Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Does The Future Look Like? Or, What I Read On My Summer Vacation.

I wrote this article on Mediapost last week, but wanted to put it here as well...

This past Monday I had the pleasure of listening to a gentlemen named Jonathan Zittrain (author of a book called “The Future of the Internet: And How To Stop It”) speak about his vision for the future and in listening to his conceptualizations I focused on one component that was of interest to me in my marketing persona; that of the potential conflict facing marketers as they attempt to balance the two extremes of consumer behavior.

Of course I must caveat this point of view; it is rarely proper or effective to break the world into two extreme points of view and I’m not suggesting that Mr. Zittrain was doing so in his discussion. I am exaggerating to make a point. The world is not black and white, it is more closely representative of an infinite grey scale, but in order to see opportunities in the marketplace I find it can be useful to simplify the world using this technique.

On one side of the equation lies the over-eager media audience which engages with their passions in a participatory manner that borders on fanaticism but are skeptical in their views of all messaging pointed in their direction (let’s call them the “Participants”). This refers to wikipedians and all forms of User Generated Content contributors (bloggers, picture-posters, etc.) that create, distribute, police and maintain the content of the Internet. On the flip-side of this coin we have the average, every-day consumer who is myopic in their focus as the direct result of a constant barrage and the desensitization of their attention span (let’s call them the “Desensitized”). The Participants are the potential brand advocates if we can battle past their innate distrust and tap into their loyalties while the Desensitized are some of our best consumers if we could just find some way to break through the perimeter of their defenses.

The task for any true marketer is finding the way to do this and the answer seems to be in a number of ways other than standard advertising. For the Participants to trust a brand, the message must come from a peer or a colleague or someone they inherently trust. This is the area of Social Media and Product Placement. For the Desensitized to trust a brand you need only demonstrate to them the value of your brand in a way that merges rhythmically with their attention (ever notice how when you are in the market for a new car that you “notice” the car ads, but you don’t notice them when you aren’t). In the world of the Participant, word-of-mouth and implied endorsements are effective whereas the Desensitized need to be in a similar veined mindset for marketing effectiveness to be achieved.

In both of these models there is a future where paid media is a secondary option for the conveyance of a message and non-paid or distributed forms of media are more effective. Non-paid media is the typical term, but I’ve started referring to it as Distributed Media; the use of marketing dollars to facilitate the distribution of content and the implied endorsement that comes along with that relationship.

Distributed media actually uses marketing dollars as a conduit and a means to an end, rather than as an interruption. In the traditional model an ad is an interruption, but the consumer is either distrustful of the message because of the interruption or they don’t notice it because they are numb to these interruptions. Behavioral targeting attempts to make the ad more resonant with the consumer, but it is still an interruption. What about using the marketing dollars to create conduits for the distribution of content and acquiring the implied endorsement of the audience during that process?

We see these models taking shape already in Social Media tools like Facebook and in the Application space. Branded applications attempt to provide news, entertainment and other useful experience to the audience, in the hopes that the association with a positive experience will rub off on the brand. If the consumer enjoys the experience, they tell other consumers and the message spreads. If they don’t, then it stays still.

The concept is still young and it may be an over-complication of a much simpler fact that many brands these days are finding ways to build their brands without spending against paid media, but it was an intriguing concept nonetheless. A friend of mine, Renny Gleeson, wrote an article about how “Advertising is Dead”, but that the fact made him happy and I tend to agree!

Advertising is dead, or at least becoming less important than strategic marketing. The easy way was to buy an ad, but the more effective and infinitely more interesting way to build a brand is by balancing your knowledge of the behaviors of the audience you are targeting with a strategic way to distribute a message in a new and interesting fashion; hence Distributed Media.

Check out Jonathan Zittrain’s book, read Renny Gleeson’s article and make your own assumptions.

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