It's that time of year again. The calendar has started to move past the mid-point of the year, the peak of allergy season has come and gone, and the heat begins to rise. The other thing that happens is that proselytization and prognostication are brought together in a confounding articulation of trends we hope to spot, watch, or take advantage of.
We've seen the last six months unfold, and we hope to read the creases for what the next six months might hold. Following are five trends to keep one's eye on in the digital marketing space.
Programmatic needs more care and feeding than we thought
You are saying to yourself, "Programmatic is a trend? Isn't it at this point more of a given?" Well, yes. The plumbing of online buying and selling is being upgraded on a daily basis in every home and business, making sure good, clean inventory flows from every faucet. But for those of us who work on clients that are not top 50 or top 100 advertisers, there's still a lot of opacity. I am regularly asked about programmatic: What does it mean? How does it work? How is it used? How much do I have to spend to use it?
All media is under assault -- not just digital. The system is over-complicated by gazillions of moving parts, with some estimates putting the number of ads served at more than 4.5 trillion annually. This is something like 2,000 per person, per month. Big data is on everyone's lips, but the true value of data is unclear. Metrics are still, in large part, in a state of being determined. This means a lot of clients need a lot of hand-holding, and more than a few need explanations that go beyond the "our kung fu is better."
For the sake of ready-made, countable metrics, programmatic is an obvious slam-dunk. And it's being used as such by major advertisers. There is what we like to call a "self-sharpening knife" aspect to it that is appealing. But advertisers and agencies are finding out that it isn't just a matter of "set it and forget it." There's a lot more care and feeding that is necessary.
This isn't obvious from the outside (and let's be honest, outsourced solutions don't always want that fact to get attention), but machines are dumb and are only good at doing what the humans tell them to do. I remember a time when I was working for a large holding company, and it was developing its trading desk. When programmatic was being explained to the president of one of the agencies in that holding company, his eyes gleamed. He rubbed his hands together and asked, with equal parts greed and glee, "How many employees can I cut by using this kind of solution?"
What programmatic does, we've found, is not allow fewer people to do more work; it just allows for more media to reach more audiences and provide feedback faster. This means it frees people up to do different work. And now that brand metric optimization is being onboarded more and more frequently, this is only going to require even more human attention.
Conclusion: Programmatic is going to stop being used synonymously with "automatic."
Dynamic audience segmentation
This is something made possible by programmatic. It is something that nearly all the machines and robot armies can already do. It's just a lot of advertisers don't think this way. What am I talking about?
There is more to be gained from watching what consumers do than relying just on what they report in a survey. It isn't just about enabling the optimization of your advertising against a prescribed audience. It is about finding audiences you didn't even know existed.
Instead of identifying a target audience pre facto and then seeking it out, let the audience for the category, brand, and product identify themselves. We use all kinds of technologies to target media. But let's look at things from the other side of the microscope to identify target segments and parse them, over time, according to value and opportunity.
The first time I proposed doing this to a agency that was running a project for a significant telecommunications company, people's eyes grew wide. Especially the research people, who kept being asked by the client to find high-value audience segments that were shifting sometimes on a monthly basis. It wouldn't suffice to tell the client that survey data with six-month latency isn't good enough and conclude that there isn't any other way to get at what the company is looking for.
This is something that most all DSP-DMP combos can provide; it's pretty much how they optimize your media. For example, Rocket Fuel more or less asks you, "What's your goal?" Not, "Who's your audience?" Achieving the goal is finding the right segments, not having the segments defined in advance. You just have to ask the right questions to get at "who" is being reached, not just "what" is reaching them.
Conclusion: Look for major providers of programmatic, or the data sources that feed them, to offer this more overtly.
"Storytelling" instead of just "social"
This is really just a move back to what brands used to do: tell their stories. Tweets and Facebook posts are lovely, but unless you are Demi Lovato or Justin Bieber, you don't stand much of a chance to move markets -- your own or your categories -- through them. They are important to keeping your loyalists involved, and those folks are the brand evangelists that are good to motivate the base, so to speak. (Kind of like politics.) But at the end of the day, the people like content. Good content.
This is why Facebook just bought Storylane. Longer, more meaningful narrative has an important place not just in how brands can talk about themselves, but how individuals talk about themselves. Social is not just a picture of my sandwich or a snarky 140-character quip about someone on the bus. Content -- real content -- is still king. That content can be long form (found at an advertiser's site, for instance) and short form (found in advertising, sponsorship, advertorials -- aka "native" advertising).
Connection online to offline
This has been a dream all along. And we've done a variety of things to get at it. CPGs in particular have been keen on being able to connect the digital dots to dollars at the cash register.
More tools have come online that are going to let us connect these dots between advertising event and point of sale. Specialized DSPs like Catalina BuyerVision and MyWebGrocer promise to connect advertising events to products being purchased.
More and more media use offline datasets from the likes of Kantar, Nielsen, Experian, and others. Programmatic mentioned above frequently uses these data sets too. What it hasn't always done is close the loop of cause, effect, and re-cause.
This isn't anything new, per se, but it's finally more possible than it has been before. Combinational analysis with multiple data sets to normalize those data and link them to offline behavior is going to continue to grow, as the robot armies get smart and more profligate.
Conclusion: You'll see more specialized vertical DSPs start to emerge, like we did with ad networks back in the day, for a number of scale-dependent advertising categories.
Consumers will continue to look to their mobile devices -- smartphones, tablets, mini-tablets -- to maximize every moment. There's little that remains undocumented in a human life today. The same device that is used to take a picture of my cat is used to help me stick to a diet, talk to my mom, and read the news. Mobile is used to document life, share it, enhance it, and satisfy it.
At the iMedia Agency Summit in May, Ben Fox gave a presentation on the state of media today and its future. His first slide was two pictures side by side. One was of the funeral of Pope John Paul II. The other was a picture of the new pope being elected. In the first, you saw people holding cameras and camcorders, or just witnessing the event with their own eyes. The latter had everyone standing there with phones in their hands, looking into the screen, and taking a picture. His line was, "What a different a Pope makes." This is the world of the "mobile moment" we live in -- a device that goes everywhere and does everything. The mobile device means the collapse of form and function into a singularity.
This means researching and shopping for products at the same time. I not only learned about a book via my mobile device, but I also searched for it and then bought it through my Amazon app.
According to an April 2013 report from eMarketer, only 6 percent of female internet users reported still researching products primarily in store, while another 5 percent asked friends and family for recommendations most often. The rest -- 89 percent in total -- did their browsing mostly on the web, either via desktop (71 percent) or on mobile devices (18 percent). Forty-seven percent bought via desktop and laptop most often, and another 8 percent were most likely to buy on mobile. Now that mobile number isn't huge -- yet -- but it is amazing nonetheless.
Conclusion: Mobile has arrived -- if not as an advertising platform, as an important midwife for daily experience. Marketing that seeks to be an experience or part of one and not just an advertising opportunity (e.g., augmented reality, value exchange platforms) will be the mobile execution that will lead us to the best new place.
I could be wrong about all of the above. That's the nice thing about punditry -- there's only accountability in the present. After that? "Always in motion is the future," Yoda says.
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"Fortune teller with her crystal ball" image via Shutterstock.