Monday, July 20, 2009

Solving the 'New' Media Problem

Let's face it: media companies are in major trouble. And contrary to what some may believe, this isn't just an issue of being able 'to go digital'. 

It doesn't matter if you buy, sell, plan, optimize, broker or bundle, the issue is less about offloading inventory than it is about proving its inherent value. Think about it: with more dollars shifting to digital with smaller overall budgets, the supply can't find the demand because outreach is more limiting across the board. 

The ironic part of this, at least when it comes to content, is that media companies are still the gatekeepers. They should be. It's not as though they aren't looking to expand their offerings or invest in new technologies - because many of them are - it's just that, well, the model needs a facelift... and needs to wear many more faces.

Case and point: 'social media' or 'innovations' groups within media agencies are like red-headed step children. What possibly can a big agency CEO think when his own innovations group crashes YouTube with a series of virals that garners over 7 million views - quality views no less, with average engagements of over 2.5 minutes - in less than 48 hours, and makes the agency a measly $12,000 in revenue? The issue wasn't that they didn't run any other media alongside the seeding campaign... it was the fact that they didn't have to.

Now this is NOT to say by any stretch that we shouldn't implement mixed media strategies alongside social content or applications - quite the contrary. I've personally been a part of the campaign development for expensive apps that essentially sat idle while DWOM efforts fell flat on their face. Social ads have certainly proved their worth in building engagement and advocacy around certain platforms. But the rub is not so much attributable to an integrated construct, but rather the campaign construct itself.

In other words, we expect that consumers will engage and advocate on our timetable. It rarely works out that way. But there are ways to solve this problem. That is, if we're willing to re-engineer our thinking.

We need to think in terms of initiatives, not campaigns. Ideally, let's remove in-points and end-points from the equation. Sure, we can launch an initiative by running ad content within its normal media silos, and we can even run ads alongside our 'featured' content. But if we want the party to last, we need to distribute new ideas and tools to share - not more ads - so that advocacy can live on within our targeted social graphs, and allow these ideas to proliferate as phenomena.

Trust takes time. In fact, the run on this is indefinite. Why? Because consumers are thrown thousands of advertising messages at them every day. They're not looking for prescriptions, they're looking for conversations. Sure, they'll watch an ad, and they might even click through a banner. But what happens after that is not up to us... it's up to them.

The people are the media. A colleague said this recently, and it is so entirely true. Even 'traditional' channels like broadcast are seeing new life in the marriage between offline engagement and online conversation - and we have all the research to prove it. So, we can show people a glossy TV ad or cool page takeover, but if want to take this beyond the stunt or gimmick stage, we better generate impressions that are indelible. In other words, this content better be portable in some way, shape or form, and endemic to specific touch-points created and approved by each and every consumer.

We don't own mindshare, we merely 'rent' it. Just as companies don't own brands (people do), the currency we generate becomes the collectively owned property of the tribes we engage. We can buy a ticket to the party, but it's up to the group as to whether or not we'll be staying there, and for how long.

Technology can facilitate, but it can't really expedite. We've learned to communicate faster, but not necessarily more efficiently. Truth is, we've overwhelmed audiences with too many options in too little time - we've commoditized our own media markets. We need to be smarter about the channels we choose, and even smarter about the experiences we recreate or share.

Tell stories and develop overarching narratives. The longest running and best running 'campaigns' in history were those that became the stuff of lore. That built or enhanced our cultural value system in some way. We're at the point now where consumers are dying to collaborate, and further, they want to be shown that their purchases aren't simply meaningless activities. This goes beyond developing a relationship with a brand, and into a place where people can celebrate the connections they make with each other as a by-product of a brand's efforts. Ads alone can no longer accomplish this. But enriched experiences can.

Never forget the power of a legacy experience. With extended narratives come the reminders of why we live as consumers. To enjoy a sitcom in our living room with our families. To shop at the mall with our friends. To attend a matinee with a significant other. To check out a live show in the square. To take a leisurely stroll through the park. If we can empower those experiences - no matter what channels are involved - then we've empowered the people we want to reach in allowing them to share those experiences with others.

Think in terms of the relationship, not the upside. Consumers have made it clear - especially with the social media blitz - that there is only so much we can 'milk' from them before the honeymoon is over. Direct sales don't happen unless the decision to purchase is an informed one. To boot, corporations are starting to realize that whatever they do on the inside is reflected on the outside. It really is a brave new world. And it's marching to its own heartbeat.

The bottom line for any of us communcations agents is quite simple: we need to reinvest in people if we expect them to reinvest in what we have to offer. We have no choice but to put our hubris and agendas aside, and innovate with the very people that have the potential to become true stakeholders in brands.

They're ready and willing. The question is, are we?

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