09/01/2015

2015 look ahead: Part one – The digital decade

BY Neil Gilbert

This is the first of our four-part look ahead to the digital world in 2015.

By many accounts we’re in the middle of the digital decade. So this week, a look at the bigger picture and what it means for corporate communications. Plus some take-aways from what we’ll be covering later on.

2015: Digital transition

By 2020 ‘digital’ won’t be a separate part of the vernacular any more. It will be comprehensively woven into the fabric of the way we live, work and play.

By then a generation will have come of age never knowing anything other than a world in which they use digital to make friends, keep up to date and share their experiences via photos and video. Asked which media they would miss the most, the vast majority of 16-24 year olds already say smartphones above TVs and stats bear this out: digital platform growth is overwhelmingly by (smart)phone and tablet.

Established communication practice is being challenged. Companies have no choice but to gear up for this digital reality or risk becoming irrelevant. Digital is the medium for the new generation and the transition is well underway.

This is often described as the death of the corporate website. It’s not, but it is the death of content which is irrelevant to audiences or isn’t on the same digital channels as them.

UX: the secret sauce

Once upon a time websites were byzantine affairs, with sitemaps reflecting organisational structures, not user needs. Fortunately those days are receding and user experience is the priority. This is shorthand for maintaining engaging, consistent and up to date digital content on the touchpoints that matter to audiences. Then measuring it, adapting and iterating it.

In corporate comms this year, this will mean the continued uptake of responsive builds (where a website resizes for the most commonly used devices) rather than separate sites for desktop, tablet and mobile. In part two of our look ahead we say how UX this year will be driven by this and other simple design fundamentals. This includes progressive disclosure of content and scrolling, both of which are based on a more mature understanding of the way websites work by audiences. However, the basics of good web design will remain paramount, with optimised user journeys the priority.

Bewildering complexity

This sounds simple, but layered onto it we have the imminent release of the Apple watch. This and the Internet of Things brings the promised/threatened ability of devices everywhere to start communicating (see part four in our forecast). Watches aside, these technologies are still in the invention/innovation stage. Early adopters are showing great interest but it will take some time before they enter the mainstream.

There’s also the more pressing concern of prioritising from a bewildering complexity of platforms and channels – desktop & mobile, website & social. Choosing where to play and quality of execution will be key.

Case study: Game

Game (disclosure: they’re one of Gather’s clients) is a good example of a company building for a digital future. Their high street retail presence is important but they see digital as fundamental, connecting this channel to all of their others to create a seamless omni-channel user experience.

Ian Chambers, the Chief Digital Officer at Game, talks about a digitally native generation coming of age from 2020. Comprising a significant proportion of the adult population, this segment won’t have known a world without Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Twitter.

He says this generation will share these characteristics:

Mobile. Using an array of devices to access digital content.

Connected. Always on and communicating through multiple channels.

Demanding. Intolerant if their digital expectations aren’t met.

Knowledgeable. Confident in questioning and seeking evidence.

Participating. Engaging and expecting their voice to be heard.

Their strong preference will be for companies which demonstrably share their values and which, like them, are digitally native.

Interested in this theme? Have a look at our research, run in collaboration with Yougov.

Up next in our look ahead…

Part two – Tablets, phablets and the corporate social media world.

Part three – Audiences and values.

Part four – Bubbling under (the trends to watch).