Jonathan Gardner is director of communications at ad company Vibrant Media. He has spent nearly two decades as an innovator at the nexus of media and technology, having worked in communications leadership roles and as a journalist around the world.

The egg nog’s been drunk, the bells are done jingling, and the mistletoe has been taken down. It’s time to ring in the new year with resolutions that’ll make 2012 one to remember — online and off. All signs point to an exciting year, with the arrival of new (and inevitably covetable) Apple devices. The expanding digital industry is destined to affect what we discuss, buy and watch, who we friend, what we Like, and how we share — all year long.

Plus, eMarketer projects a 14.4% increase in U.S. online ad spending, and Google says that video ads improve offline campaign results. Digital will certainly take on added prominence in the new year.

Even so, let’s resolve to keep our heads on straight and stick close to the best practices that have been winners in the past – they’ll be the ones to see us through a stellar 2012. With input from my colleagues and other experts in the digital ad industry, I’ve come up with five “resolutions” for marketers in the new year.

1. Own Your Voice, Don’t Share It.

These days, we’re talking “word ownership” for online branding. Especially in hyper-competitive categories such as consumer electronics and auto, these emotive and topical keywords are the name of the game.

But you’d better get there first — key terms such as “football” and “Valentine’s Day” are sure to be hot tickets in the weeks to come. Act fast, and the keywords will do the work for you. Have a smart contextual plan at the core of your strategy, and you’ll help your brand gain ownership of its voice around the web.

2. Resolve to Be Relevant.

Relevance reigns in 2012. More than ever, people will be in the driver’s seat. Therefore, keep consumers’ desires, hopes and aspirations central to your marketing and you’ll stay on top. This is especially true of groups like Millennials, who are dominating the digital space. Matt Briton, CEO of social media agency Mr. Youth, says, brands must address five “need states:” utility, entertainment, information, rewards and recognition.

In 2011, we also saw consumers become more spending-conscious as opposed to simply price-conscious. So, now is the time to make the strongest possible case for your product’s value.

Finally, tune in to what kind of content engages your audience and create advertising that aligns with what they watch and read. Take advantage of technology that matches ad content to the context of the page and delivers hyper-relevant ads to people who actually want to see them.

3. Context is King, and Content is Queen.

Steve Jobs showed that to create value in the 21st century, you need to connect creativity with technology. With all the focus on the amazing tech that enables our new era of advertising, it’s easy to forget that what’s in the ads matters too. You can roll out a remarkable initiative to find consumers, but how will you engage them? Time and again, the most successful in-text, toolbar and display ads bring relevant content within the context of the page. This year, like the last, the best advertising will be dynamic, providing provide useful information from weather reports and traffic updates to recipes and sports scores.

4. The Data is Smarter. Are You?

As industry guru Peter Horan told us, “Counting clicks for branding is flawed. Marketers know TV works even though viewers can’t click on a commercial.” Beyond the click, the revolution in data will continue. Marketers can now look more closely at consumer behavior to get more mileage out of campaigns. As technology gives us a clearer view of reader engagement and retention, we see that all content is not created equal, and that despite the recent increase in content volume, quality is what drives results.

5. They’ve Changed the Channel.

An incredible 98% of 18- to 24-year-olds use social media. While debates continue to rage around ROI and how to quantify Likes, we’ve seen brands develop new ways to make their social media assets deliver, specifically, by bringing social content to new ad formats that push Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to the consumer in a relevant context. We can all learn from Best Buy, which connected consumers with its “Twelpforce,” Twitter-based help desk. And Axe is using an innovative social toolbar to push its clever content to consumers around the web.

Happy New Year! I hope that in 2012 you resolve to take your marketing to the next level of success.



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