We’re not yet halfway through December (woo!) but our attention begins to turn to assessing the year past and looking forward to the year ahead. I am closely following all of the trends that have developed in 2011 and have written about a lot of them. Assimilated here are some of my key predictions that will matter to brand leaders in 2012, in no particular order.
I’m not just talking about broad “mobile growth,” which is pretty generic (although true). We’re going to see exponential growth in adoption of smartphones and tablets as well as exciting new commerce platforms that make mobile the next major retail gateway. This includes innovations on the retail side that enable them to take payments via mobile devices, a trend we’re already seeing with Google Wallet and Square. We’ll likely see the irksome world of digital coupons evolve into a platform that works for everyone in that ecosystem (retailers, POS technologies, consumers and marketers) and finally close that gap in the final frontier of the consumer couponing craze. This will bring massive scale to a marketer’s ability to develop relevant, customized and personalized offers for their consumers and to reach the middle of the adoption curve. I suspect by the end of 2012 we’ll be having very specific and frequent discussions with marketers about making mobile coupons part of their core outreach strategy.
Let’s revisit a trend that repeats itself in Silicon Valley. A company, founded by quirky 20-somethings, develops something marvelous that immediately captures the imagination of millions and grows seemingly overnight, finding itself the subject of cover stories and bar conversation across the globe. Said company reaches an inflection point and decides to take the next growth step by going public. Newly funded and flush with millions (or billions) in cash, the company turns up the heat and the strain of its stratospheric growth begin to show. Meanwhile, somewhere, the cycle begins to repeat itself and a new story develops. This isn’t a perfect equation but I think many could agree it seems to be a general framework, most recently with Google and Facebook. If we believe the recent reports of Facebook’s IPO plans we’ll probably see a Facebook ticker at some point next year. That will certainly legitimize the cottage industry of developers and agencies that have built robust businesses around Facebook’s platform, and that will be a trend that continues. But I suspect we’ll also see new energy emerge at the outer reaches of that ecosystem and we’ll start to see signs of a new startup, a new story and a new thing for consumers to get excited about. Marketers, take note: you’ll want to be part of that story as early as possible. Consumers have increasingly high expectations of the brands in their lives and expect innovation even from their toilet paper brand. Be ready to pounce on opportunity.
3. Big Data
If you haven’t heard this buzzword already, chances are still good that you’re participating in it. Big Data is the accelerating emergence of massive sets of data, fueled by the social web and cloud computing, that takes equally massive amounts of computing power and expertise to mine and understand. If you’re doing sentiment analysis or tracking word clouds of conversation around your brand online, you’re already taking advantage of Big Data. Analyst firm IDC says this is an area where companies must have a develop a competency in 2012 (http://gigaom.com/cloud/its-cloud-prediction-time-idc-gartner-and-i-weigh-in/). I’d generally agree. I am seeing PR firms, digital agencies, brand teams and consumer relations teams taking advantage of Big Data now and that’s a trend that will accelerate rapidly early in 2012. It’s a competitive advantage to put that data to use for your brand, with a caveat…
All that data in the cloud comes with inherent privacy concerns and none are more sensitive than a consumer’s personal information, credit card details or location. As brands have begun experimenting with the trends around Big Data, it’s leaving the heads of their legal teams spinning. I predict that brands and agencies will take a cautious stance toward emerging channels that require heavy personal information to participate (see trend #1, Mobile) until they can be assured that the necessary infrastructure is in place to protect that data. But it won’t take years for that process and 2012 will be the year many of those questions find accurate and permanent answers.