It was very last century to point out that “the Internet’s just another channel”. Those who actually used the web knew better, but it was harder than you’d have thought to counter this regrettable claim. We said things like: “Yes, but it IS very very different”, and “But you must admit, interactivity DOES rather change the communications landscape”.
What we were driving at – bless us! – was an explanation of what we deeply felt and saw, but couldn’t yet explain. It was, with hindsight, something like this: that the experience of online communications was changing the way we experience our world. The Internet, we now know, changes everything. (But only if you let it. The talk of “just another channel” does till continue, dressed perhaps less prosaically, to today.)
Again, if you use the thing in anger, and, as I do, try to help all sorts of diverse players find their way in the space, your point of view is informed by both hands-on experience and time for reflection. We’ve had the rare good fortune to work with firms who are willing to go way beyond “just another channel”, to learn what’s really going on out there, and what it means: for brand, for media owner, for rights owner and talent – most of all, for consumer.
We’ve discovered working with them that the impact of digital media is more profound, far reaching and permanent than even the most crushing riposte to “just another channel” could convey. Not only are outbound communications – narrow-cast, one-to-one, exquisitely personalised and all the rest – far from being the big story in media futures. Not only are peer-to-peer, socially-based and motivated communications – increasingly habitual for the MeTV generation – now part and parcel, albeit uncertainly, of the most humdrum media plan. In 2007 these developments are, in the light of the market’s twists and turns over the past say 2 years, the stuff of Media 101.
No. The thing about the new media is that their most important role in marketing has yet to unfold. It’s far more challenging and exciting than we could have imagined.
As networked consumers in affluent societies live their increasingly mediated - yet paradoxically media-independent – lives, they play hide-and-seek (all too rarely, caught) with advertisers, media- and rights-owners who are desperate to add some sort of value, in order to simply grab back a little of the wandering attention they crave. We instinctively – and not entirely wrongly – wrack our brains to find the flowers that will attract these so-discerning bees to brush up on our pollen.
At the risk of over-extending our bee-type metaphor, “buzz” around the brand, or its related activities in media, becomes an area of increasing interest. We search for a mechanism for evaluating ROI, that matches the new value dimension (beyond the familiar, now less-useful, reach and frequency). We sometimes call this Engagement, perhaps best modelled as “time with the brand versus percentage of active attention captured”. We begin to measure – to quite a precise degree – how various unique words, ideas, media objects, brands, movements, trends (“memes”, even, to the initiated) are faring out there across the world’s networks.
And yes, this does tell us how well our outbound campaigns are performing, and feeds into our understanding and calculation of achieved individual and group Engagement with our brands, our channels and our content. And yes, this does enable us to fine tune our campaigns – targeting as well as creative – using the accepted tools of adtech, through to some fascinating behavioural techniques.
But we’re missing the biggest trick here. Turn the telescope around, Lord Nelson-style. It’s not the media that consumers are looking at that holds the true promise of the marketing future. It’s the real-time insight that our access to what they’re doing, what they say, what they like, and most of all, how we can then act – in hopefully short order – to enhance their experience of this mediated life with “experience plus” support from the supplicant brand.
Digital media represent infinitely more than “just another channel”. Most of us grasp that by now. But they’re also far beyond, we realise, “another very different channel that’s changing the rules of communication”. They offer the beginnings of an intelligent dashboard for the risky, punishing Rollerball game of real-time marketing, that today and tomorrow is the true challenge of every major media stakeholder. No longer is it just How Do We Reach Them? … it’s Listen and Learn. And then Act. The brand promise, if you like, is now built on, not merely proven by, delivery – the cart comes before the horse.
Why? Because the most important messages are no longer the ones that we push out there … they are the ones that come back up what surely can no longer be “another channel”.