Trends in Digital Marketing and how to capitalize on them

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As a Strategist and Marketing evangelist I am asked by my peers and superiors in Product/Marketing alike on what the "next best thing" is going to be. I get questions from other marketers on where and how their organizations should  spend their money so that they can be a first adopter to new trends as opposed to  laggards. These questions are the motivations behind this persuasion.
We will examine the key trends that are going to shape the Digital Marketing and Advertising space over the coming years. As a bonus we will look at the implications and tactics marketing can employ to stay in parallel with or ahead of these trends.

Marketing Trend 1 - Everything Connected... Everywhere

This means that our virtual (digital) and physical (day-to-day) worlds have converged. Users all over the world from Argentina to Zaire are carrying the virtual lives (e.g. Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook etc.) along with the information resources of the word wide web into their day to day physical lives.

Connectivity is ubiquitous with Mobile broadband (whether you have a mobile phone in India or a tablet PC in Finland), it allows users location to influence what they see and do online.

Objects are getting smarter and connected : Billboards and stores can be enabled with intelligent sensors to "sense" proximity. These are also called Near Field Communication Devices (NFC's). It is rumored that Apple's  iPhone product enhancements may have NFC sensors enabled with the device. Google has already entered in the NFC space quietly with Google Wallet. As a result of this (r)evolution embedded tags provide metadata (the who, what, and device specs) to retailers and advertisers for proximity messaging.

What's the impact of this trend?

New Shopping behaviors which retailers could never concieve happening is emerging. Not only are retailers losing in-store information monopoly, real time price comparisons is making the retailers become more like show-rooms as evaluation is decoupled from purchase.

I will give my example as a consumer. As an avid shopper (of books) I obviously like going to bookstores hunting for interesting titles to read/collect. When I go to stores, I invariably scan the barcode (UPC) of the book and compare prices using my smartphone app. If for example, I secure a better alternative price for the same product, the store I am shopping in stands a very good chance of losing my business. I am sure some of you may relate to this trend. If you are a retail brand this shift in consumer shopping is really happening and it's going to be disruptive. 

Search is playing a bigger and bigger role in our lives. Everything is searchable as Metadata or Taxonomy is passed to Pages, Video, Audio and Images so that they are fully searchable online. I am not talking about a PDF document, I am talking about a music file which could be searched, patterns understood so Pandora can evolve their music gnome project for any (famous) musician today. We take this for granted but it's really powerful stuff.

It's not just the Metadata it's the objects themselves that are searchable. For example, you can search for your Playstation 3 device or connect your Apple TV with iPod/iPad. The notion of "personalized search assistant" which will take this trend to a whole new level.

Even behaviors are searchable now, with Twitter, Facebook, and Offers marketers can proactively find their subjects in real-time. The social trend is so prominent that Google has created a Social Search category where you can search for content within your network.

How can marketers capitalize on the "Everything connected" trend?

Maximize Personalization - This may sound like a cliche but it's the single most important aspect of marketing (product or offer). It's a high time marketers  mandate this as part of their go-to-market strategy. Very few firms are able to deliver on personalization. Even the very few that do, it remains confined to "business rules" as opposed to "behaviors or needs". There is a huge opportunity for retail and content sites alike to create offers and content tailored to consumers' declared, and un-declared behaviors. (Declared behavior = Past browsing activity, Undeclared Behavior = Product interest of consumers).

Developing Co-operative Programs with retailers is another opportunity. A relevant example in this area  is using GPS  or location based platform (e.g. Foursquare) for tailored, in-store promotions which can be pushed to consumer devices.I refer to this as simple targeting. As an example, if I search for French Restaurants  with-in a certain proximity of my geolocation, wouldn't it be nice if I was able to get a promotional offer. It will be a first step towards relevant and non-fatigue advertising. The retailer is sure to get my eyeballs as I have exhibited a interest and purchase intent.

The third opportunity for marketers here is to enable "active" "aggressive" search strategy. Businesses should do what consumers are expecting. Forget about predictive analysis or predictive offerings, for one, it's hard and second, one should start with basics, like exposing pages, reviews, images, media as this is what consumers expect!  It is an incredible opportunity for firms to make their metadata available for comparison applications. That's going to be huge in making your brand presence consistent and it will force the organization to keep things reliable.

Marketing Trend 2 - Don't go Solo Go Social

In the Traditional Media days Word-of-Mouth was confined to immediate friend and family and the sphere of influence via Traditional communication channels (e.g. telephone). Social Interactions enabled by the Digital Medium have changed this dynamic forever. Social is now blurrring online and offline interactions.

As an example take the mobile millenia consumer of today; consumers are reaching multiple friends via "visual media" (e.g. camera phone) in real time while shopping. The "visual media" is now interacting as "social media" beyond shopping and connecting people to be hubs of activity (think gaming, meeting, the arab spring etc). 

Social now permeates digital activities and more and more objects (from the book you read , music you listen to, and the contact information you store) is uploaded and stored "to the cloud". Think single sign-on (e.g. Facebook) which allows you to conenct anywhere without filling out lengthy forms and allowing for content to be shared making the process easy and ubiquitous. This has huge implications as more and more personal data files and media are stored in the cloud and shared among friends. For brands it's an opportunity to show their "cool" and "human" side so that and branded applications can be shared.

How can marketers capitalize on this "Social" trend?

Manage Influencers by cultivating authorotative individuals as a core-activity for each market. This means reaching influencers and their circles via Social means.Several influencer sites like the one in the image below have emerged since the Social revolution opening up opportunities for brands to deliver on this promise in a scalable fashion. 

 

Promote your own employees on social networks, blogs, influencer sites, and your own site by maintaining a steady dialogue between your consumers and other influencers. A great example of this is Zappos which handles requests for buying and support service via this medium.

Unleash Your Employees

Marketers and Content authors should be empowered to publish a continuous stream of useful and entertaining content applications (e.g. advertisement enabled games, price comparison widgets) which can improve your purchase process. Any content curated or created should always be easily sharable so as to build an "emotional" connection with your product and your brand.

The last and most important aspect of this trend is listening (and learning) so the insights can be dervied in marketing (and beyond marketing) through social media intelligence gathering. This will allow (in an ideal world) to enhance your product based on consumers needs (and discussions) as opposed to your impressions on what the consumers want to see.

 

Marketing Trend 3 - Massively scaled targeting

There is a sea of user data avaialble (in real time) from your GPS, set-top box, work-out machines (e.g. treadmills), energy appliance etc. With social media and sharing via this media gaining prominence the types of data collected is also increasing and is expanding to geo-location, time of day, social linkages, and exact usage. As a result of this data, there is a potential to perform targeting in real time allowing for optimization, pooling, and sharing of data across multiple parties/sources to further enhance our lives. 

 

What's the impact of this trend?

Consumers will be open to (and to an extent expect) Real-Time Targeting. Potential buyers can be identified and marketed to earlier in the purcahse process and predictive models can shift spending to those targets most likely to be influenced. 

Another impact of this trend could be around fusing or bringing multiple sources of data together (e.g. ad-networks, third parties etc) and sharing of data between players in the value chain in mutually beneficial ways.This will also present itself with new opportunities of targeting like targeted advertising on set-top-boxes, out of home, or shopping in a store. This next wave of targeting represents a huge opportunity specifically around set-top boxes and out of home (NFC network).

How can marketers capitalize on this "Targeting" trend?

Target and Segment customers and drive marketing by centering campaigns, content, and offers around your key targets. The way to accomplish this is by identifying exact customers you want to reach and testing messages and offers for each of these customers and finally updating your algorithm in real time based on results of each of this campaign.

The other way to get ahead is to hire good analytics practitioners and leaders who can define KPIs for each campaign. This is not the same as picking out the KPI book from a shelf or using a cookie cutter approach, it means having a well-defined behavioral goals (e.g. interacting with an ad or asking for more information) to optimize the campaign. This also means publishers of your display initiative should deliver real time goal based optimizations.

Marketing these days have divorced themselves from technology and as a result no-one thinks about securing resources. Budgets are scarce and expectations are high from business stake-holders to provide real time performance information while the campaigns are in flight. This shift involves building a testing infrastructure and clean decision rules for changing and realigning campaigns based on performance. The key is to embrace systems which will drive data-driven decision making.

Marketing Trend 4 - Individual / Consumer controlled media

This trend seems really slow on surface but the implications of this is very significant. If not already it should be a wake-up call to traditional cable companies (e.g. Time Warner Cable) and audience aggregators. These entities are now losing power/control.

Consumers are building there own "network" defining their content streams and have high expectations with their service providers to integrate content from all their screens. Think watching CNBC's Power Lunch while at lunch and picking it up in a taxi cab on the way to your office. This phenomena is real now. It has significant impact to advertisers who will require new ways to integrate consumer content from all the devices or screens.

What's the impact of this  trend?

Networks and Broadcasters are now losing power and audience as consumers are getting adept to more customized media options. This means increased fragmentation and complexity in advertising, mass media buys, and content.

On-demand platforms are allowing users to build their own channel. This wave was started by TiVo (to an extent users could control the content they would see) and now has expanded to iTunes, Hulu, and Video on Demand. These new mediums are allowing the users to build their own channel and content stream based on their liking.  Additionally, consumers are accessing content via other sources like e-mail, social posts, RSS feeds, therefore, pushing content via these sources is critical for reaching brand loyalists.

As consumers are expecting their content to be linked across devices advertisers need to evolve their ways to touch the consumers. Sponsored partnerships are becoming popular with ads integrating more closely with content and other forms of advertising (e.g. non-interruptive ads around edges of the screen).

How can marketers capitalize on this "consumer controlled media" trend?

Marketers and Product folks should build proprietary content as ad spend is shifting more and more towards proprietary content that is useful and engaging. This would allow for deeper partnerships with producers and editors.

Cross-platform focus is key as all campaigns should start with the premise of being accessible whether it's Gingerbread, iOS, Windows, or WebOS. Additionally, content should be adaptable for and linked across platforms. A good example of this is The Members Project from American Express. It was all about integrating across platforms (e.g. Facebook, Mobile).

The last and most effective way to capitalize on this trend is for marketers to go direct with consumers. This is not limited to being on social networks to disseminate news, cultivate shared community. It extends to being pro-active about collecting customer e-mails, addresses or downloading proprietary applications to build ongoing direct connections. 

Marketing Trend 5 - Building Deeper Relationships

Sharing and collecting more data and information on customers both pre and post sale to create co-branded shopping experiences.This trend also results in greater integration in digital marketing; moving towards more co-operation.

What's the impact of this trend?

Data Sharing is increasing as retailers partner with manufacturers to share consumer data. Think American Express' new social campaign in partnership with Foursquare and Twitter. In exchange of " The Social Currency" initiative it can obtain richer insights, preferences, and customer data about their consumers. This also means co-operatively building targets that incorporate in-store behavior and online/off-line behavior.

The shift towards this trend also results in deeper integration in Digital initiatives. This means a need for a stronger brand presence in online space. Not only will brand play a bigger role in the digital space it will bring about leveraging digital channel in a creative way so as to make evaluation and purchasing of products in an easier fashion.

The last but not least is the increase in co-branded digital shopping experience. This means linking brand site-experience to retail or wholesale site experience to enable customers to easily purcahse goods at any time.

How can marketers capitalize on this trend?

Negotiating with retailers to share customer data at an aggregate level to sense a pulse of the market. This may involve accessing individual customer contact information to engage the right customers.

Welcoming retailers to the digital space by creating online showrooms and fluid product updates. Another strategy here could be to promote specific retailers in exchange for prominent placements on the websites.

A great example of this Disney's initiatives in India. Disney has been partnering with other retailers to raise the level of awareness inof their products via common goods. This concept is not unknown to American consumers where co-branded experiences are very common in the offline world. (Think Movies or Beverages co-branding with Food products like Mc Donalds).

Finally, marketers and product owners should facilitate channel and customer relationships by developing engaging experiences via e-mail and promoting retailer as a product access point.

To attain a leadership role in space companies must embrace and employ some or all of these trends. This is by no means an easy journey as it will require investments (significant ones at that). More importantly it will require leaders to respond to changes by building their assets (people, process, and technology) so that they can be met via the Digital Medium. 

What do you think? Do you agree with these key 4 or 5 trends in Digital Marketing? Which of these trends appeal to you the most in the context of your business?