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Six predictions for the new year

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Prognostication is a funny business. One problem is selecting a reasonable time frame. Pick a date too far in the future and you're in for trouble. I still shudder at the memory of being on a radio show a few years ago during which the host asked me, in all seriousness, "Ellis, can you tell us what you think computers will look like in, say, 1,000 years?" (This was live radio, and because there were five minutes to fill, I did my very best. I mused about "human-AI hybrids" and synopsized the plots of at least two "Star Trek" episodes until, mercifully, we cut to a commercial.) So the following six predictions, generally made using a conservative crystal ball, apply to 2008:

The economy

Expect a slow year—definitely slow in the first half. GDP growth forecasts for the year range from 1.8% to 2.5%.

While estimates vary slightly about where U.S. advertising will end up this year—they generally range from 3.7% to 4% growth—there is a strong consensus that developing markets, such as Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, are where the action is. These markets are growing in the double digits.

This opportunity, coupled with a sluggish domestic economy, will spur international expansion. Marketers and media companies that are already engaging the rest of the world will step up this activity; those that haven't started will begin.

Video

As I was researching my new cell phone at the end of last year (more on that in a moment) I spent a great deal of time at CNET.com. But I didn't read as many reviews as I watched videos of the reviewers demonstrating the latest devices. Video will emerge as a differentiating feature this year.

Social media

Media companies and marketers trying to play in the Web 2.0 world of blogs and networks will have vastly different degrees of success. Meanwhile, attempts to track the ROI of these alternative channels—let alone monetize them—will continue to befuddle both camps.

Events

In a world of instant, increasingly mobile access to searchable content, face-to-face events grow in importance, I think. They satisfy a deep-seated hunger for expert opinion and peer-to-peer networking. BtoB's exclusive annual "Marketing Plans and Priorities" survey, published in December, found 49.5% of marketers plan to increase their event budgets in 2008.

Internet

For several years, marketers have shifted increasing amounts of their budgets to online. I think 2008 will be remembered as the crossover year, when those in some segments began moving the bulk of their spending away from such traditional vehicles as print and broadcast to digital. Not surprising, tech marketers, companies like Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., will be in the vanguard.

Alternative devices

That new handheld I bought? An AT&T Tilt, a 3G smartphone that includes an integrated GPS and a nifty, sliding keyboard. Millions of new handsets able to access the wireless Internet at high speed—including, yes, access to streaming video—are already changing content consumption habits, spurred in no small part by Apple's brilliant marketing of its iPhone. Add to this the arrival of Google's long-rumored handset and the emergence of mobile computing tightly integrated with search, and 2008 shapes up to be the Year of the Handset.

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business. He can be reached at ebooker@crain.com.

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