I originally wrote this as a list of marketing trends for 2011. Only after I reviewed it, I realized what I had actually written was a wish list—a list of trends that I wish all marketers would adopt in 2011 (but I know they won’t). It was a rational list. All these trends are inevitable. All make good marketing sense for most brands. All are proven and in use by top brands today. However, my original list failed to take human nature into consideration. Fear of change, reluctance to go first, a cover-your-ass mentality, and all that. We will not be seeing widespread uptake on these trends in 2011.
This is excellent news for any marketer who would rather not wait to move their brand (or career) ahead. This is the year to crank up your Web engagement and leave your digitally conservative competitors in the dust. Brands that master these four trends now will gain significant ground in 2011, and beyond. I predict those less adventurous, hand-wringing, middle-management marketers will be forced to adopt these trends by the end of 2012. That’s when someone will have finally demonstrated to them that these Web-based tactics can actually provide positive return on investment (ROI). That “someone” will be a more forward-thinking competitor. It could be you.
1. Facilitate. There was a time when it was enough to simply inform a target market online: Talk about the brand and its product and how great it is. Those kinds of sites will continue to see a steep drop-off in traffic over the coming year. Where is everyone going? To sites that clearly facilitate some need of the visitor and not just the brand’s need to sell. For example, when Nike decided to facilitate the needs of runners a few years back, they didn’t just add a store locator to their site. They identified the peripheral needs of runners (beyond the need to cover their feet), such as the need for motivation, competition, and improvement. Then they built the Nike+ site to address those needs. Your potential customers have needs, too. Look to their peripheral needs and interests to find ones that are: a) relevant to your brand; and, b) not yet met online. Then, just do it.
2. Delegate. With 2 billion people online globally, your Web traffic can include people with all sorts of nuanced needs. This can make it difficult for brands to offer value to each prospect that visits. The answer? Stop trying so hard. Instead, look for ways to let the crowd do the heavy lifting and add value to your Web assets. The Web’s most popular platforms use this approach. Mega websites, such as Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, YouTube, Facebook, and Ebay, are full of content that was produced gratis, thanks to millions of hours, all donated enthusiastically by visitors. Could your brand better exploit the willingness of Web visitors to add value to your assets?
3. Cooperate. “Cooperate” used to be a dirty word, or at least a sign of corporate weakness. Today, it is a key part of a Web-fueled approach to business, championed by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. When Bezos reflected on the fact that everyone online comparison shops, he saw an opportunity to facilitate his customers by cooperating with his competitors. That’s why his site shows Amazon’s price as well as lower prices from other online retailers. Amazon even helps people buy from those competitors. On Cyber Monday this past holiday season, Amazon was selling 158 products per second. Cooperation doesn’t seem to have made Amazon any weaker. Could your brand be strengthened by a little cooperation between rivals?
4. Propagate. A couple of years ago, Fast Company used the term "viral expansion loop” to describe the source of success behind the Web’s biggest success stories. The article described this tactic as the "most advanced direct-marketing strategy being developed in the world right now," yet lamented how few people outside Silicon Valley built it into their online strategy from the start. It refers to exponential growth fueled by giving anyone who joins a site a reason to recruit others to it. For brands, that means giving people something to talk about (see number 1) and then making it as easy, fun, and self-serving as possible for them to spread the word. The best example of this is Skype. When it launched in 2003, the brand was a late entrant into a voice-over-internet (VOIP) market that included heavy hitters like Google, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo. But Skype’s simple site had the best viral loop mechanism built into it. I’d credit that as much as anything for its rapid growth in membership and its sale 24 months later for $4 billion (including performance bonuses). Are your Web assets as self-propagating as they could be?
None of these tactics are proprietary or even new. They are not expensive. They are there for the taking. Yet few marketers have become fluent with them. I see them like roll, pitch, and yawl on an airplane. Every pilot knows these three principles, but very few have mastered their application fluently enough to use them in a dogfight. And that is exactly what the marketing environment on the Web is becoming. Up until 2010, just being there with a website, Facebook page, and Twitter stream was enough. This year, it is the strategic use of online assets that will chart a course for the brands that will prevail by the time 2012 rolls around.
Sean Duffy is a founder of Duffy Agency, the digital marketing agency for aspiring international brands. Sean has over 25 years of experience working with strategic marketing in Boston, San Francisco, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. In addition to his involvement with Duffy Agency, Sean is a frequent speaker on strategic international marketing and online brand management. He serves also as Lecturer and Practitioner in Residence at the Lund University School of Economics & Management and as Mentor in their Masters Program in Entrepreneurship. Sean is an active member of TAAN Worldwide where he has served two terms as the European Governor. He is also a speaker, blogger, Twitterer, and is on LinkedIn. With offices in Malmö and Boston, Sean splits his time between Sweden and the States.
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