Last week was Econsultancy’s Future of Digital Marketing event. It is the tenth year we have run it. A whole decade of digital futures that we can now look back on.

Trawling back through the archives of presentations and topics what can we observe?  

In its early years the event was called “What’s new in online marketing” (or the not so catchy acronym WNIOM). The name change itself from ‘online’ to ‘digital’ shows one of the shifts over time.

In the early days of digital in the UK we tended to talk about ‘new media’ whilst in the US it tended towards ‘e-something’. New Media Age, launched in 1995 by Centaur, has of course since become part of Econsultancy.

Emarketer is a US example that is clearly of that era, founded in 1996. “New media” morphed to ‘interactive’ and ‘online’ in the noughties and we’re now in the decade of ‘digital’.

These semantic shifts reflect the realisation over time that digital is not just about media or marketing, it is not just about web or online, it is not necessarily interactive and it is certainly no longer new.

The Future of Digital Marketing 2015

Which, of course, begs the question as to what ‘digital’ will become by the end of its decade? If you were setting up a business now you probably would not feel it sensible to label it as ‘e-something’ or ‘interactive’ or even ‘[something] digital’?

My last article gave my best guess on the existential future of digital marketing but let me know your thoughts.  

Of course there were some developments that were exciting at the time but did not amount to much: virtual worlds and IPTV come to mind.

Looking back at the event program and topics there are some that evoke a wry smile:

  • “Online PR – should we be blogging?” Perhaps more obvious now but that was 2006.
  • “Social Media - do you really need to have a presence on the likes of MySpace?” That from 2007’s agenda.
  • “Desktop Marketing - with Microsoft's new Vista platform, the growth in desktop gadgets and RSS alerts, how seriously should you be taking the desktop as a digital marketing arena?

    How does this 'desktop' extend to mobile and TV devices?” Also from 2007 this sounds both completely misguided in its specifics and yet very prescient in concept as we now address cross-device experiences and digital ‘cards’ that can be shared and embedded across ecosystems and platforms.

  • Multichannel marketing — will digital plateau out? How will online and offline work together best?” For 2008 that is sounding impressively of the current moment.

In fact 2008 turned out to be a vintage year for visions of the digital marketing future that have proved uncannily accurate.

For example, Alison Lancaster, then Marketing Director at Charles Tyrwhitt, painted a vision for the future of retail titled “From e-Tail to Me-tail” that talked about multichannel business models, outstanding customer experiences, personalisation, the digital talent challenge, the importance of agility, culture and innovation.

Ring any bells? If you are an Econsultancy subscriber you can download it from our site.

We have been through an era where the future of digital was largely about mastering new disciplines like email and search marketing, though there is still plenty of that e.g. content marketing, mobile commerce, video etc.

We went through the web 2.0 era which was largely about social media and understanding the people-to-people power of digital.

It feels like we are now in a digital era which is still not short on new things to master (data, omnichannel, personalisation etc) or new horizons to imagine (wearables, internet of things, 3D printing, artificial intelligence etc.) but which is more fundamentally about the ability of brands and businesses to change, adapt and innovate.

After ten years of presentations which often ended “Change or Die” it seems that cautionary prediction for the future of digital is indeed coming to pass. 

Ashley Friedlein

Published 18 June, 2015 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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