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The Adolescent Years

  |  July 21, 2006   |  Comments

How interactive marketing is like high school, and how your brand can get in with the cool kids.

I've been in a reflective mood lately. Why? Well, this is my last column for ClickZ, as I'm moving on to a new opportunity in August. Meanwhile, during my brief between-jobs hiatus, I'll be attending my 20th high school reunion. So you can't blame me for feeling a little nostalgic these days.

What interests me most, however, is the place at which we find ourselves today in the interactive marketing arena. It's one of those times, like the boom years of the late 1990s, when everything seems not only possible, but probable. Things are changing and moving at such a rapid pace that it's hard to keep up with it all. Yet we've learned so much and are really beginning to come into our own as a medium. It reminds me a little bit of high school, that time filled with so much promise and potential, in which we weren't quite formed but were already showing signs of the mature adults we'd later become.

The Clique is the Thing

Back in high school, it was all about what group you belonged to. The preppies, the punkers and the stoners all had their own hangouts, their own rituals, their own parties, and their own language. If you were the proverbial new kid, transferring in from some faraway planet, you'd have to learn the culture before you figured out where you belonged.

So it is with the new consumer-generated social media world. Listening, and learning the culture, is critical for today's brands. Given all the media companies trying to tap into this phenomenon (it seems five new social networks launch every day), it's more important (and more difficult) than ever to find the authentic places where people are communicating and operating from a feeling of trust. And it's always changing. Today's MySpace may be tomorrow's Friendster.

Finding those places isn't always about numbers of users, or even of registered users. Sometimes it's like porn. You know it when you see it. I knew local-reviews site Yelp was the real deal when I noticed user-submitted text like: ”If you don't like fried chicken, you're a soulless robot" and "This place is a mad house. Although they have cute guys at the check out counter so at least you get good eye candy! lol. " and "I don't remember if my meal was good because the music was so GODDAMNED LOUD all I could concentrate on was my splitting migraine. " When people really sound like they're talking among friends, that's where you, as a marketer want to be.

The Cool Kids

As in high school, there'll be "cool kids" and "not so cool kids" in every group. You need to identify the former group. These are the influencers, the meme-spreaders. There'll be plenty of infighting to corner the market in these people. Witness this week's $1000/month offer by AOL's Jason Calacanis, who's trying to woo the most prolific content creators at Digg.com and other social sites, to participate at Netscape.com.

But remember that even the not-so-cool kids are consumers. They can easily employ powerful tools like blogs, YouTube and MySpace should they feel the need to exact revenge on a brand that's wronged them.

Fitting In

As in high school, fitting in is extremely important. And that's not always easy when the technological underpinnings of all of the happening communities are vastly different. That's changing, though. Many of the spots where people gather, such as TypePad blogs, Mac OS X, and Google personalized home pages are opening themselves up to creators of "widgets" -- small programs or scripts that bring outside functionality into a given environment. So long as you've got a developer on staff that can create the appropriate mini-version of your brand, you're in.

All the Right Parties

Kids of all ages are consuming media in a variety of places on a myriad of devices. To get invited to all the right parties, when the all-important buying decisions are made, it's important you be there, too. Should you have a mobile site? An RSS feed? A podcast? A video podcast? Should you advertise on these platforms? These audiences may be tiny now, and they may continue to be relatively small, but fragmentation is the rule of the day. The only way your brand can show up at all the right parties is if it has established a presence at multiple touch points. After all, it's the consumer doing the inviting nowadays. All you can do is make sure your brand is poised for the opportunity.

Has it really been 20 years, or 12 years in the case of interactive marketing? I don't feel that old. Thankfully, neither does our industry. You, ClickZ and I are likely to be interactive for many years to come. Thanks for everything, folks, and please keep in touch. (I can be reached at pamela.parker *at* the-river.net.)

Editor's Note: Pamela's been a driving force behind ClickZ for most of its life. We miss her already. Thanks so much, and best of luck.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pamela Parker

Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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