The Future Is Now

In 1997 (eons ago in web years), I made some predictions along with my co-authors in our book, One-to-One Web Marketing. Overall, we did a pretty good job (if we may say so ourselves). Below are some of our 1997 predictions for one-to-one web marketing in email, personalization, and advertising and promotion. The excerpts are in italic, followed by my update for each web marketing technique.

The Future Of One-to-One Email

We predicted:

Once the spam controversy fades into the cyberhorizon, email will become a marketing staple. Today, marketers can send one-to-one email messages that contain HTML, graphics, video, audio, and hyperlinks.

If you have a newer version of an email program, then you probably have received email that contains content that looks as if you are looking into your web browser. With the integration of databases and schedulers, personalized and automated email will be happily received by your users because it provides content and advertising that they prefer to get, because they are getting something of value to them.

John Funk, founder of www.infobeat.com InfoBeat the popular email news service that delivers more than 3 million email messages each day sees a bright future for email marketing: “Email will continue to evolve from being a personal communications tool to a company-to-customer communications tool. It has the ability to enhance and cement the relationship. Databases and data mining will be used to remember each individual user, and predict and recommend products and services that customers will buy. This process will be valued by the customer.”

Funk also has an important message about spam. “Spam is an uneducated and unthoughtful method to marketing. It may be able to build a customer database, but it cannot build relationships with customers like solicited email can.” Funk believes that spam is the equivalent of the snake oil salesman that comes to town, sells products, and makes a quick exit.

Spam is not a good practice for one-to-one web marketers who will need to take a long-term stance that the process forming loyal and profitable relationships requires. Funk has created a service bureau that companies can use to take advantage of their patented email technology and their one-to-one marketing expertise.

What’s actually happening:

Yes, email has arrived as a marketing communications tool. And spam is still abhorrent. However, HTML and database-driven email marketing is still a new technique. HTML email has not quite reached majority status. According to a recent Forrester Research study, “Opt-in Email Gets Personal,” 34 percent of companies that responded to the survey are sending HTML email. Within two years, 64 percent of these companies stated that they will be sending HTML email.

I still predict a reduction in the use of spam. Email news updates and newsletters are going to become standard fare on most web sites. There will be an even swifter acceptance by customers to receive targeted, opt-in email with especially attractive response rates for online marketers. According to the same Forrester Research report, currently only 20 percent of respondents send out personalized email beyond the recipient’s name.

One-to-One Web Site Personalization

We predicted:

In addition to sophisticated web site personalization, the future of one-to-one web site personalization will be the integration of offline processes to the web. There will be more availability of other data to the web site in real time. There will be an enhanced ability for customers to access their own data and account information in order to modify preferences and track their transaction history.

Web sites will also become part of the entire marketing, sales, and service process. Just imagine allowing users to browse through an online product catalog and dial up a service representative in a call center using voice and video over the web.

Web site interaction can also be taken to offline activities, such as identifying an online customer when he or she comes into your retail store or to a local seminar. Imagine being able to instruct your favorite company to create customer electronic and print catalogs that are tailored to your preferences and purchases. A company could use the web and other data to create one-to-one electronic and physical mailers that contain only information pertinent to each user’s need.

What’s actually happening:

In the April 1999 issue of Business 2.0, personalization made the list in an article titled, “What Works Now: 100 Ideas You Can Take to the Bank.” You could say that personalization has arrived. Although it may not make the standard web site fare such as a search engine, it will certainly become prevalent.

What’s more, one-to-one marketing also made the list. To whet your curiosity, these other smart web techniques also made the list: Customer service chat software, more white space, make offers smarter with each use, viral marketing, upsales, convenience, fresh content, community, and know your audience.

As for personalization, we are getting there. I gave personalization a B+ in a recent article. There are lots of web sites that conveniently personalize content, but integration with other data is still in its infancy. I read somewhere that less than 20 percent of large companies integrate back-end databases with their web site. However, I think we will see more of this type of integration sooner rather than later. The crossover of online personalization to offline media will still be out in the future.

One-to-One Advertising and Promotion

We predicted:

Increased interactivity, convenient transactions, and audience audits will mark the future of online advertising and promotion. Bandwidth and technology enhancements will enable advertisers to create interactive brand games such as online scratch-n-win and multiplayer contests; target consumers by their street address; and incorporate response and transaction within the online ad itself.

Future ads will look like television ads, sound like radio ads, and behave like direct mail, but with a one-to-one orientation. Ads will not be thought of as annoying by the online audience because they will be targeted to their needs and preferences ads will be convenient and informative.

All of the mystery surrounding audience, impressions, and click-through measurement will be solved by advertising management software and by such companies as the Audit Bureau of Circulation (www.accessabc.com), which will verify web site demographics and traffic.

What’s actually happening:

Okay, give me a B- for this prediction. While online advertising is not thought of as annoying by online users, it is being ignored by them. However, advertising technology is continuing to enable more refined targeting, beyond keywords and phrases.

With recent advances in rich media technology, multimedia online ads will increase in use. We are most definitely seeing more web banners that are interactive and enable transactions. Also, not surprisingly, audience measurement and audits are becoming a reality with the horserace between various measurements companies such as Nielsen Media and MediaMetrix.

Next Week: More about targeted online advertising.

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