Something every successful online brand does is ask the right questions. Things like how can we improve, is that profitable or what’s our next step? In fact, even those questions are far too vague. What are you trying to improve, how profitable is good enough and is now the right time for a next step?
Asking the right questions is a difficult task. You have to know your subject inside out and have enough foresight to predict what’s coming in the next few years. There’s no exact science to it but the firms that get it right are the ones who flourish. These are the brands who make the right choices before the rest of the market knows anything has changed. And not because of their answers or solutions but because they asked the right questions.
Here are eight questions every online brand will need to ask over the next five years.
#1: Do we need a marketing department?
Digital marketing isn’t a part-time venture for online firms anymore; it’s a full-time gig and something you have to invest in seriously. There’s no guidebook that works for all businesses either – more true now than ever. So at some point you have to ask whether it makes sense to have your own in-house marketing department.
Rather than hiring an agency with ten other clients to think about, you have your own dedicated team. A group of marketing experts who know your business and industry inside out. This is the approach most of the big brands tend to take anyway – but there is a danger.
A huge benefit of hiring agencies is you get an outside perspective on your business. This is important in marketing because a fresh set of eyes can spot things your team may not be able to. It’s a case of pros vs cons and what works best for your business.
#2: Are mobile apps done for?
This is a huge talking point in the industry right now – something every brand will need to ask itself very soon. Google’s app streaming and Apple’s on-demand resources are just two of the technologies removing the need for mobile apps.
There’s also the ongoing development of web apps to think about. Rather than physically downloading apps from a store, the future looks like loading them inside web browsers and automatically downloading additional files when they’re needed. In fact, this may not even need to happen within a browser; it could all work within operating systems as the Internet of Things (IoT) finally takes off.
This is obviously an important question if you have plans for a mobile app any time soon. But the end of mobile apps would change the nature of web design and development as we know it. It will affect every brand with an online presence – no exceptions.
#3: How do we optimise for every device?
The days of ‘mobile optimisation’ are so 2014. Wearable technology hasn’t quite taken off yet but the age of virtual and augmented reality is already upon us (more on that shortly). The fact is we have to optimise for way more than mobile.
People can go from browsing the web on a whopping 100-inch Ultra-HD TV to a tiny smartwatch in seconds. They can fill their day moving between smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. The is already happening now and the range of devices about to hit the market is huge.
When the IoT turns every car, oven, bus stop and building into a connected ‘device’ you’ll have to optimise for quite literally everything. So terms like mobile optimisation will soon disappear and we’ll be designing for a universal range of devices.
#4: How do we create all this content?
It’s already difficult enough producing content for the web but things are about to get more demanding. First of all, content itself will need to be adaptive so it can de delivered to all those devices we were talking about.
A notification on your smartwatch will turn into a voice prompt when you walk into your office, for example. It’s the same content, but adaptive. So the number of formats we need to produce content for will continue to grow – and it’s already pretty large:
- Web content
- Print content
- Audio (podcast, voiceovers, etc.)
- Interactive content
- Digital ads
The list goes on – and these are examples of content we’re producing today. Who knows what the Internet of Things, virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI) will bring with them.
In terms of creating all this content, this will become a highly specialised field. But I suspect AI will play a large role in speeding up the process of creating content. Whether that happens in the next five year or not remains to be seen.
#5: Do we even need a website anymore?
It’s hard to imagine any online brand not having a website – it sounds like a contradiction of terms? Well, maybe not for long. With the way Google, Facebook and the other tech giants are carrying on there may not be any room left for websites.
You can now shop on social media, book a hotel through search engines and read websites without even visiting them. Need a haircut this afternoon? It’s just one quick search and a tab of the ‘call’ button away. Meanwhile, Google and Facebook can now load content within their own apps so people never need to visit the publisher’s site.
Each year, the role of websites in our online activities gets smaller. In fact, Google’s efforts to keep people locked into its platform have landed it in international courts on various occasions. It’s not hard to imagine a future where you can do everything you need without ever visiting a website.
#6: How do we survive this zero-sum game?
Ever since search engines turned results pages into business opportunities the digital world became a zero-sum game. So everyone’s win is the result of someone else’s loss. And as digital marketing becomes more expensive, the list of losers keeps growing. Only those who can pay the going rate survive and the other firms slip into digital liquidation.
The question is where does this all end? If the costs keep rising, how long to you continue upping your bid and when does it become more than you can afford? Unless something changes drastically, there’ll come a point where only the biggest firms can compete. There doesn’t seem to be an exit strategy or plan B for firms that can’t afford the digital rat race. It could be time to start thinking about one.
#7: How do we take back control of our own marketing channels?
The problem to our previous question is that most of your digital marketing channels are owned by someone else. Google owns your organic search success, your AdWords opportunities and most of your local presence. While Facebook and other networks own your remaining digital ad channels and most of your online reach. So what do you own?
Well, you own your website, blog content and email lists, for example. But none of these are marketing channels in themselves. Without the likes of Google and Facebook nobody will ever see them. Which means you have no control over your marketing channels – that disappeared with print and TV ads.
So all it takes is one change from Google and you lose a stream of income. Or the price of Facebook ads gets too much for you and your reach is slashed. This happens to countless businesses every year and the worst part is they never know when it might happen.
#8: What comes after the digital revolution?
It would be naïve to think everything will be digital from here on in. Some experts are already calling the next revolution the virtual reality movement. But that just sounds like an extension of the digital revolution, the obvious next stage.
Others insist it will be the AI revolution and that’s starting to sounds like a genuine possibility. Some experts are predicting the end of mankind as we know it – the rise of the machines. And it does like something humanity would be stupid enough to bring upon itself.
Most of these predictions paint a bleak future for business: things like AI killing jobs and non-technical innovation. But who’s to say we might not take a step back from technology and start using it for things like ecological projects. Rather than technology that steals jobs, why not technology that solves hunger or averts natural disasters?
Either way, from a business perspective the next revolution sounds like it’s not that far away. The trick will be making sure your brand is still relevant when it happens – because many won’t be.
These are questions every brand will face over the next five years or so. There will be plenty of others, too, but these are the kind of specific issues you need to pinpoint. Asking the right questions is about predicting problems and spotting opportunities. Don’t be afraid of problems; embrace them. Because finding solutions to them is what sets the best brands apart – and it all stems from asking the right questions.