iMedia Connection

What marketers should ponder this year

Rebecca Lieb

It's one thing to offer predictions in the New Year. While predictions can be fascinating, let's face it. No one is in possession of a crystal ball, and digital marketing and technology both move way too fast and too erratically to do much more than keep us guessing (not that that isn't half the fun).

Rather than play a what's next guessing game, a more important question is "what's important?" A focus on key digital trends, coupled with a new year's resolution both to follow them and continually educate oneself on developments in key areas of the industry can prove far more fruitful than guessing games.

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These are 10 areas I plan to keep a close eye on in 2012. What would you add -- or subtract -- from this list?

Semantic web
You've heard the term, but do you really understand its meaning, and the implications it might have for how digital information is found, organized, processed, tagged, and interpreted? According to Wikipedia, "The main purpose of the Semantic Web is driving the evolution of the current web by enabling users to find, share, and combine information more easily." The protocols, standards, and structures used and being developed to shape and connect "the web of data" are still emerging, but will be instrumental in shaping not only the semantic web, but the internet's next generation. How can you afford not to watch this space?

Personalized search
While the concept is certainly nothing new (search has become increasingly more personal over the years), more personalization means bigger challenges in search advertising and SEO. In other words, your search results differ significantly from my search results, and this trend will only increase. Location, time of day, social graphs, search history -- a zillion factors figure in to what search results are displayed, and as a result, what ads and data appear in your browser. To remain relevant and visible, marketers must stay on top of this continually moving target.

Social media fatigue
Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Foursquare, Pinterest, LinkedIn. The list of social media and social networking sites is growing on a seemingly daily basis. Just as consumers never watched all of the 200 or so cable channels bundled into their subscription packages, there's only so many hours in the day to update where you are, what you're doing, what you're watching and eating, and with whom. This space seems primed to shake out, doesn't it? The saturation point. How will consumer behavior and adoption change, and how fast can new social plays keep launching?

Big data
Collecting, crunching, and making actionable data from disparate on and offline sources will require significant investments in technology, manpower, and learning for companies. Big data is all the buzz, yet many marketers still don't know precisely what it is. Everyone needs to bone up on this topic in 2012.

Real-time marketing
Top consumer brands, notably Pepsi, are starting to take this topic very seriously, and even some B2B giants such as GE are looking at the space. Monitoring, assessing, triaging, assigning, and responding to real-time conversations, events, posts, tweets, and other digital information increasingly matters. And like big data, the challenges and resources it requires are formidable. A fascinating area to keep an eye on.

Regulated industries
It's fascinating to watch highly regulated industries, such as pharma and banking, attempt to embrace digital marketing in general, and social media in particular. They face formidable barriers and more interesting challenges than most. I'm hoping to speak with more marketers from regulated sectors to learn more about how they're coping.

Internet of things
When everything has an IP address, everything gets a lot more interesting. Once devices, from cars to refrigerators and the dog's food bowl, are connected, the implications for marketing, communication, and even society will take surprise turns. This space is quite simply mesmerizing.

Effects of social movements
Occupy Wall Street fallout, the presidential election in the U.S., societal shifts in the Middle East. Social change resonates in digital channels (and vice versa). It's going to be a big year for social change, and that will inevitably impact digital.

What's starting up?
As always, I'll be keeping a close eye on start-ups. What's launching trend-wise? Who's getting funded? Who isn't? Following the money and the technology is not optional. It's integral to intelligently watching this space.

Content marketing
Keep a close eye on how marketers are moving into content. This requires a rebalance of thought processes (ongoing, not episodic, campaign-based thinking), as well as new budgets, agency relationships, and staffing requirements -- not to mention a shift in corporate culture.

Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, digital advertising/media, for Altimeter Group.

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