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3 warnings of a digital marketing apocalypse

3 warnings of a digital marketing apocalypse Mark Hughes

It was one of the worst movies in history: "2012." Hardly the shining hour for John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, or filmmaking in general. What was it about? As Cusack's character says at one point, "It's the apocalypse. End of days. The judgment day, the end of the world, my friend. Christians called it the rapture, but the Mayans knew about it, the Hopis, the I Ching, the Bible."

If you watch that movie or listen to some rapture fans, it will all be over on December 12, 2012. I don't believe that. In fact, there are many reasons to be optimistic about 2012 from a business perspective. However, as we all look to the business future for next year, it's wise to look at what could go wrong. There is a slow economy. There are some internet IPOs that could go bust. There will likely be some consolidation in the advertising technology business. While those things won't slow the digital marketing momentum that has been established in 2011, there are a few factors that could. Not apocalyptic, but possibly big obstacles to growth. I see three of them:

If a big brand bails
Now here's what I mean by "bail." Right now we're in a phase where big brands are tearing down the walls between their resistance to digital marketing and their spending on digital marketing. As that resistance comes down, budgets go up. I don't put much emphasis on percentage increase; all I know is that when we meet with blue-chip brands, the conversation has changed from evangelizing and evaluating to executing. If that conversation changes, it's trouble.

If one or several big brands start to make noises about dissatisfaction with digital campaigns, fall back on relying upon last-click digital measurement, or we start to see renewed TV worship, digital spend could slow its momentum. Rigorous marketing measurement is a key factor. Brands will only criticize when they don't know what's working and what isn't.

If we fail to accelerate brand spending
Big brands bailing would be a bad thing. But big brands stagnating wouldn't be much better, because if you're not moving forward, you're actually falling backward. The economy should be conducive to more digital spending, although it's not the only factor.

Campaign results should encourage more digital spending as new measurement insights on the entire digital funnel open up avenues of ROI. Changing blue-chip attitudes should generate more spend. If we can't continue the momentum gained in 2011, 2012 will indicate that something is wrong with the way digital marketing is planned, bought, and measured.

If we fail to integrate TV
Having said that about TV, I think the way to avoid conflict with TV is to embrace it. Marketing measurement, and in particular attribution modeling, can detail the effect that TV has on getting customers into the purchase funnel. Our initial research shows that TV is a critical link in the chain. It is not the whole chain. To think that TV defines the purchase funnel is to think that the last click defines your whole marketing effort. It makes no sense. As a business, digital marketers need to embrace TV instead of fight it.

So will we see 12/12/12 as the apocalypse? No.

But for smart brands and agencies, "It's the end of the world as we know it... and I feel fine."

Mark Hughes is CEO of C3 Metrics.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Mark Hughes is CEO of C3 Metrics: Attribution Made Simple.  Previously, Hughes grew eBay’s Half.com from zero to 8 million online customers as its VP of Marketing in less than three years. Half.com was sold to eBay for over $300 million...

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