The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be. -Paul Valery
By Adrian Weidmann
The year is 1995- it’s spring and I’m sitting in the office of the Chief Technology Officer of one of the major broadcast companies discussing the state of emerging digital media technology. As we sat in his office in the heart of Hollywood, California we began discussing the artistic and technical merits of digital media and its effects on the way we consume media.
His office was filled with all of the awards, achievements and certifications that recognized his professional success. Upon a side wall was mounted, what was then a state-of-the-art plasma display on which we observed a direct digital feed from master control located several floors below. We admired the clarity, resolution and detail of the images we were observing. After admiring techno speak, the CTO leaned back in his chair, took a long pause, and asked, “Do you realize what you’ve been observing for the last fifteen minutes?” Naturally I jumped into a cacophony of pixel related gab peppered with lugubrious amounts of digital this and that. As the room fell silent he smirked, looked out his office window at the iconic Hollywood sign and calmly stated, “What you’ve observed is the death of our industry.”
He then went on to explain that what we were watching was the results of internal research being done with digital broadcast signals and magical ‘black boxes’ whose basis could be tracked back to MIT’s Media Lab. What we were watching was broadcast time-shifting before the reality of TIVO and DVRs. Once he pointed out this revelation, it was true!- I had not observed a single commercial- all of them had been seamlessly deleted from the broadcast signal.
Fifteen years have passed since those foreshadowing words tolled for the television broadcast industry and their business model. The television broadcast model is still alive yet its efficacy has eroded profoundly over those fifteen years. TIVO was introduced in 1997, two years after this profound meeting, and today cable companies are giving away Digital Video Recorders. There is now a TIVO app for the iPad. Viacom and HULU just reached an agreement to provide select programming to the online video website. Television, as we (some us baby boomers anyway) know it, will exist into the foreseeable future but its viewers will continue to take more and more control of why, what, when, where, who and how they will view digital media and through what mediums.
As I write this piece, Super Bowl XLV will be played this forthcoming weekend. The obligatory anticipation and discussion of the advertisements that will be shown is running rampant. Advertising ‘experts’ are discussing sneak previews on a segment on NBC’s Today show. During their discussion as to the value of a $3 million spot during the game, the following statistics were put forth;
- 100 million projected viewers of the game.
- 15% will comment on the advertisements through social networks- Facebook and Twitter.
- Each of those comments will reach at least 15 people.
Their conclusion was that getting “…those billions…” (325 million if you do the math!) of impressions with $3 million was a “drop in the bucket”. In a world where marketers are desperately looking for ways to engage shoppers, impressions continue to be the media currency, and CPM as its metric, that is traded with dollars. Impressions or engagement? Which to pursue? The answer is not one or the other but rather both or ‘it depends’! They both have validity depending upon your communication strategy, and hence, business objective. The corollary to that question is- which medium or media channel- mobile (tablets, smartphones), internet (websites, social networks), in-store/out-of-home (digital signage, kiosks), broadcast or print, is the most relevant?
Then there is the promise of digital signage- your message, anyplace, anytime. That phrase started back in 1998 and is still used as a marketing harbinger by many in the industry, yet, to my knowledge; no one has yet to truly deliver on this promise. During a demonstration of digital signage that I conducted back in 1999, the executive watched and listened intently and with apparent interest. At the conclusion of the presentation the executive turned to me and said, “…this is a fantastic tactical implementation in desperate search of a strategy”. In many respects, this continues to be true today.
One of the prime advantages of ‘being digital’ means that you are not bound by analog business models. Yet the established ‘analog’ business models of the advertising and media industry along with the practices of agencies and their financial relationships with both brands and the media channels continue to hold firm- at least as long as they can.
There continues to be a seismic shift of the ‘status quo’ and its associated flow of money. Digitally empowered shoppers are systematically taking control of who, where, what, when, why and how their chosen brands are allowed to communicate with them. There is still a place for creative, entertaining and relevant marketer initiated advertising, marketing, and promotional (AMP) communication but according to a recent Oracle study, consumer initiated interaction is more than 10 times as effective. We live in a multi channel (online, mobile, out-of-home/place-based, broadcast and print) digital world where we have control to turn off, tune out, or ignore any communication.
Conversely, we, as consumers, can also initiate a meaningful interaction with a brand that respects us and provides relevant and trusted information. The media is no longer the message. The consumer initiated experience is the message that needs to ignite the customer-brand interaction through the correct medium and channel in a seamless, automated manner, no matter what channel they choose. This permission based, empowered digital world will continue to marginalize brands without a holistic, intelligent, integrated supply-chained marketing communication solution.
“Which is the most relevant channel?” The correct answer is, ALL of them!
Marketing and operational executives are seeking holistic and ‘smart’ digital media solutions to establish and nurture ‘customers for life’. Too much time and resources are been expended experimenting with fragmented implementations in desperate search of a unifying business strategy. Clever microsites, mobile couponing, social network initiatives, digital signage or interactive kiosk projects, all represent new technologies seeking to “engage” and “enhance the customer experience” all in the name of innovation yet fall far short in helping “sell more stuff”.
Television remains viable. Digital signage will continue to grow and have success. Mobile devices and their use as our ‘remote control’ to the world will continue to flourish and amaze us. Implemented separately, using dated ‘analog’ business models, these technologies will never reach their full potential. But together, these channels can be relevant and the brands that create intelligent, synchronized cross-media communication solutions will thrive beyond their expectations. In this digital empowering world, shoppers and consumers are demanding more while at the same time expecting respect and relevancy from the brands of their choice. The brands and value-centric organizations that respect their ‘audience’ and become their ‘trusted mediators’ will be able to develop, engage and sustain a customer-for-life strategy and measure their results with an ongoing ‘share of wallet’.
Adrian Weidmann is co-founder and Managing Partner of StoreStream Metrics, where he designs and implements measureable cross-media communication solutions for brands, retailers and enterprise clients. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org