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The great thing about annual predictions is that we tend to forget about them by the time the next year rolls around. And that explains why every organization on the planet seems willing to gaze into a crystal ball this time of year. 

By this time next year, everyone will forget the predictions that went wrong — and a few lucky folks will have the luxury of basking in the glory of things they actually got right.

With that in mind, we're going to share some of the visions of digital marketing in 2015 that we've encountered in the past few days. Just take all of it with at least a few grains of salt. And be forewarned: we're predicting more stories on predictions in the days ahead.

More Digital Marketing

Gartner predicts digital marketing budgets will climb an average of 8 percent in 2015 — with more than half of all companies planning an increase (51 percent) planning to boost spending an average of 17 percent.

"The line between digital and traditional marketing continues to blur," said Laura McLellan, research vice president at Gartner.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents reported that their companies had separate digital marketing budgets. However, it's difficult to gauge just how much companies are spending on digital marketing because the treatment of budgets varies by company, with some having a digital marketing budget in total (32 percent of respondents), others in detail (36 percent). Yet others that have incorporated digital marketing into each function of the marketing budget (23 percent) or none of the above (eight percent).

These findings are included in Gartner's Digital Marketing Spending report, which is based on a survey last summer of 315 individuals in the US, Canada and the UK.

Respondents represent organizations with more than $500 million in annual revenue across six industries: financial services, high-tech, manufacturing, media, retail and transportation, and hospitality.

How Brands Communicate

Bell Pottinger, a London-based public relations and marketing company, looked at the most talked about trends online in 2014, ranked them in order of percentage increase throughout the year and used that data to predict the 15 top digital trends that are set to change the way brands communicate in 2015.

“While technology will be one of the biggest drivers of marketing change in the New Year, the key focus for brands will be on delivering truly integrated strategies," said James Thomlinson, partner and managing director of Bell Pottinger Digital (formerly Bell Pottinger Wired), the group’s digital consultancy.

“Every year new hardware and software appears, but the most successful brands in 2015 will be those that harness new technology to deliver a single experience to consumers wherever they are in their journey." 

The top five digital trends include:

  • Near Field Communications (358 percent increase): By 2017 half of today’s smartphone users will use mobile wallets for their preferred payment method.
  • Internet of Things (283 percent increase): 25 billion connected "things" will be in use by 2020.
  • Wearables (220 percent increase): Forrester predicts 25 percent of American adults plan on buying a wearable within the next year. So Bell Pottinger extrapolated that more than 79 million wearables will be sold next year. (Ed. note: Actually, the US Census Bureau estimates the US population is 316,128,839. So if 25 percent of them buy wearable devices, then you do get 79 million devices. But 23.3 percent of the population is under age 18, making the adult population about 242,470,820. If 25 percent of those buy a wearable device, that would total about 60.6 million. But that's not counting the rest of the world. See what we mean about predictions and the data used to support them?)
  • Internal Communications (167 percent increase): In 2015 half of corporate network devices will be mobile.
  • Storytelling (145 percent increase): Visual blog posts drive 180 percent more engagement.

Mobile Changes Everything

Patrick Keane, an investor, adviser and digital media executive, said banner ads are DOA – and mobile was the definitive nail in the coffin. 

Keane is president of Sharethrough, an in-feed advertising exchange. He was previously CEO of Associated Content, which was sold to Yahoo in June 2010, and EVP and CMO at CBS Interactive and director of advertising sales strategy at Google.

Consumers are spending almost three hours a day on their phones and that number will only get higher. Banner ads have no place on a screen that's only a few inches wide, he noted, and native solutions spawned (back in 2012) from this disparity.

"Since then 'native' has been a buzzy, though highly subjective word that blankets anything from sponsored content, advertorials, product placement, and clickbait. 2015 is calling for drastic sophistication and clarification of this practice," he explained.

Here are his three predictions:

  • Over-the-top (OTT) Content Explodes: The investment in programming, advertising and technology to support over the top content will grow significantly. A generation of video consumers on devices spanning mobile to desktop will demand more programming, and advertisers will increasingly shift budgets toward these platforms in that way that CBS, Hulu, Amazon, Apple and YouTube have done, thereby adding pressure from top tier rights holders to offer more content to these platforms. In 2015, the big question is this: Will YouTube or Apple pay big money for sports or other proprietary entertainment content?
  • Native ads to get major traction: Now that "native" advertising is an essential part of the mix, its stature among brands will grow significantly in 2015. Expect investments to surge from both publishers serving native ad formats and brand advertisers buying the ads. Native advertising will gravitate toward programmatic as ad tech firms and the industry move into serving native ads at scale for 2015, further driving this ad market.
  • Cards are the design frontier: Cards and card type will emerge as a standard design layout within apps, photos, videos, Spotify playlists, Pinterest, games and more. The open web will embrace the technology advancements that let users engage with content via purchases, longer views and interaction without having to switch windows.

Cross-Channel Connections

Mike Sands is CEO of Signal, a provider of real time, cross-channel marketing technology. He warned that the digital marketing landscape keeps evolving and shifting — and that if you’re working on your 2015 marketing plan and budget, there’s a lot to think about in terms of the "profound changes that are shaking up the ecosystem."

Here are his predictions:

  • The Year of Cross-Channel Experimentation — Study after study shows that orchestrating marketing activities across channels is a top priority for brand and agency marketers around the world. But there’s no silver bullet for keeping up with perpetually-connected customers as they move between smartphones, laptops, tablets, stores, call centers, kiosks and more.
  • The Marketing Technology Ecosystem Starts to SeparateModern marketing is defined by complexity. Marketers operate in a tremendously sophisticated and fluid environment defined by a multitude of touchpoints, tools, data and suppliers. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of steps from ideation to execution, all assisted by numerous technologies.
  • Identity becomes the key to cross-channel  In 2015, marketers will focus on the ability to connect customers as they travel from smartphone to desktop to store to call center – not just for tracking customers, but to build rich profiles of their likes, behaviors, purchase histories and loyalty status.
  • The Year of First-Party Data2015 will be the year that marketers make first party-data their priority. For many years, marketers relied too heavily on third-party data. It was convenient to buy tons of data, though it wasn’t cheap. And the practice inspired some bad habits among advertisers, who assumed that the data was fresh and true and targeted their ads accordingly. Now that's starting to change.