Digital Media: Not Just the Internet Anymore, Part 1

About this time every year, the tension around the television upfront season becomes palpable. Clients and agencies are preparing “kickoff meetings” as we embark on strategic planning discussions for the coming calendar year. In my estimation, 2004 will be a watershed of expanding the digital arsenal of the e-marketing professional.

As if the lives of e-marketing (a.k.a., digital marketing) professionals weren’t complicated enough, we’re on the precipice of what will likely be the most complicated planning season ever. Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of the Web and all its rich media possibilities (Superstitials, Point·Roll, Eyeblaster, Eyewonder, CheckM8, Enliven, Viewpoint, and Shoshkeles, to name a few), as well as customized sponsorships, search engine strategies, email, and affiliate marketing just doesn’t cut it any more. Get ready for wireless, gaming, and interactive television (iTV).

This is where things become grayer than usual. I’ll save architecting the ideal 21st-century agency for a future column, but it’s fair to say there’s no perfect home for many emerging customer contact points. At our agency, we decided to include interactive technologies (those with potential two-way interaction) in the interactive group for seemingly obvious reasons. The challenge is bringing such diverse offerings to our clients. Naturally, our goal is to maximize their investment today while ideally positioning them for the future.

Assuming we’ve got this “Internet thing” figured out (chuckle, chuckle), I’ll highlight the most promising areas of growth and opportunity for 2004 in “other” digital media platforms.

Wireless Marketing

Talk to people who travel internationally. They’re the first to extol the virtues and prevalence of wireless communications in places such as Japan, China, and many Nordic countries. The States are radically behind in this area. The more people I talk to, the more I believe this will be a huge growth area in 2004 (and beyond).

Three primary barriers have been inhibiting the sweeping acceptance seen in other parts of the world: interoperability, pricing, and end-user hardware.

Tremendous strides have been made in all these areas in the past 12 months. Last year, SMS messaging interoperability among wireless carriers became a reality. It’s opened the floodgates for SMS to take off here in the U.S. According to Jupiter Research (owned by ClickZ’s corporate parent), 157 million SMS messages were sent monthly in the U.S. in 2002. Jupiter predicts that number will climb to billions per month in the next two years. Services that enrich text-only SMS with pictures, sound, and animation, such as enhanced messaging service (EMS) and MMS are building momentum. Consumer desire for multi-media communication drives the industry.

Wireless pricing is an area requiring work. There’s little or no uniformity in what carriers charge consumers. As long as consumers pay per minute for services that include voice, data, and messaging, they may not be as willing to freely adopt these services. Carriers are beginning to include a number of SMS messages (as an example) for “free” each month with a nominal sliding scale, so consumers (especially teens) will be less concerned with incurring significant incremental costs at the end of each billing period. Some carriers offer unlimited SMS messages, certain to accelerate usage.

From a hardware standpoint, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the past year. Large, crisp active-matrix color displays are increasingly prevalent. These form factors help encourage consumers to use their devices for communicating in ways that are not only voice driven but also multi-media in nature.

With interoperability, reasonable pricing, and multi-media capabilities (not to mention the ability to geographically target messages) comes the possibility of broad-reach, emotive communications — and endless marketing possibilities. I believe 2004 will be a very meaningful year for wireless marketers.

In Part 2, we’ll discuss the two other areas of growth that will play an increasingly significant role in next year’s digital plans. Gaming’s marketing potential has been a hot topic. I’ll take a look at near-term wins versus long-term opportunities. Additionally, we’ll look at the short-term realities of iTV and all its permutations: addressability, electronic program guides, video on demand, enhanced television, and personal video recorders.

Buckle up. It’s going to be a wild ride!

Related reading