It’s year-end forecast time. Following are the 12 technology trends that I think are critical for marketers to watch in 2012. These are the emerging customer behaviors, digital interfaces, social media, and marketing platforms that will transform the way customers connect with brands in the year ahead.
1. Mobile by Default
In 2011, for the first time ever, global sales of smartphones overtook personal computers. This marks a huge shift in behavior by customers and employees alike. 2012 will be the year that computing begins to be “mobile by default.” Rather than marketers thinking, “Yes, our web experience is good, but how does it look on a mobile device?”, instead every digital experience will be built from the beginning with mobile devices in mind
2. But Tablets Redefine What Is “Mobile”
At the same time that mobile is becoming our default standard, the definition of “mobile” is rapidly expanding. This is due to the broad popularity of tablets, which have spread from personal computing to business with use cases ranging from mobile sales forces to C-suite executives on the go. On the strength of the iPad, Apple is poised to become the largest computer manufacturer in the world in 2012. Meanwhile, Amazon’s Kindle Fire is blazing the trail for a wider market of stripped down tablets at a fraction of the price. Increasingly, brands will have to develop digital experiences for three screens: the smartphone, tablet, and personal computer.
3. Apps Are Out, HTML5 Is In
Since the launch of the iTunes App Store in 2008, downloaded (“native”) apps have dominated the mobile computing experience, offering a flexible user interface better suited to small touchscreens than traditional websites. But the arrival of HTML5 has brought a new standard to the Web which allows for mobile websites (“web apps”) with much of the interactivity and customized design of native apps. Following the lead of The Financial Times and Amazon, many brands in 2012 will begin to shift towards developing mobile apps on the web. This will allow brands to avoid many of the problems of the native app model: developing versions of each app for different operating systems (iOS, Android, etc.); persuading customers to the take time to install an app vs. simply clicking a web link; handing over a share of revenue and control of customer data to the App Store owner; and facing significant delays for every update to your app (web apps update instantly, just like a website or blog)
4. Offline Merges with Online
By 2012, QR codes (“quick response”) will have gone from “Too confusing, consumers don’t get it” to “Too new, the ROI is unclear” to “That’s old news, of course we have one on the corner of every brochure.” Meanwhile, innovative uses of augmented reality will continue to unfold in retail and gaming apps that merge on-screen reality with what’s in front of us off-screen. While the first iteration of Google Goggles has not caught on, visual search (or “true A.R.”) may start to make its first appearance in 2012, allowing us to point phones at random objects in the real world and find relevant online information about them.
5. Mobile Payments Drive Loyalty
Starbucks’ mobile app has processed 26 million transactions in its first year, thanks to scanners on location in many stores. Kenyan mobile payment startup M-pesa now processes more transaction globally than Western Union. Loyalty marketing firms like Aimia are focusing on using mobile payment to incentivize brand loyalty and customer retention. In 2012, brands will find new ways to manage customer relationships by tying payments to mobile devices using new technologies like Square and NFC (near field communications).
6. Touch and Voice Transform Computing Interfaces
Touchscreens have defined our experience of mobile devices — first on smartphones, and now on tablets. In 2012, Microsoft will finally launch its first Windows operating system with a touch interface built into it from the ground up. After years of telling your kids to stop touching your computer screen (it’s not an iPhone, dear!), you won’t have to, as your screen will seamlessly switch back and forth between mouse, keyboard, and touch. The emergence of another transformative interface, voice-driven computing, was first seen this year in IBM’s Watson, the Jeopardy-playing artificial intelligence (A.I.) computer. Consumers got their first voice A.I. interface to take home in Siri, the personal assistant in the Apple iPhone 4S. Expect voice interfaces to appear in more consumer digital experiences starting in 2012.
7. TV Grows Ever More Social
Multi-screen TV viewing is rapidly becoming the norm. 42 percent of Americans surf the Web while watching TV, and 26 percent send instant messages or texts. In the last Super Bowl, Twitter users sent a record-breaking 4,000 messages each second. YouTube’s integration with Google+ will allow for simultaneous social viewing of online video, not just television. Brand advertisers will need to think about how to engage customers across these multiple social screens. They may want to look to Bravo TV, who found that its online viewing parties gave a 10 percent ratings lift for the “Real Housewives” series.
8. Live Video Emerges as a Business Channel
Recorded video has already become a huge business opportunity, as testified by the many YouTube channels for brands like Home Depot, IBM, and Pepsi. By contrast, live video interaction (like Skype and FaceTime) has been seen as a consumer conversation tool. But it is now emerging as a powerful platform for conducting business. Not just teleconferences, but medical consultations, therapy, and even cooking classes are now being conducted via live video. The Hangouts feature on Google+ will further popularize this by making group video incredibly easy. Look for brands in 2012 to find new ways to use live video conversation to engage key audiences.
9. Social Commerce Stalls Two Ways
Social couponing will likely decline in 2012 for three reasons. Many Groupon competitors have pulled out (including Facebook Deals); investors are showing wariness about the business model; and local retail partners are growing increasingly wary. A recent study showed that customer reviews (as measured on Yelp) decline significantly after a retailer launches a Groupon deal. In another kind of “social commerce”: Facebook’s dreams of becoming a huge e-commerce platform to rival Amazon will likely not come to fruition in 2012. Facebook brings social sharing but not much else to the table (it can’t handle fulfillment, or customer complaints, or inventory), and it keeps too much of customers’ data for itself. Merchants will find they can do better by advertising their wares within Facebook apps, and encouraging customers to share their purchases on social media, but keeping the actual e-commerce transactions on their own websites.
10. Google Integrates
In 2012, marketers will warily watch the web’s three titans fiddle with the rules of their respective kingdoms. The first to watch is still search giant Google. Brands will need to carefully track how the integration of Google’s products (especially Search, YouTube, Maps, and Google+) begins to impact the rules of the game for SEO and customer engagement in 2012. Will brands need to spend more time on Google +1′s and Hangouts, as part of ensuring that their web presence stays high in Google’s search algorithm?
11. Facebook Ups Its Ante
Facebook is next. As brands still wait for the roll-out of Timeline, we can expect that Facebook will continue to play with its algorithm for what gets shown to consumers in 2012. On the plus side, this may lead to less visual spam for the user and higher click-through rates on Facebook’s vast but underperforming inventory of banner ads. On the down side, marketers may find they have to pay more and more just to get their content seen by their own Facebook “fans,” let alone spread virally to others.
12. Twitter Innovates for Advertisers
Finally, Twitter will continue to experiment with its interface and its advertising products in 2012. Its addition of brand pages this month is a welcome step, and it adds a bit of polish for users visiting a business account via a web browser (but this is only a small portion of Twitter’s traffic). The real question for 2012 is what new advertising products Twitter will develop (like the new Promoted Trends) that will give marketers more visibility in front of the right Twitter users, while ensuring that what users see is relevant enough to keep them engaged with the service.
BY DAVID ROGERS
This post originally posted by David on the DavidRogers.biz blog at: http://www.davidrogers.biz