This is the year that digital goes mainstream in business. And with that has come a multitude of predictions on key themes and trends.
Just a few weeks ago, I made 17 of my own digital trend predictions for 2013. Here I've narrowed that down to just four key areas, each with significant implications for businesses determined to succeed.
1. War for digital talent is hotting up
The digital industry is not short on buzzwords, marketing theories, or even best practice. But actually delivering great outcomes in so complex an environment is much harder. For that, businesses need the right people.
In recent years, the size of brands' digital teams has grown a lot. In 2009 60 percent of marketers surveyed by research firm Forrester had fewer than 10 staff dedicated to digital. In 2012, this had dropped to just 17 percent. When I speak to heads of digital (or their peers) in organisations, it's clear that demand now outstrips supply when it comes to recruiting the right people.
In 2013, bigger traditional brands will become more and more desperate to attract and retain the top talent - from graduates right through to board members. Being able to offer meaningful equity to savvy recruits will be crucial over the next year.
The war for digital talent will be complicated by the evolution of job titles. Whilst digital marketers and ecommerce professionals are still very much in demand, even more employable in 2013 are those who have 'product', 'data', 'engineering/developer/technical' or 'architect' in their job titles. Combine those words with 'mobile, social, video, content strategy, platform' and 'manager, director, head of' and the recruitment consultants are drooling.
2. Optimising cross-channel customer experiences
The requirement to integrate online and offline, while not a new topic, is still a big and complex journey for most companies. More than ever, customers expect a consistent experience with brands across all platforms: mobile, web, retail, advertising, and - before you know it - connected TV.
A lot of cool stuff is happening at the moment with QR and code scanning via mobile. The internet of things and intelligent environments are also opening new retail possibilities, like "showrooming". With all of this, the customer journey should be seamless across channels and each should play to its strengths.
Heading into 2013, mobile is still a particularly weak area for most companies. According to Ofcom, 39 percent of UK adults own a smartphone. The rate rises to above 60 percent for the under-34 age group. In my opinion, improving the customer experience with optimised websites and apps is the first thing that companies looking to integrate online and offline should tackle. The pervasiveness of tablets and smartphones means companies that fail to deliver outstanding, real-time and relevant customer experiences may miss out.
One company already making the most of mobile is Domino's Pizza. In the first half of 2012 alone, Domino's made £21.7m (17.9 percent of the company's total online sales) in mobile-generated sales.
Personalising customers' experience affects everything from advertising to marketing and search. Consumers have come to expect Amazon-like capabilities on all sites, and personalisation in its many forms should be integrated into a business's digital presence.
This means businesses have to anticipate what the customer wants and understands, using data wisely to smoothen brand experiences. One unlikely aspect of digital personalisation is physical technologies such as 'click and collect' services for retailers, or 'augmented reality' adding an added layer of information to products and services.
Predictive personalisation includes recommending products based on site browsing history, aggregating other purchasing data and tailoring offers based on customer interests. It relies heavily on data, and businesses in 2013 will be increasingly capable and confident in using customers' information to proactively promote their products and services.
That said, privacy must be considered, and value to the customer has to be apparent in the exchange of customer details for a business's service.
In the year ahead, customers will simply expect their digital experiences to be intuitive and refined.
With businesses looking for growth in stagnant economies, their gaze turns to digital not just in their home markets, which are becoming more mature and saturated, but globally. Digital can be the obvious route to expansion and growth, without the costs associated with a physical presence overseas.
The numerous third-party cloud-based solutions for handling international payments, taxes, shipping, and customer management are sure to benefit from more companies seizing the opportunity to expand globally. Internationalisation also means businesses must be ready to personalise their digital presence with appropriate languages and currencies.
Using digital technologies to internationalise will not just broaden a business' audience or customer reach, but also have an impact on recruitment. Some of the best digital brains might be lurking abroad.
Ashley Friedlein is the CEO and co-founder of Econsultancy, which works with digital marketing and e-commerce professionals. He is on Google+ at https://plus.google.com/108492317807563043494/posts