Every year at this time I get asked by many of my clients and colleagues to share my thoughts on what digital trends will be important for marketing—particularly b-to-b marketing—in the coming year. Based on the responses I have already been handing out piecemeal, it struck me that I probably have enough content for a good blog article on the topic. I’ll let you be the judge of that. Please note that while I have been involved in digital marketing for over 20 years now, what follows are my personal opinions based on what I am reading around the net and seeing with my own clients.
So for 2011, what do I think will dominate the digital marketing trends?
I think that 2011 will be more of an evolutionary, not revolutionary year. I think that some digital channels will continue current growth rates while a couple of channels will hit inflection points and begin rapid growth phases. Let’s start with what will continue to grow:
Search has been in the discussion for so long now, I am starting to see a little bit of “nothing new here” attitude from clients. The reality is, paid search has only continued to grow in importance and effectiveness and has proven to be relatively recession-proof during the last downturn. The change I see happening for b-to-b marketers this year is a shift in the balance from paid search to organic search. For several of our clients we are seeing a tenfold advantage in CPC for dollars invested in organic versus paid search. The challenge for organic search as always been a lack of understanding and/or confidence on the client side regarding the process, benefits and measurable ROI of organic search. As resolution of these challenges become public knowledge, corporate marketer confidence in SEO will continue to grow and the result will be a shift in marketing dollar allocation from SEM to SEO. We have already seen this happening—I think in 2011, it will become more pronounced.
Last spring, we saw many of our clients’ mobile website traffic metrics start to exhibit the classic “hockey stick” upturn. We attribute that shift to increased network speeds, better mobile device capabilities and the b-to-b professional’s need to be “always on.” As our clients deploy mobile marketing to even a greater degree in 2011, the key will be compelling content, especially content in bite-sized portions that are appropriate for both computer and mobile (2nd and 3rd) screens. This means formatting Web content to be easily consumed on a mobile device and moving into online video that is mobile consumable, not Flash-based. As both Sprint and Verizon expand their 4G networks—and AT&T tries to play catch-up—I think that mobile marketing is a continued growth trend for 2011.
Social Media Marketing
I think in b-to-b markets, social media was the explosion last year. This year I see marketers taking a step back and taking a more strategic approach to social media. We saw a few strategic marketers really leverage this channel last year—GE, Siemens and IBM all come to mind—and I think we will see many more corporate marketers follow this lead and integrate full engagement and activation programs into their overall plans in 2011.
Marketing automation took huge strides last year as we saw more b-to-b marketers connecting their CRM to their marketing programs in real time. This trend has been brewing for several years, but has always been hampered by the challenge of connecting business processes and IT systems to marketing activities. I think that conquering these challenges has been a long-term process involving growth in demand for ROI measurement, and maturity in the marketing automation tool set that has finally made these programs realistic in most companies. Lead nurture programs will continue to grow as important bedrock components of marketing programs in 2011.
So what digital marketing trends do I think will hit inflection points in 2011?
The last couple of years has seen an extreme increase in the fragmentation of the digital channel (especially if you consider, like we do, mobile to be part of the digital channel). The common fuel that drives all of these sub-channels, however, is content. The demand for channel-appropriate, compelling, reusable content currently dominates many planning conversations. I think the last couple of years have seen companies dip their toes into the search, social media and automated-marketing waters only to find that the real challenges aren’t technical. The wall that everyone seems to hit is one of not having enough compelling content to maintain involvement in all of the engagement channels they are targeting. I think that 2011 will see content development grow as a primary marketing tactic with planned usage across multiple digital (and some non-digital) channels.
As mentioned above, while content will be crucial to marketing programs in 2011, integration of that content will also become a recurring theme. I am seeing more online display advertising products that support online channel integration. I am very impressed for example, with the WidgetBox offering from ClickTurn. These products allow marketers to pull together content, images, video, RSS feeds and other dynamic content all into an expandable ad unit using a fairly simple editing interface. What is really exciting about these ad units is that they pull together content feeds from a potentially wide variety of sources while also taking advantage of the demonstrable increases in user engagement that come with interactive and expandable ad units. Products like these will allow marketers to provide microsite experiences within their ad banners while pulling in dynamic content from other sources.
Are there any other trends that I think will be important in 2011?I think we are going to see important growth in online video, as it is a content format that is appropriate and reusable in nearly all digital delivery modes—mobile included.
I think that we will see an important decision relating to online tracking and privacy that will either set retargeting companies like Bizo on a continued growth path or be their death knell.
I think we are going to see a change in the approach to staffing for digital talent in both agencies and marketing departments that will demand that all staff be digitally proficient but limiting pure-play digital talent to production capacities.
That is a top line of what I think. What do you think?