Prediction: By the end of this year, media roles focusing solely on traditional media will be near obsolete. (Full obsolescence will come by the end of 2011.)
If your organization is still planning media and marketing in online/offline silos, strategic complications are imminent. Areas of expertise are essential; organizations need specialists to focus on areas of particular complexity -- but the lines can no longer be drawn between online media and offline media. It simply does not make sense -- today, we live our mediated lives online.
You might be asking, "Why is this year so critical? The aforementioned claim could have been made every year for the last five." This is a valid question. The economic shakedown, coupled with vast enhancements in technology, have made it advantageous for marketers to test new, lower cost, and highly engaging digital channels. In addition, consumer adoption of new technologies is evolving so fast, it stands to reason that, as a marketer, you should be prepared for the continuous growth Ray Kurzweil mapped out in 2005.
Adoption of new technology has become so rapid and so mainstream, it is difficult to tell where "offline" media ends and "online" begins. One may even say it no longer matters -- every element in our media ecosystem is, in some way, connected to every other.
Sometimes selling beats telling
"Tell, don't sell" is a popular mantra amongst marketers who believe that a soft sell is largely more effective. These marketers claim education about differentiators and benefits is enough to alter consumer preference. Brand storytelling does not always require a hard sales pitch, but digital technology has put a large degree of control in the hands of consumers, affording them the ability to shape their own preferences, on their own time. The result of this paradigm shift is increasing instances where consumers are actively seeking a particular product or service (i.e., search). As marketers, we need to be prepared to meet consumers when their minds are made up, making it as easy as possible to give them what they want. This meeting ground no longer exists solely on the PC or in a traditional search box.
Imagine that you are sipping a magnificent glass of wine at a party. You may not be a connoisseur, but you are certainly a weekend warrior with a deep appreciation for great wine. You want more information about the heavenly fluid you are consuming, what it costs, and where you can get some for your upcoming soirée. Slyly, you find the bottle and take out your iPhone in order to snap a picture of the label. Within seconds you know everything you need about the bottle, where to get it, and what it costs, thanks to Tesco's new Wine Finder iPhone app, Wine by the Case (iTunes required). You could have done the same search by typing the name of the wine into Google (or your favorite search engine), but knowing this app will get your information faster, why would you search any other way?
(Note: the above user scenario does not posit that this experience is, in fact, better. It was meant to illuminate ways that marketers should consider approaching mobile applications and visual search.)
With many visual search companies out there (Snaptell / part of A9, Cortexica), Tesco's play was not a technological coup; but as marketers, technological firsts are not necessarily our responsibility. As marketers, our job is to recognize the power of technology, early and often, and realize that a first mover advantage can have a positive impact on our brand sales strategies. If Tesco's application is indeed a better way to get information about a bottle of wine, it may become a favored tool amongst consumers, putting Tesco in a position to sell more wine. It is that simple!
As a retail marketer in the year 2010, you need to be doing everything you can to identify new opportunities that take advantage of emerging mobile and search platforms. Understanding these technologies is now the job of every marketer, as these technologies are blurring the lines between the traditional notion of online and offline. If you are still of the mind that the IT department (or other resident "geeks") will figure this out for you, you are in a lot of trouble.
Must-see PC is here
The internet killed the TV star, right?
Those of us paying attention know that this could not be further from the truth. In fact, as of last year, people were watching more television than ever. At the beginning of 2009, Americans were viewing 151 hours of television per month (up from 145 hours). The question marketers have been asking for years is this: With time shifted/commercial skipping television viewing slowly becoming the norm, how can we, as marketers, effectively message consumers? Many attempts have been made, but a bulletproof solution has not been uncovered.
Perhaps the answer is not exactly where common sense would have us look. Perhaps effectively messaging television viewers should not occur on the television itself. According to a Nielsen study done in June 2009, during the course of one month, 56.9 percent of TV viewers did so while simultaneous surfing the web. Once again, the division between online and offline is in question.
Nearly three years ago I penned an article entitled, "Must-See PC: The Entertainment Event Returns." The thrust of the article was my obsession with virtual worlds and their impact on the future of media. Although virtual worlds have fallen off as a hot topic for marketers, there were many valuable lessons for those who paid attention:
- The important role that community and co-creation play in shaping the current media/marketing landscape
- The undying power of human interaction and the added value it brings to entertainment
Last year, The New York Times, and many other news organizations, leveraged the notion of social TV by integrating Facebook and Twitter feeds into on-air and online media. Entertainment companies have also taken advantage of the real-time social web. Despite various media companies' adoption of social TV, most brands have yet to take advantage of this powerful integration point. Here are a couple of things you may want to consider for 2010:
- Building conversation around content significantly benefits from context and focus. Hashtags on Twitter often do not provide enough filtration to provide an enjoyable experience.
- "Not everyone is Shakespeare in 140 characters" -- John Swords, Circ.us. You may need to starting thinking outside the tweet.
- You don't have to create your own content to create conversation around content. To my knowledge, there are no laws set up that say you cannot sponsor conversation around content that is not your own.
As all media become social (or have the potential to be social) you need to begin to think of creative ways to provide social tie-ins for all media plans. This is not to say that everyone will be social all the time, but as a brand, you have a golden opportunity to provide value for consumers -- value that may make consumers more welcoming when it comes to receiving marketing messages.
Your reality is now augmented
One day we will look back and laugh about how we used to manually enter search queries into a text box in order to find information. That day will not come any time soon, but we have already begun to enter an era in which "the information in everything" can be surfaced without the need for a primary intent driven interaction. (We define primary intent as an action that is spawned solely by a human being's own volition.)
As we slowly move away from the text-based search box as our only means of finding information, it is becoming more apparent that we are not far from the day when voice commands and digital overlays (on top of the physical world) will be our primary means of finding information. Today, QR codes, short codes, and visual search technologies help us get more information on various items. By taking out steps in the information gathering process, we are more likely to seek information about everything we encounter. Visual and mobile search technologies are very important, but they are merely a phase in the evolution of environmental search and discovery.
In order to get your imagination flowing, I suggest you watch the following video before you continue reading:
Keep in mind, this video is a prototype and appears to be largely academic, but if you think about its significance as a sign of things to come, this demo is pretty mind-blowing.
Not convinced that voice-activated augmented reality is a game changer in the world of media? Take a look at another demo created by the same person. This time, think about the fact that the technology already exists to do this without markers (the black and white pattern he is looking at), and prototypes are already being built that make the entire process a little more elegant:
Hopefully, the implications of this type of technology are apparent. If not, there are many technologies that exist today that take advantage of augmented reality as visual search technology. Take a look at this screenshot of the mobile AR application Layar.
This is not a prototype or concept technology. This is technology that you can download today. Through applications such as Layar, people can simply look through the lens of a video camera (in this case, it is a video camera in a mobile device) and see more information about what they are looking at. Today, the information displayed is triggered via GPS coordinates, creating the illusion that it is "reading" the object it is pointed at. Technology that actually identifies a given object, giving you more information about it by recognizing the object itself, is not far away. Think about the amount of information already present in Google Maps, Earth, and Street View. Pretty soon there will be no corner of the earth untagged by human hands, and technology will allow you to simply look at anything and ask for more information about it.
Once again you may ask, "As a marketer, why should I care? And more importantly, if this is technology is a few years away, why should I think about it now?"
As I say in every conversation I have about search marketing, being a brand in an infinite world of content, you are how you are found. With the maturation of technologies that support environmental search, the ability for your brand to be found anywhere in the physical world is becoming as great as in the digital world -- as I said earlier, they are becoming one and the same. If you thought it was difficult to monitor your brand's presence on search engines and in social networks, you have another thing coming. The merging of digital and physical worlds will create an endless stream of data about your brand, in numerous formats.
The information in everything
Information exists in everything around us; whether dormant or surfaced, there is additional meaning in everything. As an academic, I find it intellectually stimulating to think about how technology has changed our relationship with our world; as a marketer, I find it scary to think how many marketers are still catching up from the last groundswell, and how there is so much more to come in terms of sociological change driven by technology. As someone who enjoys this industry and the people in it, I implore you: Don't pass off technology as a flash in the pan simply because you feel it is a fad. Every successful person I have ever met has been able to analyze trends beyond face value. Right now we are standing at the bottom of the next marketing mountain that will need to be climbed. This mountain is one filled with free-flowing information and conversation -- and it is not just online.
If you take only one thing away from this article, it should be the fact that you need to start formulating an "information in everything" strategy. If you are still confused about what that means, shoot me a note. That is what the iMedia community is for!