Digital Marketing: The Betwixt and Between Phase

Betwixt and between. I’ve spent most of the week immersed in digital marketing conferences during New York’s Advertising Week, most particularly at the IAB’s MIXX event, and that’s the takeaway.

This past year hasn’t been one of technological innovation or breakthrough, though there have been standout campaigns. The big players in the space all have stuff in the works, but real shifts seem to lie on the horizon and even beyond.

Hurry Up and Wait

The most wowie-zowie, eyeball-popping future technology previewed this week is coming from Microsoft…in maybe 10 years.

If you haven’t seen Project Natal, it’s really worth a look. The motion-sensing technology (“You’re the controller,” said Microsoft’s SVP of the online audience business group, Yusuf Mehdi) doesn’t just allow you to pretend you’re skateboarding through an immersive game environment in the comfort of your living room or to try on virtual clothes or to be a contestant in a game show. In Microsoft Office, Natal will allow you a keyboard-free way to collaborate and share. And maybe even get you a bit of a physical workout.

In about a decade.

It’s fun to ponder the myriad potential marketing opportunities inherent in the technology. Several of Microsoft’s clients, including P&G and Coca-Cola, are already doing just that, according to a sales rep I chatted with after the presentation. But there’s not a lot to be done marketing-wise just yet, other than hurrying up and waiting.

You won’t have to wait as long for what Yahoo and Microsoft promise is in the pipeline, but you’ll still have to wait. Both are saying that in the not-too-distant future, advertisers will be able to “localize down to the individual user,” as Google’s Nikesh Arora puts it, particularly on mobile devices. That sublime degree of targeting isn’t quite here yet.

So what can be done now?

Optimize Content Delivery

A less-distant future scenario was painted by Tim Armstrong, chairman and CEO of the embattled AOL. “The next wave is content,” Armstrong proclaimed (something I heartily agree with, by the way).

He also raised an interesting prospect: optimizing content delivery, just as advertisers optimize ad delivery. Armstrong pointed out that following Serena Williams’ U.S. Open debacle, there was a 609 percent rise for information about the tennis star. The challenge, of course, is to get teams of editors and journalists to turn on a dime to create that content on demand — with a minimum of fluffiness.

Armstrong proclaimed AOL’s new mission is “building the new premium content economy.” Judging from the reel he presented, that would be a 100 percent celebrity content economy. Apparently, the Time Warner legacy lives on.

The concept of optimizing content isn’t exactly new, but it presents an interesting and relatively unmet challenge to marketers, particularly in B2B (define) channels.

If there were any lingering doubts at MIXX that content is the foundation of marketing, particularly of social media marketing, the big winner of the IAB’s annual advertising award dispelled any negative notions.

Not only did Tourism Queensland and CumminsNitro Brisbane pick up the best-in-show honor for the Best Job in the World campaign, they also walked off with the lion’s share of awards in lesser categories for the same effort. The social media campaign was geared toward launching…a social media campaign. With all guns firing blog entries and tweets and Flickr streams, interactive maps, Facebook pages, YouTube videos, and more, the endeavor has been more of a PR jackpot than an ad campaign. And a very effective one at that.

Another version of content optimization was promised by Ann Lewnes, Adobe’s SVP of corporate marketing. Lewnes promised her company’s recent acquisition of Omniture will, someday soon, help creatives optimize words and images on the fly, based on solid Web metrics.

Right brain, meet left brain.

There seems to be a lesson in here somewhere. Technology is, as always, moving inexorably forward. Yet no matter what’s in the pipeline, there aren’t any technological silver bullets that can be substituted for the brilliant creative idea at the core of successful marketing campaigns.

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