Once upon a time, in a land long ago, there were Digital agencies whose technical skills were unsurpassed, but whose communication skills often left something to be desired.
And so it was also, that in a land not too far from them, there were Advertising agencies whose communication skills were finely honed, often to a level of pure art. But these agencies did not speak the language of the Digital folk and they were wary of them, so that both eyed each other with great suspicion.
Between them lived customers and companies, a nation of peoples long established over many thousands of years, who met everyday in the marketplace that was called by them, Marketing.
It was Marketing that brought together the Digital and Advertising Peoples and this is what they did.
Wizard technology will be the leitmotif of 2014. Not technology for technology's sake, but technology that will delight consumers, make advertising more accountable and give marketing departments much-needed fluidity and flexibility.
This move heralds a maturity of the Internet in all sorts of ways, but mostly in the way it will open us up to opportunities that will substantially change our buying habits and re-configure the way we communicate and transact.
The shift is, if you like, from "everybody hearing and communicating about new possibilities", to "everyone living with and benefiting from new technologies".
This piece steers clear of The Internet of Things, 3D Printing and Google Glass, not because they are not coming - they are - but because they are less adaptive next year to current customer needs and current marketing budgets. This piece attempts to offer marketing departments a flavor of "ground-up" developments that can be harnessed immediately in 2014.
In no particular order, here are some of the exciting gifts opening before our eyes.
1. AdPlus. This is something everyone should install. It looks to me to be more sophisticated than conventional adblockers and can become a real help to customers and marketing companies alike.
AdPlus allows online customers to assert which ads they like and block those they don't like. When you are online you'll see more of what you like and increasingly less of what you don't like. But here's the twist. Consumers may well block ads they DON'T like from companies they DO like. Now what? Well my recommendation is for marketers to work with Adplus to start understanding what works, in communication terms, and what doesn't. My hunch is that the quality of online brand messaging will slowly improve.
Here's the killer. Brands that customers don't normally associate with could capture new business just because their ads aren't blocked. The data that AdPlus accrues isn't just "data". It's data at the pinprick source of customer decision-making. Well worth checking this out and talking through its potential.
2. Add AdPlus to Google's "pay per viewed" initiative and things get a little more interesting. Comscore data recently demonstrated that 46% of online advertising is never seen by website visitors yet forecasts by Zenith Optimedia point to how Internet advertising is to reach almost 25% of all advertising by 2015.
A blind science is blinking its way into daylight. Certain truths are to be exposed and myths busted or believed. Questions like these are already asked:
"How much real value do I get from Internet ads (desktop and mobile)?"
"How many people are really viewing my ad?"
"Is my ad working hard enough?"
"Is my online campaign effectively targeted?"
All these questions (and more) will soon start to get answers. Still rudimentary answers, but answers nonetheless.
3. ZeeZaw. I use ZeeZaw as an example of a growing influence in online purchasing. ZeeZaw aggregates customers' planned purchases, bulk buys them, sends email notifications of the bulk price discounts and provides a happy customer with what he wanted, but for less.
It's a fine example of "atomocracy", the state of powerful, "indivisible units of one", that I write about in Implosion.
Atomocracies could look like a threat to marketing departments because they are essentially about consumer power and lower price, but they are an opportunity.
Marketers of all hues should aim for mass sales. I worry when I hear of brands in large markets being positioned as "niche". A niche is a small, shallow recess - I have never found a large niche.
Importantly, the Internet above all else offers mass sales. Mass sales need the validation of strong word of mouth and brands, products or services that have powerful, individual, support can encourage this by the right online behaviour. Marketing departments should look to product aggregator sites to monitor mass purchase behaviour. Then look to 1 and 2, above, for two of the (many) tools to start crafting an online personality that gets talked about and appeals to thousands of people.
The result? Your brand will enter the massive discussions taking place and be positioned for mass-market sales.
4. Talking of aggregator sites, 2014 will be the Year of the Aggregators. In music, vlogs, beauty, news, you name it, aggregator sites are using improving technology to collate enhanced product and are now evolving to play an influential role.
Reddit - web stories, Fark, news stories, Indeed - job search, Handpicked - lifestyle, and Kayak - travel, are popular sites across different categories. They demonstrate the popularity of aggregation amongst consumers who can get to categories with ease and without long and involved "search and save" processes.
But also note how some of the top YouTube vloggers are collaborating with each other: Zoella, Jack, Marcus, Caspar, Tanya Burr and Emma Blackery all in one show? And why not - its now giving audiences (and Zoella's is 3.2 million) a new form of highly desired entertainment.
Music aggregators too are changing the game. Take a look at The Line Of Best Fit, Portals Music and Songkick, sites where fans are using their influence to, (in a real sense), create, promote and see artists.
Aggregators are increasingly useful indicators for marketers who want to get in early and be with growing consumer trends. Understanding what is being aggregated helps NPD departments to develop range extensions and new products that fit with changing attitudes. And if the brand fit is perfect - support these sites, not by dropping skyscrapers on them, but by living with them, supporting them, extending the range of aggregation.
5. Integration. At last. One brand has shown us what this decade's integration can look like. It's been difficult, admittedly, for brands to mix the oil of analogue with the water of digital. But's that's because they were never designed to mix.
The Internet is not a means of communication it's a basic human need and so integration needs to start with humans first. We humans are really quite simple. We respond to fairly basic things.
When I first started in the business, the guy running the Green Shield Stamps account in our office took me to one side, stared closely at me and launched: "What's the best promotion on the planet? The best? The top? Bar none?" I stuttered (I was new). "Um". Before I had conjured up an effective answer he bellowed back: "Free Money!!"
It's true. We humans like free things, money being at the top of the list, very good value coming a close second and outstanding service close behind.
Here's how "What We Like" works:
Something I want but at very good value.
Fluidity of Process (i.e. excellent service going beyond expectations)
Reward for buying (the thing I was going to buy anyway).
The brand that showed us was, of course, WestJet. The Christmas stunt they pulled involved the following forms of integration:
Changed/enhanced company behaviour.
Search/Send/Share capabilities of the Internet
Undoubted customer loyalty.
It was a mixture of real and virtual humanity.
The technology at work today from Microsoft Dynamics CRM to Amazon's constant attention to fluidity of customer process gives marketers wonderful opportunities to delight customers and engage at the same time.
6. Did I mention Amazon? Of course I did. I always advise my clients to look at just one thing Amazon does well - and I've mentioned it already in this piece - Fluidity of Process.
With some wry amusement I like to remind people that the first book sold on Amazon on 16th July 1995 was Douglas Hofstadter's "Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought".
Fluidity of process is the absolute key to all Internet transactions. Amazon might tilt at drone delivery (and I hope they pull it off) and they may choose to vie with Wal-Mart and Costco as they roll out "Pantry", but the real improvements they are making are those that chisel away at all barriers to fluidity. In a nutshell, Amazon would like to get to a position where you "One-Click" and the product arrives where you want it to arrive. Instantaneously. For now, Sunday delivery, locker delivery and same day delivery are good enough.
Amazon thrives on introducing new technology to improve its core customer competence. Marketing Departments, frustrated with their online performance, or looking to somehow maximise their investment in bricks and mortar retail, need look only to Amazon for exciting solutions that are already happening.
7. Cinema. No! "Digital Cinema". And that's the point. Cinema took a giant leap forward in 2013 investing in a huge digital capability that now gives advertisers off-the-scale flexibility. To buy cinema on a spot basis is still fine, (you can buy on a "spot-by-screen-by-time basis" if you like), but it misses the greater opportunities. Marketing departments can now accompany positive, happy customers through a process of sheer delight: from Trailer, to Booking, to Foyer, through Pre-Movie Reel, Movie, Movie offers and finally post Movie retail experience (food and shopping). DCM offers marketers custom-made deals. For one of the few pleasurable outings we choose to make!
I wanted a list of ten to fulfill the cliché of prognostications for the year ahead but seven it is, I'm afraid.
Only consolation? I have less to defend at Christmas 2014.