Last year was a transitional year for most of the industry and now the traction of these changes are likely to take hold on the cold hard surface of consumer engagement.
Not to foreshadow any impending doom, but many of us are likely to see elemental change happen faster in this coming year than ever. And though it appears I waited until after the year turned, I blame my iPhone alarm clock and its 2011 bug.
Quality becomes the new quantity
Most of what we see or hear has a number tied to it these days. Twitter followers, tweets, retweets, likes, comments and so on. It’s the new personal scorecard. Telling people you have a zillion followers is a kind of reality, but does the largess of the number connote the quality of what you did?
We like approval from others and people that we know especially, but this collusion of opinion and information is not always the truest form of value. Now yes, there is always a blend to that fact and it's not about you or me personally, it's about how the numbers are used. And what will be more important this coming year is how relevant all you see, hear, do, tweet really is.
So as a first step, ratings should become deeper than one out-of-five-star rating or “was this helpful?” if we are going to be able to sift through the hyperbole of quantity.
That sucking sound you hear: Agency Consolidation
There are too many agencies and digital services for clients to manage. People like to say that social agencies are winning over traditional digital agencies (traditional digital...really?) but that's too much of a red herring to ignore.
All digital agencies, some specializing in one area or another, are competing. What will hurt them all is too much specialization. Yes, too much specialization sounds sexy but it usually means a very low ROI and not a lot of value for the long term.
There are too many devices and platforms shifting and changing to make pop-up agencies rationalize their value. Many times this past year and in the future months, the mobile and social although inextricably linked will be competing for client budget.
It’s not a competition when eventually you are competing with yourself. So what all agencies need to do is acquire, build, mentor and refine capable technologies and people that are all working harmoniously and are measured in an egalitarian form. Easier said than done I suspect, but it will be the next agency model.
Take 5 Mr. HTML
What is going to happen is that HTML 5 will start invading a lot of work. Some of it super creative work and some banal and purely functional. Again, this wasn't purely because it was better than everyone else, it's a device-driven change, and yes, it's a Steve Jobs-driven change too.
In the end HTML 5 will take a sizable share of the development work for new media and to what end only our collective imagination can tell us. Let’s get comfortable with HTML 5 before HTML 6 comes out with Web 4.0 at its side.
Group shopping therapy
Yes, the billion dollar baby of Groupon is probably the first to come to mind. And the principle in itself will be the next phenomenon of online retail madness. What it has and probably will become is a natural progression in social media and online shopping.
One scenario might be that, rather than buying through Facebook, you'll be linked through Groupon and do your own kind of collective bargaining with brands that are willing to talk to you. Facebook may not like this, but even the investment cash rich have to adapt or adopt to be in on the group game.
Paying for it
The last stage of adolescence for publishing is upon us. The big publishing brands have been our “virtual parents" of content for long enough. This will be the inevitable jumping off point for the poignant and the popular in publishing.
The NYT will be a paid subscription in the early part of the coming year and many others will follow. What will separate the wheat from the chaff of online magazines and news is how valuable they are to the reader.
The paying for professional online content will be the true end of the physical publication and it seems that the public is ready to cut bait.
Virtual acknowledges the physical
Retail is the last bastion of the counter-digital experience. Apart from a few interesting showings, apparel retailers have been the last to take digital to the physical experience. And to be fair, buying an article of clothing is a highly personal and particular psychological experience for the buyer.
Apart from the tactile, what will change is in the service methods that consumers receive in stores. Best Buy has done an amazing job in re-engineering its model to the products and consumers through training, design and digital.
Now digital you say, big whup! Well, the interesting thing is that Best Buy didn't develop any new digital technology to change its business, they just used what was out there.
The TWELP force idea was one of the best things Best Buy could do for themselves, not to engineer the virtual world of Twitter to its wishes, but to adjust its customer service to the use of Twitter as a service tool. Brilliant thinking and a sign of things to come.
Location, location, location
We all know Foursquare has made an impact on social media and those who consume it. In the coming year Facebook will simply turn up the volume dial and have quintupled the subscribers of Foursquare.
But this isn’t just about people checking in anymore. Now businesses can instantly register all their locations and you’ll have a networked location experience. If you travel a lot like I do, this may be a good thing, or creepy.
Like many features that come and go, this one won’t go away and Facebook will dominate. So 2011 may see an end to the first footer in location-based marketing (sorry Foursquare, you needed a better logo) and exciting forays into location-based marketing.
The year of mobile...again
Mobile has been the Godot of the technology launch world. Since 1998 I've been hearing that next year mobile will be big, and each year it never happens. Well I think the mobile era has finally come to reality.
The Android and Apple platforms are solid, well engineered and ready to change our world. Applications and optics have been the two elements that completed the mobile cake. Gone will be the short-lived and quickly unused "app candy" that has been prevalent in this first era of smartphones. 2010 was a platform building year for mobile, now its time for lift-off...finally.
White spaces will be filled
Mobile's eminent arrival to the vanguard will not be purely due to its longevity in the device game. Remember back in June when in the US the broadcast signal was no more? Well now your mobile phones will be on it in a big way.
Recently AT&T added to its bandwidth portfolio in a play to win the mobile war. This along with other purchases will give consumers a lot more to do at the end of the arm than wait for a signal to come up or for email to download. The age of dial-up speed on mobile devices is coming to an end. Hooray to that!
Content and malcontents
Now with all this newness around, one cannot help but notice the burnout that ensues when engaging in this new world. Why? We first need to wake up and understand that the life blood of all these devices, applications, networks, widgets and the like is the content that is delivered through them.
In the past couple of years, media and content didn't work out this relationship and the dissonance of random information has been shortening attention spans every minute.
Our next evolution in the digital world is in moving beyond the simple fascination with new apps and devices and the true application of them in our lives through valuable and relevant content. No longer will we have the shallow mash of video banks that produce banal instructional information with no context or emotional connection.
Bad content will fade and the rise of “storied products” will be delivered by transmedia producers through multiple screens in a multitude of contexts.
Alright, that last one was a brainful. Get whatever rest you can before starting the year. It's going to be a good one.