The Message Is the Medium

  |  June 29, 2006   |  Comments

Marketing roles are changing. Do you have messaging experts?

I’ve spent nearly 30 years in and around advertising and marketing. In meetings with countless marketing and media types, most conversations have dealt with the marketer’s need to reach prospects or customers with a marketing message.

Messages come in all shapes and sizes: 14ft. x 48ft. billboards; 8in. x 10in. print pages; :30 TV spots; ad banners; buttons; sponsorships; and the like. I recall so many discussions about ad placements and an obsession for ensuring the ad unit got the awareness required to move the needle in terms of generating sales. Of course, there were heated arguments when these requests couldn’t be accommodated. I was publisher of the world’s largest consumer publication, "Computer Shopper." We routinely ran over 800 advertising pages! Given the shear volume of ads, marketers challenged with breaking through the clutter constantly lobbied for front-of-book and editorial adjacency positioning. How else would their ad be seen by prospects?

I’ve also spent my fair share of time working with and waiting for creative shops to compose these ad units. Often, ads were delayed, postponed, or cancelled due to a lack of agreement on message, font size, graphics, or design. The argument was "if we can’t get it right, there’s no sense running the message." It seemed everyone wanted to play creative director back then. Everyone had an opinion. There were countless focus groups, approvals, and discussions, all centered on one ad and one opportunity to intersect with customers and prospects.

Media were planned in flights, campaigns, and programs. Madison Avenue agencies with award-winning campaigns were rock stars. Their creative directors wrote books and gave lectures. Surely, no brand could be built effectively without a powerful creative and copywriting team.

As I’ve noted in this column many times, the Internet has had a profound effect on ad creative. In the its early days, big agencies saw the new medium as a logical extension of all other broad-based media channels. Consumers moved to embrace the channel. Huge numbers of consumers congregated at major portals. We’d create a broad-based message and position it on a home page. The advertiser would then achieve the desired result: consumers would click on the message and magically land on a relevant page, where they’d purchase the promoted product or service. The strategy worked, thanks to the medium’s novelty and the fact consumers were enthralled with the ability to transact so easily.

Likewise within the email arena, early adopters realized the power inherent in their consumer email lists and began assembling databases as a cost-efficient means of building a relationship with customers. From a messaging standpoint, the task was clear: assemble a broadcast message (the one-size-fits-all awareness piece of creative), then blast the email. Those interested in the message would open, click, and potentially take the desired action. Due to the novelty factor (remember, everyone liked to receive mail back in those days), this approach worked. Consumers opened messages, clicked links, then struggled to find the item of interest on the site.

Spam changed email forever. Not just the nasty, bogus, harmful type, but all spam. Though the Internet provided choices, it quickly became a medium of too many choices. That rendered the experience unwieldy and frustrated many by causing too much confusion and lack of focus, all of which affected the medium. Spam became synonymous with a lack of relevance in marketing communications. For the first time in commercial communications, marketers got a real look at the way their messages were viewed and responded to... or not. We were able to get a better understanding of whether the relationship was actually growing or not. And most important, we were able to monitor the connection between creative messaging and the desired action. Was the ad unit opened, were there clicks, was the audience taking the desired action? The mystery behind advertising and ROI (define) diminished through new metric and measurement devices that took the gray area out of proving effectiveness.

Ten years later, what are we finding? The email creative process is fundamentally different from crafting messages for other media. The traditional approach must be abandoned when it comes to the email channel. Laboring over design of one specific campaign flight or a specific creative unit is yesterday’s messaging. We do ourselves a disservice by even calling the department "creative." That’s your father’s advertising and marketing business. The new order allows marketers to build an ongoing dialogue with customers and prospects built on personalization, targeting, and relevancy of content. Creative types must be transformed into messaging experts.

The new messaging paradigm demands the marketer take the insight gained by a new, more robust customer database management capability and build dynamic, contextually relevant dialogues with customers on a one-on-one basis. We must build an ongoing communication stream that takes into account the 360-degree view of the customer’s interaction with all parts of a company. Messaging in the years ahead will be created dynamically through the setting of business rules and white-boarding dialogue trees that push marketers to develop messaging sequences based on consumers’ actions. Messaging is built on a series of flexible wireframes that are populated and sent to a consumer when most appropriate and relevant to the ongoing dialogue.

This isn’t futuristic mumbo jumbo. This is marketing communications reality.

The days of broadcast anything will soon be over. So pull your marketing, database, and creative teams into a meeting very soon and introduce them to each other, probably for the first time. They’re all part of the new messaging team. Each group plays a significant role in building future strategies and deployment.

Effective message development and dialogue creation takes work. You’ll literally have to role-play the type of relationships you want with a customer and track every deviation in terms of that conversation. If a consumer is likely to act, react, or ignore, you need answers and strategies for how to conduct the ongoing conversation based on those actions, much the way in-store or telemarketers are trained to manage customer relationships, objections, requests for information, and so on.

The Internet’s promise is about to be realized. Customers prefer to transact with marketers who leverage their profile information in real time and create subject lines, content offers, and messaging platforms that are exciting, personalized, and contextually and time relevant, and that make the process of conducting business with you a pleasurable experience.

Start today. Change the org chart, signage, job descriptions, and titles in yesterday’s creative department to messaging designations. You have to start somewhere. This is the logical first step.

Until next time,

Al D.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Al DiGuido

Long recognized as one of the direct response industry's premier innovators and a pioneer in e-mail communications, Al DiGuido brings over 20 years of marketing, sales, management, and operations expertise to his role as CEO of full-service digital marketing company Zeta Interactive. Formerly Epsilon Interactive's CEO, DiGuido also served as CEO of Bigfoot Interactive, CEO of Expression Engines, EVP at Ziff Davis, and publisher of Computer Shopper, where he launched ComputerShopper.com, a groundbreaking direct-to-consumer e-commerce engine. Prior to Ziff Davis, he was VP/advertising director for Sports Inc. DiGuido also serves on the Direct Marketing Association's Ethics Policy Committee.

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