We are back to business, and 2007 came in like a freight train hopped up on a triple shot mocha cappuccino. The big predictions for what's hot and what's not are popping up all over the web, with social media, video, and media auctions at the top of the list.
Returning to the daily grind is never easy after such a splendid holiday. Yours truly took an inadvertent tour of Europe via rail as Heathrow airport shut down for a few days over the Christmas break. An unexpected journey could have been a theme for 2006, but 2007 is fixing to be different sort of trip.
The pieces are in place, the vehicles are in motion, and the course has been plotted for interactive marketing this year. Let's take a look around the web to see what we can expect in 2007.
1. Social video and the brand
Who's in charge here? The people have spoken, and they continue to sound off.
We can expect more convergence as brands struggle to make a consumer connection without appearing like a stuffed shirt corporate beaurocrat. In 2006, brands suffered the indignity of various experiments in social media. By the end of 2006, with winners like "Mentos and Diet Coke" by Eepybird, we were forced to analyze and dissect the recent YouTube Hitmakers study.
Of over 2000 YouTube visitors surveyed, 75 percent said would rather watch YouTube than television, and 63 percent felt they were part of a community when visiting YouTube.
We can expect big moves in 2007-- like Google taking full advantage of YouTube's popularity and "smart" episodic advertising that looks and feels like user-generated content.
2. Media buying transmogrification?
Search has led the transition away from traditional media models, and the auction system is threatening to take over the world. Or is it? The much-hyped auction model was successful for search, but the old ways still remain strong.
The existing media buying infrastructure hasn't moved much. While companies like Mediabids.com (newspaper and magazine), Bid4Spots.com (radio) and others have moved the buying model forward, most focus on remnant inventory. The big move we can expect will be from Google's dMarc (radio) and the continued push forward of display auction sales from Google.
Most of the auction-based push is coming from the irascible (with love, of course) search marketers. While the auction model will grow in 2007, I doubt very much it will live up to the hype.
3. Consumers take more control
Consumers are in control. No one can doubt that. Blogs are all the rage, and for the first time ever Hitwise reported that the Google Blogs outpaced even Technorati.
The research firm, Compete, identified key areas of influence in late 2006, and an alarming piece of information emerged. Consumers are more likely to be influenced by user-generated content than by typical brand messaging.
User-generated content has taken many forms like video and podcasts, but blogs are the way of the web. For the first time in recent history, consumers have taken back control of their purchasing experience, and brands have been forced to sit up and take notice. Decades of disastrous customer service frustration have opened the door to consumer control.
In other words, the internet has given everyone a voice, and people have chosen to use that voice to complain about products and services.
Of course, the entry point for many information seekers is still search, and 2007 will show us a continued focus on facilitating the interaction through aggressive optimization tactics.
4. The only good search is big search
MSN, Yahoo and Google-- my how the search world hasn't changed in recent years. Google dominates, Yahoo has a run of bad luck and the state of the industry is in flux. Also-rans like IAC's Ask.com continue to make strides forward, but all eyes are on the big three.
Google continues to head in new directions with video, while Yahoo is having huge fun with its portal experience, but everyone wants to know what MSN is up to. Search volume drives advertising revenue at the end of the day, and while the big two are in charge, lucky number three continues to struggle.
Lest we forget, Microsoft dominates the world of interaction on the software side of the house, and efforts to unseat them have been lackluster. Meanwhile, back at the search ranch word on the street has the software giant looking to acquisition to bump up the numbers. Who will the lucky candidate be? Yahoo or IAC?
5. The big bang theory-- social search grows up
The next evolution of ranking methodologies (the process of determining which site is most relevant for the phrase "hotels in Amsterdam") is set to pop in 2007. The intermingled and often misunderstood relationship between search and social media will see profound growth in 2007.
The biggest benefit of social search is the creation and subsequent use of community-focused content ranking systems. However, tired popularity-based ranking can be a thing of the past, thereby reducing search engine spam. Fluff content (created exclusively for search engines) remains a very large problem in spite of rumors floating around the web about Google's next big search project, a spam killer.
Rollyo, Feedster, Grokker, among others, are creating a new and customized search experience using like-minded individuals. Ultimately, I predict that these technologies will be purchased and adopted by major players, and a new search world will be created.
6. The joy of shopping and vertical search
The inherent inefficiency of directive search has created and opportunity for vertical search sites. You can find everything from retail shopping aggregators to travel sites. The relationship between vertical and shopping search and directive search is an unhappy one.
Searchers bounce between comparison shopping destinations and retail sites with such frequency that identifying a purchase path can be a problem. Vertical search sites also have something of an unhappy relationship with ultimate purchase destinations, particularly in the travel category.
The few remaining independent shopping classifieds (beyond Google's Froogle and Yahoo Shopping, et cetera) possess technology that can benefit the user but are significantly lacking in support services. This year, surviving shopping and vertical search technologies will become more consumer service centric, thereby creating a better destination for searchers and cultivating their loyalty.
7. The big bang theory part 2-- search consolidation continues
Acquisitions in the search engine marketing agency world continue to delight and entertain the world of directive influence marketing. They haven't gotten as much press of late, but consolidations in the space continue.
As more marketers adopt an integrated approach, the divide between search specialist and one-stop will grow. There will always be a need for search specialists (as there is a need for all types of specialists) but the explosive growth in search over the past few years will catch up with many of the specialists.
Agency holding companies along with large and medium size independents will continue to acquire or create "search department band aids" to appear savvy to clients. Hundreds of specialized firms will shrink to dozens, and the few remaining experts will compete in a much less crowded (but far less exciting) search engine marketing services universe.
Kevin Ryan is the Chief Executive Officer of Kinetic Results. Read full bio.