From 2007 to 2017

As a child of the 2000s, it’s sometimes difficult for me to envision a world without Google. There are faint memories of visiting the public library to do research for a project, before the days of search engines and online encyclopedias. Nowadays, I wake up and check my Gmail. Then throughout the day, I login to my (Google-owned) YouTube account to watch videos, navigate with Google maps, and encounter a handful of Google Adsense ads. And of course, I use the Google search engine. Over the past few decades, Google has grown to be so ubiquitous that the concept of search engine marketing today refers almost exclusively to Google search engine marketing. This brings us to today’s topic – the future of digital marketing. With this being my final blog post, I thought we could explore some thoughts and conclusions we’re able to draw from the topics of the past few weeks. 

In February 2007, WARC’s Admap Magazine published a journal article that attempted to predict the future of search engine optimization. I think it will be interesting to compare these predictions from the past with the reality today, and offer some thoughts for the future. 

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The Prediction: “Increased personalization”

In 2007, when you searched for an “electrician” in a search engine, you would receive results for electricians from around the world. Of course you had the option of also adding your location as a search term, but the prediction at the time was that searches would become more local (Spiller, 2007).

The Reality: Personalization to the max!

Today, not only are search engines able to personalize search results by current location, they actively track data such as internet usage in order to offer the most relevant results. For instance, they may display advertisements for hotels in Venice if a customer frequently looks at Venice in Google Maps. This type of profiling is making the digital marketing landscape a much more personalized one. As we saw with email marketing over the last two blog posts, customers don’t just appreciate personalization; they expect it (Rousselet, 2017). Whether they know it or not, customers are so used to personalization that removing it would make the digital experience feel cold and ineffective. Of course, there’s the question of privacy, but that’s a topic for another day. In terms of next steps, companies need to search for that delicate balance between being helpful and being intrusive. 

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The Prediction: “Social networking”

The most popular social networking sites in 2007 were MySpace and Facebook. It was predicted that more companies would begin using these “networking forums” to promote their websites and improve their search engine positions (Spiller, 2007). 

The Reality: Social networking!

Though we are now aware of the fate of MySpace, Facebook is still as strong as ever. Today, these social media sites are not merely used as promotional accounts for company websites. In fact, they have occasionally replaced the need for a website at all. Furthermore, they simultaneously serve the purposes of providing information, providing customer service, and building brand (Carruthers, 2016). For instance, Above Ground Art Supplies in Toronto has a company Facebook page. Customers are able to find the store’s opening hours, address, directions, phone number. In addition, the page promotes store events, sales, and it publishes instructional videos. A few months ago, I personally had a question about an online order I’d placed, and I messaged the store on Facebook. Within minutes, the store replied with the answer to my question. 

Above Ground Art Supplies replying to my messages.

Similarly to the topic of search results growing more personalized, brands are also learning to enhance the entire online experience and build a personal presence on social media. In many cases, social media marketing blurs the lines for consumers between the personal life and the impersonal (Carruthers, 2016). For instance, a person scrolling through Instagram and encountering an advertisement, sandwiched between posts from friends and family, undergoes a different psychological experience than if the advertisement was on tv. 

An advertisement discreetly inserted into my Instagram feed. It is also notable that I was in fact researching for a trip to Amsterdam at the time!
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The Prediction: “Google’s dominance will be threatened”

At the time, Microsoft was labeled as Google’s “biggest threat”, which is still somewhat true today, though not to the same extent (Spiller, 2007). In 2007, Microsoft had just released its Vista operation system. With its search engine built into the desktop, some thought that it meant a decreased need for browsers (Spiller, 2007). 

The Reality: The world of Google

Evidently, Google has only grown bigger. Ten years ago, the focus of digital marketing analytics was on hindsight rather than foresight (Carruthers, 2016). Descriptive analytics were at the forefront. With the proliferation of big data, digital marketing entered a new realm where Google Search dominated. It was not only providing search engine services; it was slowly unveiling the new industry of data science (Rousselet, 2017). In the current stage, analytics are being used by all sectors of the organization, as a sort of foundation for digital services. As discussed in earlier blog posts, brands use these analytics for each digital marketing decision they make, whether it is establishing affiliate links, sending promotional emails, or releasing search engine advertisements. And this explains Google’s continued dominance. It doesn’t merely give the industry what it wants. It creates what the industry didn’t know that it needed.

An Internet Explorer ad from 2013. While this Microsoft ad did go viral, it was an isolated hit amidst a campaign that was simply all fluff and no substance. It epitomized Microsoft’s weakness of being too backwards-looking. 

Today, Google is not merely working on existing profitable services. It has bigger plans. One of the emerging projects in the industry is the concept of cloud computing (Carruthers, 2016). Evidently, there’s a growing trend for automation. In fact, “marketing technology and automation systems”, which ranked 31st in a 2011 survey about priorities for marketers, is now the eighth priority (Rousselet, 2017). Moreover, “digital and social marketing”, perhaps the best example of a artificial intelligence-enabled skill, was eleventh six years ago and is fifth today (Rousselet, 2017). 

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Final thoughts

For brands, these three key points are not meant to overwhelm, but rather to inspire. Digital marketing has endless potentials and I would like to finish my last blog posts with a few takeaways. 

  1. Be open. Don’t restrict yourself and greet new challenges with open arms. From new trends to new markets, all are opportunities to evolve, explore and expand. 
  2. Be bold. Take risks and don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm. All current practices were once new to the industry. Do what is right for you. 
  3. Be patient. Brands take time to establish and marketing efforts often require many stages. Don’t rush into things and plan strategically. 

It was a pleasure sharing my thoughts through this blog over the past few weeks. Thank you for reading and perhaps we will meet again in the future somewhere out in the land of digital marketing. 

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Spiller, Jeremy. (February 2007). The future of search engine optimization (SEO). Admap Magazine. Issue 480. Retrieved from https://www-warc-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/SubscriberContent/0738a07c-0212-40c1-abe9-52e86dacd740.

Carruthers, Brian. (November 2016). The evolution of marketing analytics: automation is next. WARC. Retrieved from https://www-warc-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/SubscriberContent/Article/The_evolution_of_marketing_analytics_automation_is_next/110036.

Rousselet, Vincent. (2017). The rise of the machines: artificial intelligence in marketing. Market Leader, Quarter 2. Retrieved from https://www-warc-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/SubscriberContent/Article/The_rise_of_the_machines_artificial_intelligence_in_marketing/110586

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Further Down the Rabbit Hole

Through our last discussion about Forbes’ social media top influencer list, it’s evident that social media marketing is a firm reality that companies need to consider. In fact, the intimate, personable nature makes it a great candidate for companies looking to build relationships with consumers. In a way, online communities are “echo chambers” of thoughts, and the ability to penetrate these echo chambers and join the conversation is infinitely beneficial (Shayon, 2017). 

A company that has been ever-present in the social media marketing world is Amazon. My last blog post discussed social media Influencer Zoella providing affiliate links in her video’s description boxes. Those links were by Amazon. When a viewer clicks through to buy the product, the affiliate receive a commission on those sales (Perez, 2017). Just a few weeks ago, Amazon released its new phase in affiliate marketing, the Amazon Influencer Program, combining affiliate marketing with the growing influencer culture. The new Influencer program differs because of its exclusivity. You may apply to become an official Influencer, however Amazon will only accept those with “large followings” (Perez, 2017). Amazon also considers metrics such as fan engagement, quality of content, and the level of relevancy for Amazon. After being accepted, the Influencers are given a unique vanity URL that is easy for customers to remember and find. On their personal Influencer page, they may create a curated selection of products that their followers can scroll through. 

For example, the YouTube channel “WhatsUpMoms” has been one of the first Influencers invited by Amazon. WhatsUpMoms is a collaboration among a group of parents who share parenting tips, recipes, life hacks, and they have over 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube (Perez, 2017). Their new Influencer URL is amazon.com/shop/whatsupmoms. You will be led to a page featuring thumbnail images of the suggested products, their pricing, their Prime status, and a brief description.

Screenshot of WhatsUpMoms' new Amazon Influencer page
WhatsUpMoms’ new Amazon Influencer page.

“We are really excited to be a part of this new program. As the #1 Parenting Network on YouTube, we are constantly asked by our community for product recommendations and about the products used in our videos. Now that we have our own Amazon store makes it much easier to have a curated collection all in one spot”. – Liane Mullin, President and COO of WhatsUpMoms

Through this program, Amazon is not working directly with the Influencers on product selection, nor are the brands working through Amazon to speak to Influencers. Amazon is simply providing the platform. Although brands often have separate relationships with the Influencers outside of Amazon. Perhaps, the next step is for Amazon to also provide this “middleman” service. 

Screenshot of comments
On a news article announcing Amazon’s new service, a reader leaves a comment, calling Influencers “better than sales people”. And in terms of online sales, it is true.

It will be interesting to see the new Influencer program unfold and watch for Amazon’s next moves. For consumers, it is important to grow more discerning as well. There is a high level of trust between consumers and the influencers they respect (Hall, 2010). Knowing that companies highly covet these relationships and are willing to pay, consumers should grow even more aware and consciously alert of their purchasing decisions. On the other hand, companies have the opportunity to explore the possibilities of social media and affiliate marketing. If utilized correctly, they will gain access to pre-defined new markets of passionate consumers. And these consumers are willing to listen. 

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References

Shayon, Sheila. (April 11, 2017). Forbes Announces First Class of Social Media Influencers. BrandChannel. Retrieved from http://brandchannel.com/2017/04/11/forbes-social-media-influencers-041117/.

Perez, Sarah. (March 31, 2017). Amazon quietly launches its own social media influencer program into beta. Tech Crunch. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/31/amazon-quietly-launches-its-own-social-media-influencer-program-into-beta/.

Hall, Taddy. (2010). How consumer attitudes and behaviours are shaped in social media. ARF Experiential Learning. Retrieved from https://www-warc-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/SubscriberContent/Article/How_consumer_attitudes_and_behaviors_are_shaped_in_social_media/97460

Down the Rabbit Hole

I thought it would be fitting to start off my first blog post with a bit of recent news. 

Just two days ago and for the first time, Forbes released what it called its “Top Influencers” list, ranking the top thirty global social media icons. The 30 “influencers” span three categories – beauty, fitness, and home – and they garner more than 250 million online followers (Shayon, 2017). This doesn’t merely entail thirty kids sitting at the cool table during lunch; these influencers currently earn up to thousands of dollars per sponsored social media post (Perez, 2017). 

For instance, in first place for the beauty category is British Influencer Zoella. Online, she has over 11.6 million YouTube subscribers. In real life, her popularity has allowed her to have her own line of candles, lotions and beauty accessories (Shayon, 2017). But online is still where she makes most of her money. On YouTube, companies pay more than $300,000 per video for a partnership (Shayon, 2017). This could entail Maybelline paying Zoella to create a makeup tutorial featuring exclusively Maybelline products. A Forbes spokesperson explains that highly visual platforms like YouTube and Instagram are coveted by companies seeking brand partnerships (Shayon, 2017). 

Screenshot of Zoella's Instagram post
An Instagram post by Zoella promoting a single company.

Screenshot of Zoella's YouTube video

 A YouTube video where Zoella talks about her favorite products. In the description box, there are affiliate links where viewers may purchase the same products. 

If we define an “influential user” as someone who’s sharing action results in at least one additional site visit, then the average amount of influential users on a site at a given time is only 0.6%. Yet, these influencers regularly generate up to 50% of site traffic (Hall, 2010). Moreover, they cause a signifiant share of conversions. 

“It’s time to recognize the influencer economy as a legitimate entrepreneurial pursuit.” – Christina Vuleta, VP of Forbes Women’s Digital Network.

Social media influencing works well because the influencers have already built entire communities of like-minded members. These influencers go beyond the mould of the traditional brand sponsor – they’ve curated a careful market around their passions and lives. Their audience has genuine affinity for the words they say. 

Nowadays with the younger generation in the western world, there is a decreasing sense of nationalistic patriotism. Especially compared to decades past. A young person today may feel much more connected to their community on YouTube, for example, and much less connected to their physical neighborhood community. The influencer culture is born from this phenomenon. In fact, the entire industry has been created by brands that leverage these influences to reach the most passionate, relevant markets. The value of a “like” or a “follower” is intangible, but the results are very much real. 

~ Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll talk about Amazon’s recent innovation in influencer marketing and what it means for consumers. ~

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References

Shayon, Sheila. (April 11, 2017). Forbes Announces First Class of Social Media Influencers. BrandChannel. Retrieved from http://brandchannel.com/2017/04/11/forbes-social-media-influencers-041117/.

Perez, Sarah. (March 31, 2017). Amazon quietly launches its own social media influencer program into beta. Tech Crunch. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/31/amazon-quietly-launches-its-own-social-media-influencer-program-into-beta/.

Hall, Taddy. (2010). How consumer attitudes and behaviours are shaped in social media. ARF Experiential Learning. Retrieved from https://www-warc-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/SubscriberContent/Article/How_consumer_attitudes_and_behaviors_are_shaped_in_social_media/97460.