Time Inc. President Kirk McDonald talks about how, among all the algorithms and equations, marketers have forgotten the variable that matters most -- the consumer.
Kirk McDonald, the president of media giant Time Inc., has heard a lot of talk about targeting, equations, data, and research -- pretty much everything except the essential element that moves the market: consumers.
"We need to talk about building relationships with the 'who' of this discussion," he said at the iMedia Agency Summit in Phoenix, Ariz. "As marketers and publishers, we came to find new ways to make connections happen. Have we lost sight of what really matters?"
Consumers use content to make connections. That fact, according to McDonald, is the most critical piece of the marketing industry today. In front of a slide depicting people whose faces had been replaced with a bull's-eye, he stated, "We've been getting off track -- we've been turning consumers' hopes, dreams, and personalities into algorithms. It's not about the equation -- it's about the experience of consuming it."
After pointing out that some of the year's most successful campaigns -- the Mac vs. PC debate, the most fascinating man in the world, Old Spice -- were underpinned by connections with real human experiences, McDonald cautioned that the industry could be headed in the dangerous direction of the real estate and financial industries. "Both of these categories were filled with extremely clever mathematicians who created algorithms that no one really understood. They lost sight of the fact that they were dealing with real people, not just numbers."
McDonald made it clear that he is no enemy of equations: Not only does he "love the math," but he was part of a very successful ad network for several years. "Data and algorithms are useful tools that must be a part of media moving forward, but they are tools to enhance what we do. The value in them is how humans use them," he said.
One of the downsides of all these equations is that they track activity at the bottom of the sales funnel -- the purchase -- and give tremendous weight on the click, an imperfect source of information. "The right place to market is at the top of the sales funnel," McDonald explained. "The culture of innovation happens inside first and manifests outside."
So, what requirements do marketers need to have in order to correct their course? Inventory, technology, and data are the three primary necessities. "You must have the ability to move inventory to where an advertiser wants to activate it, and package that inventory in thoughtful ways. This includes having a platform you can package to meet those needs," McDonald said. Audience and data management is vital going forward -- you can't be a media company without having technology be a part of your DNA. Finally, a clear understanding of first-party data is a must.
Beyond the three requirements, however, there are three more characteristics that can help marketers stand out from the crowd: insights, partnerships, and service.
"Differentiate yourselves with rich consumer insights and your ability to partner with other media companies to find the right alignment to give clients what they want, and the assurance that you will be there to meet clients' needs, whatever they are," he said.
Substituting "marketer" for "journalist," McDonald closed the keynote with a quote from Time Inc. founder Henry Luce: "I became a marketer to come as close as possible to the heart of the world."
Looking out at the audience, McDonald reminded us one last time that the most exciting thing about all of this is the people.
Lucia Davis is associate editor for iMediaConnection.com.
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