Preparing for the always-on, always connected social consumer, tougher Internet restrictions, and dot-bomb 2.0.
Happy New Year, everyone!
First, let's quickly review some trends from 2010 before looking ahead at trends that will shape 2011.
A Year of Contradictions
The year 2010 was pretty tumultuous for most of us - and contradictory, too. While many businesses continued to struggle out of the Great Recession and consumers continued to search for jobs, online retail shopping hit $900 million on the final shopping weekend before Christmas, marking a 17 percent increase over last year. For the holiday shopping season from Nov. 1 through Dec. 26, 2010, comScore reported that online retailers pulled $30.8 billion, a 13 percent increase from the same time in 2009.
Maybe it was "retail therapy" that drove consumers to spend more because they certainly didn't end the year in a good mood. The Pew Center for the People and the Press reported that most Americans left 2010 feeling pretty gloomy, with 72 percent dissatisfied with the way the country's going and 89 percent rating economic conditions as only "fair" or "poor." Specifically they're worried about the federal deficit, the cost of living, whether or not Social Security is going to be around, and concerned about their ability to find good paying jobs.
New technology continued to disrupt older industries in 2010 as consumers changed how they communicate and consume media, though again some data were somewhat contradictory. The National Health Interview Survey reported that by the first half of 2010, fully 25 percent of U.S. adults now live in a household without a landline. Forty percent of younger adults (18 to 24 and 30 to 34) live in mobile-only households. "Forty" seems to be the magic number when it comes to changing TV habits, too: Nielsen reported that 40 percent of U.S. households now have a DVR. The same report also found that almost 100 million TV watchers in the U.S. watched time-shifted TV in Q2 2010, though this was only a 1 percent increase from the previous year. Another surprising report from Arbitron Radar gave hope to "traditional" marketers, claiming that 74 percent of Americans over the age of 12 were reached by network radio in December 2010. Christmas carols, anyone?
What's 2011 Going to Look Like?
Here are a few trends to watch in the coming year:
Never alone. With the explosive rise in mobile communications among younger consumers over the past few years, we're headed toward a future where nearly everyone will be in touch with everyone they know nearly all the time. Consider these facts:
2011: The year of Internet regulation confusion. A Gallup Poll released near the end of 2010 revealed that two out of three Americans who use the Internet are opposed to ad tracking, though the same survey found that older, wealthier Americans are more open to tracking if it provides advertising more in tune with their needs. A Rasmussen Reports survey also found that 54 percent of Americans oppose the new Net Neutrality rules recently proposed by the Federal Communications Commission, though the same survey found that only 21 percent want the FCC to regulate the Internet the way that radio and television are regulated, with 25 percent reporting that they were "not sure" when asked.
While Americans seem to want their online privacy protected (but not necessarily regulated by the FCC), a Washington Post-ABC News Poll taken in mid-December 2010 found that 68 percent of Americans felt that the WikiLeaks exposure of U.S. diplomatic cables "harms the public interest" and nearly the same amount (59 percent) thought that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be arrested and charged with a crime for leaking those cables.
These contradictory views and the growing interest among regulators to "do something" about the free-flow of "too much information" online by sites like WikiLeaks (a global trend very present at the mid-December United Nations meeting where global Internet regulations were discussed) points to 2011 being the year when governments start to step into online regulation big time while the public sways back and forth in confusion over how these regulations will effect them. With so many complex issues, complicated technologies, and lack of knowledge among both the general public and the regulators, it'll probably be a battle decided by lobbyists.
"Social" painfully redefines marketing; social gold rush continues – and get ready for dot-bomb 2.0. There's absolutely no doubt that 2010 was the Year of Social Media. And it looks like the trend will continue in full force for 2011. EMarketer predicts that "four out of five U.S. businesses with 100 or more employees will use social media marketing" with social media marketing budgets rising accordingly. But what are marketers going to do with all those extra bucks? Just about every pundit who shows up in a Google search for "social media trends 2011" points to "location-based services," "video," and "customer service" as hot-buttons for this year when it comes to the corporate use of social media. This Entrepreneur magazine article is pretty representative of the social media advice marketers and clients are being bombarded with as we enter the new year.
However, this VentureBeat article provides insight into the business-changing roles that social media will bring to corporate America in 2011. They see social media not as much a marketing tool but rather as a tool to engage customers, engage employees, and "go real-time" to make changes in response to customer and employee issues revealed from engaging in social media. They also point out that most large companies aren't exactly good at reacting to anything in "real time."
With even more money and more attention being paid to "social media" by corporate leaders in 2011 (many, I'm sure, driven by Zuckerman-esque visions for themselves), loads of cash piling up in the coffers of investment banks (and the wallets of big investors) that's had nowhere to go, and an intensified interest in funding or buying "social media" startups ($6 billion for Groupon, anyone?), it's starting to look a lot like 1999 again. Even relatively conservative publications like CNNMoney are starting to talk "bubble."
So where are we headed? If we all take a ride in the ol' wayback machine and look at the dot.com explosion of the late '90s, the social media explosion of 2010 (and into the next year) is starting to look very similar. We've got a hot new technology that's making gazillionaires out of startups, lots of money floating around, and huge interest in corporate America in cashing in on the trend with rising budgets to match.
Yet, there is a lack of clarity on how to actually use this new technology and corporate structures are unequipped to handle the demands. Just as marketing and information technology departments fought over who was going to control the Web as businesses were transformed back in the late '90s, today nobody seems to be quite sure who should be in control of social media efforts. Is it marketing? Is it customer service? Who really understands the technology? And, perhaps most importantly, what's the overall strategy guiding our use of this stuff? You'd be hard-pressed in most companies to find clear, coherent answers to these questions. But if they aren't answered, a lot of money will be wasted in 2011 and a lot of investments will go "pop!" when reality meets the hype.
Content, content, content: Faster, cheaper, harder, and more out of control. Good news for writers in 2011: you're going to be needed more than ever. The bad news is that if all you can do is write, you might be relegated to the sidelines.
This Christmas, Amazon's Kindle became the best-selling product in the retailer's history. This year, e-books outsold hardcover books on Amazon by almost 50 percent. E-readers such as Barnes & Noble's Nook took off tablets (including, of course, the iPad and a plethora of Android OS tablets) rocketed to popularity. Smartphone sales went stratospheric, too. By all indications, the laptop appears to be on the way out and devices that allow us to access content anytime and anywhere are the future.
That's one trend. The other, mentioned earlier, is the explosion of social media and its use by corporate America. And one issue that companies and marketers are grappling with when it comes to social media is content: social media is a hungry beast that must be fed constantly if it's going to "work" (however that's defined).
If you look at these two trends together, it's clear that content creation will be the next big bottleneck for marketers in the coming year. Consumers sporting e-readers and tablets and smartphones that are always on and always connected will also be always hungry for more content. To compete in the social media space, companies will have to constantly create content to push out to their social networks in all its many forms – blog postings, tweets, Facebook updates, customer-service interactions, etc. And it ain't going to be all text, either: the stunning successes of "viral" campaigns (such as the cultural meme-bomb that was Old Spice in late 2010) coupled with increasingly sophisticated consumer demand driven by increasingly-sophisticated content-access devices means that marketers who want to stay ahead of the curve are going to have to scramble to deliver more content more quickly in more ways than they might be equipped to do.
But it's not just the content that we marketers produce that we're going to have to deal with - it's the content that our customers produce, too. Given the ubiquity of content creation tools, the ability (especially among the younger folks) to "remix" and riff on found content, and the give-and-take (content-wise) inherent in social media, managing brands in the new always-on, always-connected, always-in-flux world of the new social Internet will be more complicated than ever. If we're going to engage consumers we have to really engage them and that means we're going to have to learn how to deal with giving up control of our brands more than a little bit.
And perhaps that's the biggest trend of all for this year: coming to grips with the fact that brands are collaborations. Welcome to 2011! Leave your definition of marketing at the door.
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Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.
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