More Key Emerging Media Trends

The digital lifestyle is changing marketing. New technologies are creating new opportunities, releasing digital marketing from the confines of the personal computer. Last time, we looked at two related trends: the ubiquitous Web and digital out of home. Today, we’ll look at two more trends: personalization and widgets.

Trend: The Return of Personalization

Perhaps I have an overly generous definition of personalization: any kind of change to Web content that’s based on what the content delivery mechanism knows about the person viewing it. The change could be triggered by information that is either actively shared by a user (e.g., by establishing a profile) or passively shared (e.g., behavioral targeting).

However you define it, personalization has long been one of the strongest Web application and marketing tenets. The capability was an Internet buzzword for a while in the early part of the decade, until it lost favor due to questionable ROI (define) from extremely expensive and frequently overpromised out-of-the-box systems and a furry of privacy concerns. There were a few notable exceptions, such as Amazon’s collaborative filtering. But by and large, the first personalization boom never seemed to live up to its promise.

Clearly, that has changed. Privacy issues must be addressed, but we can find the right balance. And if we do this right, it’ll benefit consumers as much as it benefits is us. Viewing completely irrelevant ads may one day be a thing of the past.

Personalization isn’t a new trend, of course. What is new, however, is the systems that power it are getting cheaper and more reliable, driven partly by Web 2.0 standards and open architecture.

Personalization capabilities are also getting more granular and extending across multiple channels. It’s not just about personalizing a Web site anymore. Now it’s also about changing a banner ad or even a video ad based on a range of available criteria, such as geographic location, a behavioral targeting profile, the weather, and so on. Companies like Real Time Content and Qmecom offer these kinds of services. Visible World provides similar functionality and extends the capability to TV advertising.

If consumer control of media and increasing ad clutter are a recipe for a massive drop in ad effectiveness, increased relevance is a key solution. And that means reinventing the way you concept, moving away from a static, linear story toward one that’s flexible and adaptive. Rather than create a singular story that hopes to resonate with a cross-section of your target audience, create a single platform with flexible interpretations or expressions of the key story, and let technology do that hard work of assembling the most relevant bits for a particular consumer.

Trend: It’s a Wide World of Widgets (After All)

In December 2006, Newsweek wondered if 2007 would be the year of the widget. Earlier this year, comScore reported that 148 million U.S. Internet users had viewed a widget in November 2007. Back in February, eMarketer said that 15,000 Facebook applications had been created since the site opened the platform, more than 100,000 developers were working on applications or widgets, and ad spend on widgets and applications would grow from $15 million in 2007 to $40 million in 2008.

Widgets and applications are huge. And why not? The platforms can be an effective way to engage consumers and expand distribution of the content you worked so hard on to earn attention. But it can also be a troubling trend. People don’t start at your home page anymore; worse yet, sometimes they don’t come to your site at all. It can be a troubling factor for publishers (including bloggers) and marketers alike.

I read industry trades every day but haven’t visited their Web sites in months. Rather, I read through widgets and RSS feeds. This kind of behavior led Garrick Schmitt, our VP of user experience, to question whether the home page matters anymore in our 2008 Digital Outlook Report. Distribution may just trump destination after all.

There seems to be a widget for just about everything under the sun, and more are on the way. There are many keys to building a successful widget, but chief among them is to provide value to the audience. This isn’t about cramming your entire site into a tiny space; it’s about figuring out what unique and relevant piece of value you have to offer and crafting something around that.

To do this right, you need to understand your audience, what social environments they participate in online, and why exactly they’re there. People sometimes maintain multiple profiles on a single social network for different personas, a professional profile and a party profile, for example. Sometimes they use different sites for different reasons. This proliferation of different personalities means you must understand the audience and how they’re using a specific environment. Further, it’s not enough to just insert a brand message; you must bring more value, ask the audience to participate, and give them the tools to share.

At the end of the day, the old Internet ad model of driving traffic to your site is being turned on its head. Suddenly, it’s much more about driving your site — or the right pieces of your site — to the traffic. That’s a significant shift, and we’re only beginning to see the results.

Join us for ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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