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The Marketing Challenges of Convergence

  |  January 10, 2001   |  Comments

Many marketing departments and service providers are still trying to digest the web. Convergence will only add more options to the menu. Are you ready for the next course?

Marketing departments and service providers that are still trying to digest the web need to chew carefully on the next course. Here are just a few of the items recently added to the menu: WAP, XML, PDA, PIM, iTV, e-commerce, m-commerce, and t-commerce.

All these terms refer to technologies driving convergence; how appetizing they will prove remains to be seen. What is clear now, however, is that as the number of ways the Internet can be accessed increases, so will the number of challenges to marketers.

Convergence will challenge marketers and the organizations they serve in three important areas: the timing of messages, the consumption of messages, and branding strategies.

Timing

Traditionally, media planning revolves around identifying when the target audience is most receptive to a message. Media planning also weighs the merits of different media as well as concurrent versus sequential flighting.

Regardless of how holistically a traditional media plan is created, practically speaking each medium is a separate unit. In fact, more and more organizations have separate offline and online teams charged with building and implementing the final approved plan.

We all know that clients can -- and do -- cut portions of a plan for any number of reasons. Doing this on a converged platform kicks the legs out from under the opportunity and wreaks havoc on the teams tasked with implementation.

What this means is that any marketing initiative that includes converged technologies requires unwavering commitment and unprecedented coordination between the off- and online functions responsible for delivering the goods. A good example of this commitment can be found in UPS's partnership with TechTV and their program "Working the Web." This program has integrated the web, TV, content, and promotion into one package.

Consumption

Marketing in a converged environment will completely change the media-planning process -- and the creative development and production processes -- in a fundamental way. A mindset that starts and stops in 30-second intervals entirely misses the two-way flow of Internet-enabled marketing.

"Interactivity" is a term we hear a lot, but what does it really mean? It describes a two-way flow of information without regard to time or distance.

Marketers who work in an interactive environment must act as if the time spent with customers were infinite, not just the 30 seconds customers spend in front of the TV or the few seconds they take to read a WAP message on a cell phone.

Everybody has to plan and execute thinking about the entire communications stream. Just look at the disappointed reaction of the critics to early experiments with ads that utilized scanning technology from companies like Digital:Convergence Corp. (See Walter Mossberg's Personal Technology column for a sample review.) The ad planners and marketers involved should get high marks for trying something different, but they did not plan for the ongoing dialogue or communications stream that they were in effect enabling.

They were planning in terms of full-page units and web sites when they should have been thinking full-page units that lead to web sites. They did not add the third dimension of time. People who used the scanners were linked to exactly the same pages everybody else saw.

Branding

The final issue goes directly against the hallowed concept of a unique selling proposition. For decades marketers have been trained to focus on a single idea that would define for consumers why they should do business with a brand.

Technology is changing consumer expectations so that brands are defined more by the consumer's total experience with a product or service. Even a rock-solid positioning line won't define a great brand if the consumer's experience of a brand is negative.

So instead of thinking of a unique selling proposition, think in terms of a complete selling proposition. In an environment where customer demands and technical advances make real-time access to all facets of your business a reality, your organization better be tuned to provide seamless integration across phone, wireless, web, and good old brick-and-mortar environments.

Clearly, being a successful marketer in an era of convergence requires a great deal of planning and forethought. And many things need to change before marketing organizations -- both client and agency side -- will be able to savor the possibilities.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Daly and William Smith

Vice President and General Manager Tom Daly and Account Supervisor William Smith.

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