2011 Digital Marketing Predictions

As we begin the New Year, the team at Digital Surgeons has a few predictions for 2011. We examined the tech universe as it stands now, and polished off our crystal ball (created in HTML5, of course) to see where we might be headed. And since we live and work in a world of constant change, we wouldn’t be surprised if a few of these prognostications aren’t already beginning to take form as we write this blog.

  So let’s begin, shall we?

 

 

There’s local, then there’s hyper-local

  First up is the transition happening in search from a local perspective to hyper-local. We believe that the main driving force here will be the growing power, popularity, and acceptance of geo-location. Retailers, especially, will begin to take more advantage of this technology, particularly as it relates to coupons and special deals, offered whenever a prospective customer is in the vicinity. While email specials won’t disappear completely, they will gradually be supplanted by virtually instant and highly targeted offers.

  The entire concept of “social” is experiencing a significant evolution, moving beyond the mere sharing of connections and more about different and exciting ways for people to interact. Gaming has already become a radically transformed industry, and the ability and willingness of people to share information, which they believe will be useful to their friends, will impact commerce in a profound way.

  Companies like Shopkick are built on the belief that shopping as an experience can and will become far more rewards-oriented, not to mention more individual and meaningful as far as outgoing offers are concerned. Shopkick was founded on this premise, and as the proliferation of smart phones and the concept of social sharing increases, platforms such as the one they developed will become the norm instead of the exception. As more and more people expect the offline shopping experience to mimic that of the online world, shopping as an activity will continue to be transformed into a more robust and, forgive the pun, rewarding experience.

  In addition to newer platforms like Shopkick, the major players will be those companies already offering (and in some cases, putting some gentle emphasis on) hyper-local and geo-location.

  Although Facebook had a tough 2010 in some regards (“the movie,” privacy issues and questions about Mark Zuckerberg’s ability to perform as a true CEO) the company still rolled out a swathe of new products and passed the half-billion user milestone. Facebook Places is well-positioned to give Foursquare and SCVNGR a run for their money. The sheer volume of users alone will create a huge impact as 500,000 people begin sharing locations, new places, and connecting with their friends. Although the service is technically a Facebook property, the company has allowed it to integrate with Gowalla, Foursquare, Yelp, and InCrowd, dramatically increasing the potential of what are, for all intents and purposes, competitors. So maybe we’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that Foursquare, while it continues to grow and dwarf all other companies (including the decidedly un-dwarf like Google) will help to continue the growth of geolocation as a more than a concept or fad, and become the driving force in what looks to be one of the definite game changers next year.

Social commerce will become more social

  The other iteration of social commerce that will see significant growth will be in the area of group shopping. Companies like WeShop, Groupon, and Living Social will continue to gain traction and members as the scope of their deals and the ease of sharing those deals with a consumer’s network increases.

  WeShop is a great example of the movement towards social shopping. Their platform allows consumers to share purchase information on a free and anonymous basis, to essentially pool their purchasing information. Unlike some of the other services which are essentially deal alerts, Groupon for instance, WeShop asks consumers for a more detailed look at areas traditionally thought of as very private—email addresses or credit card numbers for instance. The tradeoff though, is ease of shopping because WeShop already has a credit card number, and ease of information sharing because they can quickly reach out to customers who have provided their email addresses. WeShop also enables customers with similar interests to build into virtual and anonymous marketplaces that have the potential to attract better offers from vendors depending on the number of potential buyers.

  Not to be left behind, Google has several products geared towards the social commerce concept. Google Shopper will allow consumers to compare prices, derived at the moment from an algorithm that aggregates online prices from online stores and big box retailers like Target and Wal-Mart. Add in their super reliable maps and directions and mix well with a pinch of GPS, and Google Shopper could well become the force they clearly hope it will.

  Platforms like this one, and others like Groupon and Living Social are in the vanguard of a true movement towards consumer empowerment. And isn’t that truly the ideal of the web?

 

Influencers will run the web

  Next up is the wide and ever-expanding world of influence via social media. In a nutshell, the practice of analytics to track and manage influence will continue to mature, and will become a serious tool from Hollywood to Madison Avenue and beyond.

  One of our favorite players in this area is Klout, whose ability to let users track the impact of their opinions, links and recommendations across a social graph is becoming ever more robust and useful. They already collect amazing amounts of data about the content that users create, how people interact with that content and the size and composition of their networks. In addition, they identify key influencers and provide tools so that they can monitor and adjust their online influence.

  Obviously this information is becoming extremely important to marketers as they track and rank influencers, cashing in on the online credibility as their “properties” become hotter. Using Twitter it will become easy to get a “Klout score” and see exactly when an individual or company ranks in terms of online influence.

  Markers will be able to tap in to groups of influencers to help introduce new products the way Virgin America did a few months ago. Using Klout, they company offered a hand-picked group of Klout-selected influencers a free flight from San Francisco or Los Angeles to Toronto, the airline’s newest destination. Interestingly, and cleverly, Virgin asked nothing of the influencers beyond an acknowledgement of the freebie. Of course they hoped for positive vibes to spread online, which is what happened.

  This movement beyond tweeting and Facebook status updates is one which will grow by becoming more mainstream. It will be a tool for both self-promotion and corporate marketing that has the potential to change the vary concept of fame and popularity. As Warhol quipped, everybody has their fifteen minutes of fame. Now we’ll be able to tell in advance when those fifteen minutes are about to begin.

 

David beats Goliath in the battle of the social network

  As we saw with the major players in social networking like Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare (to pick a few) early adopters are often the ones with the vision to take an idea and expand upon it exponentially. But a big part of the social networking ethos was desire to interact with one’s immediate social sphere and not necessarily to welcome everyone and their grandmother—literally.

  So we see the trend towered smaller, more intimate social networks as one that will continue to pick up steam. After all, Facebook began as a way for students on a single campus to stay connected. The idea of a half billion users wasn’t exactly part of the original game plan.

  Sites like path, instagram, and Fast Society continue to sprout out of nowhere and the number of these micro-social networks keep growing.

  We see networks like GoFish, a community of only a few thousand anglers as a great example of this trend. The idea of an exclusive online hub is compelling. They already exist in their thousands, and cater to any demographic you can think of: fisherman, hockey players, knitters, kite enthusiasts, diesel truck fans, researchers in many fields—the list is endless and with limitless potential.

  While most niche networks are run by fledgling tech startups, or by non-techies, and are small when compared to a behemoth like Facebook, they are a sizable and growing segment of the social web. A recent report by the audience tracking company comScore found that last summer more than 280 million people logged on to social sites other than Facebook or Twitter. The real number could be three times that amount since many people have more than one interest (hockey players who knit, anyone?) and consequently log on to more than one site. Whatever the actual number is, suffice it to say that it’s a big one, and so, meaningful as we look at the growing trend away from macro-social networks and towards more focussed and intimate social networking.

  From a business perspective, this allows small sites to charge higher advertising rates. Rates that many companies are willing to pay since their audience can be defined so tightly.

  So with revenues a realistic possibility, and the users out there somewhere, we suggest that the Goliaths out there keep a sharp eye out for small guys with slingshots. History has a habit of repeating itself.

Facebook Likes will continue to dominate

  As predictions go, this one is a no-brainer. Advertisers will continue their migration away from traditional forms of media and will gravitate in ever-growing numbers towards Facebook and the lure of the Like.

  If the point of an ad is to get someone to consider your product, how can you pass up the instant gratification of a consumer hitting a like button for your soup or running shoes or SUV? It’s a clear indication that your message—whatever and to whomever - is hitting the right chord. Some advertisers, Vitamin Water and Skittles to name a few, have dispensed with the traditional corporate website and made Facebook their primary consumer touchpoint.

  Like it or not, this trend is one that shows no sign of slowing down.

 

Tap Tap Tablets. 2011 will be the year of the tablet as last year was the year of the iPad.

  As we’ve all seen, Apple may have started the tablet revolution but they won’t be the only participants. True, the iPad rules the current roost, but a huge number of competing products is expected to descend on the marketplace as the booming demand for mobile-computing gadgets explodes.

  A recent report from Oppenheimer & Co. Forecast that shipments of tablet devices will skyrocket from 15.1 million units this year to more than 115 million by 2014. For you number junkies that’s a compound annual growth rate of 66.5%.

  Apple will reap most of the near-term profits in this category as they sold almost 7.5 million iPads by the end of September. But lurking in the wings are a slew of Android and Blackberry-based products that will provide some spirited competition. We’ve already seen this movie with the introduction of the iPhone followed quickly by other devices running other operating systems.

  A few new tablets that have a lady hit the Market include the Samsung Galaxy and similar devices from Dell, RIM, Motorola, and HP with more on the way from other manufacturers. Revenue from all these products is expected to reach $55 billion by 2014, compared to an estimated $9.5 billion this year.

  The popularity of Google’s Android OS is expected to help many of the above-mentioned companies play catch-up in the marketplace after Apple’s strong surge from the gate.

  All of which suggests that one of the key tenets from the original tablets—thou shalt not covet—will like as not go unheeded as we move in to the new year.

 

Apps, Apps, and more Apps

  Apple’s AppStore and Google’s Android aren’t the only app stores that will continue to grow. While these two major players may continue to dominate, others will surely come along to challenge.

  Not to start a brouhaha here, but the advances in HTML and JavaScript will continue to expand the limits and bounds of what web applications will do. Flash isn’t dead, but it will definitely face a run for its money as the other systems mature.

  The bottom line, though, is that apps will become even more robust and user-friendly, and that is a good thing.

 

The gloves will come off in the world of social gaming

  It’s pretty apparent that social gaming is here to stay. Social times reports that social network gameplay increased by an astounding 66% in the year just ending. The popularity of Farmville alone is enough to convince just about anyone of that fact. But like all things social (notice a trend in our predictions?) gaming is a big enough pie for many companies to share. And speaking of Zynga...

  Farmville has dominated social gaming practically since day one. But just as there was a migration from farms to cities in the offline world, a similar trend is taking place online. Only faster. Much faster.

  Social game company Zynga’s new CityVille is poised to pass Farmville in the very near future. By the numbers, Farmville has 56.6 million monthly active users. 16.7 million users are playing Farmville daily, with a daily increase of 195,000 active users. Conversely, CityVille is taking in 54.7 million monthly active users, 15.6 million are playing the new game daily, with a per-day growth of 3.4 million active users. To put those numbers in perspective, CityVille probably took over the top spot somewhere during the writing of this paragraph.

  Zynga’s other popular games aren’t exactly laggards, either. Texas Hold’em has 34.4 million users and FrontierVille and Mafia Wars aren’t too far behind.

  And while Zynga competes with itself, the popularity of playing social games continues to rise. So its only a matter of time—this year perhaps—before other companies introduce new games that will syphon players away from the more entrenched games, and attract new players to the world of online social gaming.

Look to the cloud

  This is perhaps less of a prediction and more of a proclamation: cloud computing is the future. There, we said it and would be surprised if you didn’t agree. There are any number of companies out there now and millions of users, so the point we are making is simply that from the fairly humble beginnings a few years ago of services like Google Docs the cloud industry is growing faster than a thunderhead over the Gulf Of Mexico.

  We use so many different kinds of devices both in business and in our personal lives from laptops to desktops, cell phones to tablets, we’ve come to demand that the functionality and data we need be always accessible no matter where we are, and no matter what we happen to be using to connect to the internet.

  Software as a service (SaaS) will become a standard business practice. The continued success and clever evolution of Salesforce.com is often cited as a prime example of a company that’s mastered the cloud. Their CRM functionality is accessed almost 100% through a browser. Over 3 million businesses, including government organizations, schools and hospitals are switching to Google Apps, and they certainly wouldn’t if cloud computing were not here to stay. Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (known as S3) allows businesses to purchase an almost infinite amount of online storage. It’s the same with companies like Rackspace and Box.net.

  But perhaps the most important feature of cloud computing is that it is convenient. While there are security concerns, these are largely unfounded, and as the cloud expands and companies mature they will become even less of an issue.

  One of the more interesting developments in cloud computing, and one which has the potential to ignite huge growth in the category is OpenStack, the joint venture between Rackspace Hosting, NASA and a number of companies including Dell, Citrix Systems, Limelight, Cloud.com, and others. When it was launched last summer, the project was hailed as a key component in the growth of cloud computing. It is a free, open source initiative that will enable any organization to offer cloud computing services running on standard software.

  So, ironically, we see the future of cloud computing as one that is bright indeed.

Web video, lets watch it on all three screens

  To put it simply, web video has officially outgrown the “cats on pianos” phase. And good riddance. Its bigger than YouTube and able to transcend media giants, stuck squabbling over Internet TV rights. Online video is everywhere, and the simple fact is that people love to click and play. On Facebook alone the average person watches over 16 minutes of video a month.

  Video and multimedia content is becoming more accessible and acceptable on mobile devices, and will help to usher in a new era of viewing. Google TV and Apple TV are bringing the concept of web video directly to the third screen, and as they overcome the inevitable growing pains associated with any new technology they will gain in popularity as quickly as on-demand video did for the cable companies.

  This is a technology that, despite the waffling by the major networks and bickering amongst movie studios about rights, will not see anything but forward momentum. And its not just the “established” companies like Hulu who will help to speed up the inevitable. Google “on line video” and you’ll find literally millions of choices.

  Twitter and Facebook both made huge strides this year in the ease with which people could access multimedia content, and in fact Facebook snatched the second spot from Yahoo as the site that drives viewers to video, and is second now only to Google.

  Game consoles also provide another pipeline for video, proving that a smartphone or laptop isn’t the only way viewers can get their video fix.

  The online vide industry is booming, and rapid growth is predicted by every company analyzing the category. It represents a fantastic opportunity for advertisers to rethink the standard television commercial, and with no time constraints (unlike television) provides an opportunity for brand storytelling that could revitalize the stale concept of a commercial.

  Interactivity adds an element that no ad can match, and the success of campaigns like the oft-cited Old Spice endeavor is a testament to the fact that, properly used, the tool of online video can result in brand buzz that marketers only dreamed of a few years ago.

  Our prediction here? Online video will break all the rules and the winners will be consumers and advertisers alike.

The battle over Net Neutrality continues…

  We wish that we could predict an end to the seemingly insurmountable arguments over Net Neutrality, but unfortunately our prediction for the coming year is not so sanguine.

  While the cable companies, advocacy groups and politicians continue to wage war with one another, most voters it seems, don’t support the whole concept of regulation. They were given an incredible amount of freedom and don’t want it taken away.

  A poll from Rasmussen that was just released found that only 21% of voters support Net Neutrality. 54% of respondents are opposed to any form of regulation with 25% considering themselves uncertain.

  Not surprisingly, the numbers are split Down party lines. Republicans and “unaffiliated voters” overwhelmingly believe that free market competition is better than regulation in protecting Internet users, while 46% of democrats support regulation.

  Confusing the issue even further is the fact that many Americans don’t seem to understand what Net Neutrality actually is. And with all the convoluted arguments—both for and against—who can possibly blame them?

  In an odd twist, while most Americans are not in favor of FCC regulation of the web, the majority continue to support the FCC’s regulation of radio and television.

  This looks like a fight that’ll continue for sometime. At least until we round up our predictions for 2012.

  So there you have it: from the cloud to the living room we offer our predictions for the coming year. We welcome your feedback, and freely accept the fact that there are differing opinions out there, and that we may well learn something of value in such dialog. It’s safe to predict however, that something will come along that could well change the way we view the world of technology that, well, none of us could predict.

  Happy New Year from all your friends here at Digital Surgeons!