The future of digital marketing will be built on fun

Four digital marketing revolutions

I have been writing and speaking on some new ideas about where I think social media and digital marketing will be going over the next few years. It seems pretty clear to me … let’s see if you agree.

To explain my premise, allow me to provide a brief description of where we have BEEN, which will lead to where we are GOING.

The first three digital revolutions

So far, we have seen three distinct phases or revolutions of digital marketing. These revolutions have not replaced each other but have built on the progress and moved us forward.

Our first digital revolution occurred at the dawn of the web in the late 1990s. Our business priority was simply establishing a website. Once we had a site, it needed to be discovered. Enabled by Google, our business priority turned to search engine optimization (in fact a $26 billion industry was created!). An emphasis on “Discovery” was the second digital revolution.

Today, we are in the third digital revolution, which has been enabled by social media and mobile technology. Our business goal in this phase is to help and serve people at their point of need, whether they are looking for a movie review, the best price on a laptop, or product information at the point of sale at a retail store.

By the way, at the edge of each of these revolutions, life becomes more difficult for marketers. If you were the first in your industry with a website, you had an advantage until your competitors caught on. Likewise, if you were the first to crack the code on SEO, Oh Happy Day! You led the search results as long as your competitors were sucking on ether.

Today, the world is more difficult because competitors are also fueling their helpful presence with content. If they were first and dominant in their niche, good news, good news, good news. But if the niche is filled, they are probably in Content Shock.

The fourth revolution

In the next 18-24 months we will be entering the fourth digital revolution. This will be an era of explosive marketing creativity and innovation enabled by wearable technology and augmented reality.

The impact of this development will be profound … perhaps more profound than the Internet itself. The way we learn, discover, connect and entertain ourselves will be dramatically altered.

Imagine a world where we are untethered from devices and the strength of a wi-fi connection. The Internet will surround us like the air that we breathe – a digital layer on top of the “real world” in any place we choose. Every book, every wall — even a package label — will come alive with interactive possibilities.

This will be an era of marketing without boundaries and I think it will be fueled by a marketing emphasis on fun, immersive experiences.

immersive digital experiences

Marketing without boundaries

My thinking goes like this … Today in our “third revolution” based on “utility” as a marketing strategy, we have severe limits. Once we help our customers, how do we continue to engage and grow with them on a daily basis? “OK, I’ve bought my car. Thanks for the useful information. See you in five years when I am ready to buy again.”

But there is virtually no limit to a person’s desire to have fun. In fact, we would rather play games and have fun more than anything (there is a lot of psychology behind this that I can’t get into in this short post).

I think the winners in the next revolution will be creating fun, immersive experiences on a daily basis for their customers. Like every other marketing phase, early adopters will flourish and those late to the game will struggle. Maybe five years from now I will be writing about “Fun Shock” – we will be overwhelmed by competing opportunities to interact. “Minority Report” will seem quaint.

What do you think of these implications?  What are your thoughts on this next frontier, or perhaps more appropriately, the next FUNtier?

Original illustration copyright Schaefer Marketing Solutions

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions. IBM had no editorial control of this content.
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  • Steve Woodruff

    Mark, I agree with the basic premise of the progression you’ve outlined, but I’d propose that there should be – I HOPE there will be!! – a layer between utility and immersion. And that is AI (artificial intelligence) regarding our connections to people, information, and things. This is where I would put “Filters” as well as “Finders” – we have to get past Searching through the tsunami of content and data streams, and have pro-active AI that FINDS what we need based on a core profile of our needs/desires/history. AI is the only way we can deal with the digital overload of the present and the immersive future. Maybe I’m expressing wishful thinking, because some way of dealing with the digital flood cannot come soon enough!

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    Well, I join Steve in his optimism, but rely on your forward thinking about digital trends, Mark. Honestly, we are all in such individual digital realities already that it’s pretty scary to consider we may soon become even more isolated. Our personal perceptions based on beliefs and life experience are not enough? Now we can choose to create and enhance imaginary worlds, and even those will include advertising? Yipes…. This goes on beyond science fiction!

  • Mark very much enjoyed this post! Although I believe it is still based on value, relationships, stories, and honesty…at Marketing Fun With MIke I can’t go without the notion that the more fun we have all while doing all of this will make it more worth it and better off for our clients in the long term!
    So I’m glad to see a somewhat similar possible digital marketing trend on the horizon…

  • I agree. In my talk I specifically address filters but cut it out for this short post. Also, if you look at the graphic it mentions filters. Thanks Steve.

  • Yes, it does : )

  • Kitty Kilian

    Let’s suppose something else happens. Let’s suppose we will get fed up with the lack of privacy on www. Or the hackers will win. It will just get too unsafe. Let’s suppose entirely new internets will emerge. Totally different streams of content, some large, some small. It’s feasible. The army have it already and now that we have satellites we don’t even need cables. That would mean an even bigger fragmentation. We would not have time to have fun, we would be scrambling to get a grip!

    Just a thought 😉

  • Jeffrey Slater

    Mark, I believe that a countervailing force will shift the dynamic you outline in your wonderfully thoughtful post. The empathic human being will change the trajectory of what you describe because we will reach a point where virtual connectivity is diminishing personal contacts. The ease of connecting through technology will create a craving for human connections.
    As an example, I think in-person event marketing will become even more important in the marketing mix as consumers/customer crave face to face interactions. Social media won’t go away but there will be a rise of people to people connectivity in person. People want to connect with people who represent brands and businesses. This need is under served.
    Of all the marketing work I have been involved in during the last 5 years, the in person activity has been most powerful and successful. Yes, it doesn’t scale, but as Seth Godin recently said, sometimes you need to get smaller to have a great impact in the marketplace.

  • I guess my assumption is this. Everything, including the Internet, privacy concerns and security, will be driven ultimately by the profit motive. If these issues are keeping companies from making money, the problems will be solved, legislation will be passed, the hackers will be defeated. I think in the long-term the economics of eCommerce will demand a safer and more civil web and I think we will have one. That is my hope any way!

  • Perhaps you are correct but I think just the opposite will occur. Millenials are perfectly comfortable managing relationships through updates and text messages. They are the new employees, consumers and leaders who will take us forward and while some of them will crave more face-to-face connection, I think the overall trend will see it as a waste of time. One view any way!

  • Fun…yum! One of my favourite things;) Cheers! Kaarina

  • Brave New World? I will admit to loving my tech, but there is always this fear it will take me over. LOL Yes, I have an over active imagination.

  • I agree with Mark, I think that having more options to connect, in a better way will arise. I think person to person meeting will not go away either. Can they not coexist?

  • Spot on, Mark. Fun is the future. Look at what’s “hot in digital” right now… games, music, sports, movies, mobiles, AR, social – all forms of fun or providers of fun experiences. It’s true we have an insatiable appetite for fun. Hedonistic humans that we are, we know no limit for entertainment and enjoyment. 🙂 Your post does 2 things: it takes a good look at our psyche, and offers a plausible insight into the future. Thanks. And thanks.

  • Steve Woodruff

    Yes, I played off your reference to “filters,” and enjoyed your take on it during your talk). My hope is that before we get to full immersion (the experience layer), we find a way to handle all this data at the information layer through far more targeted consumption/interaction (about the only way I can think of to deal with content shock).

  • Would make a good book : )

  • Well, thank right back to you! : )

  • Lynne/CarlynServices

    I agree, it’s hard to put down, turn off. Thankfully my batteries run out now and again. 🙂 Great article Mark, I shake my head every day in awe at what is happening out there. These young minds have no limits and there are so many of them.

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  • Catch you at the next big FUNtier 🙂

  • Kavita Jain

    I think the best part of the 4th revolution will be that consumers will no longer want to ‘tune out’ an advertising message. Because of the ‘fun’ element and hopefully more discrete marketing messages, they will actively seek out and engage with brands who are able to embrace this very exciting phase of digital marketing! Great post.

  • I like your thinking. Thanks for commenting Kavita.

  • The Circle by Dave Eggers is pretty close to the mark!

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  • I think you make a good point.
    While some of us have seen total immersion games and other fun stuff coming for two or three decades, it doesn’t change the value of your opinion based on knowledge of the intervening years.
    My first thought is that it will give mega-corp huge advantages due to conglomerates owning all kinds of intellectual virtual and physical property.
    It will be hard for the little gal to compete unless we band together.
    Unfortunately, for them, most big corps will be slow to take advantage precisely because of conglomeration, esp. big media corps like Sony, who are best positioned, indeed they are already doing it.
    Again, my best hopes lie with open source collaboration and crowd sourcing, but, we will see in time if that can make a dent in the horizontal and vertical integration of conglomerates.
    User and creator learning curves keep getting easier…

  • But maybe purchasing a virtual Coke to complete the mission, or virtual stock, will generate less revenue?
    (Doood! look! they got real Coke a cola, you know, like from the game! wow, that’s rad.)

  • arlene newbigging

    Really insightful and right on the spot! Six months on Mark, are you seeing the shift anticipated as yet, or is it early days?

  • Thanks, I’ve been looking for some good newer SF dealing with these issues. It’s been decades since I read much current SF.

  • Sounds like you’ve been reading/hearing Jeremy Rifkin in the past few years. Either way, kudos.
    I however, see the obverse of your coin. It will be 24/7 face to face with every anyone. In person will be less important, and we will seek time out with no one else around (except those we are closest to).
    Even touch will be replaced by the virtual soon enough. It may be primitive now, but it’s being worked on for prosthetics and some remote work and training, like surgery, and has been for some time.
    Such apps as these, as well as sex and games, are some of the most powerful forces driving new applications.

  • Sorry, it seems we’re having trouble syncing my image with my self, would you please try going out the door and rebooting your implant before coming back in?

  • If you outlaw the under-nets, only outlaws will have them.

  • Depends, a lot, on whether you read SF, or watch it.

  • I’m really excited about both approaches: fun and (yo)utility. The problem is that fun (from the marketing’s point of view) will just be seen as the ‘permission’ to entertain because that’s what they think is where fun comes from: from being entertained. At the end everyone will just try to entertain more than the competitor and this is when marketing will have ruined the fun-approach. It already started.
    If you see fun as how it was used by evolution, as progress and mastery, it will be a sustainable approach but (I bet my life on it) this approach will be too exhausting for (most) marketing agencies to go. Even if it’s succesful.
    Being useful on the other hand is the marathon approach. I think that in the long run Youtility will be the more practicable approach to create brand advocacy than fun, not because it is the more powerful one but because it is easier to manage, sustain and execute.

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