There is a great scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," when the Ark of the Covenant has just been loaded on the plane for Cairo. Indy has just rescued Marion, and as they watch the truck drive away, she asks him what he's going to do next. "I don't know," he says. "I'm making this up as I go along."
That's an all too familiar scenario for digital marketers this year -- and what a year it's been. Google's stock price doubled from an already unbelievable $200 per share to more than $400. Podcasting, blogs and RSS feeds became part of day-to-day conversations, and, digital marketing found its legs maintaining its position as the fastest growing spending sector for advertising. According to the IAB, web ad spending will surpass $12 billion this year.
As we all take a collective breath and start our planning and budgeting processes for 2006, and since I'm doing so well in my fantasy football picks for this year, I thought I'd jump head first into the prognostications for digital marketing and technology for next year.
Here are my top ten digital marketing predictions for 2006:
#1) Software delivered over the internet goes mainstream
2006 will be remembered as the year that hosted software went mainstream. With Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! leading the way, expect more and more business and productivity applications to be delivered over the internet. This year will be the "tipping point" for this delivery model, and the exciting thing for digital marketers is that every tool we need can be deployed using it.
What does that mean for digital marketing? IT can now truly (and honestly) be removed from the digital marketing equation. Marketing departments can get out of the software development business and focus on their core function -- selling.
#2) Google expands AdSense to provide digital ad management and reporting
Google's recent announcement to offer free website analytics certainly doesn't fundamentally change the existing analytics business. But DoubleClick and 24/7 beware. In 2006, when Google combines their analytics product with AdSense and adds the ability for publishers to manage and publish their own ad inventory, they'll really have a full-bodied offering for web publishers.
#3) Podcasting (both audio and video) explodes in 2006
In 2005, it was clear that it was tech geeks who were not only creating, but subscribing to podcasts. In 2006, big entertainment companies will jump into podcasting headfirst, but only after somebody figures out a way to measure advertising and viewership.
Audible recently launched "Wordcast," an attempt at measurement, but an independent source is needed (Hello? Is somebody at the IAB reading this?). Then, terrestrial radio and television will jump on the bandwagon and start offering ad inventory for podcasts. A business-to-business marketing service will also launch (a la iTunes), offering white papers, online demos, presentations and industry briefings as podcasts.
#4) New & improved analytics solutions emerge
In 2006, existing online analytics companies (as well as a new entrant or two) will offer new products that further tie together the measurement of search marketing, online advertising, Web traffic, affiliate marketing and click-stream analysis across customer segments and qualitative analysis over content. This will provide desperately needed business intelligence on where marketing dollars are most effective.
#5) Search marketing continues to be huge -- but look beyond Google
There are already signs that the contextual search marketing space has room for more than just Google. Yahoo! Publisher is in beta. Microsoft will assuredly get into the game and smaller competitors like Quigo will give publishers greater control over the type of ads that are placed within the context of their site. In 2006, new entrants will emerge with vertical search marketing solutions that offer more targeted and more valuable marketplaces for both advertisers and customers.
#6) Web companies give ad agencies a run for their money
In 2006, with so much money moving online, traditional advertising agencies will be taking a serious look at web agencies again because of their comprehensive capabilities in online marketing, branding and search marketing. And, one-time niche agencies like SEO, wireless and email will be finding a much more strategic role with CMOs.
#7) Product placement and advertising appear in Web 2.0 applications
The rise of Google's Gmail and Toolbar has fundamentally changed the landscape for how applications can be offered using an advertising model. Look for new online applications from everybody from Microsoft to the next Sergey and Larry to feature product placement and advertising opportunities for the savvy marketer.
#8) We're all publishers in 2006
At ad:tech this year, I was struck by Lexus' VP of Marketing Debora Wahl-Meyer's talk about an "open architecture" style of communication. The ownership of the relationship between eyeball and media has really shifted to the consumer. You have to develop a trusted relationship by providing value to the relationship before they've bought from you. In 2006, savvy marketers will begin to create programs that establish that relationship. This is primarily going to come in the form of content. Whether it's a how-to on using products you sell, or creating affinity based content that relates to your customer base, it will be up to the digital marketer to create independent, high-value content for their customers. Look for turnkey and specialized suites of technology solutions to emerge for marketers to make, distribute and generate leads from this content -- whether it's content publishing systems, podcasting or webcasting.
#9) The time-shifted world is coming -- linear broadcast is dead
In 2006, savvy marketers will start looking beyond the linear broadcasting of cable television and radio toward product placement and sponsorship within content. TiVo, DVRs, BitTorrent, Video Podcasts (dare I use the term VodCasts?), iPods and Media Rich Cell Phones will transform television and satellite radio networks into repositories of content to which devices can subscribe. In 2006 it doesn't matter what time it's on, it only matters when you watch it. Look for new types of advertising opportunities in entertainment creation, sponsorship and product placement.
#10) 2006 -- The beginning of the end of look and feel on the web
In the spirit of the always over-reaching prognostications that are traditional for Internet predictions, I think this is the one that fundamentally changes the game of digital marketing.
2006 will become the year of meta-data. Content about content can be much more important than the content itself and will certainly become more important than the method to display it (check out Google Base as the example here). The number of internet-connected interfaces is growing exponentially and won't slow down in 2006. It marks the first year where the user will determine the interface for their favorite content. It is the first year that the internet truly becomes the platform and not the medium that it has so long been perceived as.
2006 is NOT the year that websites die. But it IS the first year that savvy publishers will pay much more attention to quality, and their ability to manage, parse, and publish their content for multiple outputs and devices. The "write once, publish many" paradigm will become critical for this to work. If I'm an online publisher selling advertising space -- this means a bonanza of new advertising and business opportunities.
Conversely, if I'm a marketer -- looking to market my ecommerce or online business in this new space, I need to make sure my message is available to as many people as possible. In 2006, it's not about whether my customer sees my colorful banner ad at the top of a page, it's about delivering the most relevant messages about my products and services to them just as they're looking for it, so that I'm immediately establishing a relevant and quality dialogue with the consumer.
There's no doubt that 2006 will be one of the most challenging and exciting years for digital marketing yet. So, throw on your Indiana Jones Fedora, put on that classic music and I'll see you on the other side…
Veteran Internet marketing executive Robert Rose joined CrownPeak as a vice president of sales and marketing in 2002 to drive these initiatives. Since coming aboard he has revamped the company's brand and messaging, as well as taken over the CrownPeak sales team. Previous to joining CrownPeak, he served as vice president of strategic planning for Ignited Minds, an advertising agency specializing in the entertainment and consumer electronics sectors.
What does it mean?
Generation Z-ers will mobilize around causes that they care about, and they look to be even more socially and environmentally aware and concerned than Generation Y. It is also very likely that because they are so naturally tech savvy, they will do things bigger, better, and at a younger age than previous generations. As marketers, we should obviously be looking to engage with Generation Z in ways that are not only authentic and intrinsically motivated (meaningful), but that are also highly actionable as in digitally downloadable and socially uploadable. Our challenge will be to embrace these contributions as long-term investments toward building lasting relationships.
Generation Z is smarter, younger
Weened on technology and social media, Generation Z-ers at 20 will also more closely resemble present understandings of the 30-year-old consumer. Because of simulated social media games such as Farmville, Generation Z is practically born business savvy. Their mantra might likely become: "Take fewer risks, but take the right risks." They're calculated and practical, and the most effective marketing aimed at Generation Z will have to be as well.
What does this mean?
It will be our charge to keep up with them or suffer the wrath of instantaneous rejection. Their greatest strength threatens to become one of marketing's greatest risks: underestimating the maturity of the Generation Z consumer. They are not like the youth of the past, not at 6 years old, and certainly not at 16 years old. Brand communications need to be mindful of this to a fault.
This generation, like those before them, looks to their friends as the authority on products and brands. While this may not seem to be much of a ground-breaking observation, it becomes interesting when one considers how fast this happens now. Because of the speed with which Generation Z consumes media, it is very likely that the key "moment of discrimination" inevitably will be highly influenced by an almost immediate social response. Simply put, as soon as a brand communication is made live, it will immediately come with a publicized reaction. The reaction time is faster, and though the peer pressure of consumption might not be inherently changing, the rate at which social attitudes are broadcast most certainly is and along with it, its power to influence.
What does this mean?
The task then becomes how to best compel Generation Z to market for us. Consider the "Like" button present on many social networking sites. "Like"-ing a product might provoke friends to do similarly, and spontaneous brand loyalty will be spawned from the consumers themselves. As brands and marketers, we must view Generation Z as marketing allies, be open to their involvement, and work to provide them with increasingly interesting and unique ways to customize, share, and evangelize for us.
The next shift in social media will be one that adopts a macrocosmic approach that infiltrates the consumer's total experience. What is emerging is a vision for a new total digital experience, one that is more naturally inline with Generation Z consumers. Our industry has long been moving (or at least talking about it) in the direction of thinking less about TV vs. print vs. online, and more about how best to communicate in a digital world. Thankfully, this all-too-necessary evolution is speeding up. What we need to realize is that the up-and-coming Generation Z consumers are already expecting and searching for it to happen even faster. They are creating it where brands give them the tools and the opportunity, and they will continue to push the boundaries on their own.
Will your brand be part of what Generation Z makes happen next?
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One of the first things that I think agencies need to do away with is the use of certain bureaucratic staples of the advertising agency world. No more RFPs, no more briefs, no more stifling the creative process by making clients and vendors alike do homework that sucked the life out of what was supposed to be a creative form of business.
Larger companies still long for the warm glow of a well-filled-out RFP form, but at the very least, maybe the agencies themselves shouldn't subject media publishers to this brand of crazy. Let's reduce the RFP down to a single sheet, maybe two, of facts and feelings on what we are hoping to accomplish for the client with our plan and then leave them to present it in a manner that they see fit.
This will no doubt be a learning process -- a reprogramming if you will. We may need to provide more guidance, perhaps compartmentalize and bold a few items that will be missed or ignored. And while we may still occasionally get a nutty question from a publisher, for the most part the goal will be reached. We would enjoy a reduction of work for all involved and a clearer path to reaching our goals.
Will another five years finally do away with this time suck of a practice in our business? I am optimistic that others will realize that we're not a division of the Department of Motor Vehicles, but a business that was founded on creative thought that longs to leave the paperwork in the hands of the government.
Advertising agencies have always been known for a certain amount of showmanship. Countless movies and television shows have dramatized the nail-biting and soul-sucking process of the client presentation. Weeks of days and nights of preparation, followed by hours in distant boardrooms presenting your blood, sweat, and ideas, only for the client to turn around and tell you to put it all in TV, because that's the media they use the most.
After a few years in the business, I realized that most of what Hollywood thought of our business was spot on. Friends of mine that decided to work on the agency side of the fence would greet me with the phrase "Stupid Client!" (or worse) out of frustration with their own clients who had just reduced their work to ashes. Meanwhile, I sat back and watched as agency after agency presented its work like it was some form of magic that mere mortals couldn't understand. And worse, those who worked on the digital media side treated clients like they were children asking how babies were made.
It needed to stop. All this posturing was causing tons of unneeded work with oh so little actually being accomplished. But how can we fix this mess? One word: transparency.
We need to drop the veil and insist that our clients do the same. No longer should we present digital media, search engine marketing, and social media efforts like they were conjured in a cauldron. And no more decisions from the client whose rationale could be reduced down to, "Because I'm your father, that's why!" We all took the same classes in college, we knew what work was being done -- what was being paid for was our knowledge, experience, and creativity. Let's cut the posturing and get something accomplished.
Our clients will probably appreciate our candor -- mostly. Some will feel like they had been cheated for years and suddenly consider bringing more advertising functions in-house -- but probably not. Where the real trouble would probably come would be from other agencies that really don't want their delicate insides exposed -- mostly because once they are, clients would realize that they are mostly hollow.
From the client side, it may take a bit more work. Our inquiries of "Why?" may still sometimes be met with parent-like reasoning, but we will eventually get to the heart of the matter so that we can at least have the opportunity to present options to what was potentially a devastating decision.
However, I know this is a long road to hoe. Today, as an agency acting like a client, talking to other agencies or service providers, I realize that this effort will be like trying to deprogram someone who has been brainwashed by a cult. It could take years and years of counseling, only to still wake up in the dead of night wondering what the heck you were actually paying for each month or why your media plan had been reduced to airline tray table liners.
Will the year 2020 finally "bring down 'The Wall'" and usher in an era of openness? I think the cracks are already starting to form here.
As I've written about in other articles in iMedia, I was probably part of the last generation of advertising professionals that was schooled in the old ways of the business, only to graduate into a world of digital possibilities. Trained to exist in a world of GRPs and ROI, I grasped blindly in the darkness of CTR and "Engagement."
For almost 20 years, I've heard complaints that the reporting and metrics of digital media were absolute crap. I could never really understand these cries until I realized that, as an industry, instead of adapting our new media to the world we were becoming a part of, we presented that world with new metrics and called the inhabitants stupid or old because they "just didn't get it."
As one of those rare advertising people who also possess an MBA, I knew this needed to change. We weren't trying to get more clicks, we were trying to move product. Our efforts had a cost and that cost needed to be tied to a real ROI or it would be far too easy to cut when things got tight. As I moved to the agency side, I realized that even the long existing language needed a dose of reality. "Raising awareness" isn't a business goal -- the very fact that you're advertising at all will raise awareness. You're raising awareness to sell your clients' products and services to the masses, and if you can't prove that your slick commercials or fancy websites are part of that process, then why bother?
So, we need to start asking the real questions: What are you really trying to accomplish here? Tell us how the business actually works. What are your true success metrics? Tell me what it will take to make your P&L statement sing.
Some clients will know, and they will weep at finally having an advertising partner that asked. Others might not and continue to keep us focused on metrics that don't matter -- awareness, engagement, and so on -- only to discover that their ruse was due to how they received their bonuses at the end of the year.
As we peer into the future, will we finally reach a time when the business of advertising actually acts like a business? I really hope so, as I believe it will be what keeps us alive and away from succumbing to an entirely self-serve world.
No more experts
I hate being called a digital media expert. I despise even more being crowned a "guru." I'm not a rock star, ninja, or a rocket scientist.
I work in advertising. I help businesses self stuff to people.
It's a fun job, but it's still a job. I went to school for this and have spent almost 20 years getting pretty good at what I do for my employers.
We can continue to add a touch of romance to what we do. Make a good show of it for the movies and basic cable dramas, but let's not fool ourselves here. As one of my college math teachers once said, we're not landing space shuttles here, we're trying to figure out if we made a profit.
What do I think the advertising agency of the future will be? A business.
Let's hope I'm right.
"businessman holding social network" image via Shutterstock.
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