Don’t get any ideas. We don’t actually have a crystal ball in the office. Well… there’s the magic eight-ball and it’s never been wrong, but a crystal ball, no. Not yet at least. But as we have begun to find out, combining a few pairs of eyes, a little curiosity and some solid monitoring software is kind of the next best thing. Over the last few months, we have been looking at technology, culture and business trends to see what business wanted, what consumers wanted, where technology was and who was working on what, and we have come up with a few predictions for where things seem to be headed in the world of digital over the course of the next twelve months. Here are five that we feel pretty strongly about:

1. Mobile gets even bigger.

The trend has been pointing to an increasing shift from desktop internet access to mobile internet access for years now. This will not change in 2013. A few bits of relevant data:

A year ago, ebay bet big on mobile. The result: Roughly $10B in mobile revenue in 2012 (more than double what it was in 2011). That’s a purchase every 2 seconds. The company plans to continue to create mobile-specific transaction vehicles and content to make it even easier for sellers and buyers to use mobile devices. Mobile now also drives 22% of QVC’s digital sales. If you are not continuously working on making it easier for your customers to transact with you (or each other) via mobile devices, you need to. (Even if you are a small brick & mortar retailer, take a serious look at the possibility of enabling mobile checkouts.)

Of all searches on the web, roughly 30% now come from mobile devices. According to a BIA/Kelsey report, mobile searches will continue to catch up to desktop searches, generating 27.8 billion more queries by 2016. Even now (still at about 30%), this trend is especially important for brick & mortar businesses as the majority of mobile searches are local. Restaurants, bakeries, hardware stores, florists and other specialty retailers, take note.

Mobile paths to purchase are hot. A 2012 study by Telmetrics and mobile ad network xAd suggests that roughly 50% of mobile search queries in travel, restaurants and automotive verticals result in some kind of transaction. The number is highest for restaurants (85%), followed by automotive (51%), with travel lagging in third but at a no less impressive 46%. As stated earlier, the study also notes that local searches tend to have higher conversion rates.

If your digital strategy is not yet focused on mobile, time to change that.

Bonus: you can find pretty much every relevant 2012 mobile statistic here.

2. Apps take a bite out of the “old” web.

As tablets and other mobile devices are increasingly becoming our web interfaces of choice, apps are redefining how we think of digital access and web experiences. The “web” is quickly moving away from websites and turning to apps. While this does not signal the death of websites, businesses will have to think very seriously about how consumers are now accessing digital content, and what their expectations are in terms of digital experiences.

Some stats: There were 45.6 billion mobile app downloads made this year, nearly double the 25 billion downloads in 2011. Over six years, the progression looks like this:

2011: 24.9 billion

2012: 45.6 billion

2013: 81.4 billion

2014: 131.7 billion

2015: 205.3 billion

2016: 309.6 billion

Just as companies found themselves adding Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and Youtube channels to their digital footprints four years ago, apps are cementing themselves as the new digital interaction frontier. Successful brands will continue to create a variety of digital experiences based on the types of interfaces their customers (and potential customers) use, and apps will become the increasingly crucial gateways between them and their markets.

3. Social media continues to be a mess of confusion for businesses, but… insights.

Confusion about how to properly use social channels to grow consumer communities, increase meaningful engagement, drive new business and increase brand loyalty will still plague organizations focused more on traffic and likes than on actually changing consumer attitudes and behaviors. Social platforms like Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Twitter will continue to struggle with their revenue models and long term value to users. Measuring success (including but not limited to ROI) will continue to mix sensible, business-focused data points and social media guru-driven nonsensical value equivalency equations and ROI calculators.

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel: digital intelligence tool will make it easier to dig through social channels for consumer insights and paths of opportunity. By combining digital monitoring tools and a new generation of social channel-facing CRM solutions, brands with the will to derive more pertinent insights from specific consumers and their target markets at large will be able to do so faster and cheaper than ever before. Data analysts and consumer insights specialists will increasingly see their disciplines merge as their tools become more powerful.

4. Digital mission control centers to the rescue!

With an ever increasing need for real time market data and insights from Customer Support, Marketing, PR, Business Development, Sales, and other business functions, expect to see greater investments in digital infrastructure. Major brands and the agencies that serve them have already begun to build digital mission control centers that allow them to keep tabs on a variety of channels (many of them social) and track mentions of their brands and products, monitor shifts in perception (positive or negative), track the success of specific marketing and advertising campaigns, monitor consumers’ reactions to a product launch and correlate that data to sales numbers in real time, prevent (or manage) PR crises, conduct market research, and so on.

These mission control centers will vary in size and complexity, but the trend towards creating multi-screen environments for project management teams is accelerating and for good reason: the complexity of digital channels demands new solutions and a new approach to real-time information management. Don’t worry though. This new complexity is balanced by a new generation of digital monitoring, management and visualization tools that make it easier than ever for companies to manage campaigns and workflows and organize themselves around data.

(Speaking of that, we will be releasing a pretty hot new product very soon, so stay tuned. We’re pretty sure that you’re going to like it!)

5. Big brother gets pushed out by big mother.

We’ve all heard about big brother. Looking at the amount of information collected on us each day by search engines, social media platforms and even our mobile devices, it’s easy to start feeling as if our privacy is being incessantly invaded. Many consumers have already begun to push back against digital intrusion, or at the very least, distrust it. Well, the flip side of the privacy coin may just be the concept of big mother.

Unlike big brother, big mother is not interested in exploiting your data. Big Mother has your best interest in mind. Her main concern is to analyze your tastes and habits so she can better understand and predict your needs. If you are familiar with Apple’s digital assistant, think of a more focused and insights-driven Siri. So how does big mother look on the consumer side of the digital divide? For starters, she shields you from ads you don’t want to see and instead makes ads that are both time and topic-relevant visible to you. She allows you to control the degree to which you want your digital experiences to be interrupted by commercial messages. (For instance, you may want to turn off targeted ads and special offers while you are at work, but turn them on while you are out shopping.) She also allows you to be more or less open to local ads and offers where and when you want to be. Big mother is essentially an intelligent filter whose degree of initiative you can control. “It’s almost lunch time and I want to eat someplace new today” becomes a prompt for action driven by big mother’s insights about your tastes, the time of day, your spending habits and your surroundings.

On the business side of big mother, what you have is data. If you are a pizza restaurant, big mother can let you know that right this minute, 130 people who like to eat pizza twice per week are within five blocks of your location, and that 25 of them have their local notifications turned on. For a small fee, you can choose to push an ad or an offer their way through a social channel or SMS. This push notification will not come across as spam since those 25 individuals have made themselves open to them. If, like mobile search, 85% of passive prompts from a big mother-enabled device result in a transaction, an investment of a few dollars could result in significant net new revenue and potentially a whole new set of new customers.

This organic approach to real-time, predictive marketing works because consumers are in control of it. Remember “permission marketing?” This uses mobile devices to make it a reality. It also eliminates spam and scattershot targeting (which is no kind of targeting at all), cuts down on ad spend waste, increases conversions, and does it all without betraying consumer trust. Side benefits: increased potential for social discovery, more opportunities for word-of-mouth recommendations (digital and otherwise), facilitates (and relies on) mobile payments, and above all, saves consumers time. Done well, the experience itself will be fun and cool.

The idea behind big mother is to create value for both consumers and businesses. It’s to give everyone more of what they want and less of what they don’t. By combining consumer data, social data and mobile functionality, big mother is will begin to become a reality in 2013. The first company to successfully create a slick, user-friendly interface, the connective tissue that makes it work across an ecosystem of digital channels and the marketplace that makes it all possible will literally revolutionize digital marketing and mobile commerce. It may be premature to expect something like before December 31, 2013, but as the conditions are right (the technology is available and there is a real revenue model attached to it), we could very well see the first versions of a big mother app turn up sometime in 2013. We’re crossing our fingers.

There’s a lot more exciting stuff on the calendar for 2013, but we’ll leave it at that for now. Happy 2013, everyone!

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