Ah, the new year! As we move into it, it’s tough not to think about what’s in store. Though my crystal ball is a bit cloudy, some recent news and events have me thinking the Net’s evolution may be taking us places we aren’t prepared to go… at least, not from a marketing perspective.
Perhaps the most interesting items was in AdWeek’s “IQ Interactive.” It reveals 75 percent of online users access the Internet with non-browser-based applications. Although these users certainly browse the Web, they also get online information via file-sharing programs, online media players, and instant messaging tools. They’re spending almost four hours per month using these tools, a number that appears to be growing.
Four hours per month may seem low compared to Web usage, but it’s an upward trend. Though people may get used to accessing the Internet from non-browser apps, what’s significant is they’re beginning to think of the Internet as an information conduit accessible from just about anywhere.
Recent research from In-Stat/MDR indicates the market for Internet access devices (IADs) will grow 30 percent in 2004 and nearly double by 2007. Many of these devices will be PCs, but a growing number will be mobile. Laptop growth will be double desktop PC growth during the same period.
The trend toward mobility and taking Internet-acquired information on the road will continue. Jupiter Research (a unit of this site’s parent corporation) estimates the number of portable MP3 players sold will continue to grow by 50 percent a year in the foreseeable future. Wireless messaging and Internet services are growing dramatically worldwide, and, as anyone who wandered through a mall this holiday season knows, camera phones are hot. Wireless hotspots seem to be cropping up everywhere, from McDonald’s and Starbucks to airports. The Yankee Group forecasts over 400,000 Wi-Fi subscribers by 2006.
Does all this mean wireless advertising is the next big thing — again? Probably not. The marketplace’s 2000-2001 flop shows we’re a long way from that heating up again. Instead, what we’re probably seeing is a shift away from the tethered-information model we’ve all become used to and toward what my friend and colleague Dr. Robbie Blinkoff calls “the mobile lifestyle.” It’s not really about our love of gadgets, but a sense we can access information any time, anywhere.
Just as the VCR (and lately the PVR) changed the way we thought about television by allowing us to “time-shift” viewing, ubiquitous access to information will change the way we think about the nature of information itself. Rather than consumers turning to the Web for information, they’ll expect to access it from wherever they are and during whatever they’re doing.
The Web will obviously remain a vital channel for information. But ubiquitous Internet connectivity in all our applications and in an increasing number of the devices we use will change the nature of how we work and play.
Companies such as Microsoft are already imagining (and creating) new ways to link the Net to applications in ways that don’t require the Web. This development will drastically change the way we create, share, and publish documents.
Away from work, the beginnings of ubiquitous connectivity are already creating societal change. Witness how camera phones (which allow pictures to be instantly snapped and transmitted over the Web) are banned in places such as health clubs, schools, and other public places.
What does this mean for marketers? Forget the hype about wireless. Taking old models and shoe-horning them into new technology doesn’t work. The new opportunities will be subtler and more profound than changes the Web has brought so far.
Once consumers are connected everywhere (whether from desktops or mobile devices), opportunities to connect to consumers will be everywhere. We must be creative about how we do it. Ubiquitous branding opportunities that surround consumers become more possible when we move beyond a one-to-many broadcast mindset. Instead of thinking of ads as simply display opportunities, we need to think of applications that can be used to transmit brand messages and build brand loyalty wherever consumers are.
Nobody’s doing this very well yet. Apple’s move into the music market is interesting. With the seamless integration of the mobile iPod media player, iTunes desktop media player, and iTunes music store, Apple represents one of the best examples of this new branding world. Users quickly become fanatics and become immersed in the Apple brand everywhere. From their listening experiences to their purchasing experiences to the physical experience of the iPod, there’s nowhere they go where they don’t come into contact with the brand. As they become immersed in the brand, they become evangelists for the brand, a fact confirmed this Christmas season by the nationwide shortage of iPods and explosive growth of the iTunes store.
The Apple model isn’t one every business can follow. It does provide a glimpse into online marketers’ future. As users connect wirelessly to an ever-growing data stream and the Internet becomes more embedded into their lives, opportunities to reach them will grow exponentially. We must think creatively about how to take advantage of these new opportunities in brand immersion.
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