12-21-12 Marks the End of a Marketing Age

It’s been hard this month to avoid television specials warning of ominous prophecies foretelling a coming end of days, most notably the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21st, 2012. After watching one or two (or…five) of these “documentaries,” it’s clear that although these cultures weren’t prophesying the end of the world: They were forecasting a new era in human history.

If you’re a technology enthusiast, this new-era concept may not seem all that far-fetched. New technologies, like social media and smartphones enabled by the Internet, have revolutionized the way we live and spend our precious free time. The human race is unimaginably more connected, empowered and plugged in than it was just a decade ago.

A tipping point

The scary part, though, is this mass proliferation of life-changing technology has just begun. Moore’s Law and futurists like Ray Kurzweil–who was just hired by Google–say we’re on an exponential, technological ride that will continue to get more extreme by the day. If new technologies are already radically changing the way we live, it won’t be too long before these technologies start fundamentally changing mankind’s most established political, economic and societal models. When these foundational elements start changing, we will certainly enter a new era in human history that may bear little resemblance to the former.

So, what does all of this conjecture have to do with marketing? If 2013 marks a new era in human history, many significant elements of mankind must change simultaneously. Thousands of tipping points would be blasted through across a wide range of topics and industries, from what we eat to how we educate. 2013 would have to mark the year when the majority starts following the early adopters in a big way.

Few industries are better positioned to tip in 2013 than the Internet marketing industry. It may be surprising, but Internet marketing is still the redheaded stepchild of the marketing industry, garnering a scant 17 percent of total advertising budgets. This is surprising because the last several years have marked incredible changes in the ways people digest media.

Forrester reported in 2010 that, for the first time, people spent as much time online as they did watching television. This year, it was reported that people spent more time watching their phones than they did television. Yet marketers still spend a little more than half as much on online advertising as they do on television advertising. As for the newspaper industry, it has shrunk 40 percent over the last decade and was ranked by IBISWorld as the country’s 5th fastest dying industry. Savvy newspapers are making up for declines in print consumption with new compelling digital presences.

This imbalance in marketing spend versus how people actually spend their time doesn’t make much sense, but people are creatures of habit and like to stick with what they’re already comfortable with. And today’s marketers are plenty comfortable with interrupting cable television audiences with commercials that are DVRed and skipped over 50% of the time.

But people do change, and most often they change during a singular event often referred to as a tipping point. The Law of Diffusion of Innovation states that after the first 16 percent of a market – the early adopters – start using a new technology, the majority will quickly tip and follow suit. With approximately 17 percent of advertising dollars being spent online, the Internet marketing tipping point has arrived.

A new marketing age

The justification for this coming transition in spending is further reinforced by all of the changes that have happened recently in the Internet marketing space. Just a year ago, Internet marketing channels, such as SEO, digital PR and social media operated independently of each other in silos. But 2012 has seen a convergence of these channels around common goals, such as building engaged digital communities. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between these channels; it seems that they’re all employing very similar tactics and strategies, like content marketing, to achieve success. Convergence is key to mass adoption because it allows the majority to operate from the same playbook.

On the paid side, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have each launched new and innovative ways for marketers to pay for ads on their networks, and retargeting has become an incredible method for converting prospects sitting on the fence. The value proposition for SEM is also as strong as ever.

The icing on the cake is that Internet marketing automation tools from ExactTarget, Hubspot, Eloqua, and Marketo are now allowing marketers to tie all of these channels together and accurately measure ROI down to the final touch. This tracking ability was almost unheard of in yesterday’s marketing era. As early adopters start discussing their immense returns on integrated Internet marketing campaigns, the majority will have all the data they need to start placing the lion’s share of their bets on the Internet.

The big hurdle marketers must overcome in this new age of marketing is providing Internet audiences with interesting and entertaining media that solves their problems. This is why IBM’s 2012 State of Marketing Survey estimates that inbound marketing will grow a whopping four-fold in 2013. The old model of interrupting audiences and forcing them to watch overproduced commercials does not work on an Internet of impatience, immediacy, and skepticism. Hopefully, YouTube advertisers are learning this lesson as we speak.

The tipping point for Internet marketing mass adoption and associated spending is inevitable. A person doesn’t have to be a renowned prophet to come to the conclusion that the stars are aligning to make 2013 the perfect time for this long-awaited transition. December 21, 2012, will mark not only a new age in humanity but a new age in marketing. Out with the old, and in with the new.