Looking back at 2011, I see a year where pragmatism replaced hype, where show beat tell, where consumers, the tech community and the marketing industry stepped away from preconceived notions and toward a new reality, where actions spoke louder than words.
Groupon had been the darlings of all things money. Consumers loved the deals. The business community was in awe. the Wall Street Journal covered its IPO with an exclamation point in its headline: "Groupon IPO Launches!" But hysteria breeds lots of attention and copycats. Soon, a number of Groupon's unhappy participants came to light and myriad competitor deals companies surfaced showing that Groupon's special sauce might not have been so special after all. Its stock price has shown the reality of the marketplace's push and pull. While I'm writing this, it value is above its IPO level, but it's seen falls of more than 40 percent.
Netflix went from user-centric to user-clueless. It had brought down Blockbuster. Its red envelope had become ubiquitous in mailboxes across the country. It had made streaming video and rent-by-mail common convention simply by offering a better user experience. That is until it raised prices and threatened to inconvenience users by splitting its services in two. In the end, it flip-flopped on its bifurcation plan. But it still has amends to make.
Tech IPO hype drowned underwater. At the time I'm writing this, Demand Media is down 55% from its opening price; FriendFinder Networks is down 94%; Pandora is down 36%; Zipcar is down 32% -- and as I said before, Groupon is currently trading above its IPO price but it has seen great falls. Granted the NASDAQ itself has been volatile, but the tech IPO windfall has not matched market anticipation.
Social media became synonymous with Facebook. This year we all came to the sobering realization, thanks largely to tepid adoption of Google+, that there is no such thing as social networks, plural. There's just Facebook.
Apple proved it's bigger than Steve Jobs. While famous for his brilliant intuition, powerful insights and hands-on approach, Jobs still built a machine that can function effectively under a different leader. The posthumous launch of Siri has set the stage for audio search and the semantic web to go mainstream; and in 2012, Apple is rumored to overhaul its iPad, iMac, iPhone and MacBook Air products. In addition, the long awaited iTV may soon come to fruition.
App building cooled off. Marketers stopped building mobile apps just for the sake of having an app. They realized apps need traffic to succeed, and that that means investing in marketing for the app itself and making sure the app fulfills a true, well-defined user need. Marketers now understand that mobile programs need to be grounded in solid strategy.
Mobile payments moved from the talk of the startup community to greater population thanks to Starbucks and Square. This year more Starbucks customers than ever were able to pay for their grande skim lattes by scanning their smartphones at the register. At the start of the year, iPhone users could mobile pay at 7,800 Starbucks locations. But by year's end, the number of locations equipped for mobile payments grew to 9,000 by incorporating all Safeway locations and Android users got a mobile payment app too. In addition, Square, the mobile payment service based on a credit card reader that plugs into iPhone headphone jacks, expanded significantly. In the fall of 2010, the service was reportedly signing up 30,000 merchants per month. By the fall of 2011, Square had signed up more than 750,000 merchants in total.
Next year, there's sure to be more hype--most likely directed at the incredible influence Amazon wields over the Internet and, as I hinted before, audio search and semantic Web. But more than likely, the realities of these stories will be much more complex. And sooner or later, we'll all have to adjust.
Aaron Shapiro is CEO at HUGE and the author of Users Not Customers: Who Really Determines The Success Of Your Business. Got a question for Aaron? Ask him at @amshap.