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It’s impossible not to be excited about the the opportunities open to digital advertisers right now. 2010 saw the rise of smartphones, the continued growth of social and the introduction of many new technologies into the consumer market, including Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360. But 2011 is going to be bigger; here are a dozen of my digital predictions and trends to watch this year.
Please do let me know what you think – what would you add to the list?
1. Technology and creativity in advertising will evolve, hand in hand
The digital environment has evolved as a descendant of a direct-response, click-through environment, which has proved restrictive in terms of creative advertising approaches. This is now being rectified, and 2011 will see greater steps than ever before to removing technical boundaries to creativity. The digital advertising space is changing all the time, largely due to continual technological improvements. This will encourage the blossoming of innovative approaches to digital campaigns, with the growth of online video inventory playing a key role.
Digital will become a key consideration for campaign planners in 2011, because many of the technologies in question – social networks, search engines, online publishers – play such a huge role in target audiences; lives, and the options available to advertisers are becoming so much broader.
2. Location-aware technology
Like social, the desire for technology to be location aware will continue to increase and create a host of new experiences and services.
2010 has seen tremendous growth in the smartphone market, and soon the ‘smart’ attribute will be dropped as it will be the norm. Windows Phone 7, released this autumn, highlights this trend: the fact that out of the three buttons one is a search trigger suggests that search is now fully integrated in the mobile experience.
Search marketing will need evolve to take advantage of the new location-based relevancy and the associated new consumer behaviours. In 2011, it will become increasingly important for search marketers to bear in mind that consumers will be accessing search engines via their phones, verbalizing very different intents, using different keywords and expecting different results from the one on the PC. This offers huge opportunities for location-based marketing initiatives and thus unlocks new marketing channels for companies which are not online today (think small local shops, think convenience stores or even hairdressers for instance).
While 2010 saw the ‘check-in’ enter popular vocabulary, GPS-based games via services like SCVNGR can also significantly boost a brand’s user-generated content, and these will grow in popularity in 2011.
3. Mobile will (finally) come into its own
Smartphone and tablet adoption has rocketed in 2010, with serious implications for advertisers. Mobile now offers access to a large, and growing, audience of affluent consumers and business people. 2011 will see mobile step away from its beginnings as primarily a direct-response medium, and become a key digital advertising platform.
The increased trend for mobile users to access social networks via their handset rather than a PC or laptop will provide advertisers with increasingly sophisticated location-based opportunities. Apps will also evolve as marketers discover news ways for advertising to become part of the ‘always connected’ user experience.
4. Social media IS the internet
Advertisers will realise that social media can’t be siloed in the way that it has been so far, and begin to see it more in the context of an overall digital marketing strategy across multiple devices. We’ll go back - not quite to basics - but to a place where we all understand that social media is just another description for the internet as a whole, where brands need to make their message discoverable, compelling and shareable whether it’s through owned, paid or earned media. Let’s drop the “social”.
The web is social. It’s what you do with all the media that counts.
5. The individual as personal brand
With the social web now housing so much information about people and society, there's a whole generation of up and coming business professionals whose past may quickly catch up with them.
2011 and beyond could see a natural evolution of advertising for products and services into advertising for people, where people who wish to improve their online reputation, and maybe clean up past misdemeanors or indiscretions, will look for professional advice and support. Through the use of personally branded content, smart SEO and PPC ads in search, as well as perhaps paid for subscriptions to professional social networking sites like LinkedIn, individuals will be able to ensure their personal brand is seen online in the best possible light.
This could evolve into other forms of digital advertising, and further blurring the lines between paid for and organic content seems likely, but the key trend here is that advertising will no longer exist just for products and services, it will be for people too. A new sector may also develop in the PR and business consulting worlds offering help to people to enhance their personal reputations and maximise their chances of achieving their life goals.
6. The evolution of branded content
Another big area for consideration is the further development of branded content. With people less willing to pay for professional content (e.g. news, reviews, etc.) they'll be open to consuming free content that is more subtly branded than advertising of old. A new generation of journalists will emerge, editing content on behalf of brands and supplying this instead of advertising to publication channels.
It's still advertising, but it has added utility to both the end-consumer and the publisher who can no longer afford to pay for expensive editorial content. The best titles will attract the best branded content, much as the best titles used to attract the best journalists. Again, the boundaries between advertising and editorial will blur significantly but end-consumers will accept this as a fair value exchange in return for free access to useful content.
7. Privacy is all about the value exchange: What can advertisers offer consumers in exchange for their information?
The online privacy debate is a strong presence in UK media, and is growing in importance for UK consumers. Consumers are aware of privacy issues and are keen to retain a level of online anonymity – but they also expect companies to be able to communicate with them online on a more individual, personal level.
This dichotomy also means that consumers are far more willing to share data if they can see value in doing so. The onus is on advertisers to provide entertaining and engaging experiences in exchange for this valuable currency.
Digital advertising must be relevant to the user, and it must honour any preferences they have expressed in terms of interest or willingness to engage with advertising. This personalised experience is becoming an expectation. MSA’s recent research into online mums showed that mums were far more likely to engage online with brands that offered rewards – and this is not unusual behaviour for any internet user.
Engaging advertising experiences provide:
· Quality content
· Multiple screens and platforms for engagement
8. Digital evolution vs revolution: Microtrends become nanotrends
Improved methods of data collection will enable advertisers to target more and more effectively. We have seen this process begin in 2010, and we will see it become more sophisticated in 2011. Nanotrends will replace microtrends – companies will need to know much more about individuals to advertise successfully to their target audiences.
One of the most important elements of this trend is the growth of behavioural targeting and retargeting. These techniques, which allow advertisers to target by audience profile, online behaviour, interest category or even previous interaction with ads, ensure that the right messages reach the right people at every stage of an online campaign, improving relevance and efficiency.
Due to its scale, Microsoft has enormous insight into online consumer behaviour, which is further supported by the Research, Data and Analytics team and its new Audience Insights Tool, which delivers the qualitative insight and emotional context that planners need when preparing online campaigns.
9. Social and Search: A new breed of digital marketer is born
Social media and search have integrated more deeply this year, with developments including Twitter and Facebook data being incorporated into search result pages. We’ll see an even greater convergence in 2011.
If we consider that the key objective of a search engine is to deliver the most relevant results to the user, then we must realise that relevancy is very subjective. One person’s definition of ‘cheap running shoes’ will differ to the next person’s. This is why the tighter interweave between social media and search is so exciting: search results will become increasingly influenced by what searchers’ friends and peers think is relevant. Search results will begin to rely more on users’ social context. Bing has already started with its Facebook partnership in the US, but that is only a first step.
2011 will be about social media and search mutually enriching each other. Marketers will need to think in terms of combining the disciplines, which no longer exist in silos. This will encourage digital marketers to develop new skill sets, in order to effectively marry SEM, SEO and social media marketing.
10. Social shopping and crowd sourcing will come out of infancy
Social shopping is a form of ecommerce in which consumers can share and access information about retail products through friends or other users. Social shopping products often have a crowdsourcing component too, enabling you to get the best price or the most relevant data.
Microsoft’s Bing and Ciao combine search results with crowdsourced reviews to produce user-generated shopping recommendations. Current opportunities for advertisers include turning crowdsourced shopping recommendations into adverts, but as the popularity of these websites increases, so will the possibilities.
11. Gaming will move onto the next level
With exciting new products such as the recently released Xbox Kinect entering the market, advertisers are presented with ever-increasing opportunities to target consumers within console-based and online games platforms. And these are no longer the preserve of the traditional 18-34 year old male.
The consumers that advertisers connect with through in-game advertising are affluent, sociable, highly influential and have a strong appetite for premium brands. As research on the in-game advertising audience* shows, they are also strongly positive about the advertising they encounter in the in-game environment, seeing it as adding realism to the games they play.
Consumers expect more rewards for their attention and engagement and are also expecting communication to be more engaging and entertaining. 2011 will also see the rise of ‘Gamification’, where games and game-like behaviour pervades all types of entertainment and marketing.
12. The ‘death of the agency’ will be proven a myth, and advertising agencies will be more relevant than ever
Some argue that PR and social media are becoming more important to brands than advertising, and that advertising agencies are outmoded. But agencies are beginning to think cross-platform, and it’s this ability to help brands to effectively integrate their communications that will keep them relevant and vital.
Technology is changing rapidly and at a pace that requires true experts keeping their fingers on the button. Brands will always need that next level of expertise. Online gives ad agencies the perfect opportunity to innovate, in step with the changes taking place. One example of this is the growth of real-time bidding through ad networks such as AppNexus, giving agencies an excellent opportunity to offer clients added value through technical expertise and insight.
* Gamer 360 Study, Microsoft Advertising, October 2009
Anything to add?
Thanks for reading, and have a great 2011!
Chris Maples – UK Sales Director Microsoft Advertising