The term Golden Age comes from past mythology and refers to the first in a sequence of the ages of man. Typically it’s used retrospectively about a period of peace, harmony, stability and prosperity. However, last week PwC included it in their Global Entertainment and Media Outlook report which concluded that the next four years would represent a “golden age for the empowered consumer”.

Audiences are fragmenting across the digital media landscape as new technology offers more ways for consumers to engage with brands. But while consumers enter a time in their lives when they have access to information on smartphones, various platforms, tablets and new technology, can the next four years be just as ‘golden’ for the marketing and ad industry?

More platforms, means more content and the need for a consistent approach. The latest devices, will require more engagement. More tech-savvy consumers, means smarter strategies. Brands that don’t adapt will fall behind in the competitive marketplace. Those that do will need a new approach to communication. A strategy that is “everywhere”, that doesn’t view online and offline in separate silos and one that provides a consistent and sustainable service.

The Bronze Age

Online advertising in the UK is set for double digit growth over the next four years, according to PwC, and the value of the UK advertising market is set to increase by 4.8%, while the US will experience slightly lower growth rates. The driving force for brands has always been the audience; they define what content is produced and how it is distributed to them. The issues marketers now face is choosing which channel to engage on, the type of content produced and how to maintain a conversational relationship with their audience.

Brands that have effectively used online campaigns, many of which utilised video, have seen an increase in sales, customer basket sizes, reduced returns and an increase in brand advocates. Reckitt Benckiser saw a 6% increase in brick and mortar sales after employing online video and in 2010 Old Spice claimed the brand had an increase in sales by 107% following their online campaign.

Recently the online jewellery retailer updated its site with short product videos the result of which saw visitors who viewed those videos converted four times more often than those that didn’t. Meanwhile product returns have decreased by 25%. Other notable online video campaigns that stick in my mind and known for their viral share-ability is the Evian roller-babies and the more recent T-Mobile Royal Wedding spoof. Even Barbie and Ken became a recent social media sensation when consumers could follow Ken as he tried to win back Barbie.

The UK retailer Marks and Spencer has also revealed that it’s seen an average sales increase of 30% following the implementation of M&S TV and customers who watch video spend longer on the site and view three times the number of products.

The Dark Ages

A poorly executed online campaign can have lasting repercussions for a brand. Recently the furniture store, HabitatUK, started using hash-tags on its Twitter feed that had absolutely nothing to do with furniture. They chose popular words and brands such as Apple, iPhone and even contestants from reality programmes. The backlash was severe as customers criticised the brand for spamming them. Twitter has also caused a number of more recent faux-pas with the PR firm The Redner Group losing its client, the manufacturer for the game Duke Nukem Forever, after posting threatening tweets to journalists for printing bad reviews.

Ahead of the Olympics, Cadbury launched its spots vs. stripes campaign and more recently announced an overhaul of the digital strategy for failing to engage consumers. Unfortunately the campaign was met with confusion from consumers and the brand is currently trying to re-ignite it with a deal with ITV to include the campaign within the programme “Minute to Win It.”

Like the God Narcissus, brands must not fall in love with their own reflection. The key for brands to create lasting relationships with their audience is engaging in a three-way dialogue between themselves, the consumer and others within a social community. Social media offers the ideal platform for brands to enter into this conversation, but how do they then replicate this across the myriad of other platforms and devices entering the market?

Golden Video

Online video provides the ideal platform to engage with audiences with its adaptability across multiple platforms. From in-store displays that encourages the online and offline integration along the customer journey, to mobile content on the go. The future of digital marketing is video everywhere.

So how does the industry avoid the dark ages? It’s become clear over the past few weeks that the industry is growing up. No longer are agencies labelling themselves with ‘digital’ in a bid to provide that social media / online / viral campaign bolt-on. The industry is here to provide a service and one that encompasses all forms of communication across multiple platforms. It is no longer about mini, bite sized campaigns on different channels, but a constant, sustained multichannel service that reaches consumers everywhere.

Video can span touch points along the customer journey and allow brands to effectively engage with their target audience. The next four years will see not only an empowered consumer but a connected one. New technology and platforms like social video will ensure branded content is shared and amplified amongst consumers, and connected TVs will see brands truly become media companies in their own right as they build their own audiences.

Consumers over the next four years may feel empowered with the latest gadgets and tech, but we could also hear a cry of ‘information overload’ from them. It’s the brands responsibility to ensure their audience feels engaged with, in an appropriate way and on the platform the audience prefers. It may be a daunting prospect for the industry and could see many brands slip into the dark ages, but if they successfully utilise a strategy that focuses content consistently, we should hopefully enjoy a golden age of not only online advertising, but for online video as well.

(photo credit – bronze) (photo credit – dark ages) (photo credit – gold)