2016 is here and we still don’t have flying cars (though maybe a Cubs’ World Series a year late). However, the future of marketing has arrived with digital ad spend likely to surpass TV ad spending in 2016. As consumers shift media usage online, advertisers are demanding more advanced targeting for top-of-funnel purchasers. The industry’s two biggest players, Facebook and Google, as well as smaller challengers, are competing to dominate the entire purchase funnel with more and better tools for targeting and evaluating online branding, awareness, and discovery efforts. Spending money where people spend time is a good starting point for exploring the big marketing trends of 2016.

The flying cars were probably more realistic. Photo via Wikia.

Facebook Advertising is No Longer Optional

Facebook is the 800lb gorilla of social media with $16+ billion in revenue, and most of that from mobile. With powerful, 100% Share-of-Voice Newsfeed ads, Facebook places your message front-and-center with posts from close friends and family. The Facebook audience is so engaged that they spend 40 minutes per day on Facebook, which accounts for 20% of all time spent online.

Further, Facebook has extended its reach and advanced targeting to 400 million active users on Instagram, a growing platform where early advertising results have been strong. In addition, Facebook’s high-quality mobile ad experience puts to shame those annoying pop-ups and cover-up ads where you can’t find the little X fast enough. Facebook advertising is no longer a new ad channel where you might consider dipping a toe, but rather a central pillar of digital marketing that’s essential for growing your business.

Video Ads are Not Just for Show

With billions of daily views, YouTube videos are a huge opportunity for driving awareness and sales. Advertisers have flocked to YouTube with annual growth of 40%. Google has even moved YouTube ad campaigns directly into the main AdWords grid to highlight their importance.

Facebook has also expanded their video ad options to take advantage of the massive interest its users have expressed in viewing short videos in their Newsfeeds. Video ads will only increase in importance as mobile bandwidth accelerates and consumers become even more comfortable with video on all devices. Video ads are a necessity for all businesses and not just toilet unicorns.

Audience Targeting Continues Full Steam

With Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) and Customer Match, Google is still playing catch up to Facebook’s advanced audience targeting, which includes Lookalike Audiences, email lists, interests, and demographics. Advertisers can continue to expect exciting advances from both Google and Facebook on this front as the competition heats up.

For example, Facebook will likely offer the ability to retarget audiences who previously saw an advertiser’s Facebook video ad (Google does currently offer retargeting of audiences who previously watched an advertiser’s YouTube video). A perfect use case would be first displaying an awareness-focused video ad, and then following up with a feature-focused direct response ad targeted to that audience. This full-funnel approach would be extremely effective for advertisers looking to engage users with specially targeted ads at each stage of the purchase process.

Facebook also has additional engagement components that advertisers could use to generate audiences. There are a number of Facebook users who might give your ad a Like, but didn’t actually visit your website. Wouldn’t it be great to follow up that light-touch Like with another ad to drive a visit and possible conversion? Both Google and Facebook are still scratching the surface of what’s possible with advanced audience targeting, so expect both companies to ramp up their audience targeting options in 2016.

The Demise of Last-Click Attribution

Will last-click attribution disappear in 2016? No, but even Google AdWords is tinkering with it. Google has recognized that brand keywords and last-click conversions are not the be-all, end-all of digital marketing performance. From attribution tools in Google Analytics to the Customer Journey to Online Purchase tool, Google is pushing advertisers to envision the full digital marketing funnel. Why? One reason is so advertisers invest more in non-brand paid search. But more importantly, Google wants advertisers to recognize the value of top-of-funnel channels such as the Google Display Network and YouTube. Google is feeling increasing pressure from Facebook and other competitors that allow advanced audience targeting of prospects who have not previously searched for a product. To remain competitive, Google needs to demonstrate top-of-funnel value to its advertisers.

More Respect for the Top of the Funnel

As more and more businesses expand into Facebook and other channels, marketers need a comprehensive digital strategy that addresses the full extent of the marketing funnel, from awareness to purchase. Search is powerful because of its specific, demand-fulfillment targeting. But social and display efforts are necessary for demand-generation. After all, a consumer cannot search for a product that she doesn’t know exists.

Facebook and other display and video channels are now an essential component for filling the top of the purchase funnel, and eMarketer predicts that in 2016 spend on these channels will surpass Search for the first time. Throughout 2016, expect to see more advertisers fully embracing these channels to reach their target audiences and grow their businesses.

Digital advertising has come a long way in just the last ten years, and increasing competition among digital channels (especially Google and Facebook) is driving the creation of new and exciting targeting and evaluation tools for advertisers. Whatever happens in 2016, it’s clear we can expect changes that will benefit businesses that invest in the full digital marketing funnel.