A Few Good Things to Come Out of the Recession

Five Accelerating Trends That Will Reshape Marketing

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Freddie Laker
Freddie Laker
I'm sure I'm not the first one to tell you: We're in a recession.

The doom has advertisers hanging signs along the lines of "Will Work For Food" on their agency walls, and marketers continue to face facts and figures like these, from Forrester's 2009 Global CMO Recession Survey: 71% of marketing budgets have been reduced this year, and more than half reported reductions greater than 20%.

Now here comes the curveball: I think this might be the best thing that has happened to our industry in decades. Yes, I said that. While I have empathy for those that have lost jobs and the extra pressure many of us are facing, it's also forced us to innovate, reinvent ourselves, think more strategically, and, most importantly, bring a level of sophistication and maturity that, in my opinion, has been desperately missing from digital advertising throughout most of the industry.

There are five trends I believe are reshaping the face of marketing.

Brand as an enabler
We're moving away from short-sighted, highly sales-driven marketing campaigns in favor of long-term brand platforms that use evergreen content to add value to your day. Examples include Nike+, whose latest effort serves as an enabler of self-discovery and health and delivers a sense of community within the running world. Bank of America's Small Business Online Community is also a great example in that it helps business owners to share knowledge. A final example is Kraft's iFood Assistant iPhone app, which adds convenience to recipe planning.

All these initiatives gave something while asking for little or nothing in return. But they'll ultimately help foster a relationship with the consumer that builds brand value, loyalty and engagement for less money than the cost of repetitive ad campaigns.

Distributed content
This trend moves us more in line to the modern digital ecosystem. It's fragmented and complex, with consumers interacting through many devices and sites. Modern digital marketers have recognized that in terms of the consumer, the center is everywhere. As a result, digital content is now designed to be syndicated, reskinned and reformatted while still remaining relevant. This evolution is pushing advertisers away from building million-dollar microsites and toward smart, tactical ideas that revolve around specific needs or even communities. Now consumers can access similar content across primary websites, partner sites, widgets, applications, social presences, blogs and mobile devices. They can even enjoy entire rich experiences without ever visiting a primary brand site.

Customer service as marketing
While a great product or service backed up with great customer support or service remains your biggest asset in achieving success, never before has the vehicle of customer service become one your best methods for connecting with consumers in a social-media-driven web. Big business is taking notice, with brands like Comcast and Dell changing consumer sentiment around their brands and engaging them in the communities in which they reside. Better yet, they are doing so in a way that feels natural and adds value to the conversation, all while driving additional sales, boosting loyalty, and lowering operational and marketing costs.

Next-generation listening and targeting
As the way people spend their time becomes increasingly fragmented and marketers continue to face growing pressures to demonstrate the value of our services, the tools we are using to do so have undergone a significant evolution. More than 100 technology firms are offering variants of social-media-monitoring tools that measure not only references to key search terms but also the sentiment of the messaging around them. In doing so, these tools not only provide insight into customer behavior that extends miles beyond surveys and focus groups, they help to inform media strategies that include both media buying and influencer marketing.

As an industry we have moved beyond basic web and campaign analytics. Marketing firms are now able to monitor the entire customer life cycle with significantly more accuracy and then track the correlation between traditional, digital and commerce channels and customer conversion.

Meaningful metrics
Deep analytics and tracking are enabling meaningful insight. As a result, in its ongoing path to full maturity, digital marketing is finally adopting meaningful metrics that we can equate back to real business value. Now marketers are moving beyond digital-campaign measurement standards such as traffic and are instead mapping key performance indicators back to metrics and ultimately the conversation funnel, which includes the different levels of engagement -- awareness, consideration, purchase intent, purchase and loyalty.

A massive recession is never a good thing, but it's safe to say that someday, when the marketing sun is in full shine, we will find that some good came from it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Freddie Laker is director of digital strategy at Sapient. He has also founded the Society of Digital Agencies, a collective of notable digital agencies focused on thought leadership and positive industry change, and blogs at takemetoyourleader.com.
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