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  |  October 22, 2004   |  Comments

How Amazon's perfecting 'pull' marketing.

The last few weeks have seen an acceleration of the ideas driving the next generation of consumer media consumption. Podcasting, the latest digital audio distribution method, is taking hold among extreme early adopters. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved distribution of broadband over power lines, potentially boosting an adoption trend that's already rapidly hurtling forward. Blog search engine Technorati reports adding a million new blogs to its index over the past three months, bringing the total to 4 million.

Marketers are taking notice. Mediaedge:cia this week reported young people spend more time watching TV, but only if you count usage of VCRs, PVRs, video games and DVDs. Wireless marketing players and gaming ad networks are launching right and left. At the Association of National Advertisers Convention, Larry Light, McDonalds' CMO, told his audience, "Mass marketing is a mass mistake. Practice multi-dimensional, multi-segment marketing... In today's atomized marketing world...mass marketing mass messages to masses of people via mass media is a mass mistake." As journalist John Battelle, of SearchBlog and other fame, wrote this week, "The goal is to make content that is worth pointing to. If you're feeding the conversation... the rest will then follow."

Battelle was writing about content sites, but he could just as easily have been discussing marketing. Lines between content and commerce are blurring. A good example is what Amazon.com does with its exclusive content features. A few months back, astute readers of paidContent.org's Digital Media Jobs Blog noted a posting for "Sr. Manager/Director of Digital Features," with digital features described as "creative ways to market and sell (usually) physical goods using an eclectic mix of digital Web technology. It might be streaming audio or video, java3D interactive tools/toys, Flash/Shockwave/DHTML/Javascript interactive experiences, or free music downloads/samples." What Amazon is creating, ultimately, is "pull" media -- entertainment as marketing. This is the kind of messaging that's going to succeed in today's niche-focused, consumer controlled environment.

"People are increasingly coming to Amazon as an entertainment destination," Kristin Mariani of Amazon.com told me. "They know that, throughout our stores, they can find these little tidbits." How does Amazon know its 42 million active customers have come to expect entertainment? Customer feedback, Kristin says: "We encourage them to be very vocal, and they are."

The example of those features most prominent this week is a promotion for Jon Stewart's America (The Book),. Splashed across Amazon's home page is a large Flash module users can click to watch a promotional video featuring Stewart in his "The Daily Show" persona. Additionally, the company offers a streaming audio interview of Stewart, conducted by Brad Parsons, an Amazon.com editor. An interview transcript is also available. In the transcript, every author or product mentioned (Parsons asked questions designed to elicit product-specific answers) links to the product on Amazon.com.

While I wasn't able to connect with anyone at Stewart's publisher, Warner Books, to discuss the strategy, I discovered the deal wasn't handled by the usual interactive marketing suspects. Amazon, after all, is a vendor, not a media outlet. The sales folks were the ones handling the relationship. No money changed hands. Celebrities provide the content for free, and sometimes it's pretty darned compelling (aka bloggable) content. Author Nicholas Sparks wrote an essay about the making of his book, The Notebook, into a feature film. Queen Latifah gave Amazon users exclusive access to streaming audio of a bonus track not included on her new album.

"We have a lot of success of working with artists to provide that content," Kristin told me. "If we know there are titles or releases that we think our customers will be particularly excited about, we will proactively go to them. Others approach us with ideas of what they can provide our customers."

Amazon appears to see this as business as usual. It's done this for a while -- witness the elaborate 2003 holiday promotion. Kristin won't divulge how many people watch the video or hear the audio, nor would she share success metrics for any of the content features.

"America (The Book)" is an interesting example. It was Amazon's top seller yesterday, and it doesn't even have a dedicated Web site, as far as I can tell, other than its Comedy Central presence. Amazon.com's book page is the number one result on Google and Yahoo for an "America the book" search. (The Amazon home page is second on Google, which gives you an idea how often the book's been promoted on the home page.) Amazon also bought keywords on Google to drive traffic to the book.

Admittedly, the Amazon.com video isn't the only Web-based content driving interest in Jon Stewart. The comedian's spirited appearance on CNN's Crossfire may have had a wee bit of impact. Online downloads and streams of that video are said to have surpassed the show's original TV audience.

Just another example of how media habits are changing. New technologies, especially broadband, enable people to control their media (and marketing) consumption like never before. They interact with media when they want to. Maybe they watch TV online, maybe time-shift, maybe not.

Will they watch your marketing message? You'd better make it entertaining, accessible and exclusive. If it's all of those things, and users pre-qualify themselves as interested, they'll link, download, and watch. If not, you're out of luck -- and behind the times.

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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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