Has your marketing got engaged?

Last night I did something unusual.  I sat an watched TV.  For a whole hour!  It wasn’t live TV of course.  It was something recorded but still it was TV.  It was great.  I just got to sit there and be entertained and because it was off the DVR I could skip all those pesky ads.  My teenage daughter joined me for a while but she spent equal amounts of time engaged with the show and with her friends online.  Nothing unusual there.  But the experience really brought home to me the problem many companies are facing with their marketing.  For decades marketing departments looked at forms of media that were non-interactive.  Consumers simply looked and listened.  We read stories around which adverts were draped, or we watched shows interspersed with ads that we sometimes watched.  It seems many companies are approaching the challenge the online world has created by producing marketing that assumes we are passive consumers of marketing, rather than people to get engaged with.  This is strange because what I’ve just said is nothing that new.  People have been saying for a while that the online world is all about getting engaged with consumers, yet for some reason it seems the vast majority of marketing dollars are still spent on forms of marketing that are passive.  Why?  I think the answer has two parts:

1.  Brands are struggling with ROI – the new marketing model requires new tools to measure its effectiveness.  There are no shortage of tools but there is a shortage of any agreed standard when it comes to measurement. Furthermore the goal of linking campaigns to sales still eludes most marketers.  It’s definitely possible.  We’ve run some highly measurable and thankfully successful campaigns for clients but it’s sad to say that too many campaigns are still run that go unmeasured and therefore hard to justify.

2.  Failure to innovate – many brands view innovation in online marketing as some clever pop up ad that you can’t avoid.  We all know that’s not innovation.  Innovation is where brands start with a clean sheet.  Instead of taking their old world tactics and applying them to the online world, they start with an online mindset.  They create and/or find content that engages with their audience.  We recently created a campaign for AMD that involved a virtual scavenger hunt.  It is designed to engage with developers so it hooks in to that community in a way that appeals to their inner geekiness.  In other words we gave developers a reason to interact with AMD and thankfully it seems they’ve jumped at that chance.

Now as a consumer I should point out that I don’t want to spend my day interacting with brands but I do expect that when I am looking for, or at something online that brands will try and engage.  Brands that sit and wait for my attention will struggle to get it.  So ask yourself a simple question:  how engaged is my marketing?  As far as I know there is no agreed percentage that is the new standard but if the answer to that question is: less than my competitors, it should be cause for concern.  Another way of answering it would be to brainstorm how engaged your brand could be and then analyse the gap between where you are now and where you could be.  For many brands engagement will be a journey but one they have to get on board with fast.  Otherwise they will become as irrelevant as the TV ads I skipped past while I watched TV last night.


The media has been replaced

It used to be that we craved perspective and information from the media, largely because this was our only option (well apart from going to the pub with our loud mouthed friends I guess).  Anyway, it’s clear that the media got really good at influencing our behavior, likes and dislikes.  It’s also clear that it got awfully complacent. So when social media arrived it kind of ignored it.  Journalists often decried bloggers as amateurs.  How right they were.  If they’d thought about it a bit longer maybe they’d have realized that being an amateur can have its advantages.  The media was also slow to appreciate that people don’t care who gives them their news, their insight and perspective.  They just care that it is accurate and that it engages them.  We were loyal to media channels because our only choice was another media channel.  Given a completely different choice, many of us took it.  This isn’t to say the media is irrelevant and should become an historical footnote.  The media is potentially more relevant than ever.  Our world is becoming more and more complex and the expectations of the population ever more sophisticated.  We want to know, to be entertained and to be educated right now and in a way that we want.  We want live video and close up photos of the most obscure moments, not just the moments when presidents are shot.  We want to share our thoughts and hear the thoughts of others on what is happening.  We also want to act on the decisions this content may provoke.  All this and more is possible through the media, yet for some reason the media still chooses to limit the ways we participate in their process and they our lives.  So we turn to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to learn, laugh and get stuff done.  As a result, the newspapers lie unread at the end of the driveway, the magazines in the dentist office curl at the edges and the TV stays turned off.  It’s not too late for the media but the media has to adapt to the new world.  It has to accept that it has competition for our attention.  Until it does, editorial teams will get smaller and magazines thinner.  Blame will of course be put on advertisers but we all know that advertisers are the effect and not the cause.  Come on media, get social, get engaged and show us what you’re made of.  And stop being so precious about the ‘role’ of the media.  Yes, you have a role but that role is to get us engaged, laughing, crying and doing not just listening to one point of view.


The Media Still Matter

The popular view is that traditional media is dying as we all stop reading the newspapers and instead pass our time on Twitter and Facebook.  For the generation that grew up with the Internet, the idea of reading traditional print media and watching the 6 o’clock news is an anathema.  They get their news and perspective from a raft of sources: friends, Internet friends (bloggers, communities etc), people they follow on Twitter and of course online media.  But it would be wrong to say that the media’s role has been relegated to a bit part.  The media still fuels the vast majority of twitter feeds for the adult world for example.  Indeed without traditional media, Twitter and Facebook would be very dull places.  Sadly the direct consumption of that media has dropped as people opt for the 140 character summary.  This is unlikely to change very soon.  Society now expects us to cram more and more and more in to our day.  In turn we are evolving as entertainment, news and perspective consumers into a population that expects to have its content delivered in a concentrated form.  We expect the middle east crisis, Iraq, Afghanistan and the latest jobless report to be summarized into a sentence or two.  We may be willing to look beyond the headline but a 5000 word article is just not going to be read, unless it is an amazing read, regardless of its import.  For journalists this is a nightmare come true.  These people were/are trained to dissect the news and give us the important perspectives.  They don’t even try to do that in 140 characters, or even 140 words in most cases.  But the future of journalism relies on their ability to adapt to this evolution in consumer behavior.  Some journalists get this and are embracing the opportunities online brings.  Many are simply ignoring the winds of change and are hoping that consumers will simply go back to the good ol’ days, or at least their publishers are.  This isn’t going to happen just like we haven’t all ditched our cars and gone back to riding horses. So, the media must adapt and adapt fast.  Here are some of my thoughts on how it could adapt:

1.  Fragment even faster.  The media has become fragmented but instead of fighting it it could champion it.  Instead of subscribing Forbes we can subscribe to Quentin Hardy.  Instead of making the magazine the icon, make the reporter the rock star.

2.  Create a new content model.  We currently have news, news analysis, features etc.  This model hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years.  Why not have news analysis pieces and features that are 200 words long but link to ten separate features that are also 200 words in length?  In other words make a 2000 word feature a collection of 200 words articles that fit together.

3.  Charge by the article not by the magazine.  We have all got used to iTunes and paying 99c or $1.29 for a track.  Why not offer news related content on the same basis from rock star reporters?

4.  Personalize it.  For over a decade the media has talked about making news more personal.  It hasn’t really happened.  My homepage gathers a bunch of news from traditional sources.  It doesn’t to appear to have learned anything about what I like or don’t like.  At least half the content gets ignored and much of the rest gets only a cursory view.  It’s time for the media to REALLY act in this area.

My view is simple.  The media has all the assets to succeed.  It has talent and content.  It simply needs to rethink its channel strategy.  We all care about the media and we all want the media to succeed but that doesn’t mean we always will.  A diminishing role for the media is a realistic prospect but it isn’t inevitable.

PS – I just realized that most people stopped reading (even if they started) some 3000 characters ago.


Is BlackBerry about to die?

Research in Motion (RIM), makers of the BlackBerry, the smartphone category leader for most of the recent past seems in danger of going the way of Palm, who created the category, did.  In recent weeks there has been a steady flow of negative news and commentary form the media, ranging form today’s piece on Bloomberg that said “more companies opting for rival devices such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone.  Of 200 companies in the U.S. and U.K. surveyed, 74 percent now let their employees use devices other than BlackBerrys,” to news that various governments have raised questions about its security.  On the surface it appears RIM is suffering from bad PR and government relations.  My question is: Is this a marketing problem or a product problem?

It does appear that RIM has a significant PR challenge. Blackberry 6 has rolled out via a TV ad campaign but with little attention in the editorial side of the media.  What attention it has got has tended to focus on this being “RIM’s last roll of the dice.”  Of course RIM has also been berated for having a relatively weak product line up and for also having opted for a software application model that gave customers a few really good apps versus the thousands and thousands open to iPhone and Android users.  It would thus appear to be a perfect storm.  A weak product line up, a software strategy error and less than effective PR.  In other words it’s not just a marketing problem.

Can marketing save RIM? I for one believe the BlackBerry brand could still do well.  The iPhone, though beautiful, isn’t without its flaws: dropped calls, touch screen keyboard that can lead to horrendous typos, AT&T coverage in markets like San Francisco, the list goes on.  The iPhone is also becoming a target for people who like to exploit security holes.   I was recently told of a major investment bank that wanted to trial the iPhone for staff.  To make it secure they had to disable the camera, iPod functionality and the ability to download apps.  In other words it became a phone and email device.  Given these are actually two of its weaker functions (see list of weaknesses above) that should make the BlackBerry a very good alternative.  This is where marketing needs to step in and hammer the iPhone for all it’s worth.  For people who like to email or text message the BlackBerry s still the best device going.  But they need to do more than that. RIM needs to get aggressive and invest in a real content and applications model that people see as a real alternative to iTunes.  This could easily be done via a comprehensive agreement with Amazon (who also has an interest in unseating Apple).  Now of course we hear that RIM is readying an iPad rival.  This makes it a rival to Amazon also given the Kindle.  Bad, bad idea in my mind.  I think there is far more to be gained by having Amazon on its side than having them as a rival.  Amazon, after all, offers the only real alternative to Apple’s content strategy.

I could go on and on about how RIM needs to ‘re-win’ the smartphone battle and how this requires them to win over both consumers AND the IT community.  It’s achievable with some well executed PR provided they also look at their content/application strategy AND roll out a product line that rethinks their current look.  RIM is where the American carmakers were when the Japanese arrived.  They were focused on the wrong things and just couldn’t see how tastes had changed.  It’s going to be a tough battle for RIM but as of today they have the resources to win if they are willing to take some bold steps and admit some of their mistakes.


How to make people pay for media

We all consume media on a daily basis.  We love the stuff but we are paying less and less for it as our parents die and we all get our content online.  And as we all know, news online is almost all FREE.  Free isn’t a business model that really works for media.  Good journalism is expensive and tough to support through online advertising.  Rupert Murdoch has responded aggressively to this by putting a charge on many sites such as WSJ.com.  This hasn’t worked too well in part because you can still get to the content through a Google search for free.  He’s threatening to change all that though for the simple reason that they are struggling to make the economics work even with an online subscription model in place.

I have a suggestion for Mr Murdoch and other media moguls.  In the same way that we pay a cable fee in this country and even a TV license in the UK, why not charge a monthly media fee that would enable you to access all the media without having multiple subscriptions.  You’d need an aggregator such as Apple’s iTunes to get in to the mix but I’m pretty convinced that in the same way as people will pay $10 a month for satellite radio, they’d pay $10 a month to access the top 100 publications in the US.  Now there’d be a challenge figuring out which magazine or newspaper got what out of that $10 each month but I’m pretty sure it could be worked out.  It would also enable one player to take over the challenge of managing the online advertising for a host of publications, instead of having a fragmented model as they do today.   It would also mean as a user that you would only need one login.  I’d almost pay $10 a month just for that as I keep forgetting what username and password I have for various online titles.


Should boring = less newsworthy?

The sovereign debt crisis that started with Greek governments spending habits and has caused financial markets to take a beating in recent weeks has received remarkably little press considering it could result in the world being pushed in to a double dip recession.  Indeed a quick look at the major headlines of the NYT and WSJ in recent weeks will show you that they have covered the story for sure but that other items such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have garnered greater attention.  Similarly you havn’t seen the debt crisis trend on Twitter.  I can only speculate as to why and my speculation is that the topic is both boring and complex.  Two factors that ultimately make it less likely to get picked up and talked about.  But just because something is dull and complex shouldn’t prevent it from being talked about if it’s important.  Surely?

I grew up in an era where the BBC covered stories because of their importance, not because they were easy to understand and interesting.  I learned to be interested in the Middle East issues simply because the BBC kept on covering them.  I worry that in an era of self publishing and an era where traditional media will do anything to get a reader/viewer, the complex and potentially less interesting stories will get short shrift.  This would be a terrible outcome.  Sometimes we need to be forced to consume news that we find tough to get through.  That may mean devoting less time to stupid human tricks on YouTube and more time to the complex economic issues going on in Europe right now.  I say this, not because a focus on Europe would necessarily improve the Greek debt crisis but because today’s Greek debt crisis is tomorrow’s equally dull story that has a more immediate impact, much closer to home.


The media industry and the tech industry….same fate?

When I started working in the tech sector in the early 80’s the dinosaurs (as they were known) still roamed the land. These were old style giants of computing such as Unisys, NCR and the old style IBM. These companies did everything. They made their own chips, designed their own hardware and networks; and wrote their own software operating systems and applications. Within five years the old order was being replaced by what the Economist described as the ‘New Computer Industry.’ This industry was made up of specialists. These were smaller more focused businesses like Intel, Microsoft and at the time Novell and Lotus. They each did one thing really well and brought about a revolution in the industry that brought the dinosaurs to their knees. Of course years later the so-called ‘new companies’ are becoming the giants.

I can’t help but see a parallel in the entertainment/media industry. For years we’ve had the giants of the media world. Companies like Disney and AOL Time Warner. In recent years, however, we’ve seen that thanks to technology just about anyone can set up a media business. It’s now common for a low budget movie to at least get nominated for an Oscar and we only have to look at the troubles the TV networks gave faced in recent years to see that this world is a changing. So who are the Microsoft’s and Intel’s of the media world? I don’t know and I wish I did as I’d surely buy their stock!