ADOTAS – Remarkably, today is the last business day of 2011, and in retrospect, it’s kind of amazing to consider how far putting one foot in front of the other can get you. That’s what happens when you’re in a position of perpetually thinking about the next project, the next goal. In fact, with the new year at hand, it seems like all we can do is think about the future. But we are, and with that, this is as good a time as any to reflect on where we’ve been this past year.
If you haven’t yet, check out the two-part year-end round-up we recently published by Fjord CIO Christian Lindholm. Lindholm actually flipped back to the predictions the Fjord team had made for 2011, way back at the end of 2010, and spot-checked them for how they played out. In some cases, they were spot-on, and in others, it appears they were perhaps overzealous. Then, of course, there were factors no one could predict.
Let’s revisit some other big stories from 2011:
• Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft forged an alliance to sell ad inventory. It’s the kind of news that makes just about anyone who didn’t graduate from college just this past spring feel old. The sales forces of these three once-dominant web forces united in November to sell premium display inventory, in an effort to compete with Google.
• Flash is dead, for sure this time, probably. Or at least partly. The demise of Flash seems to be a trope over the past few years. Steve Jobs famously tongue-lashed it to death in 2010, which seemed damning enough. But this past fall, Adobe announced that in the mobile market, it would pursue HTML5 more aggressively in the future, setting Flash aside for personal computing and mobile apps. Adobe ceased developing Flash Player in the browsers of mobile devices. And still, Flash isn’t totally gone. Adobe will continue to support it on existing devices. But in a world that’s increasingly focused on mobile, Flash’s exit from that part of the marketplace feels more like a death than anything else it’s been dealt yet. Will you miss it?
• Google+ blossomed, or at least it appeared to. The social network that its creators claim is not actually a social network captured the public imagination this year — recent numbers suggest steady, if not quite exponential, growth, with 62 million users right now — and when it rolled out its “pages” features, marketers were abuzz at the implications. But while it all appears at first glance to be another victory for Google hegemony, questions remain about how engaged this booming group of users is.
• Games got particularly serious. With Zynga going public, Zynga CEO Mark Pinkus’ wealth (and alleged behavior) setting tongues wagging, and the entire phenomenon of Angry Birds, there was a lot of discussion about how to harness the desire of grown adults to spend free time playing games on the web or via smartphone apps. Meanwhile, the Xbox Live became a one-stop-shopping entertainment depot. And through it all, companies thought of ways to bring actual, physical goods into what’s historically been an essentially 2-D scenario.
• Online video became a major proposition. The stats for online video viewing hit record figures, and investment in online video advertising shot up accordingly. Now it’s a veritable rival to television, poised to continue changing the advertising landscape.
• But the biggest story this year has been the rise of mobile. In fact, if you look at our recent coverage and especially at the predictions for 2012 we’ve been publishing, mobile is nearly the only thing people can think about. Earlier today, we had Alex Campbell, CEO of mobile marketing company Vibes, on the phone, and naturally the discussion drifted to how 2011 has been the year mobile arrived. “I think we said that back in 2004 — ‘Yeah, 2005 is gonna be the year!,'” Campbell said, laughing. “And every year since. [But] I think it was 2010, 2011 that people said, ‘Hey this is a thing we need to be serious about.”
A lot’s been said about where mobile might be going, but it seems as though there’s slightly less discussion of why. “A mobile device is the most powerful marketing tool ever,” Campbell said. “It’s also very personal, so you have to be careful.” A smartphone or a tablet is a personal accessory, the kind of thing carried around in a pocket or handbag. It’s used for personal, two-way communication — if you have a phone, you’re conditioned to respond to it, and unlike, say, TV or the web, you expect everything coming from it to be purposefully directed to you. That makes it an incredibly potent tool. “The numbers that we’re getting off this are insane for conversion — up to 50 percent,” Campbell says about a service his company provides to message promotions to people’s mobile devices when they’re near a certain shopping mall. That’s something to ponder, when you consider conversion rates for the web. The necessity of opting in to promotions reduces the scattershot nature of some earlier advertising methods, and Campbell equates it to the difference between “raising your hand and having your hand raised for you.” And it presents a new set of challenges, to confront a new paradigm for what it is. “We should only be sending messages that get conversion,” Campbell points out.
This isn’t the space to make a comment about what the future holds. That would be a bit cliche, right now. Instead, let’s think about where we are and where we were a year ago. How do you feel about it?