Ross Perot, in his squeaky Texas twang, would have put it this way: “What you’re gonna be hearing, folks, is a giant sucking sound.” In the marketing world that noise is now coming from a shift in media spending more dramatic than in any of the last 25 years.
According TNS Market Intelligence, measured media dropped 14.2% in the first six months of 2009. In a world where annual shifts are typically a few percent, that’s huge. Only Internet display ads were up (8%), but even that’s the slowest growth since Al Gore thought the durn thing up. TV was down 9.7%, magazines about 20% and radio and newspapers each about 26%. Sure, the shrinking economy has had an effect, but a 14% shift is likely to be foreshadowing a real trend away from traditional media and toward, well, what?
The answer is the same as it’s always been: Wherever your customers’ eyes and ears are pointed. And more and more these days what we’re all focused on are our computers, cell phones, net books and iPods. Here’s the thing, though. Traditional advertising is having a hard time making the transition to media where the content is already mostly free and uninterrupted. Sure, you can run an ad on Facebook, but will anybody pay attention? Not when the link to photos from last night’s birthday party show up, or if your friend is posting about her trip to Las Vegas.
Social media is eating up attention from the eyes and ears of, oh, about a billion consumers. It’s like a giant cocktail party and everyone’s invited. Over here is the area for business people, over there is the one for your friends and family, over there is-you don’t want to know what’s over there.
Social media is uber-hot. It’s word-of-mouth on steroids. And now it’s a marketing gold rush. But while there is definitely gold in them thar hills, I suspect there is not enough for everyone to get rich. People post about products they like and don’t like and bloggers and marketers are able to affect these discussions. (The early demise of Microsoft’s Vista operating system is a great example of all contemporary forces at work from bloggers to social media to Apple/Mac sticking needles in them with brilliant TV spots.) But do our eyes and ears have enough capacity to absorb it all?
Part of what is happening is that consumers, clients, and customers are more in control of your brand, but then they always were the keepers of the concept. Now, however, you may need them more than ever to be your communications vehicles. Advertising will hold onto a share of influence, but even casual mentions of your product, multiplied by the power of sharing on social media will have a major effect on the success (or failure) of your product or services.
Here’s a quick look at what’s changing and what’s not in the world of building a brand.
What stays the same?
Brand fundamentals: Brands that state a clear promise and deliver consistently on the brand experience will continue to succeed. But it will be harder to accomplish. Microsoft was unable to sweep its problems with Vista under the rug and took it on the chin from consumers. Authenticity and transparency, which have always been virtues, will become even more important to building a strong brand.
Creativity is powerful: People love what’s new and novel. Web-based technical innovations have driven a boatload of innovative social networking tools, but when the dust settles a bit (as in when social media sites get down to the business of actually making a profit) people will be ready for interesting ideas from marketers using these new conveyances.
There will always be too much of a good thing: In the same way LiveStrong bracelets have been imitated into irrelevance, marketers will latch onto a technique that works for early practitioners and they will use it to death. Some techniques will become commonplace (remember when a personalized letter had impact?) while others will fade quickly.
Media is reinvented: Digital opportunities already abound, with paid search ads offering a leap forward for directory style advertising. But marketing by interruption will become harder and harder to accomplish. Web banner advertising is already showing its weaknesses in driving response. But look also for traditional media to adapt and survive by integrating digital capabilities.
Messaging gets real: Glossing over the facts is now next to impossible. If you say your product is made with the melt water from 10,000 year old glaciers in Greenland, you had better be able to prove it. Because somewhere there’s going to be somebody who will be checking as soon as you have the least little bit of success. And there’s a 50/50 chance it will be a competitor who anonymously starts the backlash.
Speed: Marketing cycles are getting faster and faster. A good product review can spread quickly across the Internet. A bad one maybe even more quickly. Products and services can be driven by this fast moving wave and they can be just a quickly swept under by it. I can only imagine the how much bigger the backlash at New Coke would have been had it happened in the Internet ago. Bigger, and at the speed of web 2.0.
No matter whether the concept of your brand is communicated by blog or by blimp, your product or service still has to taste good, or work well, or feel right, and above all make the customer feel good about his or her decision to buy it. Today’s tools give us all more options than ever as both marketers and as consumers. And here’s one last fearless prediction: In five years, it will all be different.