The next big thing for 2020: Senior industry experts give their predictions

Josh Peachey's picture

It's the end of a decade and we've seen some immense changes over the last few years. What will 2020 bring?

We asked a variety of senior figures from across our industry to give their thoughts on what the next big thing in their sector will be.

A big thanks to all those who took the time to contribute.

Guy Weaver, Director of Praetura Ventures

There will be a big increase in the use of chatbots throughout 2020 as more businesses make them available to their customers. There’s been a lot of talk about chatbots over the past few years: WhatsApp supports them and digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are in millions of homes in the UK. Technology has finally caught up to the hype.

Chatbots aren't just confined to customer-facing applications, though. As an internal application, they can benefit most organisations, dramatically improving efficiency and productivity.

Heidi Dawson, Controller of BBC Radio 5 Live

I predict that 2020 will see rapid growth in the number of people listening to podcasts. In 2019, 8.4 million people listened to podcasts, which is a huge 2.4 million increase from 6 million in 2018. The BBC is having a creative explosion of podcasts right now, which can all be heard on the new Sounds app.

These include the new series of 5 Live’s That Peter Crouch Podcast in January. Also expect to see a lot more podcasts from the audio streaming companies and other new players in the market too.

Chris Buckley, Managing Director of Pixel Kicks

5G is here with a few networks already offering superfast speeds. However, not everyone has compatible devices, so until people upgrade, the technology won't be commonplace. New hardware like the Galaxy S11 and the iPhone 12 Pro will start to change this and it’ll be exciting to see.

With 5G, we’ll able to stream easier, download and upload faster, and send larger files without considering typical send times. It could also well be the technology that puts everything in the Cloud.

Mark Hope, Digital Director of Access

2020 will see companies from all sectors start to focus on personalised experiences across a wider range of digital and offline channels. For a few years now ‘data driven everything’ has been the buzzword and finally tools are emerging that will put that capability in the hands of a wider range of businesses and roles – the increase of ‘low code’ or ‘no-code’ solutions is making the technology more accessible and faster to implement and execute.

Having a relevant, contextual and individual interaction with a company is now the expectation of the customer – created by the ubiquitous use of services like Google, Netflix, Spotify and Uber. Brands are no longer exclusively evaluated on the products, or their cost, but increasingly on the experience received.

Starting with a solid digital strategy is crucial when embarking on this type of programme.

 Liam Bateman, CTO of Silverchip

It’s been said for many years but 2020 looks like the year that AI will make it mainstream, cloud services like AWS and Azure are starting to offer more ‘AI as service’ and this will open up the technology to a larger audience.

5G launched in mid-2019 and we should see the availability exponentially increase and with average speeds of up to 240Mbps, we can start to push more complex content to more devices, expect higher-quality graphics, lower latency interactions and an increased focus on speed and UX to match consumer expectations.

Sadly, the skills gap will continue to grow, we have some great people and organisations working hard to solve this but we need to do more, lots more! We need partnerships and collaboration with education, increased outreach with schools and young people and we need to make the industry more accessible than ever.

Danielle Jackson, Strategic Planner at ZEAL Creative

We expect to see brands further ramping-up their focus on driving sales through positive actions aligned to shoppers values; whether it be efforts on adapting their brand to be better for the planet, actions tapping into societal issues prevalent in public dialogue, or approaches toward benefitting individuals.

We anticipate this values alignment to be a huge focus for brands in 2020, however, the challenge will be seeing if ‘doing good’ really does drive sales.

Crucially, just showing that your brand is a ‘good guy’ isn’t enough to ensure these sales. This is due to the shopper values-action gap, caused by areas of friction.

Overcoming this friction is key. If you can tempt shoppers to make purchases that they feel good about, without negatively disrupting any part of their shopping journey or product experience, then both the shopper and the brand will benefit, along with whichever the beneficiary of your positive efforts are centred around. Win, win, win.

Tim Ng, COO of Now Healthcare Group

Google and IBM have announced breakthroughs this year with Quantum Computing and I expect more developments in 2020 - taking us one step further. The field of exoskeleton systems (wearable devices that work in tandem with the user) is continuously evolving and re-inventing itself and exoskeletons have recently come on leaps and bounds with neural interfaces already tested to allow people to control them.

The evolution of interfaces will improve voice-to-text and ultimately still see the trend gravitate towards ZeroUI. AI is now being used more prevalently and I predict it will be used more to provide personalised services and we will see fully personalised chatbots coming to the fore.

5G is still in its infancy, but the rollout has begun, and we will begin to see services evolve to take full advantage (like what is being developed here at Now Healthcare Group). Mixed reality (AR and VR) will continue to develop and we will see further emergence of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualisations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real-time.

Matthew Williams, Managing Director of Quba

Matthew Williams, Quba

Content Management Systems have become bloated, carrying a huge amount of functionality that is rarely used. We will start to see a move towards cloud based ‘Content-as-a-Service platforms’.

These will enable a more agile way of working between client and agency, faster delivery as well as omnichannel execution through multiple devices and platforms.

Jenny Davies, CEO at M247

As the increasing frequency, sophistication and complexity of cyber-attacks are set to continue, the need for robust security and recovery solutions is only going to become more important.

While cyber-attacks are not always inevitable, minimising business downtime and the impact on customers is crucial. Businesses need to regularly assess the quality of the systems they have in place to monitor these attacks before or as they happen, as greater visibility allows them to act fast to get systems and processes up and running as quickly as possible.

However, the speed to recover isn’t purely about performing systems back-up, it’s about defining RTOs (Recovery Time Objectives) and RPOs (Recovery Point Objectives) so a business has full visibility of the impact of a security breach and the time it could take to recover. Businesses need to consider the potential cost of a cyber-attack, not only in terms of financial cost but the cost to reputation too. The priority has to be getting back up and running as quickly as possible.

For the greatest peace of mind going into 2020, businesses should not underestimate the state of their IT estate and look to a more fluid use of cloud resources, or migrating to a managed service to ensure their business returns to normal quickly.

John Kehoe, CEO of Media Agency Group

2020 will be all about connectivity. Big technology advances such as 5G changing purchase behaviour significantly, making it easier, faster and more convenient for consumers to buy. Music to brands' ears hey?! There is a huge opportunity for brands to grab a piece of the increased spending. However, it won’t be as easy as just putting your product and brand logo in front of your audience to win them over. 

In 2020, there will be a fundamental need for brands to make meaningful relationships with their consumers of the future. People don’t just want the cheapest, best packaging, most unique products anymore…the majority also want to buy from brands who are ethical and doing something to improve our world as well as making money. 

Sustainability… brand safety… consumer trust… carbon footprint… these are all hot topics from 2019, but in 2020, they now cannot be ignored if a brand is to survive and grow.

Rob Greenwood, Technical Director of Steamhaus

One of the biggest trends in Cloud for 2020 will be Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. The easily accessible tooling made available to developers by public cloud providers like AWS is paving the way for a whole host of new ML/AI focused startups looking to solve problems in interesting and emerging spaces.

Machine Learning in the cloud is currently helping businesses with everything from personalised recommendations to image and video analysis — without any machine learning skills being required. It’s already utilised heavily in many FinTech and MedTech startups, and is being used to train self-driving vehicles, secure cryptocurrency exchanges, identify business risks...the list goes on. It’s still early days for both ML and AI, but the future is looking exciting.

Ryan Williams, Content Director at It’s Gone Viral

As ever, social media will develop at a rapid pace but Ephemeral Content, particular pieces of content on social media that are only available only for a short duration and then disappear, will most certainly keep growing and growing. Also, the influence of daily active Instagram stories will become even stronger. According to a report by Hootsuite, 64% of marketers either already have incorporated them into their strategies or plan to.

Another study by Socialinsider has suggested that on average, brands are posting a story on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook once every four days. This is a rise on recent years and something that will continue to get more frequent in 2020.

Simon Wilkinson, CEO of Mobica

While the landscape of every industry is rapidly changing, where processes and innovations are evolving fastest, technology is inevitably the driving force. 2020 isn’t just marking the start of a new decade, it’s the beginning of a new era – one enhanced by greater levels of connectivity. Where previously, choice has been constrained by limited functionality, we’ll see user-centricity move to the heart of communications with increased connectivity. 

We’ll see approaches change as multi-experience platforms enable us to seamlessly connect across different devices. This will facilitate personal ecosystems and prevent us from having to stop and swap every time we want to do something different. We see this manifest itself in various ways. For example, it could be as simple as effortlessly moving between our home and car voice assistants as we go about daily business. But it will also involve major complexities as distinct sectors converge to connect services for smart home devices, mobile payment solutions, smart city networks, and so on.

Joe Chetcuti, Director of Front

With the retention of good people being of such importance, their welfare should, of course, be a priority too. The last few years have seen a huge growth in wellbeing, mindfulness, and other such potentially superficial money-spinners for the new breed of online snake oil salesmen and woman. But there is an incredibly serious point here as agencies have always been a bit laissez-faire with the wellbeing of its people.

Along with the job come long hours, stressful projects and multiple deadlines – all of which have been seen as acceptable as quid pro quo for being allowed to wear a Nirvana t-shirt to a client meeting and having access to lots of ‘fun’ creative projects. That’s all a bit of a lie really and we need to do better to maintain a more balanced approach to work and life.

It’s questionable about how to go about that as there’s no one size fits all solution. Every company’s culture is different but I know that it will become ever more important for agencies of all people.

Henry Chow, Director at Holovis Innovation Hub

2020 will see huge strides in innovation through 5G. This persistent high-speed mobile data access will unshackle us from today’s inflexible data infrastructure. Technologies that require high bandwidth real-time data communication will be deployable in the field. Of course, 5G will not immediately be ubiquitous everywhere. But areas with 5G will start to see real traction in Smart City technologies. We will see innovation in the delivery and management of urban services. Citizens will be able better informed and engaged. Services will be more integrated and data-driven.

This new data will trigger a new wave of machine learning. Today, AI can learn human actions through our mobile devices (e.g. speech-to-text, hand-writing, gesture recognition, translation-services etc...) in real-time. Moving into the next decade, AI will be able to learn about the world that we live in through access to this new data. This will help make predictive and prescriptive decisions to deliver connected and intelligent living and services.

Jody Marks, Managing Director of MRJ Recruitment

With a number of tech companies moving up North, startups closing their funding rounds, and new tech academies driving new talent into the region, it’s going to be a really exciting year.

2020 will be the year of growth and the fight for talent will be even greater. Tech and data will become more prominent in hiring decisions and will be utilized more by companies as they focus on developing their candidate experience and retention strategies.

And be ready for the ‘Off-Payroll Working Rules’ (IR35) which will apply from April 2020. It’s going to change the landscape of contracting and will have a huge impact on the industry. But will it be passed in the government budget? Time will tell.