The long lauded, awaited era of digital convergence is here. In 2009, we find ourselves awash in mobile APPs, text and instant messaging capabilities, and interactive community portals that enable virtual affiliations of like-mindedness. Ideas like voice activation — a concept that was an awe-inspiring representation of “the future” just a few years ago — are already fixed in the consumer mind and lifestyle stream through products like the iPhone 3G S.
The technologically revolution has left marketers, researchers, agency and traditional media executives scrambling to better understand the relevance of these new tools, how their industries will be affected, and what the future will hold (considering the blistering pace of new developments, let’s call this 2010 for the sake of easy definition).
In that spirit, I’ve attempted to aggregate some of the observations, ideas and expectations of peers in both the professional consulting and agency side, as well as client side, and I humbly offer those insights:
Based on my experiences with several dozen client organizations, I think we can continue to see what I’d call a further fragmentation of the web – into more segmentation of audiences and specific “campaign microsites” that offer custom-tailored content. There will be more URLs and flagship corporate websites, of course, but an even greater proliferation of microsites embedded within the established organizational websites — along with print campaigns and broadcasts designed to promote those interactive venues.
We’ll see more touchpoints, a growing explosion in channels and media outlets for consumers, including mobile. I think the App market will continue to grow, but that growth will depend on how well companies like Palm, RIM, Nokia and Motorola and introduce those APPs and APP developers to their devices and customers, and how user-friendly they can make the integration of that technology. All manufacturers will continue to refine their products and replicate the success of the iPhone, which is, of course, the smartphone category leader.
The End of Print?
Print should never be omitted as part of any integrated marketing program because it’s a critical component of any marketing plan, but we have measured this and seen that print products are diminishing fairly significantly in page count and quantity since 2000. That trend was adopted early by media companies that we served in the 1990’s, and it continues with the late adopters as well.
Many of our private foundation clients have incrementally trimmed 8-12 pages each year from their cornerstone marketing or fundraising tools, like mission brochures or educational brochures and annual reports, choosing to place the additional, non-critical content online.
The fact is that non-printed marketing achieves three highly desirable objectives: a) it’s far less expensive; b) it’s measurable; and c) it’s faster to market, and quickly updated. Having stated that, I continue to see the erroneous perception that print can be eliminated when in fact, it is required as a key component of any integrated marketing program in order to build recognition and usage of the interactive tool.
The other interesting observation about print marketing and communications is that generally, our clients are doing far fewer “big print initiatives.” Print is being used to promote a URL or microsite campaign, so we’re seeing a tremendous increase in “large run, small scale print products.” This trend seems to be driven by the age-old mantra of Madison Avenue: Get more eyeballs on the message. That means getting more eyeballs on the website or desired, integrated flagship marketing tool, so it still requires ink on paper. It’s just that clients are choosing more impressions of the print medium and distributing them in a way that is more fleeting, and they pay less attention to the actual quality of the printed piece, since it’s simply a driver to send the end user to another source. The print marketing tool is no longer image driven, so much as it is “message driven.” And more often than not the key message is “Text ‘X’ to ‘shortcode’ or ‘Visit www.x.com.’ ” This is not true of all communications like core image-building tools (annual reports, etc.) but it is true of a vast majority of marketing initiatives.
More Work, Less Time
Unfortunately, the increase in channels, social media, and ways to reach the consumer have not been met by an increase in staff for our clients, nor has an increase in budget been realized — so the quality of the tools will suffer. As we watch more touchpoints created, and subsequently more time and work required to fill those touchpoints with relevant content, I think we’ll see a lack of quality marketing and communications by media companies and non-traditional media companies, who are working with an outdated, strained staff model while trying to manage a confusing mix of multi-channel marketing.
Challenges With the Coordination of Messages and Audiences
Similarly, we’re seeing a general trend among many clients to cross pollinate their messages. In the case of one large, nonprofit, health care client, an existing staff of 8-10 marketers were mixing messages and beginning to lose sight of their audiences and constituent needs. A marketing management team that was considered adequate — or even astute and on-target with their work and goals 3 years ago — had become overwhelmed with the myriad of new social media channels and increase in print and interactive tools. Internal tools began to carry external messages; external tools began to carry advocacy messages or otherwise, irrelevant content; and the style and tone was not distinguishable between print and interactive copy — which is, of course, an important distinction.
In short, they were able to allocate less time in order to accomplish more. They lost focus on the driver for all communications, which is the audience and key message or desired result/takeaway. This is one of the most significant trends that I see in marketing operations with our clients. I’ve heard this complaint or witnessed the undesirable results to some degree of severity in almost every client situation.
We recommend message-mapping — and exercise which allows the client team and our team to define and analyze the list of a) potential audiences, b) potential messages or key “take-away,” and c) the potential channels and tools designed to reach those audiences. A simple exercise can then create an effective master road map that guides all the ways to best reach specific member/audience segments.
Future of Online Research
Research ultimately may be the area most dramatically affected by the new technologies and social media outlets. The research industry will need to change significantly as advertising and traditional media business models are reinvented. Research executives are now focused not only on ways to data-mine information for their clients, but they are equally in need of ways to interpret and analyze the enormous amounts of data.
The new research companies that focus on measuring the benefits of social media and interactive marketing will continue to grow and flourish. There will be a massive amount of information generated and sold to organizations — who subsequently may have a difficult time putting any of it into real, tangible, beneficial action, simply because of the overload of information and lack of time to execute existing strategies. Media companies will measure social media to better understand things like the “personal passions” of their audiences, which will in best-practice cases, better inform their future decisions on content and programming.
The rapid rise of social media has left the research community with an abundance of channels and ways to understand purchasing decisions and customer needs or interests. This aggregation of collective consumer mindset is a bountiful gift to any corporate marketer, but it will take time to develop and refine the tools to manage and deliver clear, actionable information to marketers.
Websites like surveymonkey.com are changing the landscape for all research companies. This emphasis on quantitative research, and the immediacy and cost-effectiveness of self-generated, real-time customer feedback is a new concept. Similarly, user-generated content and microsites where customers can openly comment on a product or service is giving marketers an enviable window into the needs and desires of their audiences like never before. It has empowered corporate marketers and it will be interesting to see what it does to the research industry as a whole, not to mention qualitative research practices like focus groups and mall intercept.
Sustainability of Social Media
Social media will continue to see further fracturing or fragmentation of audience passions and needs, and no doubt there will be a growing trend in M&A’s among smart, effective companies that are earning market share. Niche communities are already forming around professional associations and other, like-minded affinities.
An inevitable “shakeout” would seem obvious in the coming year or so, as some of these new media portals do not realize the growth they aspired or anticipated. The big concern and challenge is in finding ways to monetize the business model; Twitter has raised over $50 million in private equity, but has never yielded one penny of revenue. That said, corporations love the opportunity to create a presence on these sites with little or no costs. But as an enduring business model, it’s a precarious proposition.
The executive management leading those organizations as well as their Boards will continue to explore ways to monetize this new medium. This may be achieved through subscription based revenues, advertising sales, or through the sale of proprietary research data that may not necessarily violate personal or member-privacy terms. In fact, for many social media properties like Twitter, this latter option may be the most viable. Sophisticated segmentation and analysis of customer data can lead to critical information about trends and consumer preferences that are far more effective than any futurist or trendwatcher’s predictions. It’s a valuable business proposition and if it can be accomplished without the violation of privacy terms, it will be successful.
The New Consumer Expectation: Anytime, Anywhere
Finally, the anytime, anywhere trend will continue. Media companies like The New York Times, Time Inc., and Hearst have, and are, unfortunately seeing the challenges earlier than traditional marketers. Consumers are becoming accustomed to having the information they want, whenever they want it, however they choose to receive it. This new development in consumer behavior will only drive technology to find further developments that meet the market demand.
Smart phones are here to stay, and with new features introduced to the market every few weeks, an inevitable evolution of the new integrated device will lead us all into a new age of usability. Traditional CPU’s will not become extinct, certainly, but their role will be far less important. I predict that the smart phone WAP site or APP will soon become for every communicator and every marketer, the flagship corporate touchpoint, with perhaps hundreds of other extensions of the brand image stemming from that primary consumer experience.