Online marketing can be effectively viewed as being composed of a series of hyper-short spheres of influence which pop into and out of existence like tiny subatomic particles. However, in online marketing, the interactions of these subatomic particles has implications for the next cycle and so on. So, the picture would be one event leading to the next event(s) in a chain reaction, or chain of entropy, scenario.
In the mid 90’s, the first banner ad led into a demand for CPM inventory which was quickly exhausted in a matter of years due to the limited number of sites and visitors of those sites. So, performance was included to hybridize the offline metric of CPM and what resulted was an early form of CPA where sites were forced to watch their own visitor rates and quality of responses. Around the turn of the century the performance metric of CPA was further given to hybridization in the form of CPC as marketers began to attempt to cope with shortened user attention and the network structure of the web being laid out on the lattices of links.
For the past three years, we’ve been contained within this paradigm of shortened user attention, traffic patterns and have attempted to come to terms with the situation by making the lattices of links a flexible structure. However, what many of us have realized through trial-and-error and experimentation is that the link lattice has a crystalline structure, meaning that due to its inherent properties it is not flexible. Objects in nature which have a crystalline structure are hard, good conductors of currents (think of electricity as traffic) yet brittle due to the way atoms have bonded together to make these structures.
The link lattice structure of search is operating very much the same way in online marketing. What we have discovered is that although a concrete and predictable model, the hierarchical link structure of operations such as search, email, web placements are not allowing the types of flexibilities which are needed in an ever more subjective online experience of users. Marketing that is not flexible, although profitable now, does not have a bright future in the next cycle of our chain reaction analogy.
In fact, the vehicles which have been successfully delivering the ads in this latest incarnation of online marketing, are getting left behind by the flexibility and usefulness of the ads themselves. Much like a virus who deposits its genetic material into a cell causing a mutation of that cell’s future replications, search, email, banners, text ads and link in general have been able to deliver their messages, but users are becoming immune, and inoculations to the success of these platforms (page view metrics, click counts, etc) are being developed and rapidly released to the masses (AJAX, widgets, etc).
Phil Wainewright of ZDNet gets its right when discussing Google’s Achilles Heel:
Now think for a moment why the ads work better than the search engine itself. The simple explanation is the wisdom of crowds. The ads are more accurate because they benefit from the concerted efforts of hundreds of advertisers competing with each other to float to the top of the ad rankings. Whereas the search results are based on algorithms that explicitly filter out the attempts of website owners to game the results. They’re based on the passive, serendipitous wisdom of hyperlinks.
So, in our analogy of emerging spheres from chain reactions, what does the next incarnation of online marketing look like? I’d venture to think it would resemble more of an amorphous solid rather than a crystalline solid. This would require a change in the underlying structure of the platforms. Rather than link lattices, think flexible and malleable plastics able to bend and shape differently based on user preferences and changing metrics.
It’s not about doom and gloom or apocalyptic predictions. There is no such thing as an end to everyting, whether in online marketing or biology or physics. Matter is neither created nor destroyed, it just changes from one form to another. The atoms which composed you were baked in the same big bang explosion as the atoms in our nearest star or the nearest Oak tree to your office. The atoms that compose you will go on to bond with other atoms and form other things after you have died. The shapes and forms of the atoms which compose online marketing, in the same fashion, will continue to exist and go on to bond and form with other atoms to create the next form of the online experience for individuals.