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2015: The Year's Biggest Trends

Alex Spencer

As we say goodbye to this year, and begin to look ahead to the next, it's a good time to revisit the stories and trends that have defined mobile marketing in 2015. Our editorial team have picked out their single biggest trend of the past 12 months. Plus, we reached out to members of the MLN, our board of experts from across the industry, to contribute their picks too.


Apple Watch

Murph MLN headDavid Murphy, editor, Mobile Marketing:
Of all the bits of wearable tech that saw the light of day in 2015, few attracted the same sort of pre-launch hype as the Apple Watch. It wasn’t the first of its kind, following on two years after Samsung’s Galaxy Gear and the Pebble; three years after Sony’s first smartwatch; and fully 12 years after Microsoft’s first attempt, the SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology) device.

But as with the tablet market before it, it was only when Apple got involved that the world seemed to sit up and take notice. So eight months on, what’s the verdict on the Apple Watch?

Well, given how much Apple likes to shout about the initial sales success of its new hardware releases, it has been suspiciously reluctant to divulge hard figures on the Apple Watch, citing competitive reasons. That said, back in July, it did reveal that it had outsold the iPad through its first nine weeks, which means sales in those first nine weeks were over 2m (the iPad sold 2m in its eighth week on sale). Given that a total of 4.2m smartwatches were sold in the whole of 2014, that makes the Apple watch’s sales performance look pretty good.

As for the Watch itself? It’s a subjective thing obviously, but I think it’s a great-looking piece of kit. But it is one more device to recharge in the evenings, and what will keep people using it isn't the device itself but the apps loaded on it. So far to my mind, these have been a bit hit and miss. A good watch app is one that integrates seamlessly with the app on the phone, serving the right amount of content on the watch, and leaving the rest – and most of the heavy lifting – to the mobile.

The Lufthansa Travel Companion app that took the Effective Mobile Marketing Awards in the Smartwatch App category this year is a great example of this, but others seem a little thin on the ground. Let’s hope this changes as developers get to grips with the device going forward and learn how much – and in some cases how little – people will want to do on it.

Apple Pay, mobile payments and mobile loyalty

Sienne-VeitSienne Veit, online product director, John Lewis:
Thanks to Apple Pay and the rise of contactless, 2015 was the year that mobile payments really took off. Enabled by NFC contactless payment technology in stores and TfL’s transport network, British consumers are increasingly choosing to tap to pay. But payments weren't the biggest mobile story of 2015.

2015 was the year that loyalty finally went mobile in mainstream retail. Many retailers chose to make their loyalty cards central to their apps. Here at John Lewis we made the My John Lewis card a part of our app, giving our customers easier access to all their loyalty rewards including Kitchen Drawer, enabling members to to electronically store all receipts and guarantees for up to six years whenever they swipe their card.

My prediction is that loyalty and payment will become more closely intertwined and even more useful when baked in to mobile first applications. Together with location awareness and push, loyalty will now offer customers even greater value and ease. As well as giving retailers end to end visibility of customer shopping behaviours across online and shops to help them offer truly seamless shopping experiences.

Ad blocking comes to mobile

Alex Spencer MLN headAlex Spencer, online editor, Mobile Marketing
At the outset of 2015, I think it's fair to say that most of the mobile marketing industry was unconcerned about ad blocking. It was seen as a desktop problem.

There was a good reason for that, and to some extent there still is. According to a PageFair report from August, mobile accounted for 38 per cent of traffic which passed through its network in Q2 – but just 1.6 per cent of ad blocker traffic.

But over the course of the year, that has started to change. It all started in May, when an Israeli startup named Shine started to make a name for itself by declaring it was helping MNOs to block all mobile ad traffic on their networks. That hasn't really manifested yet, with Jamaican telco Digicel the only company to introduce its technology, but it was a sign of things to come.

Because the very next month, Apple revealed a new version of its Safari web browser, launching with iOS 9, that would make ad blocking simple and accessible to iPhone and iPad users. As with mobile payments and smartwatches, the involvement of Apple took mobile ad blocking into the mainstream almost overnight. When iOS 9 launched in September, ad block apps like Crystal and Freedom were making headlines not just in the trade press but in the national papers.

Which is where we are today. 2015 has put mobile ad blocking well and truly on the map. By November, it had become the topic of an entire episode of South Park – and if that isn't a sign that something has entered the public consciousness, I don't know what is.

Nevertheless, there hasn't been the kind of adblockalypse we might have feared. The real impact will only become apparent as figures begin to emerge in the New Year, but for now ad blocking is most important as a warning shot: users aren't happy with ads, and they're willing to take action to avoid them. As an industry, we need to get better, and fast.

A year of failure for wearable tech

Adam-Croxen-2015Adam Croxen, managing director, Future Platforms:
By late 2014, there was a new fitness tracker arriving every week, Android Wear devices were witnessing a steady uptake, and Apple had finally announced its much-awaited Watch. A year on, we’re no closer to knowing what value wearables really deliver. Jawbone announced layoffs, Google Glass died a death, and while Cardboard is a great proof of concept it’s not yet more than something fun to play with.

Apple have never shied away from hubris, but still aren’t divulging official sales of their Watch. While analysts predict a numerically respectable 5-7m units, better than any of Apple’s competitors, it’s a paltry figure compared to the 48m iPhones sold in Q4 2015 alone. The vast majority of iPhone owners, Apple’s target audience, just aren’t interested in the Watch and many of those who were (myself included) are losing that interest very quickly. Put simply, consumers just don’t have the time for technology that is ultimately providing more distractions.

Building a bridge with China

Tim MLN head1Tim Maytom, reporter, Mobile Marketing
China has been a significant mobile market for years now, whether you’re talking in terms of consumers, enterprise customers or mobile industries, but this year seemed to mark a recognition that what has previously been a fairly isolated (if large) market was now part of the global mobile ecosystem.

When smartphone sales dropped in China during Q1 (the first dip in six years) it was seen as a sign that China, long considered an emerging market, had reached maturity. Along with homegrown successes like Xiaomi and Huawei, Apple has seen massive gains in China in recent years, and with Chinese consumers expected to drive app downloads past 235bn in 2015, it’s easy to see why it’s such an attractive place to do business.

Google certainly agrees – this year saw the company restart operations in mainland China for the first time in five years, with a focus on mobile and its Google Play store. Recognising the power of the Chinese audience, the search giant is attempting to re-establish itself as an internet service provider in Asia and boost its revenues in a market it has so far left relatively untapped.

The tail end of the year has seen companies like Apple, Samsung and Powa Technologies enter partnerships with China’s state-run bank and sole credit card provider to bring a new wave of contactless, mobile payments to the nation, with the aim of transforming retail in the country.

It’s not just Western companies reaching out to China, though. Xiaomi, which continues to see rapid growth in the Asian market, has begun to reach out to Western consumers, establishing a wearables eCommerce presence in Europe and the US, and strengthening its presence in West Asian markets like India.

With figures suggesting that nearly half of all mobile ad spending will come from China and East Asia by 2019, and marketers holding up Alibaba’s Singles Day promotions as an example of mCommerce done right, it has become clearer than ever how much we have to learn from China, and how we can benefit by forging stronger ties with the mobile market that exists there.

Targeting audiences across platforms

Spencer ScottSpencer Scott, chief revenue officer, Fiksu:
The single biggest trend in mobile in 2015 was the growth of audience targeting. For brands trying to transition to a mobile-first world, figuring out how to reach the right audiences the way they're used to on digital and offline is crucial.

As part of this story, advertisers are on the hunt for good mobile audience data. The third-party data marketplace, so well established in digital, is just beginning to scale up in mobile – and much of what's there is of questionable quality. Vendors are making strides, with desktop players working on scale and breadth of their mobile data while mobile-first providers also try to scale up and establish their reliability, but the reality isn't where major brands want it to be right now. The emergence of high-quality mobile data providers for both branding and performance targeting, based on mobile device IDs, will be a major development in 2016.

Mobile purchases on the up

Criteo-Jon-BussJon Buss, managing director, Northern Europe, Criteo:
During 2015, the global eCommerce market has experienced a seismic shift, as consumers around the world have taken to their mobiles to browse and, more importantly, purchase online. This time last year, Criteo data found that mobile accounted for 30 per cent of all global online transactions. Fast forward a year, and here in the UK, nearly half of all ecommerce transactions now come from mobile, with a global average of 40 per cent expected by the end of 2015.

Looking forward to next year, with smartphones continuing to displace slower-growing tablets due to devices with larger screens, mobile commerce is only set to further increase. In response, retailers and service providers will have to put a greater focus on improving mobile and app platforms in order to take advantage of this fundamental behavioural trend. This will make dealing with cross device behaviour a must. With 40 per cent of transactions already cross-device, marketers in 2016 will have to talk to people instead of devices.