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2011: Back to the Future

2011: Back To The Future

Looking back at digital advertising in 2010 can leave just about anyone perplexed. Facebook alone was tough enough to keep up with. It was the year it really went global, the year of the "like", the year the Open Graph showed us a first true glimpse of the semantic web, the year with the most privacy uproars and the most new feature releases, the year The Social Network rattled the charts and the year Mark Zuckerberg was named Time Magazine's "Person of The Year." It was the year Twitter nearly tripled its user base and launched advertising products. It was the year Foursquare acquired nearly all of its 5 Million users, the year SCVNGR acquired a million, the year of the "check-in", the year Facebook launched "Places". It was the year the President live streamed on YouTube, the year Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" was viewed over 300 Million times. It was the year the iPhone 4 launched, and also the year it saw some real competition. 2010 marked the end of a difficult decade with some vivid optimism, with venture funds gaining steam again, fueling some furious innovation.

What's in store for 2011? Well, it's back to the future, with a lot of what we once knew. 2011 will be the year advertisers get past "innovation clutter" and turn old notions into reality in bigger and better ways than ever. Here are a few predictions.

1- Experience is back in style

We've witnessed some serious "network expansion". Marketers have killed their websites and gone "fishing where the fish are", and that means Facebook. But they've also created a profile on just about any network under the sun, expanding their footprint in hopes of a "network effect", often at the expense of their identity.

After expansion comes integration. Integrated social features will be the hot new thing. Taking clues from the launch of the Facebook Open Graph, along with Facebook's new slimmer and more constrained fan page format, the power of the social graph will expand well beyond the social network. Brands will reclaim their websites and build rich experiences that are uber-social. On the mobile front, players like Gowalla, realizing that experience suddenly matters more than ever, have integrated into just about all geo-social networks, moving forward as an application vs. a network.

In 2011, experience will trump utility. Social gaming was just the start. Branded experiences will follow suit.

2- Creative is the multiplier

2010 was the year the TV spot truly became social (yes, talking about the Old Spice campaign). It was also the year numerous campaigns have experimented with new ways of looking at our advertising channels. 2010 unleashed the new true power of creative, expressed through ever so clever blends of traditional and technology. The bar has been raised, and consumers have come to expect whole new forms and levels of creativity.

In 2011, creative value, as expressed through social media and other mass proliferation channels, will be a measurable "media multiplier".

3- Content is "kingdom"

Content has always been king. In 2011, those brands that truly embrace "social content generation" will build themselves a kingdom. The connections between brand, art or skill and visual communications in a socially connected world can create powerfully authentic appeal for brands. Brands can build a kingdom for themselves by focusing more on the art and process of social content generation than the imperative of content production. Nike's "Ellie Runs" campaign and T-Mobile's "Welcome Back" are both elegant examples of how brands can tap into the power and passion of up-and-coming influencers, very often in organic and authentic partnerships, to produce amazingly authentic content.

4- It's all just media again

2011 is the year we drop the "social" in "social media", at least figuratively. It's the year advertisers move from trying to buying, getting past experimentation. Media will once again have to be a well articulated value proposition. Social Media and digital word-of-mouth monetization and measurement will be part of the integrated media plan. Advertisers will invest media dollars against reach, impressions and conversions across all channels, including even geo-social. Perhaps the most dramatic change of all for 2011 will be the birth of Facebook's socially targeted display media on third party sites.  Along with Twitter's new paths to monetization, it's clear this year will move us into social media buying. Even digital PR will become "buyable", moving into clearer metrics such as predicted reach, impressions and hand-offs.

At the same rate, 2011 will be the year media measurement dramatically evolves. New opportunities will include blending conversational, social, behavioral and operational data, bringing new levels of insight and intelligence to the table. Perhaps a sign of what's ahead is the banking industry's move to integrate social graph data into individual credit risk scoring.

5- Beyond location, digital gets real

This prediction might sound obvious, but definitely worth a mention. Smartphone (and now tablet) penetration will have a massive impact on real-life experiences. Instagram's rapid rise to one million downloads is a clear sign of the dramatic rise of mobile media capture and sharing. A recent study by SapientNitro indicates nearly a third of holiday shoppers used their smartphone to share an in-store experience via a social network such as Twitter and Facebook. 2011 will be the year advertisers and brands meet consumers "in the moment", focusing on real experiences and tapping into impulse behavior. This doesn't just apply to shopping, but to the full gamut of brand experiences, such as local events, concerts, sponsorships, tweet-ups and more.

While there's probably so much more in store for 2011, these 5 predictions alone will be enough to keep marketers plenty busy. Look forward to the year we'll be doing old things in radically new ways. Look forward to the year agencies let go of the terms "digital", "above the line" and "360", in favor of "integrated". Looking forward... Have a happy and healthy new year!

What are your predictions? Share them!

Nathaniel Perez (@perezable on Twitter), Head of Social Experience, SapientNitro.