Digital Marketing Opportunities in 2009

It’s no secret that 2009 will be a challenging year, to say the least. Weathering a global financial meltdown could make the dot-com bubble burst seem a comparative walk in the park.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Old saws about opportunity in adversity still hold true, and overall interactive marketing and advertising are still expected to rise, albeit not quite as robustly as predicted earlier. That sure beats working in the financial or automotive sectors, even if marketers servicing those types of accounts will have to hustle for new clients and work much harder on the accounts they already have.

So herewith, a bit of holiday cheer. Here’s where I predict there will be good news — or at least opportunity — for the industry next year.

  • Search. Search continues to be the way consumers navigate the Net, and search marketing, both paid and organic, is one of the most effective and cost-effective forms of marketing available in any on- or offline channel.

    Yet the majority of small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) aren’t yet involved in search marketing, according to a recent Microsoft survey. That’s a boatload of opportunity, as the majority of these businesses feel they need outside help to ramp up search efforts. And if the recent SES Chicago event was any indication, they’re seeking out that help. This year, no fewer than 80 percent of the SES delegates were first-timers. That’s an almost certain indication that while offline and display budgets are dwindling, search will remain ascendant.

  • Content remains king. Blogging. DIY video. Social media participation. Even plain, old-fashioned Web sites. When advertising budgets get squeezed and media buys are beyond reach, it shouldn’t put marketing out of reach for those who possess both initiative and creativity. Marketers much become publishers. In tough times, it’s time to focus on creating useful, engaging, entertaining, and sustainable content that educates, informs, surprises, and delights. Content-focused marketing doesn’t necessarily require agencies and media buys. It does, however, mean marketers must develop storytelling and editorial skills. One-off initiatives are good, but longer, more sustained and episodic stories keep them coming back for more. Find your story. Then tell it. Reach a local, or even a global, marketplace on a minimal budget.
  • Listening will be paramount. Having found a story and developed a way to tell it, the marketers who succeed will do so largely because they realize there is no one-way communication channel anymore. On the Web, anyone’s free to talk, and to talk back. Ignorance is not bliss. Taking advantage of the many different ways to monitor consumer conversations, as well as developing mechanisms to respond to feedback and chatter, is as essential as talking to consumers. Fortunately, this can be accomplished with little to no budget. Listening is no longer a case of how to hear what’s being said, but developing ways to rapidly and effectively participate in conversations and mediate problems and complaints. If there’s one low-cost opportunity in marketing in 2009, it’s paying attention — and responding appropriately.
  • Obama administration will assure network neutrality. It really doesn’t get much better than this. It looks like the Internet will remain open, uncensored, and without privilege for those willing or able to pay tolls to the telcos. President-Elect Obama came out as early as 2006 in favor of an open, accessible Internet and affirmed that position virtually as soon as he was elected. What this means is a level playing field for online marketers, not to mention anyone else who relies on the Internet as an open, accessible channel of information. There’s a lot of bad news out there right now, but the preservation of open competition on the Internet is a true cause for celebration.
  • Metrics really, really matter. It’s long been a truism of digital marketing that everything (well, almost everything) is measurable. If you’re marketing and not measuring, or measuring but not using the data to improve, improve, improve, this is definitely the year to go metric. Whether your Web site is running a free tool such as Google Analytics or one of the pricey commercial measurement packages, it’s time to stop treating that valuable tool like the exercise machine lying forsaken in the basement. It’s not enough to have the tools, you have to use them. That’s how you improve and justify performance (and, might I mention, your job). Effective measurement is what will keep marketing campaigns and budgets up, running, and justifiable in 2009. So fire up those spreadsheets and get to work defining those KPIs (define)!

But first, take time out to have a delightful holiday season, and here’s to a prosperous New Year.

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