I was recently asked by a client to prepare a detailed, “thoughtful” analysis of where the world of digital marketing is heading. This particular client is interested in getting out ahead of its competition by laying a communications foundation today that will sustain it for years to come. Though I knew that anything my team and I came back with would be largely subjective, we were near giddy at the chance to think beyond the current month or quarter. This was blue-sky territory, and a rare opportunity.
Piecing together our thoughts, discussing and debating the merits of each topic reminded me of the famous Wayne Gretzky quote, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” The lens through which every idea was scrutinized focused on themes that have significant future growth potential; concepts that we’re really only giving lip service to today. At the end of our deliberations, we (believe we) successfully whittled down the future of digital marketing into four core themes: content, mobile, ecosystem, and big data.
There’s nothing especially novel or sexy about content. Voicing the adage that “content is king” in a room of veteran marketers is likely to induce at least a few eye rolls. But content is still an elusive topic, in practice. Not many outside of the publishing industry have really committed to content production to meet the needs of customers across most consumer and business industry verticals. And that’s precisely the trend we see emerging: leading organizations orchestrating channel-specific content across a broad swath of platforms and digital destinations.
The brand content marketer of tomorrow will more closely resemble digital publishers of today; editorial teams and production calendars will infiltrate the marketing organization.
What excites us most about the future of mobile technology isn’t the hardware or software. Rather, it’s the promise of mobility that is enabled when time and space barriers are removed. Regardless of physical location, consumers will be empowered to fluidly engage with the digital world around them.
We see more organizations embracing responsive design principles, ensuring that content and materials are presented to users in ways optimized for their particular devices. And increasing comfort with (and reliance on) “personal cloud” environments will make access to personal information ubiquitous.
The customer “buy cycle” construct is a convenient mental model for marketers. At some point a prospective customer becomes aware of our products/services, then performs due diligence to determine how well our solutions align to his needs, before negotiating the terms of a deal, and eventually buying. It’s an easily understood and linear process that assumes total objectivity and fairness on the part of the buyer.
The flaw in that mental model is that we created it for ourselves. Our customers are among the always-connected, mobile population who frame brand preferences through innumerable inputs and experiences. Rather than build communications aligned to a linear buy cycle, we envision organizations building communications ecosystems that surround key customer segments. This means building a multichannel and multimedia presence, recognizing how consumers interact with those channels and media.
The goal in all of this is to build a communications ecosystem that addresses customer needs down to the individual level, at scale.
Everyone’s talking about big data, so no brownie points for originality here. But big data for marketers represents an evolution beyond traditional web analytics insights towards a state of whole customer intelligence. Three key analytics advancements are driving this belief: KPI-focused analysis, real-time intelligence streams, and data management platforms (DMPs).
I’ve already written ad nauseam about key performance indicators (KPIs) in previous columns, but when both Adobe (formerly Omniture) and Webtrends begin their respective analytics training courses with sections on determining KPIs, it speaks volumes about what is really important in data analysis.
Then there’s real-time intelligence and DMPs, both representing different views from the bleeding edge of digital insight. As organizations begin to implement (and understand) these technologies, expect a greater degree of customer insight to emerge. DMPs house complete cross-channel and cross-device intelligence, while real-time streams constantly add a subsequent layer to the data set.
We believe a competitive advantage (perhaps a sustained one) will be awarded to the organization that can first marry these three keys to big data.