Shifting Distinctions

The media landscape is shifting. And this shift is precipitating a host of distinctions that matter to our industry and to our ability to deliver effective marketing solutions to our clients.

Channel vs. Format: The first distinction pertains to format. In the mass-media era, advertisers thought in terms of channels: television, radio, print, outdoor signs, etc. Each channel represented a single format, for that is what the technology of the day enabled. Radio enabled audio. Television enabled video. Print enabled still imagery at high resolution. And so on.

But the technology of today makes channels nearly irrelevant and enables almost everything in a multitude of ways. The primary formats that marketers must concern themselves with are video, audio, still imagery and applications. Whereas video was once the sole domain of the television set, video is now available anywhere: on the PC, mobile phone, iPod, digital sign and billboard and even the good old television set. Same is true of audio. But as broadband Internet has proliferated, interactive applications that include audio and video formats have emerged alongside the old linear formats of audio and video. Examining this revolution more closely yields some interesting distinctions, which matter to the marketing mix.

Inbound vs. Outbound: I have spoken at length in previous columns about this primary distinction and how outbound represents the old media-driven world of communications, where marketers reached “out” to consumers via interruptive stories. Media served as the aggregator of audiences and provided the necessary reach. But consumers today have embraced new inbound worlds, which they choose to visit on their own volition: Web sites, mobile applications, on-demand content delivered via devices like iPods and DVRs, and even interactive experiences delivered at retail via kiosks and digital signage. The same technologies that enable inbound experiences also diminish the ability to deliver outbound messages by putting technological power into the hands of consumers.

Linear vs. Interactive: The mass-marketing era was all about delivering linear content in the form of stories that evoked rational and/or emotional responses in consumers and drove brand attitude. The new marketing era still provides a wealth of ways to deliver content in a linear format, from broadband to on-demand video. But now it also offers all the great advantages of interactive experiences so consumers can enjoy the power of control, personalization and two-way communication. If the mass-marketing era had as its primary goal the delivery of communication, the new marketing era has as its primary goal the creation of transformative experiences that entirely change the way consumers relate to brands. These transformative experiences have similar—if not even greater—power to change brand attitudes and drive behavior. In our new marketing era, the idea is to build these transformative experiences and then drive consumer adoption and usage, for it is the very experience that drives the transformation. This is a very different model from mass marketing, which ends with the delivery of the story across as much reach and frequency as clients can afford within their media budgets.

Fixed vs. Mobile: The mass-marketing era was also limited in its ability to deliver communications to fixed points like the television, the radio or the printed page. But the new marketing era is not limited, so it can present myriad opportunities to deliver content on the go. Yet few marketers have figured out how to embrace this new power or craft experiences that intercept consumers at critical moments—the most important being at point-of-sale in retail stores. This alone represents one of the best opportunities for marketers to create competitive advantage—and hardly any agencies are even aware of the possibilities.

Mass vs. Niche: As we shift from expensive channels (television and radio) to inexpensive formats (digital video and audio), the opportunities to target content to relevant audiences grow exponentially. In the mass-marketing era, it was prohibitive to produce content with high production values for anything smaller than a mass audience because of the media costs involved. These costs fostered a hugely expensive production model: $20,000 per second on average to shoot a 30-second spot. In the new marketing era, however, the option to target content to much smaller groups (the niche audience, or “longtail”) must yield a new production model that produces content inexpensively and in large volume, while maintaining production values commensurate with the brands we represent as an industry.

Each of the above distinctions matters because each yields a conclusion about where our industry must head in today’s new marketing era. Still, most of the industry continues to cling to the old model, hoping to get one more quarter or one more year out of the way before dealing with the changes happening right under our noses. This is a huge mistake, as the example of so many other industries can attest. Remember, it did not take 100 percent of consumers using Napster to transform the music business. It took only about 10 percent of music consumption to shift from CD purchases to illegal downloads of MP3 files to set that particular industry on fire. Likewise, it will not take 100 percent of consumers moving in any single media-consumption direction to permanently disrupt the old mass-media model. In fact, the changes in consumer behavior have already begun.

Think for a moment about how your life has changed amid the power of technology, and how your media habits have evolved in the past five years. Then think about how your kids embrace and use technology—and how they will be the target audiences of tomorrow. It’s now up to clients to put their marketing dollars where their customers are, and then the advertising industry will be blazing.