Andrew Walmsley on digital: The year of consumer empowerment

As we career headlong into 2007, pausing only to put on a little weight over Christmas, it is often difficult to find the time to step back from the day-to-day pressures of work to look beyond this week's sales figures and next week's reports to the themes likely to dominate the coming year.

Fret no more: here are my top-three digital trends for the marketing world in 2007 - the areas in which I expect to see significant growth - for you to cut out, keep, or perhaps use as emergency wrapping paper.

Apple might have sued its evangelists, but most marketers view the trend toward consumer-generated advertising as a big opportunity. From ads that allow users to personalise the content before sending it on, such as the emailable trailer on weddingcrashersmovie.com, to encouraging users to create ads from scratch - see current.tv, where firms place advertising briefs for consumers to fulfil - it is becoming clear that this is the beginning of a new world for advertisers. Some will see its significance simply as the chance to save on production budgets, but there is a bigger game being played.

Becoming part of the conversation between consumers is infinitely more powerful than handing down information via traditional advertising. It encourages and facilitates consumers to become a part of the process, rather than being dumb recipients of the message from on high - and that is of huge potential value to brands. Check out converse.com for dozens of short films made by brand fans to see what I mean.

A similar trend is for the web to build a role as a customer insight mechanism for new product development, encouraging consumers to help create better products. Although it started with the open source movement, which saw thousands of individuals co-operating over the web to produce software, it is a trend that conventional manufactured goods companies are signing up to. Lafraise.com lets customers design their own T-shirts and vote for others, Jones Soda (jones soda.com) encourages consumers to design custom labels for its bottles, and vocalpoint.com is Procter & Gamble's ongoing mums' feedback site, with focus groups, surveys and discussions providing a stream of consumer input on NPD.

From using message boards to glean feedback on products, to websites that allow consumers to design and buy their own bespoke versions of products, such as Lego Factory, companies are inviting customers in, and gaining a competitive edge by doing so.

Another key development will be the increasing power conferred on the consumer by the internet, which is leading to a future where there is nowhere to hide for bad products. Consumers now have a voice, and they are using it. From the much-written-about Kryptonite bike lock saga, to Wal-Mart's fake blog 'flogs', marketers are discovering that they cannot pull the wool over consumers' eyes any more, either with poorly performing products or disingenuous promotions. The latest example is ipodsdirty secret.com - a video showing what happened when a consumer discovered his iPod battery only lasted 18 months, and was then unreplaceable.

Often when people talk about marketing, they mean 'promotion'. And when they talk about the internet as a marketing medium, they make the same mistake. McCarthy's four P's framework set out what he saw as the four key variables in crafting a marketing strategy back in the 60s - price, promotion, product and place - and we are seeing the internet affect every one of them.

The past 10 years have seen massive growth in the internet delivering on the promotion 'P', and that growth is not going to let up. The interesting development in 2007 will be the accelerating exploitation of the web for the other three.

- Andrew Walmsley is co-founder of i-level

30 SECONDS ON ... CURRENT.TV

- Current.tv is an independent US cable and satellite TV channel. Viewer-created content accounts for about one-third of its programming.

- The channel airs short pieces about people, current affairs and trends in short segments it calls pods.

- Anyone can upload a video to the channel's website. The current.tv online community then votes for the pieces that should be shown on TV.

- The site includes a step-by-step training section to show new users how to make a video for broadcast, including tips on everything from equipment to editing.

- It also shows viewer-created ads - 'V-CAMs' - for sponsor brands. Those that make it to air earn $1000, and can bring in $5000-$50,000 for the creator if the sponsor wants to air the spot elsewhere.

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