Rating Street Fight’s 2015 Predictions

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At the end of each year, Street Fight invites staffers, friends, and luminaries from the industry to share their predictions for what’s in store for the coming year. Today, we take a look back at some of the predictions for 2015 to see who was on target and who missed the mark.

These represent a small number of the total predictions from last year, which you can find here and hereWe ran 2016 predictions from our analyst contributors yesterday. We’ll be running staff predictions in two installments. The first published today. Look for part two tomorrow.

David_MihmDavid Mihm, director of local search strategy, Moz
We’ll see a major new partnership or standalone player emerge in email marketing. SMBs will still need to reach their audience socially, and we may see a shift back to email (or something like it) as a means to do that. After all, email still has an incredibly high response rate — increasingly mobile — relative to its lack of expense.

Assessment: This one was right on target. Endurance International Group Holdings snapped up Constant Contact in November in a transaction valued at $1.1 billion. It ranked as one of the biggest exits in local tech of 2015. Together, Endurance and Constant Contact will serve more than five million small businesses and nonprofit organizations and boast combined revenue greater than $1 billion. Veteran analyst Peter Krasilovsky described the deal as “an SMB version of Salesforce’s $2.5 billion acquisition of ExactTarget in 2012.”

There’s good reason for Endurance’s interest in the email marketing giant. Email remains an essential marketing capability, and one that’s highly prized by small businesses. In Street Fight’s Local Merchant 2015 report, 51 percent of respondents said they use email marketing, a tactic that ranked second only to online advertising.

Evans, PerryPerry Evans, CEO, Closely
In 2015, small businesses will continue to feel intense pressure to make moves into an increasingly diverse range of digital marketing and operations tools. With over 2,000 startups building products for SMBs (according to AngelList), the intensity and noise will continue to overwhelm the average SMB.  The cost of gaining business owner attention will escalate and traditional channels will struggle to stay current and knowledgeable in the eyes of the SMB. 2015 will be the year we begin to see real innovation pointed at reinventing the SMB channel.

Assessment: This prediction also proved largely prescient. One persistent theme in Street Fight’s research this year has been the challenge of selling innovative technologies to local small businesses. Another is local business owners’ lack of time. Those we surveyed described it as their biggest digital marketing challenge. Most of those we polled said they only work with one or a few suppliers, yet nearly half of them said they’re getting called on more than three times a week. Almost one in five said they were getting what amounts to daily contacts.

As David Card, Street Fight’s director of research noted in post earlier this year, “the local marketing technology space is vibrant to the point of confusion. Integrated and point solutions have proliferated beyond the comprehension of most small business owners. They are increasingly embracing digital solutions at the expense of traditional media, yet they need lots of help.” There’s been no shortage of SMB-focused marketing innovation this year, but more of it still needs to be dedicated to practical, low-cost self-service solutions that work for business owners who aren’t marketing technology specialists. We’re not quite there yet.

David-Shim1David Shim, CEO, Placed
2015 is set to be the “year of the beacon,” specifically the top of the hype curve, where beacons follow the path of NFC, RFID, and QR codes.

Assessment: This one fell a little short of the mark. Beacons moved more to the mainstream, but 2015 turned out to be more of a building year than a breakout year. Momentum around beacons accelerated in the run-up to the holiday season, as might be expected, and likely will carry over into next year.

Deploying beacons isn’t so much of a hurdle, either logistically or financially. The big challenge, as we saw at this year’s Street Fight Summit, lies in the execution of the marketing campaigns that utilize in-store technology. Usually — and QR codes are a case in point — that’s where things fall down. With more disciplined campaigns based in relevant messaging, beacons should be able escape the fate of QR codes and become a technology more integral to consumers’ path to purchase.

Tige SavageTige Savage, managing partner, Revolution Ventures
The tech industry is about to become a defining force in lobbying thanks to the sharing economy. Historically, online companies disrupted some of the least regulated categories in our lives such as communication and commerce. Going forward, expect to see sharing and on-demand companies further disrupt the most regulated categories such as transportation, hospitality, and education. The upstarts will try to change the rules while the incumbents will protect their turf. And the growing contract-based workforce used to transform the economics of these businesses will become a major policy focus. Expect regulators to rethink laws and regulations and in turn require tech companies to invest in their relationships with Washington.

Assessment: Spot-on. Google emerged this year as the largest corporate lobbyist in the U.S.. It also spent substantially in the E.U. and elsewhere. The other of the big-four tech giants — Amazon, Apple and Facebook — threw their weight around Washington on issues ranging from drone regulation, taxation, immigration, and trade policies.

However, the new lobbying heavyweights, and not necessarily on K Street, are Airbnb and Uber. The home-sharing company claims it spent $8.5 million to defeat Prop F, the San Francisco ballot measure that would have restricted short-term rentals. But Airbnb didn’t just spend money to defeat the measure; it mobilized its massive community of users. Following the victory, Chris Lehane, the company’s head of global public policy and a former aide to President Bill Clinton, compared the influence of Airbnb’s community to that of the National Rifle Association. That, as they say, is fighting words.

Uber has done the same. In addition to lobbying the old-fashioned way, it effectively has been turning Uber riders into surrogate lobbyists in its ongoing efforts to unseat entrenched taxi companies and fight — in California — a lawsuit that threatens to reclassify its contractor drivers as employees. Upstart tech companies aren’t just trying to change the rules; they’re trying to play a whole different game. And for sharing economy firms, Washington no longer constitutes the home turf. Their battles will play out in urban centers and state capitals.

Frost PrioleauFrost Prioleau, CEO, Simpli.fi
Programmatic advertising will continue to evolve in many of the ways that search advertising has evolved. Across display, mobile, video, and social, it will become a standard part of marketers’ tool kits, just like search. More large advertisers will bring programmatic in-house, and build up expertise on how to use programmatic for their own brands. Advertisers will use programmatic to continually refine the audiences that they target, customizing audiences based on local preferences and competitors instead of relying on audience segments built for national audiences. The processes of creating and optimizing audiences will be further automated, reducing workloads for managing high quantities of campaigns.

Assessment: Directionally on target, especially with regard to how programmatic has evolved for large advertisers. If ad spending forecasts are to be believed, most digital advertising will be bought programmatically within the next couple of years. Big brands are bringing programmatic in-house, audience optimization is proceeding apace, and targeting is growing progressively more refined, even down to the local level. One place this is starting to play out at scale is in politics. The saying used to be that “all politics is local;” for the 2016 election cycle and beyond, “all politics is data.”

The outlook for programmatic is less clear when it comes to local small business advertisers. In an interview with NinthDecimal, David Staas, the company’s president, characterized programmatic as a “very strong opportunity for the small business owner.” However, he noted that “one of the challenges is a lot of the tools around the ecosystem have not really been built to scale for the small business owner, and they still require a lot of sophistication in understanding how to buy and sell media.” In one of her columns, Stephanie Miles outlined six ways SMBs can take advantage of programmatic buying, citing insights from Adelphic, Centro, DataXu, and MultiView.

Noah Elkin is Street Fight’s managing editor.

Have a prediction of your own? Let us know about it in the comments!