In the past year or two, I've focused a lot of my commentary on the incredible growth of smart phones and their seemingly unlimited potential as a source of new and emerging marketing channels. The trend towards mobile web access has not abated, and mobile devices, smart phones, pads and tablets, while not completely supplanting the desktop and laptop computer in popularity, have become equal contenders for valuable marketing dollars. Along with the increased access and speed on portable devices, as 4G networks become more and more available, the emergence of social media as a viable customer communications channel has matured in concept and execution and opened new pathways to B2B and B2C communications. While the technology behind this communications explosion has been continually refined and improved to meet the increasing demands of the online community, many organizations have not yet balanced their marketing budget to reflect these changes and may not be maximizing their marketing dollar investments as the ever-widening popularity of social media moves towards becoming the dominant marketing channel.
If we look at the marketing and communications channels available to modern organizations, it makes sense to divide them up into logical groups based on their technological currency. For example, traditional marketing channels might include direct mail, television and radio advertising, billboards and other non-technical and non-Internet-based channels. Early or "old school" digital marketing can include email and fax campaigns, a traditional World Wide Web presence, web seminars and sales presentations and other technical methods that rely on 20th century technology and early Internet sensibilities. The last group is the multi-media channel, which includes and is largely dependent on the growing popularity of social media as a technological framework and marketing channel. Let's take a moment to validate the groupings above and observe the statistics that indicate the trend towards social media marketing.
In 2011, Microsoft Tag came out with an info graphic that focused on the increased use of mobile devices for web-based activities, but one of the most telling predictions of the graphic was that the majority of Internet use will be mobile device-based by 2014. Furthermore, the same infographic offered that almost 90% of mobile Internet users are watching TV while using their mobile devices. I think if you read between the lines on these two statistics, it is clear that traditional, passively absorbed marketing messages are being lost in the Internet noise. As dynamic as a television commercial can be, it remains up to the viewer to pay attention for it to work. If that viewer is actively searching the web for information that is of interest to him/her alone, then the TV and the content on it is lost to the cognitive demands of actively searching the web. The same kind of logic holds true for other traditional channels — static and impersonal content cannot hold the interest of a marketplace flooded with rich, one-to-one content and targeted multi-media communications.
Twentieth century Internet technology has persisted well into this century and with good reason — that which has endured has done so because it works. The ubiquity of email, fax and traditional World Wide Web presences is testimony to the sound principles on which they are built, but while pay phones and record players were once ever-present, better, faster and more effective methods have supplanted them by almost Darwinian progression, and the same has happened to the "old school" Internet technology. Though rich content, one-to-one correspondence and other highly targeted campaigns can be pushed along the carrier signal of first generation Internet technology, is anyone still listening? While the answer for now is yes, the growth of mobile web and social networks will eventually push those channels into marketing oblivion.
According to current statistics at mobiThinking.com, there are nearly 6 billion mobile devices in use worldwide and more than a quarter of those are web-enabled smart devices. It seems clear that the prediction of a mobile takeover by 2014 is practically inevitable. The consumer rush to mobile platforms and the tidal wave of people signing up with the top social media and networking sites (currently, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter) hasn't gone unnoticed by US marketers. A 2012 Awareness, inc. survey indicates that 70% of marketing entities intend to increase their presence across the social media platforms. Clearly, we've moved into a new era, and it appears to be a target-rich environment as the demographics change more and more towards mobile adoption.
mobiThinking.com also noted that 25% of mobile users only access the web through their mobile device and among their most popular destinations are games, news, maps, music and social networking. With Facebook noting that nearly half (44%) of their users are mobile and that mobile users are twice as active as non-mobile users, the indications are clear that from a social networking perspective, smart devices are poised to dominate the online world. That domination will probably not immediately signal the extinction of the personal computing platform, but with close to 90% of the developed world using mobile technology and the ongoing spike in smart phone adoption, the PC-based web experience will, I think, gradually stabilize and, through attrition, finally succumb to the mobile platform.
So, what does mobile dominance mean to marketers in the coming year? Statistics from a survey by Distributed Marketing show that 2012 marketing budget plans for both small and large business are focused on building new customer sales and brand awareness, and over 60% currently focus their spend on email and print. Also dominant are direct mail, online directories and SEO, all more traditional, time-proven channels. About half as many companies have a spend in the social media market presence and half again as many have plans to put money into paid placement on social media. Perhaps most surprising, in light of the surge in mobile platforms as described above, is that only about 55% of surveyed markets had a mobile platform marketing budget and only 11% planned to increase that budget in 2012.
It seems clear that multi-media channel management in 2012, and for the foreseeable future, is going to have to follow the trend towards social networking and mobile web computing. Marketing dollars for B2B and B2C communications through the more traditional and "old school" channels will continue to diminish as organizations increase the proportion of their spend in these emerging platforms.