Amazing. Somewhere between 80 and 85 percent of U.S. shoppers plan to make at least one online purchase this holiday season, according to an AC Nielsen study. That fact alone isn't what amazes me, though.
What's startling is a mere six years ago, in January 1999, I was waiting for a meeting to begin in the New York office of a company called USWeb/CKS. The firm was a huge builder of Web sites during the dot-com era. The meeting was delayed because one of the guys was still on a group call with the major online merchants for whom we'd developed e-commerce sites. The call was to discuss the just-ended online holiday shopping season.
Everyone in the room wanted to hear what was discussed on that call. I remember someone said about online purchasing, "Well, we'll soon find out if this thing [online purchasing] is for real." The information came in. The retailers had sold some number of millions of dollars via the Web. Everyone knew back then the Internet was a viable sales channel.
I heard my first MP3 file six years ago. I was in a computer room at Harvard University, and one of the students was playing Aerosmith's "Pink" on a pair of small speakers hooked up to a desktop computer. I was stunned by the song file's small size. Just a few years earlier, a computer engineer at Cray Research had told me it just wasn't possible. Hearing that Aerosmith song proved he was wrong.
Now, an Apple store down the street always has a line of people waiting patiently to pay for iPods. Free Napster came and went, and the proliferation of music due to MP3 compression techniques (and in the future, things such as mp21) is astonishing.
These six-year-old tales aren't intended for nostalgia. They're meant to get you thinking about things you can observe now, and use for marketing immediately and in the future. How can you take advantage of today's trends?
iPods Provide Control
Like on that college campus where I first heard an MP3, schools are also where I see all the students toting iPods. And just as MP3s exploded, the same will happen with portable music devices. Now may be the time to start thinking about iPods (and similar devices) as a distribution channel. Are there opportunities for marketers to get their message to the coveted youth market via MP3 files?
What if a major corporation sponsors a national "battle of the bands" contest, with samples of the bands' music (with or without branding commercials tacked on) available for downloading? These could be followed with a tour of the winning bands. Could that help get a message out to elusive students?
What if some entrepreneurial group starts its own media production company, delivering fresh content (perhaps with ads) for personal music player owners? You don't think a "nobody" can challenge the big media companies? Talk with Matt Drudge or a guy who goes by the nickname "Pud."
People spend more time online and less with TV. IPods and similar devices, like the Internet, provide more control over what information they consume. Just as MP3s proliferated in the last six years, personal players will proliferate in the next few years. How will you take advantage of that?
DVRs: Still More Control
After years of rave reviews but lackluster sales, DVRs (TiVo and similar devices) are finally going mainstream.
TiVo recently caught some flack for introducing "pop-up" ads. You can use the device to skip commercials, but while you fast-forward you may see ads or logos TiVo decides to send in your direction.
Still, TiVo and other DVRs give users more control over what they watch and when they watch it. Since cable companies now offer DVR as a bundled service, more people will use it. How will that affect your advertising?
Visited Amazon.com recently? It's still an amazing bookstore, but apparently it's now also a movie venue.
This makes sense as a marketing ploy. Broadband has become prevalent, meaning more consumers have access to online music and films. Once again, Amazon is at the forefront of the digital commerce world (yes, I'm aware of the BMW Film project). It's still a little strange to visit the site and see a movie screen on the front page, but there it is.
The broadband trend can be taken advantage of right now. Over half of all consumers have broadband, so more can access such content. Marketers who take advantage of broadband now will have a competitive advantage over slower-moving competitors.
Home and Abroad
According to Morgan Stanley's Mary Meeker, 15 percent of online sales occur "cross border." It's extremely easy to purchase something from another country online, and the trend is on the rise. Are you positioned to take advantage of the growth in international sales?
It's amazing to see how dramatically things can change in just a few years. We'll soon see who takes advantage of some of these new opportunities.
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