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In 2017 brands aim to predict what you want before you know it

Using mobile phone
Sigrid Olsson | PhotoAlto | Getty Images

In 2017, advertisers are going to focus not just on where you are, but where you are going and — more importantly — what you are going to want.

"Communicating to people based on who they are and location, that's going to become passe," said Jonathan Adams, chief digital officer, Americas, at Maxus Global. "Where people are going to be is going to be more valuable than where they are."

Mobile advertising is likely to surpass desktop advertising for the first time next year. Media agency Zenith projects that brands will spend $99.3 billion on mobile advertising worldwide in 2017, versus $97.4 billion for desktop.

The great advantage of mobile advertising is that it not only reaches people at any time, it adds a layer of location-based data that can find people wherever they are. Since our devices also know other personal information — like calendar appointments or our recurring grocery orders — brands will use that data to anticipate where we will be and suggest items or services to us before we know we need them, Adams said.

"It's marketing to people based on where their journey will take them in a given day, versus where people are in a given moment," said Adams.

This puts digital advertising leaders like Google and Facebook at an enormous advantage since they already have much of this kind of data on us. It also creates opportunities for apps like Uber, which knows your daily travel patterns. (Uber hasn't announced any plans to get into advertising.) Stores like Starbucks could theoretically offer app users specific coupons for drinks it knows they will like when they're near a location.

"Mobile has become such an important channel for media consumption for consumers that advertisers need to be there in a way that works and meets their objectives," said Graham Mudd, director of product marketing for Facebook Ads.

While Mudd didn't address predictive advertising specifically, he said 2017 would be a year where more brands would take advantage of "direct response" ads.

These ads would let consumers react and shop based on what is around them, moving away from the desktop experience which assumes people are sitting down to make a list of purchases. It also means brands have to personalize their ads specifically for each person instead of relying on blanket advertising, Mudd said.

"In the history of advertising, ads were placed in fairly linear environments," he explained. "You needed to watch the ad to consume the [TV] content, or flip past it in the newspaper to get to the next story. What I think we are starting to see is a decoupling of reach and attention. Advertisers increasingly need to earn the attention of consumers instead of take it for granted that you are buying a 15-second or 30-second spot that they need to consume."

However, predictive advertising won't be effective for all companies, points out Matt Goddard, chief executive officer of technology marketing firm R2Integrated.

Brands need to have enough data to have a "complete" view of their customer. While some companies are moving toward that direction, not everyone is there yet. In addition, these ads are best for selling goods, but service-based industries will have a harder time using online data to figure out their customers' next moves.

"It's common sense that if somebody exhibits a certain pattern on a daily or weekly basis, I could use that data to provide advertisements," Goddard said. "Those tend to be companies that are B to C [business to consumer]. Manufacturing and health-care companies will never be able to offer that form of advertisement."