Five Kinda Digital Trends for 2013

thumbnailWhen I first began writing this post it was about technology, because that’s been my focus for many years. As I began diving into it, however, I found something I didn’t expect. Five digital trends that are hardly digital at all because, as one article puts it, “e-marketing” has become just “marketing.” If you’re not digitally enabled in some way, you’re not doing it.

In April I had the good fortune to attend the 2013 Ad Age Digital Conference in New York. It was a fantastic and informative event with many thought leaders and lots of great presenters. As they spoke, much of what I had been writing about became evident as not just my ideas but trends which describe the new age of marketing as an industry. Distilled here are five trends for all of us, not just the digital folk, reinforced by the hundreds of smart people who gathered at Ad Age Digital this year:

Trend #5: Set Impossible Goals, Then Achieve Them
At a conference like Ad Age Digital, big thinking is all around you, but this trend is different than that. It’s not just big thinking, but big doing. As Robert Wong, Google Creative Lab’s Chief Creative Officer, put it, “Think exponentially, not incrementally. If I tell you that you need to make cars run at 50 mpg, you retool your car. If I say 500 miles, you start over.” This is the basis for what Wong dubbed “moonshot thinking.” “You are not bothered by not being able to teleport around the world because there is a part of you that thinks it impossible,” he quipped. “Moonshot thinking is bothered by that.” It’s those people and those organizations who know it’s possible, whatever it is, that drive the industry forward. Present at Ad Age Digital were three fantastic examples of this: Citi, Delta, and USA Today. All historically non-digital organizations down to their very core, in one case dating back to over 200 years of tradition. All there to present their story on how they made the seemingly impossible digital jump, catapulting their organizations into and ahead of their industries.

Trend #4: Content Marketing Is HOT
A few years ago content was taken for granted as solely the job of an intelligent and strategic copywriter executing on channel strategy. Today content has a strategy unto itself. The advent of hundreds or more ways to communicate with consumers on the go changed everything.  Consumptions habits have changed. With so many channels and massive interconnectedness throughout every aspect of our lives, we are consuming content at an unprecedented rate. The advent of mobile has broken our tether to fixed channels, allowing us to consume on the go. It’s also changed our point of reference, which has led to the long-tail era of context. Context is what drives us to search for content that is more specific and more applicable to us. Unfortunately for content generators, content must now be relative not just to who is consuming it, but in what form. From state of mind to physical location, time of day to where we are in our brand journey, the narrower you target your audience, the more specific your content must become.

Trend #3: Big Data Should Empower, Not Replace Decision Makers
The other day I read an All Things D article ( which described the atmosphere of the last decade of Big Data conversations. Essentially, it noted, we know how to collect data, we just don’t know how to use it. Oftentimes we either cede control to the all-powerful data blindly accepting it and moving on without a thought or, worse, we spend too much time with the data, looking for that one thing that will be a perfect solution, 100% guaranteed.

With everything going on in this space—from President Obama’s National Big Data Research and Development Initiative to Electronic Medical Records and Big Data’s role in organizational and marketing optimization—it’s clear that Big Data’s time has arrived. Unfortunately it’s arrived a little too much. Trend #3 is about taking a step back to find the right mix of data and inspiration. “Stats are nice,” said Vanessa Colella, Citibank’s N.A. Head of Consumer Marketing and probably one of the most intelligent people in the room, “but obsession with mountains of data leads to paralysis…intuition still makes the difference.”

Trend #2: Make Documentaries, Not Ads
Just like Big Data can stifle big thinking and paralyze action, big productions can paralyze advertising campaigns. David Ogilvy once said, “Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the market place.” This big trend is all about the product and getting out of its way. Your product has a story to tell, so tell it. And do so simply. Not everything has to be highly produced. Seventy-two hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute by ordinary people with something to share. In this long-tail age of democratized content, consumers have become adept at distinguishing real stories from marketing noise, and their message is clear: Tell me about it, inspire me to use it, and let me choose; if I like it and it adds value, I’ll buy it—don’t try to sell it to me.

Trend #1: There Is No Digital
Across the board, There Is No Digital is the No. 1 digital-ish theme of 2013. Citibank’s Journey to Digital, Delta Airlines’ Digital Leadership, and USA Today’s Reinventing USA Today were all premier examples of historic, traditionally non-technical, non-integrated, highly regulated industry leaders completely transforming their organizations to sync up to the new world of consumption. “Digital is no longer a silo. Everyone in your organization must be digital,” said Vanessa Colella, clearly stating that there’s no such thing as “those tech guys.” “If you’re a marketer, you need to know digital and it’s our individual responsibility to stay up to date and fresh,” she continued.

Digital has been democratized and we’re all a part of it.As Robert Wong said, referring to Google’s 100,000 Star Chrome experiment, which plots the actual three-dimensional coordinates of real stars in an interactive visualization experience, “Geeks and poets make beautiful babies…art should challenge technology and technology should inspire art.”

Cross-discipline collaboration requires more than informing, it necessitates understanding. We no longer look for trends in digital marketing, we look for trends in marketing.

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