I know it’s a little late for a new year’s predictions column. We’ve all read ’em (most likely in between last-minute online shopping jaunts while we pretended to work during those last few days before the holiday break). We’ve all nodded our heads if we agreed or made quiet snorting sounds to ourselves if we disagreed. And we’ve all probably forgotten what most of them said by now.
But that’s fine. This isn’t a predictions column. This is a reality column. And the reality might be a lot more shocking than you think.
Over nearly two decades of being involved in web development and online marketing, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that if you’re able to shut out the hype and look at the actual trends you can learn a lot about where things are going. Relying on the industry press to tell you what “the next big thing” is rarely works if the big thing has an adjective/revenue ratio greater than one. If there’s lots of noise but not much money, the thing you’re hearing about probably isn’t all that big.
On the other hand, it’s also easy to miss reality by willfully ignoring data and behaviors that don’t match your own preconceptions. Just ask a (most likely former) book or record store owner or an old-timer in the newspaper biz if you don’t believe me. Just because you want the world to be a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s going to comply.
The secret behind those who write the “prediction” columns is that they’re able to 1) ignore hype; and 2) adjust for their own preconceptions when looking at data. The secret of those who are good at predicting isn’t that they have magical powers, but rather that they have highly developed BS detectors. “Predicting” isn’t about magic, it’s about seeing reality…even if that reality isn’t something that you want to see.
Want a dose of reality? Let me toss out a few headlines selected from recent posts on my new favorite research-aggregator site Factbrowser:
- Digital accounted for 55.9 percent of the U.S. music market in 2012.
- 55 percent of smartphone users are more likely to visit a retailer’s store after receiving location-aware alerts.
- Facebook’s share of social log-ins dropped from 54 percent to 49 percent during Q4 2012, while Google’s share increased from 25 percent to 31 percent.
- Global mobile advertising will generate revenues of $12.8 billion in 2013, up 60 percent from $8 billion in 2012.
- Worldwide tablet PC shipments will exceed 240 million units in 2013, surpassing notebook PCs at 207 million units.
- 84 of the top 100 sites ranked by organic traffic from Google serve mobile content.
- In 2012, 23 percent of Americans ages 16 and older read ebooks, up from 16 percent a year earlier; 67 percent read printed books, down from 72 percent.
- 48 percent of leading retailers’ top 10 most popular products on Pinterest lead to dead links.
- 51 percent of U.S. online activity on Christmas Day was on mobile devices, vs. 49 percent on desktops.
- 65 percent of individuals responsible for social media manage it on top of their other duties; of the 27 percent who handle social media exclusively, nearly 83 percent work on teams of three or fewer.
- 63 percent of digital video screening on mobile phones does not happen on-the-go, but rather at home.
What do these headlines tell us about what to expect in 2013? Before you read onwards, try an experiment: go back and read those headlines again. And rather than fixate on any one, try to look for patterns. Done? Good. Time to move on.
Even granting that none of these numbers could be labeled “definitive” on their own and also granting that it’s probably a good idea to accompany each with a fairly large grain of salt to account for the biases of the organizations collecting these numbers, a few things seem pretty clear about where we’re headed in 2013 and beyond.
- Mobile, mobile, mobile, mobile. “Mobile” is the new “desktop.” If you’ve paid attention over the past year or so, you probably already know this, but as these numbers (and plenty of others) show, we’re in the midst of a major shift in the way that people access the Internet. From tablets out-shipping notebooks to rising mobile ad revenues, it’s pretty clear that we all need to be thinking way beyond the desktop.
- The “social” landscape is still in flux, and as marketers we definitely aren’t prepared. The stat about how most people who are responsible for social media do it as part of their job tells that tale, and I’m sure it will also ring true to those of you who have had to build social media into your marketing mix. Take a lesson from the past when web responsibilities used to be an “add-on” (rather than a full-time job): it doesn’t work. Oh, and I think those numbers showing Facebook on the decline and Google+ on the rise (along with that little factoid on broken Pinterest links) are pretty telling, too.
- The marketing landscape is going to continue to be a lot more complex than many of us want to admit. That stat about 63 percent of mobile video being screened at home (rather than on-the-go) is just one piece of the pie. Check out Google’s report on the multi-screen world from September 2012 if you want a more fleshed-out picture.
- Finally, if you’ve had your doubts about the viability of digital content over the long term, it’s high time you gave ’em up. Just about all these stats tell that tale, but the numbers about digital music and ebooks make it abundantly clear. It may not happen in 2013, but it’s time to start saying goodbye to physical distribution of content…we’re well on our way.
Like I said at the beginning of this column: these aren’t predictions, they’re observations of reality. I’ve used stats gathered from one site as examples, but a few minutes with your favorite search engine will certainly yield plenty of other statistics that tell the same tale.
As a poet once said, “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” You don’t need to be an online pundit, either. Reality’s pretty easy to see once you decide to look for it.
Welcome to Reality image on home page via Shutterstock.