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