The Web Isn't Growing Anymore
Here Are Five Major Implications
Originally Published in Campaign
One of the most surprising things to happen in 2022 was the web reaching peak maturity. A 30-year rise in experimentation, growth and evolution culminated with a final surge of usage during the pandemic, but then it ended…suddenly and forcefully.
And of all the trends to watch in 2023, this is arguably the most consequential.
The web stopped growing (no, really).
For the first time ever, people are using the internet less. As the world opened up from pandemic restrictions, people turned away from their screens – to the tune of a 1.4% decline in usage.
Part of the reason is that we’ve saturated the reasonable amount of time people can spend online. The average individual today spends six hours and 49 minutes online. When you factor in work, sleeping and eating, there’s no room to increase that time.
The proliferation of online ads is another indicator that we’ve reached peak web. Have you noticed how cluttered with ads your social feeds and search results have become? That's because when underlying growth abates, the only thing to sustain growth is to sell more to the same people. More ads become the short-term, unsustainable fix to a long-term problem.
For marketers and businesses, the maturity of the internet has five major implications.
1. Digital is table stakes.
With digital adoption at saturation in the developing world, digital is now the preferred destination for virtually every human activity. While that may seem obvious, the companies that have not accepted this reality and invested accordingly are at a competitive disadvantage.
Companies must embrace a digital-first ethos in everything they do because of consumer necessity…and should embrace all things digital because it’s good business. Virtually every company can generate a clear ROI by leveraging digital to reduce operational friction.
2. Omnichannel strategies are a must.
If digital can no longer be counted on for sure-fire growth, brands need to go beyond digital to win in their category. As we come out of the pandemic and people flock to in-person experiences, “analog” excellence has become an important competitive differentiator.
Peloton, for example, was a pandemic darling when everyone fled the gym for at-home exercise. While they were at it, they built the hottest brand in fitness. But then the company came crashing back to earth when Equinox and other gyms became relevant again. But what would’ve happened to Peloton if they instead embraced omnichannel and put Peloton studios in every neighborhood when landlords were begging to give away space?
Don’t let your brand become the next Peloton. Avoid omnichannel and the analog world at your own peril.
3. The fight for market share becomes more intense.
In a mature market, the pie isn't growing as it once was. This means the primary source of above-market growth is taking market share from elsewhere. Marketers must therefore have a clear understanding of how they'll capture share from others in their sector, in a way that goes beyond "we're digital and they're not.”
Similarly, growth can be looked at from the perspective of time spent. When the consumer's time spent online is fixed, every minute spent with your brand is a minute less elsewhere. Consider what your brand is offering in exchange for a consumer forgoing their fixed digital attention somewhere else.
4. With maturity comes the opportunity for real innovation.
A mature web also opens the door to innovation that is so unique it changes how people live.
The metaverse, if it works, is an example of this. The promise of the metaverse is that the experience is so immersive, people spend more of their life in this environment...at the expense of both today's digital world and the analog world. At scaled adoption (and it’s a big question if that’ll ever happen, as right now you are a cartoon and must wear a giant headset), one can imagine spending time in the metaverse instead of doing real-world activities. This would drive dramatic above-market growth.
There are less ambitious examples too. Consider a new productivity application that could replace a process that is now done manually. The result would be more time spent online for those individuals and, again, above-market growth.
5. The focus will shift to digital efficiency.
Maturity will bring new levels of efficiency to digital creation. Consumers have a firmly established understanding of how to use the internet. These built-in sets of expectations mean companies producing websites and other digital solutions can bring newfound levels of efficiency and quality to the process.
The bottom line
Three decades in the making and the web experience is finally fully mature. This brings enormous opportunity for transformative new innovation, but it also means that the standard growth plays (that have almost become like second nature) no longer apply.
This has big implications for organizations who may find themselves on a level playing field with their competitors and in a race to build out omnichannel strategies, grab market share, innovate and improve digital efficiency in the new year.