The short answer is: yes and no. Very helpful I know. Before I explain, let me first say I am an unashamed fan of digital. I think the way that it has transformed all forms of marketing is exciting. After all, it offers brands a whole new way to create markets and sell products. But I fear that little attention has been paid to differentiating the use of digital for reaching consumers versus business decision makers (BDMs). Indeed it’s as if digital makes everyone a consumer and therefore regardless of whether you marketing shampoo or web servers, you should offer customers the same broad strategies and the same types of tactics. I take issue with this. Consumers have different reasons for buying your products and or services than BDMs. When you market to consumers you are trying to get them to buy your products and feel good about your brand. When you market to BDMs you are, more often than not, trying to convince them that your products will help them sell more products. Perhaps the best way to help people think about this divide is to imagine a consumer campaign and then a B2B campaign. If you were doing digital comms for a consumer brand such as a car you might:
1. Monitor the conversations taking place around that type of car and decide if you wanted to join these conversations or start your own.
2. You would create content (blogs, podcasts, videos etc) that created an emotional and or intellectual connection between your brand and consumers
3. You would build car enthusiast communities that connected your consumers to each other and to your brand (you would also join existing communities). This is where Facebook and Twitter etc come in.
4. You would optimize all the content you’d already produced and were producing so that it was easy for consumers to find and so that it helped you drive people towards a place where they can purchase the car that was after all at the center of the campaign.
In a B2B world all of the above apply. However, if you now imagine that the product you were trying market was headlights that go into that car, then you create very different content, join radically different conversations, build different communities and so on. This is partly because the communities you are dealing with are a lot smaller but also because, quite clearly, the people you are trying to reach are interested in very different things. Of course good B2B campaigns also try and reach the end consumer to create some pull for their products through the channel. This is called ingredient branding and is an approach Intel has used for years, with its Intel inside campaign. Companies that run these kids of campaigns can easily utilize digital as a channel and people like Intel do just that. I guess the difference that digital makes is that it’s actually possible for people to run ingredient branding campaigns using digital at far lower costs than they would have in the old world. Intel has spent many millions (many, many in fact) on this campaign over the years. This helped them lock out competitors and build market share. But they were/are a rich company with a lot of cash to throw at this challenge. Small companies can’t afford Intel-like ad budgets but they can afford to create their own podcasts, content for the web, YouTube video and host a Facebook community aimed at the end-consumers. Put another way, they are less budget constrained and more ‘make it interesting’ constrained. After all, if you are a maker of car headlights, you may need to get pretty creative to make consumers love your brand or your products. But if creativity is the only challenge, I know plenty of PR agencies who’d say: “bring it on.”
In the last year news about traditional media has been all bad. Circulations of newspapers and magazines are dropping like stones and TV networks are struggling to attract viewers. Much of this decline has been blamed on the emergence of the Internet as an alternative way for people to spend their time. So with traditional media getting ever smaller, competition for space increases (given the number of companies who want to be on the cover of a magazine doesn’t decline), yet the value of that space also declines as it is seen by fewer people. This all suggests that agencies who rely on traditional media are going to really struggle. But in truth I don’t know an agency that does rely on traditional media anymore. When you think about that it’s amazing that our industry has undergone such change in such a shot time.
Given this situation you may come to the conclusion that traditional media no longer matters and that any smart PR business will plan for it being a tiny fraction of its revenue in the coming years. This is where I take issue. I think traditional media is like many other businesses that for a long time had no apparent rival and then all of a sudden they wake up and realize that they are in danger of going out of business because of some rival that simply crept up on them. But like most of those businesses they start to re-invent themselves AND a new natural equilibrium emerges. I think we are still searching for that equilibrium right now but I’m convinced it will come. Traditional media isn’t going to disappear it is going to evolve. Plus there will become a point when a hard core audience will emerge that is much harder to erode. I think we are still some way form that point but within the next few years I believe we’ll get there.
I predict we’ll get to a place where we have a smaller traditional media but one that is no longer traditional. The essence of traditional is largely the way the media is delivered. Newspapers are delivered daily, news shows air at certain times etc. Thanks to DVRs and the Internet the delivery mechanism has been challenged and largely destroyed. That leaves the other mainstay of the traditional media world: content. Traditional media is guided by largely unwritten rules about the way its content is generated. In the case of news there is an expectation that that news will be accurate. We don’t always have the same expectations of news that appears on social media sites though. Equally, traditional news has always been a one way dialog. Now that’s changing, with many online news sites encouraging feedback and comment. In other words traditional media is embracing social media tools to stem the tide of readers departing. But you guys all know this. So why am I writing this? Well I guess I want to make the point that we are in a content and distribution war in which the best content with the best distribution will win. In that world there is no reason why traditional media has to lose, it simply has to adapt AND accept that people have a lot more choice than they did ten years ago. That means they’ll never have the circulations, viewerships or listeners they once did. Instead they’ll have to take a share of people’s attention. But as we all know, one ‘share’ can be a lot more valuable than another.
These are horrible days for traditional media and its likely that it will go through a LOT more pain and change before it hits bottom. But I’m convinced it will hit bottom and when it does find its role, PR will find it still has a very important partner. So don’t abandon traditional media just yet!
Yesterday I wrote about how social media is increasing the value of traditional media. It occurred to me today that social media also offers a great way to determine the level to which news from traditional media is ‘consumed.’ For example a news story that gets tweeted by 50 people has been ‘consumed’ by those 50, not just noticed. If you follow this logic you could create an interesting set of metrics that look at the degree to which certain news items are blogged, tweeted etc. You could then look to see if certain publications, or certain editors, or certain topics score better than others. I appreciate that like all metrics there would be ways to influence the results but I suspect it would create a very useful way of assessing the power of media sources over time.
Marta Kagen has put up a pretty compelling presentation with facts and arguments to support the rise of social media. It is well put together and visually very attractive. There are no really new facts in here but it is good to have a presentation that brings everything to one place. Marta takes a poke at advertising but pretty much avoids traditional print media. I’d love to see her put this presentation up as a wiki and make it something others can add to over time.
There has been quite a lively debate about the ‘Long Tail’ since Chris Anderson first wrote his article in Wired back in 2004. In today’s Wall Street Journal a couple of news items caught my eye that provide tools for content to wag their own long tail. And where there’s content there is usually something PR people should pay attention to. Specifically the news stories were: Cisco’s move to create a B2B video messaging service; and a piece by Lee Gomes that talked about how companies like LiveOffice are enabling people to store podcasts of just about any conference call they hold. In both these cases companies (well people actually) can find a permanent home for content that would ordinarily have died a death pretty quickly. This is potentially interesting for the PR industry in that it creates some further resources to help editors and analysts but also tools that can communicate directly with communities or individuals. No longer will people have to dig around in the store room for that old footage of their CEO talking about… whatever he was talking about, or the tape of their CFO explaining the way they are going to reorganize the business. Of course it also means that the opinions we put forward are going to be there for all to see and hear for many a year to come AND they’ll be easy to find…but that’s no bad thing. Is it?