Mel Exon
Dec 03, 2013

What the tech developments of 2013 signal for the year ahead

At the end of last year I suggested 2013 would be the year of the "Real World Web".

What the tech developments of 2013 signal for the year ahead



In other words, the physical world would become properly programmable, wearables and other mobile devices would replace desktop entirely and - finally - the perceived differences between our online and offline selves would be reconciled, as the lines between the two blurred out of sight.

Of course, I was wrong.

We may have inched toward an Internet of Everything, but, as Gartner stated recently, "the problem is… most enterprises and technology vendors have yet to explore the possibilities of an expanded internet and are not operationally or organisationally ready".

So what did happen? Here are a few steps in technology we covered this year:

1. Native ads as the future of display

Relevant, paid-for content that appears within the editorial stream of a publisher’s site or social network seems an infinitely better solution to interrupting users with traditional ad units. Beyond promoted posts, tweets and the like, Google is working to ensure that the number of logged-in users rises, in turn making native ads more personalised and useful across the web.

2. The rise of transience in social technologies

That’s SnapChat to you or me. The popularity of a service where your photos auto-delete after a few seconds (set to be valued at $4bn in its latest round of funding), indicates there’s a lot of room for technology to reflect the true, transitory nature of our lives. For now, brands like The Co-op are using the service to share discount codes, but seeding exclusive content seems a natural next step.

3. Watch out for wearables

There was a flurry of early releases in wearable tech this year. Google Glass shipped to developers and app ideas began to roll in ahead of a consumer release pencilled for 2014. Meanwhile, Samsung released Galaxy Gear to compete with Pebble and Sony’s SmartWatch 2 (none inspiring early adopters trained to appreciate Apple’s design credentials… although credited at least with being "more physically existent" than Apple’s rumoured iWatch).

4. Mobile-first design

Beyond resolving the debate over when to design for the mobile web versus building a native app (clue: if it’s a marketing campaign, you’re usually better off choosing the former), we noted how cards as a manipulatable design pattern offer an elegant solution to the real-estate of a small screen: think Google Now or Flipboard. There are fewer and fewer excuses not to design for mobile first.

5. Code as a creative force

As code gets ever-more sophisticated, its ability to partner art and copy to drive powerful, emotional responses only grows. You don’t need to become a developer overnight, but it is your job to brief it.

Is there something underpinning all this that marketers should pay attention to? This year we’ve seen technology quietly embedding itself more deeply in the flow of human life, across several categories; technology and real user behaviour slowly, but surely, growing up.

By contrast, mainstream digital marketing feels like it’s still in its teenage years: a good grasp of the theory, not enough experience. Now we know how powerfully technology connects culture and enables connected selling for brands in ways our users truly want.

2014 needs to be the year digital marketing finally comes of age.

Mel Exon is chief digital officer, BBH, and co-founder of BBH Labs

The article first appeared on

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