As a digital marketing professional, I’ve often been asked these questions during small talk right before you flick on your Keynote (well, PowerPoint for some), from clients and partners alike, who are eager to demonstrate their keen sense of digital awareness.
“So Patrick, what’s new out there? What is the latest trend nowadays?”
I always get very annoyed. (Sorry people!)
I am annoyed because it is hard to explain in a few sentences over a 20-second conversation that there is really nothing new in digital, contrary to what people believe. But in order to respond concisely in a way they understand, I usually resort to the standard answer reluctantly.
“Yeah, many new things are happening, like social media, mobile, search… blah, blah, blah.”
However, I am going to tell you why the ‘new’ in digital may not be as new as you think it is.
Let’s start with search. It is the number one tool everyone uses today. It is also amongst the first tools marketers pour their budgets into. But long before Google became a household name, there was Lycos, AltaVista, and Magellan (circa 1995 for all you folks who were already searching). And long before search engine marketing became science, webmasters were aware of the value in visible search rankings, figuring out how to jockey their site to rank higher (search “History of SEO”).
With more than 450 million users and just as much buzz, Facebook (or BeBo, CyWorld, Mixi, Orkut, RenRen, depending which country you live in) makes sharing personal details and connecting with friends over the Web easy. So did we all just sit around surfing in very disconnected ways before these social networks came about? Not true if you were around to enjoy GeoCities and Tripod in the mid-90’s, two of the largest “Web communities” hosting more than 20 million users and an equal amount of user-generated content from vacation photography to biographies.
With the rise of huge group buying sites such as Groupon across the world, it’s hard to imagine what life could have been like before such great deals. Or is it? “We-commerce” was coined by Mercata, an online group buying site in 1999, one of the ancestors of all modern day online group buying. It’s just too bad the still nascent Internet had not been properly developed for e-commerce at the time.
Nowadays, you can hold your life in your hands with smartphones that can check email, review documents, schedule appointments, and browse the Web. But you could have done the same thing in the early 90’s with a Palm Pilot or an Apple Newton. Maybe you couldn’t grab the latest vacation photo off Facebook or download an album from iTunes, but then again no service provider or computer would have let you do that either back then.
Last but not least: Web analytics. This one is as old as the first Web browser! With the promise of digital media came the promise of being able to optimise and track every ad dollar spend with precision. Not quite as easy it turns out, but Webtrends and WebSideStory managed to perform early forms of measurement through weblog analysis and page tagging – essentially what any analytics package currently available today is doing.
The main point I’m making is that “new” is a dangerous word when associated with digital, because new things tend to be ahead of their times in the digital world.
Unless you have the time, money, and heart to experiment, don’t feel pressured to keep up with the newest and latest in digital – you may well end up with many half-baked experiments. I don’t mean to sound discouraging here. In fact, now is the best time to be doing digital marketing!
Many ‘new’ ideas from the ’90s are now proven and robust, and mass market consumers have given digital a catalytic boost by making it a routine part of their daily lives. The digital ecosystem has matured and your most welcome participation will push it past the tipping point.
And stop annoying me!