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Online Marketing: 2009 Predictions

I sat down with Larry Garfield of the Garfield Group the other day to discuss inbound marketing.  We had an awesome back and forth conversation with ideas flowing both ways. Towards the end of the conversation, he asked me, "Is there anything else you think we should be learning?"

My response was, "Everything I learned about online marketing, I learned by listening and experimentation."

If there's one constant about online marketing, it's that it's always changing.

This got me thinking about what might be coming this year. Here's a long list of predictions based on some logical leaps: 

The Obvious Ones

  1. The Year of the Business Blog. Many say that this was the year of the business blog, or even two years ago was the year. But, from my view in the trenches - talking to small and mid sized business owners - business blogging has NOT arrived yet. There are still way too many CEOs, Marketing VPs and small business owners who are  resistant to business blogging : Too much time; Don't understand the value; Risk of revealing too much to competitors; Risk of that unhappy customer vocalizing. I think this is the year that business leaders will get over these crappy excuses. The economy will affect businesses in such a profound way (or CEOs will fear it so much) that they'll be aggressively looking for ways to attract more traffic, capture more leads and make more sales via the web. Blogging is the first step to doing this cost effectively. A business blog will be as essential as a website in 2009.
  2. SEO Consultants Will Deliver an ROI. SEO Hacks Will Go Out of Business. In 2008, If I had a penny for every time a business owner told me they paid their webmaster to do SEO for them or they hired someone to do SEO for them for $500/month, I would be on a beach somewhere right now: officially retired. In 2008, a good SEO consultant cost several thousand dollars a month. To maintain these prices, SEO consultants will need to expand their offerings to include content creation services. The only way to make SEO a consistent lead generation tool is to consistently create content. SEO consultants won't just be fixing SEO mistakes, picking keywords and doing On Page SEO, anymore. They'll be delivering an ROI within 3 months by creating content and link building at the 12th grade level . A good SEO consultant will generate leads. Not just polish the deck chairs.
  3. Social Media Advertising Will Come of Age. The average mid sized company spends a decent amount of money on pay per click advertising each month. The average mid sized company doesn't blog and doesn't actively improve their organic search rankings effectively. It's always easier to spend money than it is to spend time and resources. It's especially easy to spend money when it's very obvious what the return is. With PPC ads, you put money in, pick keywords, put up some landing pages (hopefully). Then, you get leads. It's obvious. With blogging and SEO, there are a bunch more steps and it isn't guaranteed unless each step is executed without mistake. The same goes for social media. Almost all businesses fail at leveraging social media effectively. It's not about just putting money in. However, in 2009, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, MySpace, Digg, etc, will make it easy to put money in and get targeted traffic out. Most of these sites are just recently launching their targeted ad capabilities.  They'll figure it out this year. Businesses will jump on this bandwagon. Not because it's right... but because it's easy.
  4. Marketing Software Will Become as Critical as Accounting Software. Companies like HubSpot, Constant Contact , Unica , Omniture , etc will demonstrate that a company without marketing software is a company without a future. The software the marketing department uses will become more important than the creative agency they use. Software will be as critical for marketing as it is for accounting.

Stars Are Aligned, But Probably Won't Happen Until Late 2009

  1. B2B Lead Generation Will Arrive. You'd be amazed at how many traditional B2B marketers respond with, "We don't sell anything online", when I ask them if online marketing is an important tool for the growth of their business. Marketers will finally wake up to the fact that the internet and b2b marketing are a match made in heaven. B2B buyers are looking for information to educate themselves. The internet was made to deliver the information people need 24x7x365 in millisecond response times. Buyers are willing to share their contact information to get that information. B2B Marketers will finally put 2+2+2 together.
  2. Most One-Trick-Pony Agencies will Die The website design business - as a standalone business - will die. So will the traditional PR agency and the traditional ad agency. There are far too many 10-30 person agencies who do just one thing. In the past few years, mid sized businesses have moved more and more of their budget to agencies that can do interactive marketing work: demand and lead generation. This year, those agencies will start adding some traditional agency services to their offerings. Then, they'll just take away all of the business. They won't just take it from traditional agencies either. Web site development companies have just as much to worry about. This is the year for marketing and web development agencies to adapt or die. They MUST develop services that generate demand for their clients. They must turn themselves into inbound marketing agencies . It's more about delivering an ROI. Not just billable hours.
  3. Web Celebrities will Develop Best of Breed Agencies.   Chris Brogan , Lee Odden , David Meerman Scott , Darren Rowse , Paul Gillin . Most of these guys were relatively unknown a few years ago. Their blogs and books have made them famous (at least among internet marketing circles). Most of them make money from books and speaking engagements. This year, if they haven't already, they will realize that they can make much more money consulting to corporate clients. They'll gradually build teams around them. Lee Odden is the farthest along with his SEO agency . Chris Brogan is off to a real strong start with his New Marketing Labs social media agency . I'm not saying that all of these guys will make the jump. But, the path of using your blog to start your best of breed marketing consulting agency will be proven. In fact, any agency that wants to survive will need to have a well known blogger like Steve Rubel or Todd Defren  at the thought leadership helm.
  4. Sales and Marketing Departments Will Function as One. Sales and marketing groups never seem to get along. They never share power. An organization is either "sales driven" or "marketing led". HubSpot is an anomaly. Our sales team is bigger employee wise, but that's because our marketing team reliably generates demand with less people. We also work together to define what an ideal lead looks like. Sales tells marketing what kind of sales objections we receive and why people do or don't buy... and all this affects what content that marketing creates next. In 2008, we never missed a monthly sales quota. Marketing never missed their lead generation monthly quota. We use data and software to make unbiased decisions. We adapt weekly and monthly. As more companies adopt marketing software that integrates with sales software to do closed loop marketing , more more marketing and sales teams will function as one .

Probably More Accurate Predictions for 2010

  1. Non Media Businesses will Launch Their Own Online Media Companies. HubSpot is a software company. But, most of our prospective clients are attracted to us because of the media we create: marketing webinars , this blog, HubSpot tv , marketing white papers , etc. The media we create is the engine behind our amazing growth in 2009. We now have 1,000+ clients. We're teaching them exactly how we've turned content creation into a demand generation machine. I predict that there'll be a bunch of product and services companies that will launch full blown media companies. These media companies won't sell advertising. They'll create demand for their owners. Johnson and Johnson's BabyCenter  is the perfect example. We'll see much more of this. Hosted social networks like the ones from Awareness and Jive will enable this movement.
  2. Effective CPL Ad Networks Will Arrive for B2B. LinkedIn or some other social media sharing site will take on Cost-Per-Lead advertising and win it. They'll be able to provide leads on a cost per lead basis even to niche B2B companies. They'll force Google to get serious about CPL. They'll forever change the way b2b companies generate demand by creating a centralized lead capture system similar to the Adwords publisher network. This network will make online lead generation turn-key. Since it's performance based, there'll be no barrier to trial. Any company not using it will be foolish. This is not necessarily a good thing for companies who haven't started turning their own website into a lead generation machine ; Relying on a 3rd party network where your competitors can simply outbid you removes all competitive advantage you may have. This network is also not a good thing for those who haven't started creating their own media. In order to effectively advertise on this network, advertisers will need to supply their own webinars, white papers, ebooks, etc. 
  3. Search Will Become Social. Social Media Will Take a Large Chunk of Search. Facebook's market share will grow and it will deliver real value for businesses . People were talking about Facebook at every holiday party I attended this year. It's adding users at an unprecedented rate. Everyone uses it. Facebook's web search market share will grow past Yahoo's search marketshare. They'll also figure out how to rank results based on your profile and your friends' profile and online activities. Or maybe it'll be Twitter. Who knows? But, I think social media and social networking will become an important variable in algorithmic search this year. As a result, social media sites will begin to even out the playing field of search and search advertising. Good SEO consultants and social media marketers will realize this long before it happens. They'll be combining their SEO and social media services into one offering.
  4. New Ecosystem Businesses Will Grow Very Quickly and Demonstrate the Power of the Web to Change an Industry. There are very few "EcoSystem" businesses on the web today. Google is the best example. They created software that organized the web. Then, they leveraged the attention this generated to create an audience of billions of searchers. They turned these searchers into consumers by launching an ad platform. This attracted advertisers. They had more advertisers than they could serve. They then built an army of publishers. They had more advertisers than they could service themselves, so they built an ecosystem of advertising professionals. They combined software + publishers + advertisers + ad agencies + consumers together into an ecosystem. Yet, they only directly employ the software developers. Everyone else participates because they receive greater benefit than they put in. More businesses will create an ecosystem around themselves like this. The ones that do will win really really big. Like Google has changed the online advertising game, these businesses will transform their industries too.
What do you think of these predictions? What do you predict? ( Photo by griraffes .)

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