The Future of Marketing

IStock_000006451839XSmallI hesitate to say that the Social Network Race is over – look at AOL, MySpace and Friendster, all of which used to dominate – but let’s face it, all of these former giants now pale compared to Facebook and Google (and Twitter, if we’re also measuring based on buzz).

Unlike those early players, today’s winners are holding a much more winning hand.  Google and Facebook are shooting arrows in the backs of those original pioneers.

The reason Facebook and Google will be the long-term winners: it’s not just the fact that they have critical mass, but that that critical mass comes at a time when Social Networks are not just destinations (a la the old AOL and MySpace), but are becoming integral to the holistic Web Experience.

There will be room for niche social networks, too, of course, like Ning and LinkedIn.  For as much value as people see in the bang-for-the-buck they receive by joining the biggest social networks, they also don’t like to feel like a member of the faceless hordes.  Joining a virtual knitting circle on Ning provides intimacy and smaller-bore friendships.

And your activities on a site like Ning will help refine the experiences you get elsewhere, i.e., the ads or causes or friend suggestions you see on Facebook will skew towards promoting the known behaviors of the “knitter” psychographic profile.

And so, now that we know the presumptive winners of the Social Networking Era, we can move forward into the not-so-distant future, to envision how we’ll handle The New Marketing…

When we surf and when we search, beyond the Social Network sites, we’re going to be taking our Friends with us; we’re taking our known online activities with us.  Sites and search engines will re-orient themselves dynamically to match our identities.  The entire Web experience will re-architect itself on-the-fly based on where we’ve been, what device we’re using, what we’ve looked at or purchased in the past, who we are friends with, what offers and content our contacts have been sharing and purchasing, etc.

In the future, the Web you know will be based on the Web that knows you.

IStock_000003551768XSmallThis is validated, quite easily, by the efforts of Google and Facebook, with their competing “Connect” products, which also vie with the OpenID standard.  The Masters of the Web are desperate to lodge themselves in our extended online activities.

We can also feel pretty confident that this will all happen because Social Media has simply become an unstoppable force.  When “checking Social Networking sites” trumps “checking email” (Nielsen: Global Online Media Landscape report, April 2009) you know the marketers are on the hunt.  According to MarketingSherpa in a 2009 report, Social Media Marketing topped the list of marketing execs’ future spending plans.

The social networks are just going to “follow that money.”  Who could blame them?

That might not be such a bad thing, as “following the money,” in this case, could well result in a more custom-tailored online experience that leverages the experiences of friends and connections in a mutually beneficial way.

What will this future of marketing mean for marketers?  How will it change our approach?

First off, I suspect a lot of the Long Tail stuff, e.g., making special offers based on known behaviors and connections, will be automated: it’s too hard to scale otherwise, and besides this is not so far removed from Search Engine Marketing techniques, from a tools & mindset perspective.

However, that doesn’t mean that we’ll devolve back to the Influencers-Are-Paramount mindset that led to the PR spam that plagued our industry (and those poor Influencers) for the past 50 years, either.  We’ll become more sophisticated: we’ll be able to identify micro-influencers and influencers-of-influencers.

Want examples?  You always want examples.

iStock_000010972770XSmallBefore delving into examples of human-based outreach, let’s look at how Social Media might be used by marketers to automate the way they interact with consumers online, in a way that syncs with the growing desire for an opt-in (low-scandal) experience.

I foresee a day when consumers will be able to turn on/off disclosure preferences from within their social profiles (or even their browsers), to actively change their daily surfing, e.g., sometimes a consumer will want her entire web experience to re-orient itself around the fact that she is an avid yoga enthusiast: so she’ll activate that detailed keyword on a day when she’s in the market for a new yoga mat or a new yoga partner.

Her travels across the social web on that day will reveal advertisements for Nike’s YoGirl Yoga Mat and the Boston Sports Club — and the advertisements may offer special discounts if this consumer is known to have over 300 friends within her metro.  Based on how the “yoga enthusiast” keyphrase has re-oriented her psychographic profile for the day (“she’s healthy, but not hardcore; mindful; probably charitable and green-minded”), she’ll also be invited to participate in a 5K walkathon for a local eco-charity.  Her next visit to Yelp will emphasize healthy eating establishments.  Once she’s purchased those new sneakers, found a new yoga partner, etc., the consumer will switch off her “Yoga Girl” identity and resume her websurfing in a more generic way…

That’s a pretty awesome vision in and of itself.  But marketers crave personal interaction; they want active brand ambassadors; they need differentiation and buzz.

So, looking at the future of marketing outreach in a social age:  Let’s say you sell baking supplies.  In ye oldeniStock_000007587266XSmall days, you’d look to place articles in Modern Baking to reach wholesale prospects and Martha Stewart Living to reach consumers.  More recently, perhaps you’d add mombloggers to the mix.  Maybe you’d also reach out to one of the baker’s dozen’s worth of active Baking-related groups on Facebook.

But in the near future, you’ll add @ChillieFalls (Jason‘s dad) to your list of outreach targets.  Why?  Because Mr. Falls is a maker of funnel cakes, and he’s active on Twitter.  Given that Twitter dominates Google and Bing’s incipient real-time search results, if you’re selling baking supplies you’ll want to court Mr. Falls.  His tweets about your product could easily show-up prominently in those real-time results.

Imagine that: the efforts you expended courting a managing editor at Martha Stewart Living are now spent getting to a funnel cake maker in Virginia.

And when you want to reach the notice of Chris Brogan, maybe you’ll use a service like BackType to note the 8 people whose comments Chris wants to keep tabs on, and you’ll try to influence them by initiating a dialogue that they find helpful.  Maybe your examination of their public interactions suggests that they have a favorite charity or a quirky interest in exotic cartoon art: knowing this you can figure out a way to satisfy their engagement preferences, and generate content and dialogue worth spreading via their blogs, tweets — or private conversations with Mr. Brogan.  Congratulations! — you’ve influenced the influencer of an Influencer.

And that’s how tomorrow’s game is going to be played.

Like this post? Would you consider sharing it on Facebook? Tweeting about it? Forwarding to a friend?  Subscribing by email or RSS? Leaving a comment?  Sharing is caring!

Posted on: November 11, 2009 at 9:05 am By Todd Defren
157 Responses to “The Future of Marketing”


  • Walter Weeks says:

    Facebook and Twitter will be the front two runners when it comes to online marketing. As two of the biggest social media sites, many companies will need to focus their energy towards marketing online in order to be seen my potentially thousands, if not millions of users around the world. Other social media sites such as Myspace have been unable to keep up to date and as such have fallen behind the pecking order in terms of marketing.

  • Lisa Padilla says:

    Programmers will need to accept the inconvenient truth that Al Gorythms ;-) will need to replace the burden placed on end users now to explicitly state their interests.

  • Marc Siegel says:

    Hello Todd,
    Thanks for the great mind-candy. The vision of sites and search engines that re-orient themselves dynamically to match our identities is compelling. I wanna, wanna; please don’t make me beg.

    As a word guy, I enjoyed your playfulness in writing. For example, “the growing desire for an opt-in (low-scandal) experience.” Low-scandal indeed!
    You’ve made a new fan today.
    Yours, Marc
    San Jose, CA

  • Thanks for the insight, Todd. It’s most definitely exciting to look ahead to where marketing is going and what it might be like 5, 10 years down the road. As marketing/PR professionals, we need to be prepared for anything and everything and how it’s going to affect not only the way we do our jobs, but the way we connect and build relationships with others.

    Tessa Carroll

  • Great content. Looking for some press release materials when I stumbled across your site.

  • eric says:

    why must you always use $1 images from istockphoto to illustrate your point. Is the future of PR and marketing really that generic? The one under “want examples” doesn’t even make sense.

    • Todd Defren says:

      I’m taking it as a big compliment that you like my content enough to think it warrants better artwork!

      The cost:benefit of putting more resources into the artwork still favors the istockphoto approach.

  • anonymous says:

    This future of social marketing does seem a lot more efficient and desirable. I like the fact that there is the option to contact and communicate with many different groups and organizations through one medium as opposed to responding to several different mediums. This simplifies the process and encourages people to use social marketing more often. The only thing I am skeptical about is the fact that a lot of social networking sites are fads that get popular really fast and then lose that popularity. Will there be one website that sticks around for a significant amount of time, or will people be creating new profiles on a yearly basis?

  • Mari Smith says:

    “influence the influencer of an Influencer” – love it!!! Because of social media sites, six degrees of separation is now more like one to two degrees.

    It’s no longer as accurate to say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” – now, it’s more accurate to say “it’s who knows you” as you point out in this great post, Todd.

    A few years ago I could say I knew all these famous authors, speakers and seminar leaders: I read their books, attended their events and bought their programs. But did they know me? Nope.

    Today is a different story, through the power of social media, these same people know me.

    Plus, there’s no gatekeepers, secretaries and assistants or long drawn out processes to reach an influencer/Influencer. Boom – one or two strategic tweets, Facebook or blog comments and suddenly we can be engaging with a key decision maker in a company.

    Good stuff!


  • neat stuff, and getting closer everyday. however, I question how many consumers (or b2b customers) will be motivated to switch profiles on and off when they’re in the market for a new health club or even a major purchase like vacation or car. you describe the way marketers can automate the way they interact with customers and prospects, but that “automation” depends on some conscious thought and actions by the targets.

    what I see as far more likely in the short term is socially-enabled extension of recommendation engines we see today. instead of amazon telling you “people who bought x also bought y,” for example, imagine the persuasive power of the message “bill and sue [from your facebook network] bought x – see what they had to say” with links to review from amazon or other review sites.

    • I’m with Todd – the people I observe won’t go through the hassle of explicitly personalizing their Internet every day, so not sure of the Yoga mat example. They barely personalize the Facebook they spend every day on.

      But the future with niche networks and microinfluencers? I see that in my telescope too — heck, I think I do that right now.

  • edwardboches says:

    Smart stuff, Todd. No doubt many of these predictions and more are already underway. I think that one thing you left out, but is a little implied in the preferences thought, is that we’re getting closer and closer to consumer issued RFPs. Instead of shopping or searching for that new flat screen, I’ll simply post my request for info, pricing, and a pitch. I’ll announce what brands are allowed to participate, and what my eval criteria is. So what does that mean. Yes a brand will have to master the art of influencing the influencers (a big part of how we do PR now), but will still need that awareness and preference that gets it invited to the party when those consumer RFPs become common. Fun times.

    • sam diener says:

      Todd. Saw your post on twitter, about less than normal comment numbers. Interesting. I would have to say its because this article is informative to the point it leaves readers with not much else to say. I think it’s spot on. Great job.

      Sam Diener
      Stuff for Success

  • I like the catchy “In the future, the Web you know will be based on the Web that knows you.” Behavioral/preference/location based real time interactions. My question is, will the web know me, or will it just be “selling” my demographics/preferences “profile” to the highest bidder vs offering me what I may want/need the most? Profile spam vs. email spam idea…not sure, wondering about thoughts. Maybe it’s a combo?

  • Jason Falls says:

    Thanks for droppin’ a line about Dad. He’ll probably forgive the Tennessee thing (he’s in Virginia), but close enough. He’ll probably also beat you about the head and face if powdered sugar companies are suddenly knocking down his door. Heh.

    I’ve used the example of Louis Gray recently. He isn’t yet as influential as, say, Robert Scoble, but Robert reads Louis’s blog. Because Louis is good and sometimes scoops the big boys on tech tools, etc., it makes perfect sense to prioritize him as a target if you’re into Tech PR. That fits right in line with your thoughts.

    Good to know I’m not shooting in the dark on this one. Thanks for the continued great thoughts.

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