One of the great things about pontificating on the future of digital marketing is that people rarely go back to see if your predictions were correct or not. Since I wasn't writing this column a year ago, you have no idea what I thought might happen in 2006. This is probably a good thing. So as a reader service, I've decided to look back at some of the predictions others made for 2006 to see how they panned out (of course, the others shall remain anonymous):
"Podcasting (both audio and video) explodes in 2006"
A Pew Internet Report from late November tells us that "12 percent of internet users say they have downloaded a podcast so they can listen to it or view it at a later time. However, few internet users are downloading podcasts with great frequency; only 1 percent report downloading a podcast on a typical day." If that's an explosion, it's a pretty quiet one. As I said in my last column, tactics like podcasting are over-hyped and not yet ready for primetime. Stay focused on what works.
"Mobile carriers will adopt new ad models to boost revenue beyond usage"
Let's just say that at this point, they are still trying to do so. At the end of 2006 the jury is still out on whether an ad-based subscription-free content model will become popular on cell phones. While this is definitely the direction of things on the internet (see AOL's decision to drop its subscription model if you need any more evidence of this), the future is not entirely clear with regards to mobile content. There remain many barriers in the mobile world, starting with technology, before widespread advertising-supported content will be possible.
"Broadband use will continue to expand"
Was this "no brainer" prediction for anyone to make? Probably. US broadband penetration among active internet users broke 75 percent in September 2006, according to websiteoptimization.com. Faster connection speeds and dropping prices are the drivers of this continued growth, with the user-generated content generation at the forefront. The pricing wars between the telcos and the cable companies have dropped broadband prices in some markets to near dial-up levels. Makes you wonder who is still using dial-up…
"Video explodes online"
"Explode" was clearly a popular word when making predictions for this year! Some of the more breathless speculation claimed that movies would be launched online, or TV shows would be online-only. We didn't see any of that happen. Nevertheless, the popularity of YouTube and similar sites does point to the growing popularity of video content distributed online (even if it is consumer-generated for the most part). For marketers, it should be noted that, according to eMarketer, spending on online video advertising will have reached $410 million in 2006, 82 percent more than was spent in 2005. (Gotta love broadband!) But on the other hand, the runaway growth of online video begs the question of whether it has become a victim of its own success; with so much online video, how can marketers expect to stand out from the clutter?
"Email Will Flourish"
Certainly email marketing continued to grow as a tactic among digital marketers in 2006, though it continues to be lacking in respect since many marketers remain determined to send emails to as many people as possible for the lowest possible CPM. In 2006, the world of email marketing began to see a widening divide between the companies that "get it" and those that don't. The companies that do get it spent time and money this past year developing better segmentation of their lists, resulting in more targeted offers. They also focused their energy on growing their list of opt-ins using co-registration, search marketing and online advertising. So I guess the answer to this last predication is that email is flourishing at some companies, while it continues to flounder at others.
All in all, I'd say that most predications for 2006 (these 5 and the 20-30 that I didn't use) fell somewhat short of being accurate. Sometimes that was due to overly aggressive estimates of technology adoption, sometimes due to the law of unintended consequences (consumers will always do what they want regardless of how you'd like them to behave), and sometimes as a result of someone being flat out wrong. But in the spirit of making predictions, I'll make one today. Be sure to make a note to check back in a year from now as to whether I was right or wrong.
Chris Marriott's 2007 Prediction:
Search will move upstream to become more involved earlier in the purchase cycle
Most marketers think of search marketing as a conversion-focused tool for prospects ready to buy. Even today, some more enlightened marketers have begun to use search to get prospects' attention during the awareness- and interest-generating phases of the purchase cycle. Consumers conduct different kinds of searches at different times. For instance, early on in the purchase cycle, consumers may search on generic terms to learn about the category. Only when they're ready to buy do they search on specific products or brands.
By buying more category-generic terms (think "laptop," not "Dell"), these marketers have a chance to influence prospects at the top of the purchase funnel and thus drive them more effectively to conversion. By actively managing search terms and landing pages, search marketers can expose prospects to the brand experience and even sign them up for email for ongoing marketing touches.
I think more marketers will adopt this kind of thinking in 2007 as the fight to win the consumers' attention grows more intense.
Chris Marriott is vice president and GM, Eastern Region, Acxiom Digital. Read full bio.