The Future of Digital Marketing – What’s the next big thing?

Dec 6, 2012 by

This entry was written by , one of the OxonDigital members. The author's views below are entirely their own and may not reflect the views of OxonDigital.
The Future of Digital Marketing – What’s the next big thing?

In the era of social startups, algorithm overhauls, enhanced targeting features, and paid-for social promotion, it is tempting to label every new and shiny development in digital marketing as “the next big thing”. But fads come and go. Once-popular sites are dwindling into oblivion. Google is steadily massing its digital army. Are we in the middle of the next dotcom bubble? Possibly. Will we recognise the connected web in 5 years’ time? Unlikely. Will anything in the digital marketer’s arsenal still apply by then? Absolutely! And here’s why…

In my opinion, there are 3 major areas of digital marketing that really are “the next big thing”. We’ve seen a glimpse of their potential to date, but the possibilities for future development are huge. They are not simply the latest fad – they will change the way brands work and interact with consumers forever.

1. Mobile

  • 49% of mobile phone users in the UK have a smartphone
  • 46% of UK smartphone users have researched products on their device to influence a purchase decision
  • 32% of UK consumers have made a purchase with their mobile device (it’s closer to 65% for tablets)

So what does this mean for brands?

It’s the web all over again. When the internet first appeared, traditional retailers were slow on the uptake, which is why today’s biggest online content and e-commerce sites were able to build such a strong presence online as a result of their early adoption. The same seems to be happening in the mobile space, with the big brands investing early in mobile apps and mobile sites that allow consumers to buy from them whenever and wherever they are. Never before have marketers had such an opportunity to connect with potential and existing customers on such a personal level.

Think of it this way: I will lend you my laptop but never my smartphone. My laptop stores all my favourite websites and services but you’ll need my passwords to access them. On my smartphone, my entire life is open and mostly password-free. Reaching people on digital channels has never been more personal.

Just like the internet, mobile isn’t going away. It will evolve just like the web did, becoming the primary content channel and the primary driver of traffic to retailer’s sites. That’s not to say that the future of the desktop is bleak; for many companies it will remain crucial to their digital strategy. The key will be to integrate mobile marketing into the wider marketing mix, both online and offline. Location-based services, second screening, enhanced mobile security, the increasing availability of high-speed data coverage, and developments in user-centric design and personalisation will provide marketers and advertisers with a plethora of opportunities to tailor content and services to consumers. It’s an exciting time ahead for mobile. Will you be an early adopter?

2. Social Media

Ok, this has now been around for a while, but how many brands can you honestly say are using it well? Most brands seem to have only one goal in mind – Likes – a frankly redundant metric, in my opinion. And some brands are starting to realise this. Disney, for example, makes it very clear that Likes don’t mean anything to them. What does is engagement. We’re starting to see a push towards more engaging content, which is a good thing considering Facebook’s recent halving of the organic reach of posts. Brands are starting to realise that they need to work harder to earn their followers’ attention.

But it’s not just the fight for news feed exposure that’s driving this trend. Recent research shows that content generated on social networks can benefit SEO. This is hardly surprising given Google’s relentless efforts to encourage user and brand uptake of Google+, but it also applies to other social platforms. Generating quality content that is shareable will increase the number of natural backlinks to your content and your website, reducing the need to rely on natural search traffic. Very few brands are currently doing this, so now’s the time to get ahead in the game. But what happens when everyone’s doing it? We’ll be back where we started: clamouring for position and exposure.

But then who knows what the likes of Facebook and Google+ will do in the future to ‘help’ brands get eyes on their content? (I say ‘help’ because they’ve never really helped us, otherwise how would they make money out of us?). The myth that social media marketing is free (or at least cheap) is quickly being dispelled. Promoted posts, sponsored tweets, social ads, paid-for reach – it’s all adding up. And it will only get most costly as the social giants cash in on our desperate need for justification of our social media marketing efforts.

What will be really exciting to watch develop is how social will increasingly tie in with mobile and location-based services – the SoLoMo revolution! The power is switching back to the consumer and we as digital marketers need to embrace that and really invest in consumer-driven engagement.

3. Data

Forget ‘Content is King’. In this day and age, ‘Data is King’! As digital marketers, we would love nothing more than to collect huge amounts of relevant data on individuals so that we could segment and target on a truly personal level. But it’s becoming harder for us to collect, collate, analyse and make sense of it all; and it’s only going to get worse.

More and more companies are switching to the double opt-in model of permission-based marketing. Indeed, in a few year’s time, if the current draft EU Data Protection rules come into force,  it will most likely be required by law. This will not only make it harder to obtain information, but also to keep it, given the proposed introduction of the individual’s right to be forgotten. Completely. Making the marketer’s job infinitely more challenging, and the data officer’s job a complete nightmare!

The line between public and private information is different for everyone. Some would argue it’s a generational thing; that ‘the kids of today’ have little concept of what should be kept private, whereas ‘the paranoid, stuffy Generation X types’ won’t give you a thing. In my opinion, it’s not true. Everyone is different, regardless of age, and everyone feels differently about what brands and service companies know about them. All we as marketers can do is be transparent about the data we want to collect and, more importantly, why we want to collect it. And it can’t be “because we want to know as much about you as possible”. It has to be “because we want to make choosing our brand or using our services as easy and intuitive as possible for YOU”. The personal service model may not suit everyone yet – it’s a journey we must take with our customers – but eventually it will be the only model.

These are my thoughts; what are yours? What do you think will be the ‘next big thing’ in digital marketing? Leave your comments below.

Alex works as a Digital Marketing Executive for Oxford University Press, where he runs social media and email marketing campaigns for its English Language Teaching Division. Under Alex, the ELT Division's global social media presence has grown from nothing to the largest of the main publishers in the market. Follow Alex on Google+ or connect with him on LinkedIn.


  1. Alex, another very good post.

    I agree with all your points, but the third point is key. Our industry is starting to grow up and, data as it should be is starting to form the backbone of marketing decisions, rather than just guess work or what people think.

    Thinking out loud, and probably a few years away. I think the billboards will become digital and start pushing adverts to our mobile devices based on our device preferences. I also think that desktops will start to filter out and laptops and other mobile devices will become a lot more dominant. That for me is where digital marketing will get a lot more interesting.

  2. Thanks, Daniel.

    I agree that data is probably the most important. The problem is Big Data – brands are clamouring to collect as much data on their customers and prospects as possible, but it’s more or less useless in its current form. Without asking some very creative questions of the data, it will provide very little insight into customers on a personal level. There’s just too much of it!

    I think the development of SoLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile) technologies will be an incredibly exciting time for digital professionals – just think of all the possibilities that could open up! Your suggestion is a good one – but it’s only the beginning!


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