Marketing, at it’s best, is about the future. Unfortunately, we spend most of our time stuck in the past. We research what already happened and extrapolate forward to produce a plan. It’s not that we’re lazy, we simply know a whole lot more about the past than the present or the future.
We already know that marketing is becoming more social, local and mobile, just as we know that big data and new interfaces such as touch, voice and gesture are becoming increasingly more important. What comes next?
One key to answering that question is to define the problem. We live in a digital age, but continue to manage in analog terms. There is a strong need to integrate those two realities and so we can expect that the next wave of innovation will close the distance between the virtual and the physical world. Here are 3 things that are coming in a few years.
1. Marketing Operating Systems
The era of big data has arrived. With the cost of memory falling by half every year, we are monitoring and storing everything in sight. IBM estimates that 90% of the world’s stored data has been created in just the last two years. Not surprisingly, big data startups like Cloudera, Platfora and Qubole have become just about the hottest things around.
The problem is that while these platforms are powerful enough to analyze enormous amounts of information, the data itself tends to be sequestered into silos. For example, if you wanted to look at social activity, TV ratings and the latest sales results all together, it would take some doing. To change the variables you have to start all over again.
In a sense, this is not a new problem. Businesses wrestled with similar issues with financial data a generation ago, but resolved them with enterprise resource planning software from companies like SAP and Oracle. However, there is nothing comparable for marketing departments. We can expect that to change over the next few years.
With investments in ad tech growing at a fast clip, the need for effective marketing operating systems is increasing as well. Beyond the need for integration, such systems would allow us to augment the fairly crude statistical analysis we do now with agent based modeling that can be far more productive.
2. Natural Language Processing and Social Network Analysis
Social is big, but social data is even bigger. We have lots and lots and lots of it. So much, in fact, that it’s all pretty worthless. Brands have thousands, sometimes millions of followers tweeting and liking and commenting every second of the day, creating such an enormous firehose of information that we are ill equipped to process it all.
There is, however a solution that’s gaining traction. Natural language processing, the same technology that drives Siri in your iPhone, can be deployed to read social data just as a human would, except millions of times faster. Companies like Networked Insights and Open Amplify have built powerful platforms and we can expect NLP to become standard.
Another exciting area is social network analysis, which has been widely deployed in fields ranging from counterterrorism to epidemiology and I’ve written before about how it can be utilized for marketing. Processing power remains an obstacle to monitoring entire brand networks on a continuing basis, but capabilities are improving rapidly.
3. Digital to Analog
Over the past decade, digital innovation has created all of the excitement in marketing. However, we continue to live an analog existence. We still buy more than 90% of our products in physical stores, eat real food, wear real clothes and live in houses that we can see, feel and touch.
We’re now entering a new phase where digital technology invades the physical world. Prices for 3D printers and other fabrication equipment are falling rapidly and there are a variety of models on sale for less than $2000. One company has begun to allow customers to 3D print out their own replacement parts, saving on time, shipping and handling.
There are other signs as well. Zynga has licensed Hasbro to make physical versions of it’s online video games. The Web of Things is digitizing everything from cars to physical stores, new super low-power chips that can run on ambient energy make just about anything a computable entity and eventually programmable matter will allow us to alter physical objects themselves.
As Chris Anderson wrote in his recent book Makers, “The past ten years have been about discovering new ways to create, invent and work together on the Web. The next ten years will be about applying those lessons to the real world.”
The Semantic Economy
Taking a more generalized perspective, the three trends above are part of a broader movement from the scale economy to the semantic economy.
In the past, size really, really mattered (a lot!). Enormous scale resulted in more than just cost efficiencies. With big budgets you could build dominant share of voice on TV, crowd out your competitors shelf space and build a strong reputation that people would trust.
While I’d still rather be big than small, those advantages have greatly diminished. Communication channels have become so disperse that share of voice has lost it’s relevance, shelf space has little meaning in a virtual world and consumers increasingly look for recommendations and reviews before they make a purchase.
The new marketing battlefield is one of networks rather than nodes.
image credit: skateorbate..com
Greg Satell is an internationally recognized authority on Digital Strategy and Innovation. He is available for consulting and speaking engagements in the areas of digital innovation, innovation management, digital marketing and publishing, as well as offshore web and app development. Check out his site, Digital Tonto and follow him on twitter.