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Why so Shy?

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There have been a lot of trends in my decade or so in the interactive-marketing world. The latest seems a bit unusual: marketers are getting shy.

Most marketing is about making new stuff -- that's usually the basis of a campaign. A client has a new product or new message it wants to sell and we create the ads. And now, of course, brands are not just looking for straightforward work -- they're looking to connect with consumers online at deeper, more connected levels than banners and brand messaging. But going online and talking about oneself is an act fraught with risks and peril. Someone's going to call you on something and you have to talk in just the "right" manner, e.g., humble but confident or proud but self-deprecating.

Of course, this challenge doesn't really make marketers "shy" -- it just seems they're acting this way. One reason is, from a brand-marketing level, it's good to remember that many brands, even in the digital age, are used to and most comfortable with the messaging and branding tactics of broadcast. And in broadcast, complex companies look for a single, overarching message -- e.g., "We bring good things to life" and "Make progress every day" -- that requires them to encapsulate their message in a few words.

But online, brand representation is not really an exercise in message reduction; interesting complicated thoughts don't need to be condensed into a singular message. Brands now have to tell stories and plan activities along parallel pathways. They might even need to tell different stories at the same time and have their audiences filter them out, trusting that they'll find what they like and ignore what they don't like.

Now, most large organizations know they have rich stories to tell -- both overall and within divisions. But they're overwhelmed by the prospect of translating that wealth of information online because they're nervous about dipping their toe online. In most cases, it's not because the brand or company has little personality -- usually they have a well-defined sense of self. They just don't know how to "do" the Internet.  

You see a lot of online marketing right? Seems like most brands are online, joining in, but actually, flip through the coupons. Look through a newspaper or ride a subway, and then think about how many of those brands you have actually encountered online.

Interestingly, what seemed like a jump into the deep end in the past -- writing a long customer-facing "About us" page -- is safe and easy compared to what the Internet looks like now to a big brand. Now you have to actually get involved! Social media!

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