Five Trends to Watch in 2012

Bryce MarshallLast year at this time, I itemized trends for 2011.
As before, my disclaimer remains the same: I am directly tapping my professional experiences of the last year, including discussions with customers, prospects, partners, peers and colleagues. I am referencing my own research and analysis, and I may have also consulted the Internet for its wisdom, but any similarities to published work of others are strictly coincidental. These are my own five areas of addressable interactive marketing I will be monitoring, in which I will be expanding my knowledge, creating strategic plans for the coming year.

#1 – Mobile and social own the conversation. 2011 was a year where marketers understood the importance and value of mobile and social paradigms, and acquired familiarity with the technologies and opportunities, and competence with channel engagement or campaign execution. 2012 will see the continuing tipping of the scales. Campaign execution will transition into a modified holistic view of consumer interaction where mobile and social elements represent the crux of digital consumer engagement, not outlying or niche channels.

In many of my presentations, I quote from Vic Gundotra of Google from 2010. “Focus on the mobile user,” Mr. Gundotra stated, “and all else will follow.” At the time he was the engineering lead for Google’s mobile platforms. Not coincidentally he is now the engineering lead for social platforms, including Google+. We can certainly infer that if this statement was modified for today, he would clarify it is the mobile-social user that stands at the center of the universe.

What Google has understood is that the concepts of mobility and socialization have the potential to be pervasive to every type of online activity. For consumers, mobility and socialization translate to tangible things like convenience, immediacy, information, exploration, communication, action and more.

So every digital campaign element in 2012 must be optimized for mobile interaction, and must inherently foster socialization concepts such as sharing or liking. Or rather, to paraphrase Mr. Gundotra, mobile and social concepts must be the focus of marketer’s strategies, not just add-on channel afterthoughts.

And what smart marketers will realize this year is a mobile and social focus isn’t necessary so as to drive revenue and sales through dedicated m-commerce or f-commerce channels. Mobile and social are the key drivers that will represent success and improved ROI across a brand’s buying channels – whether retail, wholesale, catalog or call center, e-commerce, m-commerce or f-commerce.

#2 – Understanding multi-screen profiles In 2012 digital consumers are multi-screen consumers. In my 2011 piece, I identified the “four screens and counting” dilemma. The prevalence of multiple wired screens within reach of the digital consumer during the course of the day (TV, desktop/laptop computer, tablet, and smartphone) creates hurdles for marketers. This means increasing technical complexity from an execution standpoint, and fractured views of individual consumers. Even though cross-channel consumer data (another focus for marketers in 2012) is important and becoming a more tangible reality every day, the concept of communicating with an individual profile across their four screens is still elusive.

2012 will be the year that marketers begin to make sense of the fractured multi-screen profile, both in terms of creating a single holistic view of this device-hopping user and better understanding the inherent schizophrenic behavior that comes with multi-device use habits.

About a month ago I read about IBM’s efforts to re-think and re-design the venerable email inbox specifically for mobile (smartphone) users. Why? Because research clearly shows that the same person has far different priorities and traits when accessing their email inbox from their smartphone vs. their desktop computer. It’s the same person; it’s the same email in their inbox. But the mere difference of the device being used to access the inbox makes all the difference in the world to turning priorities and user traits upside down.

As direct digital marketers in 2012 we have two mandates for understanding multi-screen profiles: use the increasingly powerful tools at techniques at our disposal to aggregate user and activity data from cross-channel activities into consolidated consumer profiles, yet be wary of using that single consolidated profile view to dictate segmentation and targeting regardless of the point of interaction. We can aggregate attributes like demographics, purchase history, browsing behavior and more, and create increasingly actionable insights. But these insights may always be trumped by the specific needs and desires signaled to us by the user’s device of the moment. While the primary online shopper within a young family may always buy the large box of diapers at Amazon with standard ground shipping, the same shopper while on a mobile device may only be interested in the small box and rush shipping.

Understanding, reacting to and creating a smarter view of these multi-screen profiles is an imperative for 2012 – and a trend to watch.

#3 – Multi-/cross-channel attribution The digital consumer is leveraging more connected devices to engage with brands. From wired TVs to smartphones and every-sized screen in between. Digital marketing technology and harnessing cross-channel activity data means marketers may better communicate with consumers and customers across channels; maintaining a holistic tactical approach with unified messaging across channels instead of fragmented, channel-isolated shouting. But as the number of connected devices grows, the diversity and disparity of digital touch points snowballs in exponentially. In 2012 marketers will juggle distinct media strategies for desktop and mobile online advertising. Web platforms will be tailored for desktop, tablet and smartphone user needs, and distinct apps maintained for tablets and smartphones across operating systems. Add the increasingly dialog-based engagement facilitated by social media and the web 2.0/3.0 universe, where ‘sharing’ and ‘liking’ are events marketers want to measure.

Within this staggeringly complex ecosystem intelligent marketers will realize that a system of single-channel, last-click attribution has outlived its usefulness, if the goal is to create meaningful digital marketing strategies rather than incrementally optimize a series of tactical deployments. And while attribution models that can make sense of the interplay between 2 or 3 channels clearly represent progress (and a hell of a worthwhile starting point), this is just the tip of the iceberg:

  • Understanding how the diverse media and direct digital marketing tactics contribute to revenue, contribute to important milestones like awareness and consideration is critical.
  • Understanding the most common and effective recipes for online impressions across channels to produce happy buyers, larger receipts, and better brand advocates.
  • Understanding whether a brand impression on a smartphone influences a purchase decision made on a desktop computer, or, if the respective purchase funnels on desktop computers and smartphones are more isolated from each other. All of this and more is at stake.

Better investment in, and more attention paid to, intelligent attribution models will be an important aspect of effective marketing strategy development this year. This is nothing new for the small group of sophisticated online marketers at the leading edge of the curve. But the trend to watch in 2012 is seeing the torch being picked up by the brands at the middle of the curve and laying the groundwork for better measurement and insights. 2012 will be a year of attribution.

#4 – Consumer data, privacy and preferences In 2012 the fourth trend to watch for direct digital marketing is that of marketers earnestly taking steps to establish transparency with consumers and customers regarding how data is collected, and what data is used (and by what means) to communicate with them. It is the marketers’ response to the consumer-in-control that is meaningful this year.

Here’s the old 2011 “spin” in response to consumer concerns of data privacy: first, deny the allegation; downplay the consumer impact; and, pin the curtain tighter around the doorway to where the sausage is made. Meanwhile, enact cosmetic changes and jettison plainly indiscrete practices, while assessing the long-term business impact of an increasingly vigilant consumer. The prevailing marketer anxiety: having to making sense of a world where the once ample reserves of behavioral and third-party data sources are suddenly cut off and unavailable.

2012 will be the year the spin is abandoned in favor of transparency. We already see a cultural shift in some areas of the Internet where transparency has been embraced as good business – not because it’s defensible by counsel or because the nasty bits are more securely protected, but because it’s the right thing to do. Is it possible that the perception of the empowered digital consumer can morph from that of gnat-on-steroids to that of respected, rational and right individuals and consumers in the eyes of today’s marketers? That is, marketers recognize there is a significant and affluent audience with whom it is good business to do good business.

I believe that the business of the “curtain in the sausage factory” will become expensive, troublesome and perhaps more importantly, simply out of style. Marketers are beginning to understand that allowing consumers to express preferences and manage the framework for data-based interactions and messaging is a win-win. It is an invasive and intoxicating concept that, once embraced, will ultimately become fully-realized within many organizations by force of momentum. The ultimate manifestation will take a long time and take many shapes across industries as the market clarifies the prevailing mechanisms for consumer education and expression of choice. But the trend to watch in 2012 is the earnest progress towards brand transparency – embracing a policy where consumers are encouraged to understand and express preferences towards the brand as the nature of the dialogue.

The long-term business value is the potential for revenue, consumer loyalty and advocacy.

#5 – First party and third party The terms “first party” and “third party” denote something technical and legal in nature. At Knotice we are clearly advocates for a first-party approach in how brands create, access and use data, and how they identify and track consumers and customers. This bias permeates everything we do from a software and services standpoint:

  • Profile tracking is performed only on the brand’s domains
  • Profiles are identified and recognized by a first party cookie
  • Third party data sources are treated as circumspect, with a strategic preference for leveraging explicit data and preferences or implicit and behavioral activity in the first party
  • Extending choice and control to consumers across channels including email, mobile, web and online display

The fifth trend to watch in 2012 isn’t the digital marketing universe falling in line with Knotice’s philosophical and strategic position. Rather, the fifth trend to watch in 2012 is the emerging realization that the mechanics and philosophy of how good online business is done may be coalescing within a technical concept: first party vs. third party.

The mechanics and philosophy of doing business in the first party draws important distinctions and has meaningful impact on online business, which I have touched on in previous segments of this series.

Among them:

  • Providing a technical framework allowing for more reliable identification, recognition and tracking of profiles, leading to more effective targeting on the front end and more meaningful cross-channel metrics, analysis and attribution on the back end.
  • Minimizing reliance on third-party tracking mechanisms, behavioral data aggregation, and data sources which improves an organization’s ability to better embrace transparency with consumer data, privacy and preferences.
  • Creating an efficient, effective technical and operational framework for the holistic practice of cross-channel direct digital marketing and communications.
  • Consolidating and owning the responsibility for educating consumers, inspiring them to express preferences, capturing and respecting those preferences, and making this dialogue an easily-accessible across channel engagements, from the user’s mobile device to the call center.

If these are trends to watch in 2012, then clearly the shift to a first-party technical and philosophical approach is the encapsulating mega-trend for 2012.

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