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Digital Strategists, This is Your Future


by Nick Cavet

Photo by NASA Ames Research Center

“Strategy is about shaping the future,” or so says Max Mckeown, a respected author and thought leader in strategy circles. A man whom I’ve never met, but whose words appear about one-third down the page in a Google search result for “strategy quotes.” Mckeown’s quote, and its ranking by Google’s algorithm, provide me with enough quantitative and qualitative proof that it will be effective in compelling you to read further.

What I like about Mckeown’s quote is that it contains equal parts truth and self-aggrandizement befitting of any self-respecting strategist trying to convince the world of his or her value at time when technology is eating the world. But the real truth—and any strategist who tells you otherwise is either a fool or a liar—is that with each passing day, digital strategists are faced with obsolescence, as more affordable, intelligent and powerful technology designed for self-service become readily available to decision- makers. These new technologies promise to augment planning conjecture and hypothesis with the statistical accuracy of hard quantitative data and the processing power of globally connected supercomputers.

It’s not just marketing technology companies leading the charge—it’s the social networking, media and messaging juggernauts that we, as agencies, brands and consumers, have poured billions of hours and dollars into helping build. These frenemies would now like nothing better than to see the digital strategist fade away as their self-service platforms designed to bid, target, predict, display and engage become easier to use by the average business person.

And so while today it may be true that strategy is about shaping future, ultimately, technology shapes the future with or without you. The key for the strategist is to figure out which technologies will have a lasting impact and convincing their clients to get there first. Here are my five predictions for technologies that will have the greatest impact on digital marketing and advertising in the coming years—and the approximate year when I predict them to hit.

1) Facebook Atlas gains traction as an ad display network (2020) Acquired from Microsoft in 2013, Facebook Atlas will go from pilot mode and relative obscurity to eventually give Google a run for its money as the #1 display ad network in the world, driven largely by in-app mobile placements and growth in remote countries where “Facebook is the Internet.” Facebook’s primary data, cookie-less audience tracking solution and unmatched global scale will offer advertisers turnkey, precision targeting at a global scale.

2) Artificial intelligence becomes a marketing service (2020) Artificial Intelligence will power the majority of marketing and advertising decisions, driven largely by the increased availability of “Artificial Intelligence as a Service,” currently under development by major tech companies. The term Big Data will give way to Micro Decision Making as marketers reach maturity in their data management and analytics capabilities. For CMOs, this will mean the end of segmentation-based marketing as marketing evolves from one-to-one communication to one-to-one behavior prediction, creative messaging and offer optimization.

3) Prediction markets inform the creative brief (2023) With the presence of prediction markets such as Augur, forecasting of major political, commercial and economic events will become increasingly more accurate and will have an increasing influence on the development of creative briefs and media budget allocation. Today, virtually all creative briefs begin with business and communications objectives that are based on historical analysis and goals for the upcoming year. In the future, creative briefs will take into account what is likely to happen in the upcoming year. This can range from which competitors are most likely to launch new products and campaigns, to which celebrity sponsors are poised for breakout (or breakdown)—all of which could affect a media planning calendar.

4) Ethereum replaces the world wide web (2025) Ethereum, a blockchain-based crypto currency that allows for user-created smart contracts and decentralized apps, will emerge as the world wide web of the future, one in which social networks, search engines and messaging platforms exist without for-profit public companies operating as intermediaries and data collectors. In conjunction with the rise of smartphones, in-app advertising will become the dominant form of digital advertising as the web offers increasingly less security, utility and privacy for the Wikileaks-Snowden-Patriot-Act Generation.

5) Self-driving cars become the new OOH (2025) Tesla, Uber, Google and Spotify will partner to make self-driving vehicles a reality. Google will offer advertisers access to commuting audiences around the world. Self-driving cars will sport massive screens like those found in today’s Teslas. And, as smartphone penetration reaches more than 90%, Google Android Auto and Apple CarPlay will continue the battle to own your screen—only this time, instead of small screens that know where you are, it will be big screens that can take you where you want to go.

Nick Cavet is an Associate Partner, Director of Digital Strategy at VSA, working with clients such as Beam Suntory, Nike and Marvin Windows and Doors. Prior to joining VSA Partners, Nick was a digital strategist at 360i and VML in New York. He has led digital strategy for Vanguard, Schering Plough, Starz Media, Kool-Aid, Crystal Light, Kraft Cheese, Mattel, Columbia University and Rutgers University. He has a BS in Computer Science from James Madison University.  All of the ideas expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect those of VSA Partners or any of our clients.