January is a time for speculation about the year ahead, fuelled by retrospective musings about the last 12 months. We want to share a few of our own thoughts

and links to a couple of the interesting bits we’ve come across. Get a cup of coffee, this is a long one.

Digital gets more prominent

Admittedly a safety bet, because it’s been happening year on year for a while. As the marketing opportunities in digital become more and more diverse, creatives become less inhibited by the barriers of what’s possible. One caveat to this is delivering on objectives. No-one likes to spend money without knowing what they’re buying and marketers are no different. So if you have a really cool concept you want put into play, make sure it also has a clear, measurable result.

Then it Gets More Diverse

Digital is fast becoming a catch-all phrase so broad as to be almost pointless. It’s used to describe everything from web and app development to advertising, community management, online reputation management, content development and more across at least 4 different screens. Each of these needs can be justified, and if they end up cannibalising each other instead of warranting a larger portion of marketing budgets overall, they may fall well short of their potential. Preventing this is going to require excellent planning and, as always, clarity on what the goals are and why they’re important. The exciting aspect is the variety we might see as brands and agencies hone in on certain elements and do rocking work.

Social Gets Stringent

A presence is not the same as a plan, and brands will start looking for the latter instead of the former. The natural evolution for a brand is to acknowledge a need to be in a space, an effort to establish a rapport with its inhabitants, build awareness and connect with that community in a meaningful way. Most brands and marketers have overcome the first two, and as brands find their niche and clarify why they’re there, a need to focus on what they’re doing in the space is going to become the focus, as opposed to simply counting eyes and ears. Focus is going to shift from the size of potential audience to the number of people who really connected.

From the Edge to the Centre

Digital has been treated as an add-on, brought on at the last minute when planning campaigns and exhorted to prove it’s worth with scraps from the budget plan. It can be set up to fail by twisting and contorting itself to fit mechanics designed for completely different media. Working in the opposite direction has none of these limitations. So we’re predicting that this year those with vision will plot campaigns with digital as the starting point, and everything else will build from there.

Little Gets Bigger (and, as a result, better)

It used to be that investing in a small project was a hard sell because, as much joy and mileage you could create for the participants in an activation, it didn’t measure up to the mileage you got from the funding and attention pumped into the BIG campaign. But what if you could do something little in a way that touched a lot of lives? Viral videos of localised campaigns like Coke’s Happiness Machines, the Push to add Drama TV channel launch or the McDonald’s Pick n Play Billboard show how a small analogue execution can have a huge audience. But the potential reach of your average digital native is a lot bigger than it used to be. Give them a small reason and means to share their experience and their cumulative efforts quickly snowball. Having documentation of your activation reach a massive audience is cool; having the people participating in the activation bringing along their digital audience is even better.

Focusing on Quality Over Quantity 

We’re not suggesting that brands will have to choose one over the other, merely that the first factor will be prioritised over the second. While a brand’s dream scenario might be a best in class presence on every platform worth pursuing working harmoniously with one another, resources are finite and need to be allocated. It won’t be about following the masses, it will be about finding the crowd that suits you. Brands don’t necessarily need to be everywhere, and the mix is obviously different for each. The focus will swing back to being amazing where it counts as opposed to being spread too thin in an effort to be all things to all people.

But Not Too Narrowly

That being said, what is done needs to work across whatever platforms users are on, and work seamlessly. It’s no good running a campaign that can only reach people via one device, and doubly so if that’s not the one the majority of your target market prefer. Do the homework and undertake the rigour, or prepare to face disappointing results and bad user experiences.

So, to summarise, we believe digital marketing will become a more prominent part of the mix, offering greater diversity and moving to the centre of campaigns as opposed to being an after thought. Marketers will shift their focus from growing audiences to the quality and nature of their communication with them, possibly executing this through small scale campaigns, activations and events that allow these communities to become amplifiers for what’s happening instead of starring in a video. Planners and Strategists will pick and choose their avenues based on need, making sure that their activities move between platforms and devices as seamlessly as possible. Of course, 2013 could also be the year something completely new and unforeseen comes out of nowhere and upsets the apple cart. Gotta love those Black Swans!

If you’re looking for even more reading to consume, here’s a few links we found interesting:
• Speaking to MediaPost, Kim Siler, Coca-Cola’s mobile brand strategist, global connections, said  “Ultimately, we believe that when coupled with mobile payments, the location capabilities of a mobile device [and] network can enable our vision of a world where people can walk in holding their phone and walk out with their phone and a Coca-Cola.”
• The Lake Superior State University 2013 List of Banished Words (Spoiler Alert: One of them is Spoiler Alert)
• Use your phone to tell your car where you’re going (so it can plan the route).
• It’s the year of the second screen, and Xbox is causing a lot of excitement between Smartglass and a possible new console.
• Twitter could be looking at 2013 as the runway to launch its IPO in 2014.
• While on the subject of the Blue Bird, here’s some interesting perspectives on their partnership with Nielsen.

Some awesome lists from other people we really enjoyed:
• Memeburn : 5 Social Media Resolutions for the New Year
• iMedia Connection : 10 Resolutions Marketers Must Make for 2013
• Clickz : 10 Digital Marketing Predictions for 2013
• LinkedIn : The Big Ideas of 2013. 50 Opinions from 50 Thought Leaders
• Social Media Explorer : Five Social Media Trends for 2013
• Social Media Monthly : The Top Digital Trends of 2013
• Dreamgrow : 26 Social Media Marketing Trends for 2013

And as a final parting gift (that coffee must be looooong gone) an awesome slideshow on the future of digital from Business Insider.