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Executive Summary of our Special Report on Digital Marketing

What have we learned this month? And what does it mean for your business?
October 29, 2010

Now that we’ve reached the end of our month focusing on digital marketing, it’s time to ask: what did we learn? The special report we rolled out with daily features represents hundreds of hours of research, design, synthesis, and analysis. But as a time-starved entrepreneur or executive, you want to know at a glance what it all means for your job and your company.

Since marketing in all its forms is the number one area of corporate investment, the explosive growth of digital marketing represents the biggest threat to the way things have been done in the past. We’ve become a screen-obsessed culture. Our waking hours are spent skipping from the desktop to the laptop to the tablet to the smart phone to the HDTV. As our habits of consuming information and entertainment change radically, so must the time-honored practice of marketing.

We glimpsed the new possibilities. By focusing on our core theme of “technologies of persuasion,” we got a window into how fusing technology with psychology can influence brand choices, alter behavior, and change attitudes. We were able to show how technology often has a hidden power to persuade, to tap into psychological forces such as our desire to belong.

Our research and reporting revealed insights into trends such as these:

Fun as a form of persuasion. New kinds of social games have the power to influence decisions, even to the point of getting people to spend real money on virtual goods.

Loss of control. On Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, what others say about your brand is often more powerful than what you say yourself.

The power of storytelling to drive viral awareness. Digital marketing campaigns built around a compelling message, idea, or character can generate a real return on investment.

The potential for a privacy backlash. The issue of privacy is a serious one, and many consumers are uncomfortable with the way things are going.

Mining social media for brand wisdom. We can now discover what the crowd is thinking in real time, and we can use that wisdom to adjust and improve.

Employing the tools of anthropology. The online world is so rich in lessons on human behavior that it can be studied for insights into what people say they do and what they actually do.

The new Mad Men and women. Marketing strategy is being redefined by a new generation of leaders who are developing new tools and models to maximize and understand the true impact of digital media.

Monetizing social media. Social-network advertising is catching on in a surprising way, growing from nearly nothing three years ago into a multibillion-dollar sector.

The double-edged sword of coupons and discounts. They’re a good way to attract customers now, but not a good long-term business-building strategy.

Generating high-quality sales leads. New strategies for forming unlikely networks and partnerships can drive sales.

Avoiding social-media fiascoes. Companies must develop new policies and rules, not to completely control the way employees and affiliates use these new communication channels, but to be smart about brand management.

Taken together, these lessons and trends reveal that we’re living in an exciting but treacherous moment: after the dawn of pervasive digital media but before the ramifications for nearly every industry have become fully clear. The numbers are getting real. As a share of all advertising spending worldwide, digital is now about 12 percent. That’s forecast to grow to 17 percent by 2014, when global digital spending will approach the $100 billion threshold.

Yet many major brands are spending less than 5 percent of their advertising budgets on digital media, despite the fact that many consumers are now spending most of their waking hours online. These are disruptive times. Miss what’s happening and you’ll put your business and your livelihood in jeopardy.

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