6 ways the digital landscape will change by 2020

We predict the technological advancements that will affect the way firms and audiences approach branded content in the future

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By 2020, an estimated 34 billion devices will be online, the equivalent to 4 per man, woman, and child on the planet. This level of connectivity will unlock new, exciting markets for content-first companies, but continued technological advancements and an ever-expanding profusion of channels mean it will be easier for brands to get lost in the ether. 
Here are 6 digital developments that we predict will change the way brands will engage with audiences significantly over the next two years
 

1. Emerging markets embrace e-commerce

The number of internet users reached 4 billion last year, with much of this growth attributed to more affordable smartphones and mobile data plans.
 
Long term, this will lead to a global rise in e-commerce as the reach and quality of technology (and Wi-Fi) improve, and as developing markets (e.g. Brics countries) become more trusting of online shopping. Amazon, for example, only launched in Australia in December 2017.
 

2. AI is ubiquitous among all digital experiences

Largely to facilitate personalisation and improve the CX, AI will become integral to all digital products and channels – in an increasingly intuitive and unnoticeable way.
 
Alongside this, we will all become far more mindful of the risks of AI, as this conversation devolves into the mainstream and as understanding of AI increases.
 
“I’m not worried about the short-term AI stuff. There will be dislocation and job loss but no real threat. But long-term, digital super intelligence is a threat to the human race. We should proceed very, very carefully. This is the most important decision we will ever have in our human race,” said Tesla founder Elon Musk at SXSW 2018.
 

3. Virtual reality becomes more commonplace...

…but it will be most effective and widespread when it’s used for a purpose, not simply for entertainment. Early adopters will provide the proof needed to enable mass-market conversion. ‘Publisher brands’ and science organisations will lead the way in developing the best VR experiences and sharing this expertise with wider sectors.
 

4. ‘Digital’ can mean ‘dangerous’

As more research is published into the negative effects of digital overuse on our brains – and on society – consideration and monitoring of screen time and ‘digital overload’ will become a serious issue. This will lead to tech-cynic cohorts, among whom even moderate phone usage is seen as antisocial and dangerous.
 

5. Influencers take control

After years of damage to the influencer model, where ‘pay to play’ influencer activity tarnished the reputation of all influencers (and associated brands), YouTubers and online celebrities will band together to intensify their power and form powerful collectives.
 
As part of this, they’ll be obsessive about being ethical, transparent and setting a positive example to protect their brand and their livelihood. There will also be a rise in influencer ‘dynasties’ – think the Kardashian/Jenner effect, but online-only.
 

6. Creativity will be prized more highly

Advertising in particular will need to become a lot more creative to stand out online as ad blockers and subscription models mean online advertising is perceived more negatively than ever. This will also apply to other experiences where quality of creativity is crucial, such as VR and AR.
 
Want more on the future of content marketing? Check out our article on the six emerging trends for content marketers to embrace.