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What is the future of technology marketing?

The following observations on the emerging media frontier speak to the fact that it's been a fast, strange trip from Super Bowl 1984, when my employer (Chiat/Day, now TBWA Chiat/Day) launched Apple's Macintosh, to today, when I trot around Europe trying to cajole colleagues within TBWA International to embrace change and manage it for this brave new world.

Here are some trends and implications that will affect marketers in the coming years.

Not surprisingly, the biggest factor of change comes from the impact of growing online and Internet use, which has ramifications across a number of marketing arenas.

Trend: Trade publishers make the Internet an integral part of their business.

While today the high-tech sector of trade publishing dwarfs other categories, the Net may just impact that pattern, allowing advertisers to reach buyers directly with either their message or their product, or both.

Publishers need not necessarily start worrying, though; those with the smartest minds and most creative selling sense will develop value-added initiatives that incorporate the best dimensions of print with the urgency, relevance and clarity of a Net solution.

The ultimate win-win is message layering, with Web-based promotions, print advertising and public relations supplementing one another. Indeed, the major technology publishing companies are already moving in this direction.

Trend: Trade shows get more virtual.

As frustration with giant trade shows continues to grow, virtual sales pavilions in cyberspace, product catalogs by CD-ROM, long-form trade infomercials and a dozen or more other innovative means of opening doors and building rapport between vendor and customer begin to make more financial sense than the whiz-bang of the convention hall.

Let's assume for a moment that a company's trade show budget, all inclusive, from displays, to samples, to travel and entertainment, to demonstrators for the floor, is $750,000 for domestic shows only. Think about what can be accomplished electronically with that money; and also think about the benefits of an ongoing, week-in, week-out dialog compared with one exhausting convention splash.

Will trade shows fold now? Not in general-but many specific shows will find tougher sledding.

This fall the e-motion show in Amsterdam, one of the great favorites in years past, focused on future products from brilliant telephones to virtual reality toys and games-and was a much-publicized disaster.

The media claim that 120,000 people who were expected didn't show because the advertising campaign misled them into thinking it wasn't about consumer technology.

This drives home the point that it's all in the marketing. If an e-package can deliver the steak, the sizzle and unlimited extra portions, it will begin first to supplement, and then in some cases to supplant, traditional trade show opportunities for marketers.

Trend: Facing increased competition from the Internet and other new media, traditional news sources get wired.

In North America, cyberspace already has become the "next" mass medium. That means increased competition for newspapers, whose readership and share of ad dollars have been experiencing a steady decline. In an effort to stay competitive, more than 200 newspapers went online in 1995. Also, eight of the largest newspaper companies in the U.S. created the New Century Network, an alliance intended to help ease local papers' transition to electronic publishing via the Internet. By creating common standards, these companies are making it possible for national and international advertisers to place a single image in all the newspapers in the network, instead of creating multiple versions for a series of incompatible systems. In addition, we're seeing large numbers of European newspapers and magazines going online.

Trend: Increased reliance on online services.

The importance of online services in consumers' media mix is on the rise. A survey conducted by TBWA Chiat/Day (via America Dialogue on america Online) revealed consumers would be willing to forgo newspapers, magazines, books and radio before they'd be willing to give up online services. If respondents had to limit themselves to one of five forms of media (TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, books or online communications), 30% each would choose TV and online services; 18% would choose newspapers and magazines; 12%, books; and 10%, radio. Among respondents:

70% consider the entertainment value of online services comparable to that of TV.

56% would consult online news services to track an interesting news story.

50% regularly read or browse online publications.

The key challenge for an Internet content-provider is to recognize its niche-entertainment, information or education-and focus on the particular needs of its user base. While bells and whistles are expected for entertainment sites, for example, consumers want readily available, organized information from online news and information sites.

nTrend: Segregation of online needs for work and home.

Media interests are affected by time, place and situation. Information that is a welcome addition during one's off hours may be considered annoying during the workday. Successful marketing initiatives respond to the needs of the whole consumer, while carefully compartmentalizing information so that it may be accessed as needed.

Computer-industry professionals are among those most likely to invest in home computing systems. Separate forums devoted to work and home computing acknowledge the needs of the whole consumer, while demonstrating respect for workers' time by segregating purely business-oriented material from information more appropriate for the home user.

nTrend: Europeans embrace online services.

The international online services market is forecast to grow more than 300% in five years-from 6.8 million users in 1995 to 20.8 million by 2000, according to a report by SIMBA Information. The study predicts that after the U.S., Germany (with 1.35 million online subscribers) ranks as the biggest market for consumer online services. Internet usage in several European nations is already rising at a rapid pace (most notably in the Scandinavian countries), and Germany, the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland together account for 18% of Internet hosts.

Factors expected to contribute to Internet growth in Europe include telecommunications deregulation, the declining cost of home computers and the introduction of lower-cost, stripped-down Internet appliances.

nTrend: Growing importance of information management.

While alarmist catch phrases such as "information overload" and "sensory saturation" are making headlines, consumers indicate that information only hits the overload level when it's not useful or is unwanted. If one is actually interested in the information, it's welcome and not an intrusion.

Among professionals responsible for creating and maintaining computer systems, sources of reliable information concerning innovations in the computer industry are highly valued and present opportunities for Net-savvy marketers.

Trend: Customer service goes online.

Informative, responsive online forums in which consumers have the opportunity to communicate with a corporation are deemed representative of the company's commitment to customer service, as well as an indicator of corporate commitment to utilizing futuristic technologies.

Within the computer industry, consumers expect product providers to take advantage of online technologies. Because industry insiders are assumed to be at the forefront of technological expertise, consumers expect more of these sites than of the sites supported by those in nontechnical industries.

Trend: Cross-pollination of news and advertising.

Savvy consumers are increasingly aware of the cross-pollination between news and advertising. American consumers polled by TBWA, for example, estimate that 48% of the news comes directly from company-prepared press materials.

At the same time, however, 70% of respondents indicated that they believe what they read in the newspaper.

Computer industry professionals trust news services they consider their own, regardless of the commercial sponsorship associated with them.

A cautionary note: Should the line between news and corporate PR or advertising efforts become too blurred, the public may object.

Other technology trends:

Rapid growth in business use of the Internet is allowing some advertisers to bypass traditional media.

Already, a significant volume of recruitment advertising in the information technology industry has moved onto the Net.

Expect increased interactivity between advertisers and targets in the form of consumer-data collection and personalized marketing campaigns.

Also sure to have an impact is the rise of media giants with broad reach into traditional and new media.

One example is Bertelsmann's partnership with AOL in online ventures in Germany, France and the U.K. New global gorillas will dominate the media marketplace and bring with them new preferred suppliers. Cross-marketing with media giants will be an essential feature of marketing communications for the balance of the 1990s.

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