Trendsploding in 2012
Trendspotting is the mother's milk of digital marketing punditry. If I had a dime for every "top 10 tech trends of [insert year]" article I've ever read, well, I'd just have a large pile of dimes, and if I had a dime for every one I've written, I'd have at least 30 cents.
We marketers love us some top 10 trend lists for two highly scientific reasons: People love lists, and people hate to miss out on stuff. Also, we tend to think 10 is a good number, thanks to the ancient Hindus, who invented the 10-based numerical system. If the Babylonians had prevailed instead, with their 60-based numerical system, you'd be forced to read a lot of "Top 60 Tech Trends of 2012" articles, and you'd lose your job because you spent your marketing budget on too many failed experiments. On the other hand, iMedia would make a lot more ad revenue. So there are trade-offs in everything, which the ancient Hindus also knew.
But I feel we marketing pundits have had a free ride with our top 10 lists: Nobody holds us accountable for the predictions that didn't come true last year, because we're all too busy reading next year's top 10 lists. So in the spirit of restoring balance to the punditry universe, I propose the following rule: For every ounce of trendspotting we engage in, we have to provide an ounce of trendsploding -- a word I just made up that MS Word doesn't like any better than "trendspotting" -- the act of exploding the myth of trend predictions that are unlikely to come true.
Everybody agreed? OK, as long as we're passing around a plate of crow, I will take the first bite, by identifying the top 10 tech trends that you can ignore in 2012.
Trendsplosion 1: Kinect for marketers
I've got a big mouthful of crow on this one, because I predicted not once but twice that Kinect would open up a virtual world of new marketing opportunities in 2011. I should have known better as soon as I was forced to grip a virtual steering wheel and pretend to drive as though I'd just been hauled onstage at an improv show. The only thing people hate worse than mimes is miming.
The relative crudeness of such interactions may be why Microsoft held the SDK close to its brawny chest until the recent announcement of Kinect for Windows, which is said to vastly improve on gesture recognition, especially at close distances. This should, in turn, herald the eventual arrival of all sorts of cool commercial applications, assuming consumers are willing to fork over another $250 for the Windows version.
I still think Kinect represents the first, best chance to bridge the digital and physical words with gesture-based interaction, which is a huge boon for marketers and, of course, for Microsoft...But it ain't gonna happen in 2012.
Trendsplosion 2: iPad 3
I realize I risk the ire of fan boys everywhere with this one, but please. Such is the nature of Apple fandom that entire reviews are devoted to a lackluster feature upgrade -- its high pixel density or "Retinal Display." This puzzling label must refer to the fact that improved image quality is best enjoyed when the tablet is held four inches from your face, so that the image is seared onto your retinas.
I give full faith and credit to Apple for creating the tablet category, but it's high time marketers started thinking about "tablets" as a category and stop treating every iteration of the iPad as a sacred tablet brought down from the mountaintop. Amazon's bargain-priced Kindle Fire effectively allowed tablet computing to reach critical mass by doubling the number of tableteers in a single month, and other Android-based tablets are quickly gaining ground, so let's spread the love a little: If you're developing applications for the iPad, there's no longer any excuse for ignoring Android.
Trendsplosion 3: Marketers' guides to Pinterest
Now to be clear, I think Pinterest is the most inspiring thing to happen to marketing since the second martini. But in perusing the "marketing guides to Pinterest" published in the last week, I lost count after thirty. So I think we've got it covered for now. And yes, I am once again aware of the irony of criticizing marketing punditry, and I'll even cop to the fact that I briefly considered writing a guide to Pinterest in lieu of this article. But when did we start needing so much help in order to start exploring new ground? Did Erik the Red need to read "5 ways to convince people to live on an ice-covered rock" before persuading the Vikings to settle Greenland? Hell, no. He couldn't read anyway.
Pinterest should also be treated as new territory for brands to explore, not a set of protocols that guarantee success. The brief history of social media abounds with cautionary tales of brands that got a little over-exuberant and broke faith with consumers, so let's take it slow this time. The best Pinterest guides I've read advise brands to simply go native: Find stuff you like, share it, get to know the local customs, and you'll eventually find your tribe. Then you can start pillaging. (Kidding -- no pillaging.)
Trendsplosion 4: Angry Birds merchandising
I admit to having hurled many an angry bird in my day, thus making a personal contribution to the somehow alarming statistic that more birds have been hurled than there are actual, living birds on our non-virtual planet. We really need to get out more. But my gripe is not with the delightfully ballistic birds themselves; it is with the over-merchandising of this fine-feathered trend that we have truly jumped the pig.
I credit my pal Lara Haehle with alerting me to this phenomenon, but I should have been clued in when my son received not one but two Angry Birds t-shirts for Christmas. Then there was the Angry Birds cookbook, which at least has a nice morbid twinge to it, and now Angry Birds on the Space Needle, which comes right on the heels of the news that Roget's Thesaurus will be renamed "Words with Synonyms."
As someone old enough to remember the song "Pac Man Fever" on Top 40 radio, take it from me: Letting your freak flag fly on your love of a videogame gets real embarrassing, real fast.
Trendsplosion 5: No touching
Touch screen smartphones and tablets changed the world, right? Well, yes, but it seems that not everyone is ready for a ride in the horseless carriage, because ugly hybrids of keyboard and touch screens continue to make the rounds of annual technology roundup lists. And now it appears that even the loathsome stylus has failed to disappear into the attic along with the Palm Pilot on which I last made a note of an upcoming Counting Crows concert.
C'mon, folks, it's time to give up the pork chop-thick keyboard smartphones and get on board with touchscreens. Touch interfaces are simply a natural evolution of human-computer interaction, and as the nuns in parochial school warned me repeatedly, once you start touching, it's hard to stop. But you say you can't type as fast on a touchscreen? Don't make me get all data-driven on you thumb-typists out there: Studies show that physical keyboards don't make a difference. Yeah, we all suck at smartphone-typing, but we'll get better, thanks to the dexterity we're developing through Angry Birds.
Trendsplosion 6: Facebook "likes"
Marketers spend an inordinate amount of time reminding each other that Facebook "likes" from consumers don't really matter, which is roughly the same exercise as convincing your mom that calling her on her birthday rather than sending a gift doesn't mean you love her any less. It may be true, but hey, a metric's a metric.
What is demonstrably true is that you should expend a lot more effort taking care of the select fans who truly like you than chasing after the ones who may just "like" you for your sweepstakes entry or 10 percent discount. But just as we're getting self-disciplined about playing it cool and not acting all needy with our customers, Facebook Timeline for Pages comes along and throws us in a tizzy, causing us to produce contradictory studies on its impact on the very same metric that we've all agreed to stop caring about. This is especially obnoxious to me, because I missed the window to release my own contradictory study. Now I'll have to search-and-replace "likes" with "re-pins."
Trendsplosion 7: Having a branded app for that
Having long been a loudmouthed proponent of prioritizing mobile sites over branded apps, I thought I might be in for another plate of crow when Flurry Analytics released a study showing that in 2011, smartphone users' time spent on apps exceeded their time spent on the mobile web for the first time ever.
But does this trend indicate an overall preference for apps over the mobile web? It does not. A whopping 80 percent of that app time was spent on gaming and the Facebook app, and the rest of the time was, sorry to say, not spent on your app. A separate study by Deloitte found that 80 percent of branded apps are downloaded fewer than 1000 times, which is not a piece of ROI analysis I'd enjoy presenting to a CMO. Branded mobile apps belong to a narrow but important set of use cases, based on activities your loyal customers engage in again and again.
Trendsplosion 8: 3DTV
When I was at CES last year, 3DTV was all the rage, and at CES, "all the rage" means that showgoers are more likely to make complete asses of themselves jockeying for space in order to check it out. Lady Gaga was also all the rage.
But the rage is dying, and we're left wondering whether it's because sitting down to watch "19 and Counting" is already embarrassing enough without having to don those goofy glasses. With normal TV, you can always claim you were "just flipping through the channels." Once you put on the glasses, it's pretty clear you're watching in earnest. And therein lies the problem: Right now, most 3D sucks, and most TV sucks. At least one of them will need to get better in order for this trend to come around again in 2013.
Trendsplosion 9: Social media exhaustion
It is periodically necessary to declare social media fatigued, exhausted, or dead, in the manner of Keith Richards decrying the decline of rock 'n roll, so that people don't simply accept that it's become part the natural order of things, which is in fact the case. The flattening out of Facebook enrollment or passive use of Twitter are not signs of social media's decline, but rather of its maturity.
Despite the headlines, social media has never been about the success of its most prominent commercial platforms; it's about a fundamental change in the way users consume and share content online, which includes but is not limited to their interactions with brands. Today no retail site worth its salt fails to include consumer reviews, no media site fails to showcase commenting and sharing, and no consumer hits a new restaurant without first reading about how a waiter there failed to take somebody's drink order for like 10 minutes, and never even apologized or anything. Social media in its mature phase is much tougher to manage, but that's why we have top 10 trend lists.
Trendsplosion 10: Top tech trends lists
I said at the beginning that nobody ever goes back to read the previous year's top tech trend lists, but for the sake of this article, I did. What I found was that the top trends for 2011 mostly overlapped with 2012: Tablets, geosocial applications, cloud computing, gesture recognition, internet everywhere, etc. That's not a lack of insight on the part of digital pundits; it's a simple problem of regression toward the mean. In the vast universe of technical innovation occurring at an accelerated rate, we naturally tend to pick out the meta-trends that are taking place over longer periods of time. And since we spend a lot of time listening to each other, our opinions tend to coalesce around those trends.
My point is that if we pay too much attention to the coalesced opinions of our digital marketing brethren we may miss out on the chance to experiment on some really great stuff. If one were to use Rotten Tomatoes' coalesced opinions as a guide to which movies to see before you die, for instance, you would not miss out on the hearty bantering of Buzz and Woody in "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" (ranked at No. 4 and No. 2, respectively, of the Top 100 Movies of All Time,) but you might not ever make it to the famous staircase scene in "The Battleship Potemkin," ranked at No. 48. In the same way, most top tech trend lists for 2012 make no mention of Pinterest or Instagram, but smart marketers are already there. While we pundits are busy writing the guides.
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Slideshow images: "Kinect night" image via Andre Um. "Angry bird plush toy" image via Stephen Hynds. "Kiev Ukraine" image, "Close up fire" image, "Photo of male hand" image, "Hand-shaped "like" symbol" image, "Many application" image, "Scared movie spectators" image, "Tired man sleeping" image, "Word cloud tags" image, and "Top ten red and yellow" image via Shutterstock.