If 2016 is anything like every other year, your news feed in the new year will start off with tweets, posts and articles about “Trends in Communications for 2016.” For all the buzz on the upcoming trends, you won’t be participating in rolling out these strategies if you haven’t been doing your planning right now. So, how can you prepare your organization to be ahead of the trends in 2016?

If you take some time now, you can avoid an awkward moment in the boardroom next March when the chief marketing officer (CMO) asks, “What is your strategy for this new wearable social network thing that our customers seem to love?” Let’s look at the basic structure of the trends for 2016 and see what we can do to prepare to act, or react, as quickly as possible.

A new CDO or CXO will shake things up
According to Gartner, 25% of enterprises will have a chief data officer (CDO) in place. Some companies might have a chief experience officer (CXO) instead. This was a 2015 trend that will affect your day-to-day operations in 2016. More focus will be on customer experience than before. This means that the CDO will be trying to improve communications, and most likely, she or he will be asking you for data to back up your recommendations. As a result, you need to think about how you are tracking the creation and performance of your communications. The CDO will probably want instant performance statistics on all customer communications.

New metrics for every communication project
Today, we measure things like open rates, click-through, response rates, cost per communication and other critical key performance indicators (KPIs). In 2016, you can expect metrics to get more granular. The expansion of communication channels already has executives comparing performance of communication by channels. Lower cost does not always signify the best communications. Channels with higher average revenue per user (ARPU), faster response times, higher Net Promoter Score (NPS), cost per response (CPR) or higher lifetime customer value (LCV) may be better choices.

As you manage your communications portfolio in 2016, you need to prepare to examine performance through a variety of lenses. When you are planning your 2016 budget, think of how you are going to capture the raw data behind these metrics, compare the data and make recommendations on how you can improve your communications strategy as a result of this information.

The context of communications will matter

As the 2015 trend of focusing on CX extends, you will feel pressure to discuss each of your communications in the context of other communications. In 2015, many enterprises are investing in the creation of customer journey maps, which plot out every possible customer interaction. The more detailed ones track channel distribution, customer sentiment and revenue impacts of the communications.

These projects have brought a strong focus to the role that every touchpoint can play for each individual’s customer experience. However, these have been described to me by an analyst as “million dollar pieces of art” because they just hang on the wall, garnering only an occasionally glance.

In 2016, effective communicators will connect context to every customer communication, including ones that are assumed to be "business as usual" from the operations department. This is great news for managers of statement, policy, invoice and renewal applications, because it is an opportunity to improve the production value of these cost-center communications.

To prepare for 2016, start asking, “Then what?” If a prospect becomes a customer, then what? They need a welcome kit. That welcome kit will affect social media recommendations. That social media interaction may need a communication that turns word of mouth into another sale and so on.

Some new wearable thing or social network will pop up

Whether it’s a virtual reality headset-based content sharing network, a gamified, energy-saving experience or Google Glass 2.0, there will certainly be a new way to share some sort of new content. The sales and marketing teams will probably want to explore this new network as soon as possible. The information technology (IT), compliance and operations teams probably want to wait until next year’s budget to test this.

Physical production and delivery will increase

Paper, envelopes, postage and other physical delivery costs tend to rise. A smart planner will get ahead of this potential event by managing channel strategy to drive outcomes that reduce these expenses.

Don’t be surprised by a postage increase in 2016. In 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, the United States Postal Service (USPS) increased many postage rates that affect delivery of printed items. We are lucky if we make it to May without hearing from the USPS.

At the same time, email and SMS delivery expenses tend to decline, pushing cost-minded communicators to optimize their channel strategies by implementing customer preference management systems that are linked to customer communications management (CCM) systems. Channel preference can be built into the process in a way that increases the adoption of digital channels.

Putting it on your plan

As we look at these likely 2016 trends of the new CXO—creative new metrics, building context into communications and cost—you can get ahead of them by effectively planning now. Start by looking for new ways to measure the performance of your communications in the wider context of both your customers and your business. Get ahead of price increases by controlling channel strategy for communications that can be delivered in a variety of ways. Some effective strategy, budgeting and planning today will help you be a trendsetter in 2016. After all, it’s better to set the trends than to follow them.

Scott Draeger is vice president of product management at GMC Software Technology, a provider of multi-channel and highly personalized document outputs for customer communications management. For more information, visit www.gmc.net or follow him on Twitter @scottdraeger.

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