a trendMARK feature by Dave Duarte (@DaveDuarte) The first phase of digital marketing was about display advertising on line. Then marketers started using search and social data to target that advertising more precisely. That’s where most advertisers currently are. What comes next is that targeting is hopping off the screen and into the lives of consumers, from smart phones to smart things.

Digital marketing is getting real. We mostly experience the internet through our various screens — computer, mobile phone, tablet, and TV. But besides screens there are many other input and output formats for the internet. For example, using a web-connected plug you can turn home appliances on or off in response to some online event — like your first tweet of the day, for example. The “Internet of Things” is what we’re talking about here. And it’s really exciting for marketers and consumers alike.

For example, I recently started using the FitBit Flex step counter. It’s a bracelet with a motion tracker in it that connects to the internet. I use it to track my daily activity and compete with other friends who use the device. This is pretty cool, but what is even cooler is that I also earn Vitality points with my health insurer, Discovery, based on my daily FitBit step count.

Discovery also have a tracker on my car that tells them precisely how well I drive. Now, I don’t open much commercial email, but because the emails Discovery sends me contain personal data based on the way I live and act in the world, I don’t hesitate to open that mail every time. I don’t want email, I want me-mail!

So already we can see how valuable personalised consumer databases can be in marketing, and many companies are getting into social media for that very reason. But one of the most common questions anyone who works in social media gets asked is, “What is the value of a Facebook Like?”

Well, I suspect that retailers will soon be able to calculate that figure precisely. Facebook already uses facial recognition technology that can identify when a picture of a person is posted.How long until retailers have cameras connected to Facebook’s fitbitfacial recognition database? It is only a matter of time before we can start tracking individual shopper behaviour from social network to store.

The reigning champion of consumer data collection, Google, is also investing in creating physical objects connected to the web – cars, glasses, and now a debit card. The Google Wallet card will be able to deliver shopper incentives at the point of purchase, as well as give consumers and marketers useful data about how they shop. They could, for example, find out if you go and make a purchase after seeing an online ad they showed you.

Besides these rather serious data-driven examples, I love how ad agencies are using connected objects to bring advertising to life. I enjoy following the Joburg Zoo’s “Live Tweeting Badger” that uses web-connected sensors tos end tweets based on what the badger is doing at that moment. I was also amazed by the British Airways billboard that connects to flight and weather data to point out where visible planes in the sky are headed to.

This is a new form of advertising that brings together Marketing and Making. Agencies like R/GA, Inventionist and South Africa’s ThingKing are leading the way. If Marketing is getting closer to IT through the web, then this new form will also bridge the gap between Marketing and the heart of the business — its products, services and operations.

So rather than virtualising more, the big trend to look out for in 2014 will be all the cool ways that the internet is used to make real-world objects smarter. For marketers the challenge will be to use this in ways that benefit consumers and improve the way people shop rather than simply creating more clutter. And we can finally move from interrupting what people are interested in, to being what people are interested in.

This feature first ran in trendMark, the discerning trends resource for African marketers and corporates. Read or download the full magazine via Issuu. For a PDF copy, click here.

Dave Duarte (@DaveDuarte) is a digital marketing educator and entrepreneur; the founder and principal of the Ogilvy Digital Marketing Academy (ODMA); and a trustee at Mxit Reach.

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