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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Interactive Strategies That Will Flourish (or Flop)

Brought to you by Daniel Flamberg

The dawn of a new year is an opportunity to look ahead and guess what will happen next. Some of these predictions just might catch you by surprise. Others might seem obvious, and some reflect my own perspective or pet peeves.

These 16 predictions are offered with wishes for happiness and health in 2010. (Thanks to Sherie Anderson who helped with research and front line analysis.)

The recession won't go away
2010 will be as financially challenging as 2009. Credit and employment will be tight. Every expense will be scrutinized and delayed if possible. Temps will trump full-time players, and everyone in every sector will be looking for a deal. Downward price pressure, enforced by bean counters eager to save their own jobs, will rule the marketing sector and probably the entire economy. Emphasis on new customer acquisition will change slightly to retention because it's cheaper and has a much greater ROI impact, though since so few marketers are good at retention, expect more propaganda than productivity.

Traditional big ad spenders -- banks, automotive, retail, airlines, and CPG -- will spend cautiously, flap their lips about CRM, experiment with social media, and find a hundred new ways to package and promote discounts and deals. B2B marketers will hunker down and stick to stuff that works with an occasional foray into social or mobile media to establish bragging rights behind a steady beat of plain vanilla efforts on the CRM front.

Facebook will flourish or flounder
Everything turns on the network's ability to maintain momentum, avoid more ham-fisted privacy flaps, and show marketers how to engage and interact with members in ways that don't feel like advertising. MySpace, with 70 million users, and Friendster have considerable reach and assets even though they've been eclipsed by Facebook's fast march and PR blitz. But frankly, no one really knows why Facebook has stormed ahead and in the absence of a sustainable formula, that growth and popularity could disappear as quickly as it come about. There are no doubts that Murdock's minions and many others are gunning to get back in the game, not to mention non-U.S. communities and vertical communities that have begun to show substantial growth.

Look for a horse race in terms of new applications, new features, or new functions and new ways to integrate or manage Facebook and other social media accounts into common work and life flows. People want to participate but are having difficulty managing different accounts or dealing with the time suck that social media has quickly become. A bunch of tools, possibly modeled after TweetDeck, will emerge to organize, manage, and connect different social media applications. Along with the tools, expect best practices to evolve for linking your profiles and friendships to achieve specific goals like finding a job, finding a love partner, generating leads, or seeding vertical conversations.

More brands will use social media as standing research panels by asking questions, soliciting opinions, or conducting polls and surveys. Some gut checks and qualitative research will move online because you can gather a carefully composed crowd quickly and cheaply and can target advocates, neutrals, and competitive users easily. Expect an explosion in A/B testing and even product development testing to take place online and on social media platforms.

Social monitoring and reputation management will grow
In the same vein, everyone will license a data-mining tool like Radian6 and collect the "sentiment" in social media. Interpreting this data will be tricky because the software was built on assumptions and filters that may or may not reflect users' reality. But acquiring a tool to mine social media will be the must-have new toy among marketing and IT types in 2010.

Individuals will soon start agitating for similar tools to monitor their presence, their reputations, and their vulnerabilities online. Partly privacy or security driven and partly vanity driven, people are beginning to understand and worry about how they are presented and/or exposed online. The combination of identity theft and phishing threats plus the need to present an appropriate image to potential employers and/or partners will create a need to check what's online, align what is searchable with who you want to be, and fix or delete the stuff you are unhappy with.

Passionate connections will rule
The explosion of social media reveals an underlying psychological reality -- people want to believe, want to belong, and want to be connected. We are social creatures, and we want to believe that our lives have meaning, that our actions matter, and that we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves. Brands that understand this articulated need and can respond to it or channel it will attract followers, fans, advocates, and customers. Brands who can speak passionately about things customers care about can do amazing things.

Marketers will refine applications for social media
Fans sign up to get deals according to the Razorfish FEED analysis. What isn't clear is exactly how brands can enter the conversation and display their wares without offending the sensibility of "friends" and others seeking just to connect and communicate. People don't click on the ads in social networks, and they resent brand messages that are artificially shoehorned into their conversation streams. There have to be ways to do it beyond offering to turn on new friends to a discount, but few have been reported.

Beyond collecting friends, the value of conversations for intelligence gathering, creating content, or managing customer service issues is still in its infancy. About 95 out of 100 Twitter members never tweet. Looking at pictures seems to be the most popular online activity. And we are beginning to understand dramatic differences in web and social media usage by gender. Social media is as much about voyeurism and feeling part of things as it is about actual participation. Marketers will use all these trends as launching points for campaigns next year.

Brands will experiment across social media platforms. Some will create major gaffes. Others will generate viral attention that just might pay off in terms of awareness, preference, or sell through. Now that the social channel has been firmly established, marketers are eager to understand to whom it connects them and how to use it to achieve business results. The social network that helps brands figure this out and builds creative guidelines and media packages that agencies and clients can understand and sell up the food chain will win massive cash investments.

Apps will shake out
There are 100,000+ smartphone apps. Most are novelties or crap. Those with scalability, utility, and genuine value will be talked about and heavily downloaded. The rest will rot. Given the large number of developers and easy accessibility to APIs, look for a steady stream of ideas that range from even more varied and refined fart sounds to very useful personal utilities to emerge as winners.

Brands will create endless numbers of apps seeking either first mover advantage or virility. Both will be very hard to achieve. Very few people have sustained needs for single brand or product applications, so look for mash-ups and aggregations to appear to super-serve vertical needs. Imagine a single app with all the known diabetes drugs on it or an app that searches the net for all the shoes in your size reflecting your style and price preferences.

Mobile media will putter along
Strangled by the technology, policies, and pricing of the big telecommunications carriers, mobile media will not break out in 2010. Instead, a few more brands will attempt to manage the Rube Goldberg-like configurations necessary to mount a mobile campaign that connects online and offline media and/or distributes coupons or discount codes.

At this point, mobile media is too much effort for too little pay-off for both marketers and consumers. Look for lifestyle brands to try the hardest, but don't expect inter-carrier compatibility, micro-payments, location-based campaigns, trigger promotions, live event interactions, or other phone-based utilities to come into being at any scale in the next 365 days.

We will feel the need for speed
The web has gone mobile, and increased smartphone penetration will create monstrous demand for mobile bandwidth. WiMax and other bandwidth solutions will soar as we demand more, faster access to sites on the go. This will also require more memory, more agile devices, and will require marketers to optimize sites for mobile access and usage. I'd invest in mobile-enabling software because 2010 will see a great shift from static sites to those configured and designed for mobile use. In a year no one will look at sites that break up, look bad, or load unevenly on iPhones, Blackberrys, or Droids. Everyone will expect to view videos, listen to music, and quickly search and download data from everywhere.

Search will get more specific
As people demand specific answers, not just websites, search will become more refined even as it expands to include video, images, and social media postings. Anticipate that vertical search engines will begin to deliver faster, more accurate results that begin to challenge Google and siphon off search dollars in selected industries. Look for advances in data mining and in the way search engines process huge volumes of information. AI and natural language advances will begin to make themselves known, though the hype will continue to outpace the results. Keep your eye on Wolfram Alpha, which is breaking new ground and lighting a fire under search experts in many ways. Don't be surprised if someone emerges out of nowhere with a completely different approach to generating search results that turns the market on its head.

Analytics and integration will be endlessly discussed
But no real progress will be made because both topics are directly related to organizational design and politics. Both topics are intensely threatening to the status quo. These topics are perennial strawmen for all manner of gurus, executives, and advertising specialists to debate. In reality, there is little real appetite for attacking either subject among marketers or ad agencies, though both devote massive amounts of lip service to the cause. 2010 will produce some new products and some new evangelists -- another round of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Email is old reliable
Email continues to reign as the most accepted and effective digital marketing medium. Privacy, opt-in, deliverability, formatting, and creative best practices have bred widespread consumer acceptance accompanied by decent sustained click-through rates and purchase ratios. Widely understood and widely used, there is research indicating that heavy social media users are equally heavy email users, even though social media has begun to replace email for personal communications among some (mostly younger) consumer segments. Email opt-ins routinely grow, as do the full range of responses and interactions from consumers. Email lists are becoming more available and easier to merge/purge or match back. Expect the email barrage to continue with increasingly sophisticated segmentation and personalization.

Grab your video camera
Video is the meme of choice online. It seems that everyone has and uses a video camera to upload all kinds of content online. In 2010, if you can't be found on YouTube and its competitors, you will be invisible. Look for considerable competition among sites vying to rank second. Watch vertical video sites attempt to increase their visibility, if not their utility or viewership. Video will move between and among channels. A YouTube video can easily appear on TMZ or Access Hollywood, and vice versa. News organizations and reality shows will mine online video routinely.

Also look for new ways to emerge to tell stories in video. There appears to be a very broad tolerance for homemade videos and video with very modest production value. Videos will be shorter and better tagged. Many will be clickable, and some brands will try to create (or re-create) a branded online serial aimed at their psycho-demographic target. The Holy Grail is still the video that achieves altitude and is virally passed to zillions around the world.

Syndication trumps destination
Expect brands to seek out syndication opportunities to distribute fully produced videos and to peel off segments and share them with a wide array of sites both to intercept audiences and to improve search disposition. Content and the distribution of content will act like media luring in new customers and validating existing clients. Brands will re-purpose, de-construct and mash-up assets like videos, images, copy blocks, polls, quizzes, white papers, and others, and will seek out venues to distribute them elsewhere on the web with link-backs to corporate and branded sites. This tactic will simultaneously increase the trolling area for prospects and customers and positively affect natural search results.

Get in the search game
Natural search has nothing on "Dungeons & Dragons" or "World of Warcraft" for mystery, suspense, competitiveness, and unpredictability. In fact, the best practitioners are the same guys. Search is the most intriguing marketing game by far where brand strategy meets technical prowess influenced by intuition and aggression.

The semantic web, policed by Google, is still the Wild West, where fortunes are made and lost in a nanosecond and where skillful manipulation rules the day. But the business impact of search is not frivolous. Given the widespread use of search and its relationship to brand awareness, preference, and purchase, mastering the semantic arts, understanding the need for careful tagging, and operationalizing the "taxonomy is destiny" mantra are critical goals for every brand.

Brands demand orchestration
Going to market is no longer a matter of crafting messages and buying media. Brands need to craft communications strategies that take into account the channels, the media, and the target mentality. Then, they must plan, design, parse, and orchestrate the messages over time, geography, and channels in the face of competitive activity and increasing noise-to-signal ratios.

We live in an always-on 24/7 mass media culture where the number and variety of stimuli is too many to count and where everyone has set their personal filters to filter out the vast majority of messages, offers, and ideas. Technology has enabled both the flow and the filtration, so marketers have to have a keen sense of the environment and the audience mindset in order to identify, reach, engage, and persuade customers. This is an act of composition and orchestration that is fundamentally different than before and that requires a much broader view of audiences, media, and creative assets.

Deeper data dives
It is finally occurring to brand marketers that a broad range of things can be predicted with accuracy on the basis of data and behavioral modeling. The recession has forced consideration of these "black arts" heretofore practiced only by direct marketers and data wonks that have developed a science around CRM and behavioral targeting.

The types, quality, and richness of consumer and B2B data collected legally and in compliance with privacy laws is staggering. Used for good by skilled data guys, these terabytes can dramatically improve customer engagement and satisfaction. Look for more brands to try deeper data dives in 2010, yielding better business results, though the number of true believers will remain the same.

Daniel Flamberg is managing partner at Booster Rocket.

1 comment:

  1. We could only wish everyone would use Radian6 for monitoring. ;) Totally agree that monitoring and the step up to listening and engagement will not just be nice-to-have, but a must-have this year. Thank you for the shout out!

    Lauren Vargas
    Community Manager at Radian6