The traditional marketing industry is based on two key assumptions. Consumers are ignorant and believe what they are told. Without this advertising can't work nearly, not nearly, as well. Yet we have seen internationally that both those assumptions have proven to be false. 2010 could well be the year the penny drops, but probably not completely.
The assumption was once true: consumers were ignorant - they got their information from the company, from salesmen from advertising. Customers also used to believe what they were told; they trusted advertising - business controlled the brand message.
Not only does research around the world show that trust in advertising has declined but we also know that through the Internet and by their own connections, customers have access to an unbelievable mountain of information, opinions and comments. Just these facts have changed marketing forever. It's with this backdrop that I make my predictions for 2010.
- Someone will notice that, in spite of conventional wisdom, South Africans are connected. I mean, more than 30% of us access social sites on our cellphones alone on a daily basis. Everyone has a phone, even at the lower levels of society, with the majority capable of connecting to the Internet. But they won't know how to use this information.
- Marketers will be the first to cotton on. They will be influenced by their international contacts and will finally realise that the excuses of “but the majority of South Africans don't use the Internet” and that we just don't have the bandwidth are exactly that: excuses. With the new undersea cables coming into South Africa and Africa, bandwidth as a problem will soon be a thing of the past.
- Local advertising agencies will be leaning back, secure in their misunderstandings but becoming slowly unsettled, as they listen to their international colleagues talking about the international media bloodbath and the need to rush to digital. They will see their international associates buy digital agencies - or even start a division of their own. BUT they won't be the core of the business.
- Agencies will still see digital and online as a media channel and start integrating into them more and more, not realising that the key characteristic of the Internet is that it's a social creation. It's about people connecting, not about the technology, or even the sites themselves.
- Internationally, the lead will be taken by thought leaders - who realise that social media is not separate from the individual's total life experience - making sure that digital eventually becomes the centre of the brand connection, not an adjunct.
- From a technology point of view, manufacturers will be accelerating their efforts to make sure that connection to the Internet is ubiquitous and cheap. At the high end, Apple's iPhone is already carrying more web data than any other mobile device; but there are netbooks, tablets, the Android phone and the soon-to-be announced Apple iSlate all making sure that, more and more, the web experience is accessible and separate from the technology.
- The way people are finding stuff on the Internet is changing; this may start having an effect on traditional digital marketing. The filter that most users will place on getting the data they want will be their friends. SEO optimisation techniques will be under huge pressure from new search algorithms and as “friend” filters and real-time search guide web users.
- There will be a lot of flapping in media circles as traditional media morphs. The resistance movement led by the News Corp relics will continue to resist and will become increasingly irrelevant. Media entrepreneurs led by the former journalist will reinvent the way the news is spread and the financial models related to that.
- With every major change in society, new players will emerge, new approaches will take form and the cards in the pack will be reshuffled. I believe that we will see the first major signs of that in South Africa in 2010.
Marketing will change because consumers have changed. Consumers are no longer ignorant, whether they are 25 or 52 and living in Diepsloot or Dainfern; they have unprecedented access to information, they are buying online and are part of massive electronic networks.
Maybe the penny will drop, maybe it won't. Then next year's predictions will be to guess how big the splash will be as the dinosaurs fall into the marketing tar pit and their new competitors, more nimble, like mammals, create a new marketing ecosystem.