from Google in 2012 will be social signalling as a key factor in how your site ranks. Social advocacy in the shape of +1s will have an increasing importance in determining which sites rank where, but the core factors are going to be primarily related to Google+ and other social sources Google uses to determine social signalling.

10. The age of the Third Eye

Augmented reality (AR) is not new; in fact it dates back to 1968! However, in 2012, we believe it will finally become mainstream.

Until now, AR has been a bit gimmicky with spinning cars and cute monsters, but as Aurasma’s Director, Matt Mills, put it, “We are at the dawn of the age of visual browsing… it’s sort of like where television was in the 40s.”

TV, at least in the UK, took off with our Queen’s coronation. The equivalent for AR could be the Amazon Flow application and the coming age of markerless AR. It may not be as regal or historic as TV’s watershed moment, but we live in consumerist times.

Expect to see more and more brand collateral, such as adverts, OOH and products, augmented with a wealth of digital content, giving the viewer access to product demos, reviews, social commentary, comparisons, configuration tools an so on.

In ten years time, we will probably wander around in our AR glasses or contact lenses, looking back and laughing at the ‘primitive’ AR of 2012 – but, for now, it will seem very cool and a lot more useful than it was in 2011.

9. Cookie monster unleashed in 2012…

In May 2012, the local state representative (in the UK the Information Commissioner’s Office) will begin enforcing the European Privacy Directive on cookie usage. How the directive is implemented is still open for debate, however, unless it is significantly toned down, the implications are huge.

The first is user experience, which could be impacted as users are asked to opt-in to each individual cookie! The second is loss of data. When this new approach was tested there was a 90% drop in the amount of data collected. As a channel that’s main USP is data, offline marketers could be rubbing together their hands with glee!

The second major trend will be how companies leverage the ‘big data’ question. Businesses that are able to organise and make sense of all the data now available will be at a major competitive advantage in terms of customer insight, productivity and business insight. Google recently launched its Social Media Data Hub with the objective of creating a standardised way of tracking social data from all of your customer touch points. Next year we can expect to see more in the way of standards being applied to data although until Twitter and Facebook are on board, fragmentation will continue to exist.

We can also expect to see more intelligence data modelling from attribution modelling, as well as mobile data, customer data modelling and in analytics, from lifetime value through to cohort analysis. In tandem with this, data visualisation tools are going to become increasingly prevalent, streamlining the ability to model data and providing actionable intelligence to marketers.

8. Fragmentation x 10

We are living in the age of what Forrester calls the ‘Splinternet’ – an age of unprecedented digital fragmentation, with the number of channels, platforms and operating systems seeming to grow day by day. In 2012, as these continue to rise, we can only expect this splinter effect to get worse.

Will Facebook bring out an iPhone? How will the tie-up with Windows and Nokia work? Will there be further shake-up in the tablet market? What about the Kindle Fire, should we all start developing in HTML5, or is it too early?

One response to this ongoing digital ‘mess’ that we can expect to see from savvy brands is a lot more customer research. The days of crunching data from the Target Group Index and you’re done are gone – the ever growing number of brand touch points and increasing complexities of consumer behaviour require a much deeper, longer-term commitment to consumer research.

Recession or no recession, brands need to get very close to their consumers, so we will see spend on ethnography (real and virtual) and private communities rise in 2012, as brands do everything they can to stay aligned with their customers.

7. TV goes social again

We all know the scene, sitting alone at home watching TV and checking our emails, Facebook status and Twitter streams. We currently ‘hack’ these together, but in 2012 we will see more dual-screen experiences via shows with intelligent online companions.

Apps and rich websites will allow viewers to join viewing rooms with their friends to see, for example, what they think of the show, as well as access additional metadata. Dedicated iPad apps will sync our social and viewing profiles, allowing us to watch shows on either or both screens. And this won’t be limited to scheduled programs, as we’ll also see catch up on demand services introduce social elements next year.

According to Nielsen, 70% of (US) tablet users are using them whilst watching TV, and recent figures from Twitter show that usage activity spikes with TV commercials. Interestingly, at a time when tablet penetration in the UK was still quite low, Endemol revealed that its peak ‘play-along’ audience for Million Pound Drop reached 8.6%.

With new technologies being developed, such as those that allow mobile devices to recognise a TV show’s audio footprint (the Shazam of TV), and connect viewers with the contextual content around that show or its social fan community, big brands and advertisers are understandably eyeing up this space.

This second screen ‘connection’ represents a seismic shift for broadcasters turning the traditional one-way TV into a bi-directional channel, way beyond anything that the ‘red button’ currently offers. We predict that TV is going to go social once again in 2012.

6. Intelligent Life Management

A good decade into our digital lives we’ve arrived at breaking point… we’ve read, bookmarked, blogged, reviewed, liked, poked, bought, commented and consumed more content than we will ever be able to remember. So, what do we do with the hundreds of logins, accounts and profiles that we’ve either forgotten about or don’t have time to return to?

The answer is a new breed of services, we’ve termed Intelligent Life Management (ILM), that we expect to grow significantly in 2012.  Instead of simply facilitating consumption and entertainment (like Flipboard. Pulse etc) these cloud-based ILM tools will help us to manage our lives better by organising photos, calendars, financial accounts, subscriptions, social graphs, content feeds, and so on.

There are already services out there, such as About One, Manilla and Primadesk, but we will see one or two gain real traction in 2012 with an increasing number of consumers beginning to use the cloud to help organise their lives.

Looking ahead even further, with the ’Internet of Things’ expected to have a significant impact from 2013-14 onwards, these ILM services will become completely embedded in our lives, hosted on our mobile devices and communicating with the world around us in real-time.

In a few years time, your ILM service will manage your home, work life, social calendar and financial commitments – all without you having to do anything.

5. The rise of global local

An increasingly diverse use of the internet across the globe has lead to both a fragmentation of how people use digital and a diffusion of cultural and social trends, identities and ideas around the world. ‘Global-Local’ will be a defining feature of 2012 as online consumers increasingly adopt global cultural identities and ideas.

In 2011 we saw a tremendous solidarity between nations as we watched both the Arab Spring and ‘Occupy’ movements play out in the US and Europe. This week’s ethnic riots in Russia will no doubt play into this theme, driving debate and opinion across the world as we follow the official and unofficial sides to the story and our perceptions are influenced.

The improvement and standardisation of content, rise of mobile internet and explosion of social media and user generated content in all its forms are driving far quicker and wider access to cultural trends, content, insight and politics, and these are finding their way into our psyche.

Location has already become subjective with consumers no longer expressing their identities in relation to a single place.  The internet can be seen as a catalyst in today’s global society. Ideas can spread like wildfire and, as a consequence, we are seeing a greater social conscience develop in reaction to world events and our access to information. 

4. Gestural interfaces go mainstream

Gestural interfaces have been featuring in predictions for a few years now. The seminal UX book about gestural interface design is three years old this month and now in its fourth edition. And yet we’ve not made the leap. Even with the Wii and Kinect firmly established as high-street staples.

The potential for such interfaces remains obvious, however, and 2012 will doubtless see advances in the field. Particularly as we’re starting to see their incorporation into mobile apps, which were always likely to prove the most effective catalyst for pushing gestural interfaces beyond being seen as suitable only for “gamey” solutions.

The real challenge from a UX perspective though, is how to incorporate gestural control into everyday solutions in a way that properly respects everyday circumstances. One of the key weaknesses of both touch-screen and gesture controls is the lack of haptics. The reassurance of physically sensed feedback is absent, so it is much more likely that we will suffer uncertainty about a system’s status if it responds inconsistently to a command.

I’m particularly interested in notions not of movement, but of light and shadow. Particularly for mobile devices, this seems to me to be a more reliable trigger for an interaction. Using light or shadow to control something adds a spatial dimension to the equation – we move our hand to cover a sensor (say, a cameraphone’s lens) and can be more certain that we have performed the correct action than if we merely waved at the device.

2012 will, I think prove to be a year in which such notions are more widely explored within mainstream applications.

3. Once Upon a Time...

In the eternal campaign for that most elusive of all brand requirements, engagement, we’ll see brands becoming far more inventive. They have to be. A simple social presence is no longer enough, advertising struggles to standout and websites are finding it harder to be sticky. So how will they do it? I believe that brands will spend more time telling stories and less time shouting about their products. And, crucially, they will tell stories in a collaborative way, allowing their consumers to shape and drive the brand’s story in the way they want.

This is, of course, already happening (BT’s Adam and Jane campaign is shaped by Facebook users), but we’ll see more and more of it. However, no brand wants to hand over complete control to its users and so they will work hard to develop stories that are true to their ethos. Only then can they hand them over – and this will happen in social spaces. After all, if you’re going to come into my personal space, you’d better have a good story to tell or I’ll go and talk to someone else.

2. Keep Out!

Personalised websites, web promotions, Facebook ads, emails… where will it end? And when will the consumer say enough is enough?
 
The technology behind personalisation gets ever and ever more advanced – but we are only just getting started. As Eric Schmidt of Google put it, “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”
 
Just two reasons why things are about to get more personal…

The rise of the interest graph

We are moving into the age of the interest graph, “the expansion and contraction of social networks around common interests and events”. But with interest graphs comes interest mining – essentially brands mining our digital data so that they provide ultra relevant and personal content, offers and enticements in real time. Creepy or cool?

Facial recognition technology

Google purchased PittPatt, Apple went with Polar Rose. Ok, Google has pulled back from using facial recognition in the past – but the prize is so large I am not convinced they won’t reintroduce it soon. You can use it to log in to your PC and phone, connect with friends automatically on Google + via photos and video uploaded by others – the potential convenience of facial recognition is endless. And then there’s Facebook – billions of photos uploaded – and Mr Zuckerberg proclaiming the “age of privacy is over”. Scary?
 
In 2012, or soon thereafter, the fight-back will begin (and I say this as a marketer who loves rich consumer data!). Expect to see battle lines drawn and the consumer finally saying no more! At the same time, people will take their digital privacy into their own hands - we have already seen the rise of reputation “protectors” such as Reputation.com and Profile Defenders. If you are looking for somewhere to invest then look no further – there will be an explosion (Stateside if not in Europe) in the usage of such services as people look to protect their digital identity.

1. The Social Backlash

Many brands (no doubt pushed and cajoled by their agencies) continue to invest heavily in their presence on Facebook and other social networks, persuading them that “you need to be where the people are and that means Facebook/Twitter etc”.
 
Don’t expect this to continue in 2012 – I believe there will be a major backlash in the offing. And if there isn’t, there should be. Here’s why…
 
• There is already much talk of “Facebook Fatigue” amongst industry commentators – and with some justification - as a number of studies point to a reduction in activity on the social behemoth.
 
• Social commerce is still largely unproven – in terms of both acquisition and return on investment. Will this change? In selected instances, yes – but social media has always been, and will remain to be, primarily about communication, not shopping.
 
• Social users are still proving largely resistant to brands in social spaces (for example, 61% of UK consumers do not want to engage with brands in their social networks, according to a recent TNS Digital Life report).  Of those that do engage, the majority is clear that their primary motivations for following a brand are offers and discounts. Not the engagement nirvana promised by many is it? We should be questioning whether consumers are listening while brands are reaching out in their droves?

• Brands simply don’t have the same level of control over their social presence that they have over their websites – the overarching user experience on Facebook for instance still can’t touch a well designed, content rich, website. Moreover, Facebook et al can change the rules at any time – they control the game. And does control still matter? Of course it does, don’t believe the hype.

Despite all of this, it doesn’t mean social media is a waste of time. Done properly, it remains an incredibly powerful means of engaging with your customer and prospect base. But the panacea it was heralded to be a year or two ago? No – consumers are too savvy and cynical – particularly in the West.