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Embarrassment of Niches

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I first heard the term "embarrassment of niches" used in a May, 2003 iMedia Summit speech by Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News.


What he meant by that phrase was that the modern media landscape is no longer one of an aggregate of mass-appeal content for a mass audience, but is now one of a diverse field of specific appetites sated by content specific to those appetites. We no longer live in a world where everyone can be counted on to watch the evening news with Walter Cronkite or 'All in the Family' in prime time.


There are now as many kinds of content and platforms carrying it as there are tastes among the population.


This has created the conditions for an America and her audiences to be much more inward and self-reflective. Bearing with content in which one may or may not have a particular interest to get to that content in which one does have particular interest is no longer necessary. We can now turn to myriad media and find, on command, an indulgence of our interests and whims, or a confirmation of our biases.


With this uber-fragmentation of media, how are mass marketers to reach enough of the people they need to in order to move their business? What are the implications for both media companies and advertisers? Are we looking at the end of mass marketing?


Or do we need to redefine what "mass" means?


Recently, the idea of multi-channel marketing and multi-media usage has garnered a lot of attention. Rebecca Weeks wrote a two-part series that ran recently in this publication that addressed this, for example.


Multi-channel marketing has gained more attention with the advent of the Internet as a regular, de rigueur facet of most people's life, because -- for the first time -- people are able to use multiple media concurrently and with equal levels of engagement. It is also possible that with the addition of the Internet as a part of our media lives, as well as multi-use cell phones and PDAs, the human being has reached the limit of how many media he can use discretely and when.


In days of yore, people certainly read the paper while listening to the radio, or had the TV on while flipping through the latest issue of their favorite magazine. But this kind of engagement has always been one more of attention splitting than multi-tasking. I equate it to the slicing of a plum: with each cut you lose a little juice.


But with online, studies have found that people throw themselves into the medium at the same time, and with the same energy, as they watch TV. It is now possible to watch a program, while concurrently going online to learn more about whatever it is that has been presented to me on television.


People also no longer see limits on when, where or what media they consume. A sense of entitlement to control when, where and what media we use has infiltrated the culture, carried by the Internet like small pox on a blanket.


According to a recent Simultaneous Media Survey (SIMM) report by BIGresearch, the consumer's use of media no longer happens in the discrete time frames it once did. The research indicated that when watching TV, 87.9 percent regularly or occasionally use other media. And during prime time -- defined by this survey as 7 to 11 p.m. -- 59 percent of the consumers watching television are regularly or occasionally online.


Traditionally, media planning and allocation look at audiences as being distinct by media. Though the tools are there for looking at things like combined reach and frequency -- which serve as the expression of how much communication value an advertiser has against a particular target audience with a given media mix -- the planning, buying and placing of each medium never take into account just how or why each of those media are used. Before, each medium and its use could be reasonably put into silos. Advertisers could count on their being enough mass in any one of those silos to feel comfortable that enough prospective consumers were being reached to make their business.


Now, that isn't so.


Shared attention, media multi-tasking and media synergy are issues advertisers are going to have to consider before making the kinds of significant commitments to their media investments.


More than anything else, broadband has put the Internet at the fore of this media multi-tasking environment. Advertisers are going to be forced to finally start looking for the answer to why people use the media they do in order to most effectively communicate their value propositions to them. And they are going to have to communicate in multiple media to reach the critical mass necessary to make their business.


The media community has long paid lip-service to the importance of media mix and the role that each specific medium plays in that mix, but ultimately the only variance in the execution of a media plan is in the creative format each media accommodates. Doing that won't stop being important, but the 'why' of an audience's usage will become much more important than the 'how' that communication happens within each medium. This is because if we remain focused only on each medium as being discrete, we risk A) not using a particular medium most effectively, and B) not accumulating enough mass within a specific medium to generate sustainable business.


It will become incumbent upon advertisers to, in essence, stack the plethora of niches on one another to aggregate the audiences in great enough volume to have positive effect on a business.


Reaching the youth market has brought to light the significance of thinking about media in this way more than any other marketing communication challenge. The trade's ongoing, public musing about where and how to find the male 18 to 34 demographic -- and marketers' solutions to the problem of where and how to reach them -- is the clearest example of utilizing the available niches. Particular cable networks -- and explicit content found there -- in concert with precise Web properties and the integration of marketing messages (not always recognizable as traditional "messaging") in video games, have all proved necessary for coalescing enough of the audience to achieve the critical mass needed for achieving long-term goals for a brand to whom the male 18 to 34 demographic is important.


The Internet's place in this new way of communicating to audiences is still being defined, but it is clear that the place it will occupy will be significant. First of all, as a medium in toto, there are a significant enough number of people using it to positively affect a business. Secondly, the Internet itself is expressed to, and by, the people using it as a repository for the most niche of niches.

Not to be outdone, many brands have jumped into the fray, utilizing Twitter as another touch point to communicate with their fans. Brands that have successfully embraced and utilized Twitter to engage their audience include: Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir, 89,000+ followers), Zappos (@Zappos, 788,000+ followers), and Jet Blue (@jetblue, 693,000+ followers).


One of the interesting examples of Twitter's influence and effect on media consumption came on Jan. 15, when the very first reports and pictures of US Airways flight 1549 came to us from the Hudson River through Twitter. The accounts and pictures from this amazing story came pouring in via Twitter faster than mainstream news outlets could possibly report. Unfortunately, while a couple of airlines have embraced Twitter, US Airways has chosen to remain silent. Regardless, this is the point where many were either first exposed to Twitter (through mass media reports). We were fascinated and turned on to its power as a communication tool for individuals, media outlets, and brands alike.


Display advertising is lagging, or is it?
As we entered 2009 and the economy continued to take an even bigger nosedive, industry speculators began to weigh in regarding its effect on advertising and, more specifically, the effect on different types of online advertising. The general consensus was that while search wouldn't take a big hit, display advertising was going to be crushed by brands pulling out to focus on other formats with a more predictable and higher yield ROI.


This prediction had many publishers concerned. From a marketer standpoint, many in the direct response sector looked at this news as an opportunity to pick up a greater volume of remnant inventory at prices that would yield a significant ROI. This devaluation of display had the potential to wreak havoc for many publishers who rely on its revenue to support their businesses.


While display advertising, along with all other forms of online advertising, has historically enjoyed continual double-digit growth, things seem to have come to a screeching halt this year. The latest predictions over the course of 2009 show that display will take an overall retreat of 2 percent, while other forms of online advertising (search, social media, emerging media, etc.) are predicted to have single-digit revenue gains.


Ironically, the predictions have only partially held true. While some publishers have seen drops in their prime inventory sell-throughs, others have not. News recently released by Nielsen showed that some of the country's largest CPG brands, like Procter & Gamble, increased their Q1 display advertising spend by 27 percent over Q1 2008. Large eyeball sites and networks like YouTube and AOL reaped the increased display spend from the CPG category.


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We're listening
While new social media tools allow people to more easily connect with each other, as well as the brands they like and trust, tight social connections are also making it easier to spread the news when something goes wrong.


People do stupid things. This has always been the case, and will continue as long as people populate the earth. The difference is now everyone is watching. When a couple of Domino's Pizza employees from North Carolina videotaped themselves doing disgusting things to food that was supposedly going to be delivered to a customer, it was a case of pure stupidity.


Thanks to YouTube, various social media sites, and the resulting Twitter storm, the video spread virally and quickly brought national attention to this foolish act. The damage to the brand was done.


The good news is that due to social media monitoring and lessons learned from the past (think Dell Hell and Motrin Moms), Domino's responded one day later. The company released its own video apology from its CEO on YouTube, and stepped up its own social media efforts, which were already actively in place before the incident.


While many felt that Domino's' one-day lag before posting a response was slow, it was significantly faster than the responses to brand damaging incidents that have happened in the past. The key for Domino's was that it was already active in social media with a YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Twitter account. This social media entrenchment likely saved the brand from a mushroom cloud of damage that would have been difficult to recover from.


The economy
We're in the middle of the worst economic climate in our lifetimes, and while some industries are feeling it more than others, we're all feeling it. Everyone's daily lives are affected, as concern for our own livelihood festers in the back of our minds. As positive and forward-thinking as we can be, it's impossible to ignore the fact that things are different.


While it's easy to place some level of blame for their own demise, the industries that have publicly taken the biggest hits are the banking/mortgage, real estate, and auto industries.


We have all been barraged by information about how each of these industries had a hand in the overall economic downturn, but in terms of our industry, these are also very large advertising sectors. When their revenue goes down the toilet, many of the advertising dollars head in the same direction.


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As an example, with GM in bankruptcy, there has been a ton of speculation regarding the impact this will have on the overall advertising industry. Will it cut advertising across the board, or focus cuts in one medium over another? It's a little too soon to tell, but it's not going to be pretty.


Just as disturbing as future advertising cuts is the hit ad agencies will take in regards to their outstanding accounts receivable. A recent Wall Street Journal story listed GM's creditors, and Starcom Mediavest Group Inc. was listed as the sixth largest, ahead of auto parts maker Delphi. It's going to be interesting (and scary, if you're an ad agency) to see how these stories play out as more and more brands across multiple industries are currently flirting with bankruptcy.


In the financial sector, banks and the resulting consolidations have opened up additional regionally focused advertising. In addition to the establishment of a brand in new regions (think Chase coming to California after taking over Washington Mutual), financial brands have correctly focused their advertising efforts on winning back consumer confidence after a series of unsound business practices served as the catalyst for the mess we find ourselves in.


Doing more with less
At the recent iMedia Brand Summit in Colorado Springs, there was a common theme among marketers. All of us are feeling the unparalleled pressure of doing more with less. Many companies have not only gone through staff cuts, but have also put hiring freezes in place.


At the same time, measurement is the name of the game. All advertising is expected to be measured with ROI in mind, which has traditionally been a more significant mantra of direct response advertisers. Cross media measurement is now becoming a standard expectation of all marketers.


Although measurement and analytics are at the top of the list for all marketers, taking a close second is the continual expectation to innovate. Part of this innovation is the marketing involvement in social media, which is no longer being viewed from afar as a few brands become the guinea pigs. It's gone from a spectator sport to a full-contact game that marketers are figuring out quickly.


With the exception of social media, brand managers are reluctant to take risks right now, and are instead focusing on proven, highly measurable ROI methods in which they already have the green light from their managers. With the shifting sand, some emerging media is being pushed to the backburner because brand managers would rather not rock the boat for fear of losing their own jobs. This doesn't mean that innovation has been shelved completely, but rather that it is becoming a smaller piece of the pie as many opt for the safety of proven advertising mediums.


Regardless of whatever else brands will dive into in the second half of 2009, one thing is for sure: It's going to be exciting.


Sean Cheyney is the VP of marketing and business development for AccuQuote.


On Twitter? Follow Cheyney at @scheyney. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.



The contest participant


Online contests and sweepstakes are a common way to quickly gain "likes" on your Facebook page and most likely a large portion of your fan base. Many companies have very successfully built large lists of followers this way, but the downside is that many sweepstakes offers are inadvertently designed to attract large numbers of non-qualified prospects. After all, who wouldn't want to win a trip to Hawaii?


Many people will gladly "like" you for great offers whether they care about your products or not. They'll also tell their friends about it as well. So if you've run a lot of sweepstakes, you might have a large list of acquaintances -- but not many close friends. If you're thinking of running a sweepstakes to gain fans, focus on offers that will only appeal to the fans you'd like to have. For example, if you're targeting IT professionals, don't give away an iPad; instead, provide an offer for a free online training course with a relevant certification.


The one-time prospect


One-time prospects are the people who've visited your page for a specific reason and "liked" you once, but they really aren't that interested in you on an ongoing basis. A good example of this might be people who like a resort page for an upcoming vacation, but they aren't likely to come back.


Although not an active audience, this is an ideal set of people to have on your fan list. They might not interact very much, but they might be inspired to revisit your resort when they see posts two or three years later. Of course, if your service starts to slip and you start getting negative comments, they might be more inspired not to return as well.

The accidental fan


Among any fan base is a group of people who "liked" your page by accident. Whether they fat-fingered your "like" button on a mobile device or just inadvertently clicked the button on their computer, this set of fans has pretty limited value to you. The good news is there aren't that many of them, so it's just important to recognize that this group exists and not worry too much about trying to get engagement from your entire fan base.


The forgotten fan


Just like in our personal lives, we have old friends who've dropped off our radar. They're still on your holiday card list, but you really don't keep in touch. This group includes the people who can't figure out how to "unlike" you and don't really care that much whether they see you in their feed or not. They are much like the people on your email list who don't make the effort to unsubscribe when they are no longer interested. Occasionally, these folks will reengage with you throughout your relationship and could turn into closer friends down the road.

The inner circle


This group is composed of your employees, investors, and other close relationships. Much like the way your siblings are part of your personal Facebook network, the inner circle is highly involved and interested in what your brand is doing, but this group is not a great set of prospects from which to generate new business.


The badge wearer


Badge wearers are people who've "liked" you not because they actually like or are interested in your brand, but rather they like the association of being near you. In essence, your brand becomes a trophy wife that they like to show off, but they really don't offer a lot of additional value to your brand (and in some ways might have a negative impact).


Badge wearers are aspirational followers. They desire to be associated and hope to someday truly be in the club. As of the writing of this article, Ferrari has more than 10 million "likes" on Facebook. I'm sure the brand is well aware that it has a lot of badge wearers in its fan base.

The complainer


This audience strikes fear in the hearts of every social media marketer. It's the first question asked by companies that are considering social media programs: What if someone posts a negative comment?


I'm sure we all have acquaintances who seem to have a negative opinion about everything. They can tell you about every bad restaurant experience they've had -- and they aren't afraid to share it. But how often do you hear the positive reviews? Not nearly as often.


Sadly, in our culture, it's common to vent and complain more loudly than you praise. So as a brand, it's important to accept that this is a part of life and to recognize that complainers can also be opportunities -- not only to improve your relationship with them, but also with others who are following the thread. One of the benefits of having a social presence is that you get the opportunity for complainers to voice their complaints directly as opposed to having conversations with others behind your back.


The good friend


This final group is your true fan base. Just like in your personal life, these are your followers who are genuinely interested in what you're doing, enjoy being with you, and, when asked, will say nice things about you. They are less influenced by negative comments about you and, when pushed into the corner, will gladly stand up and defend you. They don't need to see you every day, but they like to hear from you once in awhile -- particularly when you have interesting news and successes.


So what is a brand to do with all this information? The most important point of this article is that when talking about "likes," friends, fans, followers, etc., you shouldn't lump them all into one group. Brands need to understand who their audience members are and treat them accordingly. Ferrari isn't going to sell 10 million cars anytime soon. On the other hand, Coca-Cola does have a good chance of selling products to its 57 million-plus Facebook fans.


Most Facebook fans aren't shouting your name from the rooftops, but they can have a significant impact on your success. So take the time to understand your company's fan list. You might not see every category in this article represented among your fans, but doing an analysis is a good exercise that will give you a better understanding of who your fans are so you can engage them appropriately.


Peter Platt is president of PSquared Digital.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.



"I Like it blue thumb up" and "A set of people silhouettes" images via Shutterstock.

Iris security authentication



Tired of remembering dozens of passwords? EyeLock has a solution for an everyday problem that haunts consumers and marketers alike. Myris is an iris authentication scanner that uses your own eye to access password protected documents, programs, and devices. This technology gives you a security of one error per 2.25 trillion attempts, making it far more secure than fingerprints and close to DNA authentication.


Motion-activated TVs for all generations



Say goodbye to the remote control, and say hello to HAL! No, not the "2001: A Space Odyssey" Hal. This HAL stands for human algorithm LTE. Using motion-tracking technology, HAL allows users to use their hands to control their TV. Gone will be the days where you will be tethered to a remote control. Hand gesture technology will be all the rage across all generations. The set-top box and smart TV market is about to get a lot more interactive.


Real-time 360-degree video capture



Video marketing has been a subject that the industry has been struggling to get right for years, and this year might well be the year of video. But could it also be the year of 360-degree video? VOXX has developed a camera that allows you to accomplish a breathtaking 360-degree immersive video experience for only $399. Soon, consumers will be used to interacting in 360-degree worlds with their video content. Will your brand be ready?


MIPS, or motion inverted pendulums: Smart (and adorable) mini-robots



In a cute and revolutionary surprise at CES, iMedia encountered MIPS, or motion inverted pendulums. MIPS are tiny robots that allow you to control small armies of these little guys to do basically any task -- or to simply have fun. MIPS are controlled through an app on your phone, essentially making your smartphone a remote control. Could we see some possible co-branded MIPS in the near future?


New Bluetooth speaker options now include furniture



From Ion, introducing the Ion Sound Lounge, high quality speakers disguised as beautiful ottomans to furnish your house or apartment. These neat devices can connect with each other giving you an amazing projection of your favorite music and podcasts. And with the variety of colors to choose from, consumers will be clamoring to get their hands on these awesome new devices.


Wi-Fi hotspot smart cars by Chevy



There's been a lot of talk about the rise of the smart car, but this year at CES, Chevy has taken it to a whole new level. This beautiful Chevy is GM's own version of the connected car, complete with a touch screen interactive dashboard, self-diagnostics, and (oh yeah) it's also a Wi-Fi hot spot with a radius of 10 feet. Soon, we will all be driving connected cars, and this beauty is just the first step in a brand new product line and marketing world.


Cases and devices that clean your smartphone



Devices that clean other devices? That's right, in a beta-version of "Minority Report," NueVue has launched an exciting new case for smartphones that cleans them physically and hygienically every time you put them away. Could this be the first step into a new product line for technological devices that will maintain and support our other technological devices?


Apps get more personal and social



The app world is booming right now, and as a globetrotting marketer, you are probably looking for apps that help you alleviate the stress of your journeys. Tripit, an already established travel app, is getting a new social media makeover. You can now share your alerts with co-workers, friends, or contacts that you are traveling to see. Have a delayed or cancelled flight? Find out immediately and share that information in real time. Marketers lives on the go are about to get a lot easier.


Smart-vapor cigarette alternatives



When it comes to new trends in smart technology, the Vapor X personal vaporizer is easily the most unique. E-cigarettes are gaining huge traction in the market, and Vapor Corp. wants to make sure its product is front and center as the most intelligent. This E-cigarette has fingerprint security, connects to your smartphone, and lets you track the amount of puffs you take to maintain moderation. This innovation serves as an example that brands can turn any product into a smart device.


Voice-activated thermostats and homes


The smart home is coming, and Honeywell wants to make it voice-activated, starting with your thermostat. Imagine waking up on a chilly morning and simply speaking to your wall to make your house warmer. The Honeywell smart Wi-Fi thermostat with voice control is the first of it's kind, and it's the beginning of a long line of products that will speak to each other and make your home as digital and interactive as possible. Soon you will be able to start dinner, adjust your living room temperature, and maybe even pour yourself a drink all before walking through the door. Will you soon be marketing on everyday household smart-products?


Google Glass RSS notifications through WinkFeed


Google Glass is gaining steam, and WinkFeed is the first independently developed app specifically for the device. This app allows you to pull in a custom and personal RSS feed so that you can get news delivered right to your eye throughout the day. WinkFeed represents the first in what will be an exciting new world of innovative Google Glass apps. Your brand should start to get in the game.


Connected living rooms going mainstream


The Roku, Google Chromecast, and the Apple TV have all shown us that our living rooms are becoming more and more connected. Not just to our televisions, but to every device we carry. In 2014, the connected living room will only become more connected, and our set-top boxes will be speaking to our iPads, smartphones, smart watches, and any other device you can think of. You brand should have a presence in this world, and the potential is becoming unlimited.


Geo-location travel games awarding socially conscious consumers with products


Rewards for being socially conscious? Saving the planet is not only good for humanity, it could also score you some delicious deals. My Open Road is a geo-location travel game that gives players a social responsibility score for every way they travel, and brands like Wahoo's Tacos are partnering to reward you if you are a socially conscious person. Branded partnerships like this are showing that companies can be socially responsible, all while achieving blockbuster marketing goals.


Connected homes talking to you and your devices


Your home will soon become a hotbed of digital activity as new products are introduced that exist to help you and to communicate with one another. Soon, every device in your house will coordinate with your other devices and make your home a connected home. Communication between devices is key, and in 2014 we will see a tremendous amount of connected products that make consumers lives easier and present exciting new marketing opportunities.



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"3d printer" via Liberty Voice.

Jim Meskauskas is a Partner and Co-Founder of Media Darwin, Inc., providing comprehensive media strategy and planning.  Prior to that, Jim was the SVP of Online Media at ICON International, an Omnicom Company, where he spent nearly five years.

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