There has been a lot of discussion about an apparent economic melt-down and with the holiday season in the focus of the media minds right now, should there be any concern of a negative impact for the digital industry?

The answer, you will be glad to hear is a resounding “no!”

Traditionally, advertising and marketing budgets have been the canaries in the coal mine, early harbingers of economic disruptions; and as advertising budgets tighten, the industry puts a higher premium on high ROI alternatives. Though this may be true of the wider mass-media, the digital industry should take some comfort at being cushioned against any possible impact.

Digital channels have matured in recent years, with integrated cross-channel campaigns providing robust marketing options, from lead generation to brand awareness to actual sales. The holiday season is traditionally the most active for the digital industry, with as much as 40% of annual budgets allocated in Q4 each year. The reasons for growth in the past will also the reasons this year for sustain.

Primetime TV viewing has been declining steadily, giving way to increased Internet usage. TV is not only being hit in terms of delivering exposure but also in advertising effectiveness. Entertainment content is being consumed in more ways than the mere ‘goggle box’ days and combined means the line between TV and online is drawing very close as a result. Advertisers themselves are now being forced to explore unchartered waters and are looking for advice on how to maintain brand impetus in these ever-increasing digital times.

Consumers love choice, convenience and of course, great deals – and what better place to get these then online? When the average household feels the pinch, the drive to pursue more value for money becomes an ever more key driving aspect in seeking new alternatives to their buying habits. Confidence has been growing steadily in online e-commerce each passing year and with it more adopters from previously precluded segments of society, who for some, are getting ready to make their very first online purchase, whether in retail or consumer electronics. That’s exciting!

With online offering potential huge savings to the average consumer against ever increasing measurability for the advertiser, the digital industry should be bullish in their confidence to brands desperate to maintain their brand presence and revenue targets, and instead teach them to surf any economic waves that are beginning to break.

I for one am optimistic about the industry in the short and long terms, thanks to its strong upside for brand advertisers.

Moving into next year, the focus on the industry right now has got to be one of a mature conversation with brand marketers – and that is about effective digital branding. The industry is going through a pubescent time right now, feeling a change but unsure what to do with it. Agencies and advertisers alike are seeing not only a decline in clicks, but in the impact a click has on an ultimate conversion. The need for a micro site for most brands is becoming less of an issue – in some brand managers minds, irrelevant – and questions about brand control in social sites is a far more mature way of penetrating people’s minds in this web 2.0 online world.

The challenges for creative agencies who are used to seeing micro sites as test-bed portfolio pieces is one of maintaining income against innovation. For media agencies the challenge in turn becomes about strategy and measurability with clicks becoming less of an equation. How do they adapt? One think is for sure, resistance is futile. This is an evolutionary medium in progress.

Being able to create brand impact where consumers are and measuring the results over time, whether time spent with the brand at point of exposure, number of times exposed or the results of those exposures over time are far more sympathetic to the mind of a brand manager. Post-impression is by far outweighing post-click in terms of conversions, and this is no different to the way TV and outdoor works – the effects are not always seen in the immediacy. The process of a user who has become aware and interested in something will as a result go on to find out more information, whether that is through a shop, independent research or friends, being convinced and influenced along the way.

Seeing the relationship between display advertising and search, even across devices, will break down the silos in analysis that currently exist. This in turn will facilitate a sequenced message leading a consumer through a purchase funnel, becoming ever easier with behavioural targeting technologies or mash-up ads.

Seeing and measuring the path to conversion will be a true representation of brand impact as well as reveal new strategic insights for both creative and media agencies alike – who will turn their efforts to creative control of brands on social sites facilitating discussion on behalf of the advertiser, striking deep emotional chords switching them on the brand, as opposed to merely trying to get them to just click somewhere.

It is going to become less about formats and more about strategy. Formats to drive clicks will fall by the wayside in conversation with the mature digital marketers as they realise the follies of our past thinking. Instead, the focus on striking impact in fast navigable digital world will be about repetition combined with visual and interactive experiences which will drive deeper emotional connections with brands; the results will be measured through search and buzz on social sites prior to actual conversions.

Digital advertising will not just catch up with TV in terms of budgets but prove far more effective at building brand and offer measurability in ways GRP could only ever dream of.