The digital space is in constant motion. Technology, creativity, and innovation create new memes, media, and marketing opportunities every day. It’s not necessarily about keeping up with the latest gadgets, software, or mash-ups or chasing the next cool thing. It’s about skillfully selecting the right strategies and tactics to engage your most valuable customers and gaining maximum advantage for your brand.
Looking ahead requires agile monitoring and editing to drive conscientious adaptation of the right tools to reach and persuade the right audiences at the right time. Each brand must find its optimal configuration of approaches, messages, and technology that suits the customer base and can be effectively implemented within a brand’s culture and infrastructure.
The Kaplan Thaler Group, an active digital marketer representing an array of world-class consumer and business-to-business brands in many industries, recommends focusing on these ten topics to ensure success in your digital marketing efforts in the New Year.
1. Handicap the Race for a Single Sign On. The race is on for inter-connectivity and a single sign on. Facebook Connect has a decided head start with more than 10,000 sites already plugged in. But competitors will not be diverted in their attempts to become the digital passport and to influence the underlying technology landscape of Web 3.0. Whoever owns the connecting pipes can garner significant traffic and dictate terms affecting future content, traffic patterns, and marketing direction.
2. Search for Segments. Typing, sorting, filtering and imposing hierarchies is the only way to fully leverage networks of networks. End users have to be incented to do this by MSN, Google, or others, who in spite of their algorithms can't decipher who is who accurately. Precise targeting, re-targeting, and data appends will then follow to give marketers much more homogeneous and behaviorally-defined targeting cohorts. It will enable marketers to aim discrete ideas, messages, and functionality at groups most likely to respond or interact. Third-party data aggregators, existing big guys, and digital start-ups will emerge offering detailed personal profile information about millions of online users to websites, communities, and eMerchants.
3. Use the Network Multiplier. We are just beginning to understand the network multiplier effect in social media. If the average social media user has 130 friends with the connectivity to have messages appear on their home pages or walls, then each social media user has a potential reach of 131. What will it take to get individuals to pass-along or enroll friends so that a single message can scale to hundreds of millions of free impressions? This network of networks concept -- that each person has a network of friends and followers who can be messaged by an individual and motivated or incented to pass the message along to their friends -- is new territory.
Taken to its logical conclusion, it offers the hope that marketers can harness, forecast, and regularly word-of-mouth communications -- the oldest and most reliable form of advertising. But nobody has cracked the code -- yet. Look for marketers and technologists to study physical networks for clues about how social networks operate and techniques for influencing message flow and pass-along.
4. Think Video and Visual. Video is consuming the Internet. At 80hrs/average viewing/person/ month, video will grow exponentially. The Web will become a delivery vehicle for broadcast TV programming and audiences will splinter much like cable TV. You'll see a return to the early days of TV where brands sponsor programs and webisode serials dedicated to specific audiences that compete for time and attention with video on TV, cable, Web portals, game consoles, new tablet devices, and mobile phones.
5. Syndication Trumps Destination. Branded websites are necessary but not sufficient elements of the marketing mix. They are an expected and required point of first contact, just like 800 numbers. Branded website traffic will dwindle as consumers spend time managing their lives online. Semantically optimized platforms and sites like Amazon, Wikipedia, and selected portals will dominate mass traffic flows. Few brands will have the budgets necessary to drive competitive traffic and it will hardly be worth it to spend money to promote their sites.
The real action will be about dis-aggregating branded content and placing in the path of customers at multiple places on the Web. Each brand will, in effect, create its own web of online destinations aimed at specific segments of its customer base. Brands must marshal their resources in terms of owned and paid media with an eye toward optimizing customer resonance and interaction and with a second eye to generating as much free earned media as possible.
Customer intimacy in the near future will be dictated by tagging, sorting, and follow-on cookies that will trigger dynamically served content. Brands will get much closer to 1-to-1 interactions with millions simultaneously.
6. Mobilize Mobile Media. Today’s 10% Web access from mobile devices will triple in a year. Usage will be driven by video, mapping, location-based services, and maybe even the long-threatened introduction of micro-payments. Mobile devices will put a computer in everyone’s pocket and become as agile as Swiss Army knives.
Mobile is not just phones. Tablets, apps, game software, gaming consoles like Xbox, GPS devices led by Garmin, ebook readers, and other devices are networked together. They are developing new ways to integrate branded content and advertising. These new channels will target and deliver messages to consumers in the context of their daily lives. Many of the devices are already seamlessly integrated into consumers’ lives so there will be little anxiety about intrusion -- especially if brands provide useful added functionality or in-the-moment offers. Brands willing to try these emerging new mobile and wireless media will gain “first mover” advantage in low-clutter or exclusive environments.
7. Get Sophisticated About Search. Consumers have taught themselves Boolean logic and are making 5+ word searches and inventing new ways to get the answers they want sooner with greater accuracy. Most sites could use an SEO tag tune-up, which yields the greatest instant ROI and traffic for the least effort.
But PPC will become more like program stock trading with automated software analyzing and bidding on key word and key phrase auctions minute-by-minute to sway traffic among those who have already expressed a direct interest in a category, brand, product, or model. Clients should retool and significantly re-invest in search. More intense tagging, identifying, and specifying products and services is necessary to simultaneously deal with competitors and a variety of answer-focused sites and apps that will challenge search engines.
8. Anticipate Zagat-i-zation. Every category, brand product, and model, plus every service and service provider, will be reviewed, scored, recommended (or not) by civilians -- not professional critics. Consumers have demonstrated an astounding willingness to take the word of complete strangers. They read for context and will look at a dozen reviews to get a consensus opinion before purchasing. A growing number of apps will enable consumers to read or write reviews and compare prices at the point of sale. We anticipate in-store closing ratios to drop.
The amount of user-generated content (UCG) will quadruple and there will be a battle for supremacy among review sites in each vertical category. Brands will have to prepare themselves to withstand 360-degree global scrutiny and be ready to reply and respond and marshal online advocates to attack, defend, and spread the word in an always-on digital universe.
9. Location. Location. Location. Local marketing and location-based customer interactions will become much more important than just checking in. Foursquare and its competitors will morph or die. ShopKick will have competitors like Amazon’s comparison app and others. A full range of place-based and behavioral experiments will be undertaken by forward-looking brands. It will be rat-in-the-maze time, but useful best practices will shake out.
Some organizations will use mobile media to jump over antiquated POS systems and limited IT landscapes to connect better with customers in stores and at the points of sale. The next move will be for GPS (think Garmin) and others to provide real-time traffic and weather directly to individual mobile devices as they transform themselves into live, streaming media networks capable of delivering highly targeted audio and video and graphic messages based on time and location triggers.
10. Track Twitter. Twitter will either find a niche or fade away. The vast majority of silent members will either be energized or fall away. The novelty is over. The brand successes are few and far between and the new promoted tweets don’t have much of a track record.
Teens have abandoned it. Adults just might follow their lead, unless there is greater personal utility or perceived value. Twitter might have been a useful but transitional fad -- or it can become an extension of CNN, People, ESPN, and other real-time news and events producers or reporters. Other than major news and pop culture events, gossip, and trade shows, Twitter as a simultaneous companion medium hasn't really caught on and its unlikely to sustain long-term value as a deal and coupon distribution mechanism.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.