Weeks after the fact, people are still abuzz about Steve Ballmer’s statement at the recent MSN Strategic Account Summit. You’ve probably already heard Microsoft’s CEO believes by 2010, all media will be interactive and delivered to consumers via some form of intelligent IP.
If the prediction comes true, it looks like a rosy picture for people in interactive today. We’re setting the stage for the future of all media. The principles we’re establishing today, such as user measurement, real-time tracking, and accountability, will be incorporated into all media in the near future. When savvy marketers have a solid understanding of how online media works, they ask for the same measure of performance from all their marketing efforts. Nothing like detailed performance data to determine the real return on investment (ROI) of marketing efforts.
One presentation at the same conference contained an even more compelling vision: Bill Gates’ view of advertising’s future. (I found it quite interesting this conference was the first time Gates and Ballmer spoke at the same industry event since Ballmer took over the corporate reins. Have to wonder if MSN is viewed as more important within the company these days.)
Specifically, Gates spoke of an overarching vision of a “seamless computing” world in which software plays a key role. Microsoft will invest nearly $8 billion in R & D to create greater synergy between devices and locations so consumers can access what they want, when they want it, and where they want it.
A few highlights:
- Subscription offerings — free and paid services that increase the perceived value of a customer’s preferred online access choice — will continue to grow. Look at the model driving MSN Direct, the service that delivers personalized information to a wristwatch device. Sure, it seems a little Dick Tracy now — basic news, sports, and weather information beamed to your forearm. But the beauty of this service is it’s driven by your preferences data, stored at MSN. Set your desires in one place and have everything delivered to multiple locations.
- The mobile space will continue to grow. Phone and PDA functionality continues to merge with lots of different form factors and options, such as GPS and camera functionality, all delivered to a nice color screen. This means more media options on the go. The only drawback is battery life, which is holding up progress.
- From your car, there’s the world of telematics and Microsoft’s goal of creating a standard, voice-driven OS via MS Mobile to provide users access to their favorite play lists, calendars, and files. (Why hasn’t someone created an audio version of the PVR for cars? I’d love to have a personal audio recorder for my commute so I can rewind the traffic report.)
- Inside the home, many devices beyond the PC will be interconnected. PCs will store, organize, and deliver files, but central serving means no more single-PC storage. iPods are just the beginning. Portable media players are coming soon so music, photos, videos, and movies will be available anytime, any place.
- Programming guides are becoming very strategic information sources. With so many programming choices, users need rich tools to guide them through the maze of options. Marketers will watch these interactions’ response rates and target messaging on the fly.
- Peek inside the Xbox online community, and you’ll see a rich flow of user data generated. That helps us see what customers want in real time. Interactivity means this universe is increasingly social as spectators and visitors join the players.
- On the development side, production houses are all going digital. Publishers and marketers can very easily reuse their messaging in many different form factors. Check out the latest Volvo S40 commercial. Images from the Xbox game were used to create the TV spot. Realism is becoming relative.
- Distribution is quickly evolving. Eventually, IP will dominate and create more content richness and flexibility. Marketers will have the ability to access real-time delivery of ad insertions based on behavioral attributes.
If most, or even some of this, is really in the future, what does it mean for the future of media? There will be far more targeting opportunities. Relevancy and interactivity will be the key components in advertising success. One thing is certain: Technology will continue to play an increasingly significant role in determining the level of engagement between consumers, programming, and the ability to deliver ever more insightful analysis of advertising efforts.
What’s your vision of advertising’s future? It may be time to pop “Minority Report” in the DVD player again. Maybe those instant Gap ads weren’t so far-fetched after all.