The Year of the Disconnect

Cables, wires, cords, and plugs are snaking through landfills as connecting to the Web increasingly means disconnecting from grounded intermediary physical devices, such as telephone outlets, modems, and Ethernet cables. The Web is becoming mobile, and that doesn’t apply only to mobile devices such as cellular phones and smartphones. Wi-Fi, EVDO (device) cards, and Bluetooth are also spurring the trend.

Thinner, lighter, and, above all, cheaper laptops are nudging desktop PCs into the dustbin. This year, laptops are expected to outsell PCs for the first time, thanks in part to the pervasiveness of Wi-Fi networks. And more and more, content is decoupling from the devices it was traditionally consumed on.

TV on your PC? YouTube on the boob tube? No problem.

When consumers, and the devices they use to access and consume media and content, de- and recouple, marketing implications aren’t far behind. Following are a few implications some of these significant technology shifts have on marketing.

Fly Wi-Fi

Not only are an increasing number of households connecting to the Web via Wi-Fi, so too are businesses like coffee shops and Laundromats, public parks, and libraries. Even entire municipalities now offer Web access to customers and the general public. Wi-Fi has taken to the skies, as well as to mobile devices such as the iPhone and other late-model cell phones and smartphones.

Sure, this trend provides the obvious and oft-discussed sponsorship opportunities (“brought to you by…”). But other concerns for marketers and advertisers also unfold. How visible is your ad on smaller devices — a cell phone, a laptop, who knows? Are users in public likely to turn up the volume to hear that audio? Will they be using earphones?

In addition to such challenges, there are opportunities, albeit largely unexplored ones. How can malls and other large retail establishments best market to users on their networks? What about event and sports promoters leveraging opportunities at concerts, arenas, and live events?

E-mail to Go, Or All But Gone?

E-mail is increasingly read on mobile devices, yet mobile e-mail standards are practically nonexistent (anything but plain text renders abysmally on the BlackBerry). When images don’t render, measurement is all but impossible. Mobile users, meanwhile, spend considerably less time reading commercial messages, not to mention clicking through to landing pages, research (and common sense) dictates.

All these issues present challenges — and no fast or easy answers — for e-mail marketers.

TV and Web Advertising: One and the Same?

That TV ads could become as personalized and addressable as online commercial messages seems farfetched, but in reality it may not be far off. The same could hold true for mobile advertising.

It makes sense when you consider “mobile” in the context of Web-enabled (e.g., an iPhone or untethered laptop) rather than as a synonym for “cell phone.” Consumers will, eventually, ditch cellular technology in favor of Web-enabled devices, and that’s where targeting and personalization become much easier for marketers to cope with. Mobile marketing will require more of the known and less of a learning curve.

How’s this like TV advertising? TV advertising will necessarily become more like Web advertising. Not only are people consuming TV content on their digital devices (think not only online video but also TV captured on DVRs), they’re also doing the inverse — consuming Web content on their TVs, courtesy of digital home networks. It becomes more meta with the advent of IPTV (define).

Bye-bye, cable box and satellite dish. Hello, targeted ads in the form of personalization and addressability. Estimated revenues for IPTV advertising run as high as $10 billion worldwide by 2011, or roughly 20 percent of the total Internet ad market that year, according to Understanding & Solutions Ltd.

Everything (and Everyone) Is Everywhere

TVs are as likely to be online as Web content is likely to be on TV. Even personal content will follow suit. Online applications and storage (think Google Docs, Flickr, YouTube, calendars, even mobile social applications such as Flickr) open opportunities for contextual advertising as they disconnect users from devices with massive storage capacity and hardwired connections. Why shouldn’t that spreadsheet you’re working on be as accessible as cash from an ATM (if not more so)? Just this week, a USB thumb drive that uploads content to the Web was announced.

Increasingly, you won’t know if you’re marketing to someone sitting on the beach, flying through the air, or beavering away at home or at the office. All those scenarios are becoming more probable. Correspondingly, marketing messages will have to become more bite-sized (think mindshare on the go) and personal. Yet metrics will get tougher as users access more devices — their own, as well as those belonging to friends and family. Mobility and portability don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

That consumers are disconnecting makes them more connected than ever. Figuring out how best to reach this newly untethered audience is one of the biggest challenges ahead.

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