It seems that time of year again, where suddenly end-of year roundups begin appearing and predictions are being made as to what’s going to happen across 2010,  some reasonable, some rather far-fetched.

I’ve no shame in saying that I’m going to jump on the future-gazing bandwagon, but in all fairness I’m also going to look at my previous thoughts about the direction of the digital marketing landscape to see if anything actually came true.

2009

As I suggested, cutbacks were made across marketing budgets everywhere, as the recession dragged on through the year. However, despite this, investment in online continued to grow and we saw a tipping point towards the end of Q3, where Google suddenly announced larger-than-expected profits and started adding new companies into it’s already-bulging portfolio. 

However, the biggest deal for me was that online ad-spend finally overtook that of TV. Happily, I mentioned last year that this was on the cards, thanks to the efforts of the IAB, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the World Advertising Research Centre. 

I also highlighted that display would take a bad turn and various lines of activity certainly indicate that, to some extents, this was the case. This past year, we’ve seen various online publishers struggling, trying to make sense of how to monetise content rather than relying on advertising. We’ve also seen companies who specialise in optimising under-performing inventory, such as the Rubicon Project, explode onto the scene and other areas, such as search, being given greater investment and resources. 

This time last year, I stated that “online television viewing is unlikely to slow down in its increasing popularity,” and the figures seem to support this. The rise of IPTV has been meteoric and shows no signs of slowing down, despite the problems seen with Project Kangaroo and Joost. 

Finally, I said that social media would be a big deal this year – although on reflection, I think that was a bit of an understatement. I don’t think I really need to explain why this is: if social media has bypassed your attention during 2009, I would seriously question whether you should be working in this industry!

2010

So, onwards and upward: we’re now into double-digits in the 21st century and although we’re not yet dressed in tin-foil and driving hover cars, we are going to see the relative equivalent of this in digital marketing, with developments in technology and user-behaviour meaning that I’m expecting to see the following during the course of the next twelve months.

So, in no particular order:

Mobile

I’m of the firm opinion that it never will be the “year of mobile”, even next year. That’s like saying it’ll be the year of web design or the year of user experience. The digital landscape is an evolutionary one and channels are born from development or necessity. Even those few channels, technologies, sites and products that do stand out, they arguably do so, from being the result of this. 

However, although it’s been around for a while, mobile will play an increasingly important role through 2010, in lots of different ways. Given the rapid uptake of 3G handsets and smartphones, opportunities in mobile search – especially local – will become even clearer and the importance of having mobile-accessible websites will be greater than ever. Bluetooth 3.0 is yet to be utilised to its full extent and more apps and widgets are likely to appear – already we’ve seen over 1.5bn downloads for the iPhone alone. It won’t exactly be the year of mobile, but it will be a big year for mobile. 

Last-click-wins and analytics 

The debate surrounding last-click rages on, but during 2009 new technologies have emerged that claim to put an end to this. I’m sure that this is quite true to a certain extent, but although I’m not going to single out any specific one or be controversial, I will say that across the industry, client-side, agencies and services alike, are wising up the idea that a user’s online journey is not as clear-cut as it seems. Analytics will continue to become ever-more important and sophisticated in trying to understand how users interact with the internet and where an organisation sits within this, through advertising activity. Intelligent insight will be needed in order to make the most of online marketing activity and developments in last-click technology will likely be at the forefront of this.

Education 

It’s likely that a demand for specialist knowledge will increase next year and because of this, the industry may hit a stumbling block. Many people claim the digital industry is understaffed and should this be true, as more resources are placed online, this would mean greater strain on the sector. Even if more people are recruited into digital, there may be a large lack of detailed understanding within certain fields, which may ultimately cause problems across the board. For example, I’ve always maintained that no matter how automated an online system may be, the technology can only be as good as the person managing it. This applies to pretty much every aspect of digital marketing – analytics, search, email, etc – any technology used to maximise activity will only be as efficient as whoever is using it. Consequently, companies are going to have to put more resources into educating staff, or face being left behind, as the industry keeps growing. 

Alternative measurements

Although I covered this briefly in 2008, the year past has seen an uptake of understanding alternative metrics to quantify online activity. This is especially true of social media, where hard evidence for ROI is often difficult to find. I expect the coming twelve months to see performance metrics such as engagement, customer retention, acquisition and satisfaction levels become more widely-accepted as success factors. Equally, CPC and CPM may become substituted for CPA, CPL and CPE, as organisations look to engage users, instead of treating them as traffic measurements. 

Video

As already mentioned, IPTV continues to rise, but video as a whole will be a massive trend to watch through 2010. With technology now allowing interactivity of video, combined with a user-uptake of the experience, marketers should really start looking at the various options this exciting medium offers. 

Real-time

The real time web is going to be a big issue, especially in search. Lots of smaller technology companies have been quick to realise this, as often indicated through the likes of TechCrunch, and I imagine the better ones will fare extremely well during the course of the coming year. Users are expecting a more relevant and time-related online experience and advertisers and marketers are going to have to be aware they need to cater to this, which kind of ties into my belief that personalisation will be a big deal next year. 

Search

We’re likely to see some big developments search next year. As already mentioned, real-time search opportunities should become clearer and this ties in closely to social-search. The issue for me, is whether social-tools and platforms should be offering search – or if search platforms should be offering social results. To play safe, I think it’s going to be a hybrid of the two. Semantic search should develop further as will so-called decision engines. (Bing, I’m looking at you). 

Augmented reality

Augmented reality is slowly starting to creep into the advertising world. The technology already exists, but I’m at odds with it slightly, as I feel AR is where interactive video was about a year ago. We’ve already seen some successful campaigns, but users appear slightly slow to embrace it. I think this will develop further over the next twelve months, but it might be a bit longer before it really hits mainstream. 

Social media

Social media will continue its onslaught – it’s at the point where it’s definitely not going to go away, although I question if it might be on some kind of hype-cycle. Companies everywhere have been extremely quick to jump on the social-bandwagon, but as consistently pointed out by Econsultancy, and others elsewhere, without the proper understanding or objectives, social media campaigns will fail. This, combined with the often problematic measurement of ROI, means that companies may suddenly start questioning the value of the channel and turning away from it. However, this neatly ties back into the importance of both realising the need for alternative measurement and education. 

I could be wrong. This is all only my personal opinion, based on developments this year and the technologies currently being developed. If you think I’m wrong, please say so! Equally, if you think there’s anything I’ve missed, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about what 2010 may bring to the digital marketing industry. 

(Images via Mr Muggles, bategaCarbonNYC, SEPblog )