The Future of Digital for Brands in 2011… And Beyond

In my last post, we looked at The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Digital in 2010. These will no doubt be interesting to observe, and hopefully 2011 will see more of the good (and new good), and less of the bad and ugly.

But what else will 2011 look like from a digital and marketing perspective?

Here are 11 themes that I see smart marketers embracing in 2011, so that digital can work harder to shape the fortunes of their brands.

1. Humanising Brands

A brand is no longer going to be what you tell consumers it is, but what consumers tell other consumers it is. The power to define brands has shifted from marketers to consumers. Every tweet about an experience with a brand is shaping how others see the brand, 140 characters at a time. In such a scenario, it will be important to provide consumers (and employees) the means of speaking about the brand, recognition of their opinions, and a listening-participative brand presence that supports and involves them.

2. Crowdsourcing Public Opinion

News is no longer what the media tells us, but it is what the collective voice of public opinion thinks it is. Influence is no longer going to be built on the back of elaborate corporate efforts or orchestrated PR initiatives. Instead it will be built around the content seeded and nurtured by everyday folks – who until now were the passive consumers of news. Due to the viral nature of social media, opinion created in one place will not stay local any longer – it will spread, and spread very quickly.

3. Putting the ‘Social’ Into Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing isn’t about the media, or even marketing. It’s about being ‘social’. In order to effectively do this, brands must behave like guests at a party, and not their party, but their consumers’ party. The most crucial media in social media marketing will no longer be the social networking sites. But it will be consumers themselves. So be social, turn consumers into your media. And marketing will take care of itself.

4. 360° Wraparound Brand Experiences

The action of most brands takes place on ground, in stores, in malls, in the homes of consumers. And not online. To effectively leverage this, it will be crucial for brands to develop communication ideas that integrate the online with the offline – and touch consumers for real.

5. Digital Agencies Going Non-Digital

Digital as an after-thought or simply an add-on to marketing doesn’t leverage the true power of digital. Marketers will need to start putting ‘digital at the core’ of their marketing planning, and digital agencies will need to start thinking about brands and ideas, before they think about digital tools, technology, and media.

6. Focus on Reality and Authenticity

The days of unrestrained marketing hyperbole are dead. In a world where consumers shape brand opinions in real time, brands will have to recognise the need to be real and authentic in what they say about themselves. This would help them be more believable and also create an environment of greater social affinity between their brands and consumers.

7. Discovering Life Beyond The ‘Like’

Simply chasing ‘fans’ or ‘followers’ is meaningless if one is looking to create true brand advocates and to drive buzz through them via their social networks. What counts is how marketers nurture fans after they ‘Like’ a brand page. This will be best accomplished through social CRM, where fans are segmented and the most valuable are nurtured to deepen their engagement with the brand and to create true ‘brand love’.

8. Communities Seeded Around Causes and Consumer Context

A brand contest run via social networks aimed at getting people to vote for entries isn’t the same as a community – and certainly is very removed from creating a community of brand enthusiasts and evangelists.

To create a community that breathes and lives the brand, and lives on beyond the life of a campaign, it will be important to seed the community around a context that is relevant to the audience. To make them work harder, it will help to align the community with a relevant cause (relevant to both the brand and the audience). This will allow the community to have a strong hook to ‘commune’ over, and help strengthen the value and longevity of the community.

9. The Move to Divergence

In a world where convergence of technologies and devices is a buzzword, an interesting shift will be towards divergence – optimal technologies and devices for specific experiences. To explain, an iPod is a great way to hear music, but if you have a high quality sound system to plug the iPod into, the experience is enhanced. One can browse the Web on an iPhone, but the experience is better on the iPad. Likewise, the iPad is a cool way to watch video. But it cannot beat the near cinematic experience of watching video on an HD TV.

10. Social Commerce

Shopping is a social activity, and has always been. Right from the ancient Middle Eastern Souks to today’s urban mega malls. Not surprising then, that people will look to replicate this social experience in their online buying behaviour too. So we will see a greater focus on peer reviews, comparison tools, shopping lists you can create and share, as well as other smart ideas that will help mirror online the buzz of the mall and the euphoria of grabbing that super deal on that great handbag.

11. Digital Deja Vu

In all the positive enthusiasm about the digital outlook for 2011, it will be important to recognise that digital overload is a very real possibility. When that kicks in, people will look to ‘log out’ from digital, tune out of social networks, and return to the touch and feel of face-to-face instead of wall-to-wall. Digital must retain high touch even while being delivered via high tech.

2011 promises to be the most exciting year for digital yet. Let’s watch how these themes shape up and change the future of digital for brands.

A slideshare presentation on The Future of Digital for Brands is available here.

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