I tend to look back when I want to identify what I think the "next big thing" in digital might be moving forward. As I do so, I have found four consistent conditions necessary for a major tech or marketing trend to take hold. So let's review these conditions and then apply them to predict the next three big things in digital marketing.
A new trend will start based on one of the following conditions. However, rarely do all four conditions exist at once. In those cases, I would argue the trend is likely to become the next big thing:
- A new technology benefits enterprise business. Big business was the first to embrace personal computers, laptops, smartphones, and cloud computing because, by doing so, workers became more productive, processes became more streamlined, and profits grew.
- The business model must scale into small business. Small business fuels our economy, so any trend with staying power must work for this sector. The perfect example is what Google did with paid search, enabling small businesses to advertise on the web.
- A new technology benefits a human need. Technology enables human needs and behaviors that already exist. IM and SMS did not explode simply because the technology was available. It was people's need to communicate with others in real time that pushed them into the realm of a big thing.
- There's status in having or using it. Early adopters start the trend, and then there's a tipping point that drives mass consumer adoption. Just look at what happened with the iPad in 2010 and the now projected growth of tablets into 2012.
Applying our four conditions test, it becomes easier to identify which trends will impact the way we do business as digital marketers. In the following pages, I offer three early trends that I believe meet all four conditions -- and therefore will be the three "next big things" in digital marketing.
Using location-based services (LBS) to reach consumers will become as commonplace as using search. It passes all four conditions with flying colors, bearing great resemblance to the early days of paid search.
Using LBS for marketing can take big brands closer to marketing nirvana because results can be measured through the digital funnel to the in-store point of purchase. LBS for marketing has already been embraced by small businesses because it enables them to pinpoint the exact radius of the customers they want to reach at low cost.
Furthermore, these services enable our needs as social beings to share information, as evidenced by the 5 million Foursquare members already in place. The beauty is that status is built into the model from the start (mayors, badges, virtual passport stamps, etc.).
In addition, look at the real players at the table -- Google and Facebook. Google has the infrastructure and installed base of advertisers. Facebook has the millions of consumers "trained" to view mobile and social as one platform with several access points. So the building blocks for this to scale across business and consumers are already in place.
I could address each of our four conditions to justify cross-platform digital consolidation as the next big thing. However, there is a much easier way to defend it. There is simply too much stuff on our "digital plates" right now -- for consumers and businesses alike.
Facebook apps/Places, Twitter, YouTube, Google (search, email, alerts, Latitude, Android apps), iPad, iTV -- I could go on. There are too many passwords to remember, messages to check, and posts in different character counts or formats. This crazy pace of adding to our digital services plate over the next year simply can't be sustained.
Remember the year 1999, when we had Excite, Alta Vista, Lycos, AOL, Yahoo, HotBot, and Northern Light -- just to name a few? It was a similar set of circumstances, and I project a similar outcome. Some of the consolidation was organic. At the same time, savvy entrepreneurs created ways to consolidate search engine submissions, scan multiple job boards, and allow businesses and consumers to create their own personalized web experiences.
To date, the need to consolidate has been fueled by social media. I predict the growth of mobile and its overlap with social will push us into the realm of true cross-platform consolidation. A perfect example is the recently launched HeyWire service, which enables consumers to deliver and monitor cross-platform digital messages (e.g., Facebook IM, Twitter, and SMS).
Over the past 80 years, as new media platforms were added, walls within and between agencies were also added. Print, broadcast, experiential, PR, and the internet required different tools and skills for each medium, so new walls were justified as specialization.
But now there's digital -- which is beginning to expand far beyond the web into TV, outdoor, and mobile. Adding walls doesn't make sense when the same assets (e.g., video) can be used across all. Instead, agencies will be forced to finally tear the walls down.
I offer the following argument related to enterprise and small business conditions: For agencies to make money, regardless of their size, the process of creating digital has to become more efficient. The fastest way to do this is to streamline the process by leveraging one team and one set of ideas and assets over multiple digital channels. Likewise in media buying, with the growth of ad exchanges and DSPs, inventory across multiple digital platforms can be bought and managed seamlessly by one team. What will be most interesting is to watch how traditional channels such as out-of-home and TV will become incorporated into those same exchanges over time.
I would argue the "human need" and "cool factor" conditions are also present. The human need is to be recognized and praised -- in this case through professional growth. Agencies with too many walls force professional growth to be vertical, and staff ultimately hit a ceiling. However, if the growth is horizontal, with staff consistently learning new tools and tech, the professional growth is not limited by walls or ceilings, but rather by the pace of development of new tools and technology for marketing. And that's pretty cool.
Karen Macumber is a digital media and marketing specialist.
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