Are You Your Audience?

When we think about how people spend time nowadays, we don’t think of technology that much. Sure, we look at technology, such as the Internet, digital TV, and mobile phones, as appliances that help us get things done. Fair enough. But when we start thinking about the effect of that casual affair with the great ghost of binary numbers, we miss something. Something older than the hills.

What is it that we’re missing?

A common experience.

That may sound simplistic, but by being circumspect in this world of whiz-bang speed we risk losing a large piece of what we’ve had for millennia.

What’s our common experience today? Religion? Politics? Advertising? The Internet? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

Think about meals you have with your family: you all sit together at a table. That act in itself has been going on for millions of years. The topic of conversation may change, yet conversation was surely always there. But what about today? Do we have any more shared experiences? Have we become a new form of “technomads”?

Jay Conrad Levinson, who wrote “Guerilla Marketing,” is what I call a technomad. Levinson is an icon in the advertising and marketing world. If you haven’t read any of his books and you’re in the marketing industry, you’re missing a big piece of why you’re here.

I had the pleasure to hear him speak at a local event, and without taking a break he went into an hour and a half of insights into what he does and reflections on who we are as marketing targets.

So why do I call him a technomad? He had a very nice place in the area I live and sold all of it to live in a tricked out RV with a full technology package. We’re talking satellite and all the trimmings. He has a radio show, does a weekly phone conference, and coaches and trains people around the country. His home and office are on wheels! Maybe that’s not the life for everyone, but it’s a way of life many could get used to in the future.

When we think about Levinson, we learn a little lesson about technology and its effect on the common experience: more technology demands more effort.

Just because you can be anywhere, does that mean you have to be cut off from everyone? No. But if you want to be free and connected to the world, you must make an effort.

There are really two lessons here. First, technology separates us from everyone, with the residual effect that we become alienated from each other in many ways. Second, technology is a tool, not a solution. It’s up to the user to make an effort to care about being connected with the world, another person, a brand, anything.

Technology and advertising are fairly well expressed on the Internet. These are early days, but we’re seeing a pattern emerging. Brands that advertise online don’t just have to be available, they must also be useful. They have to help their audience connect with something useful. That poses a challenge to online advertisers and agencies.

Again, maybe it’s naive simplicity on my part, but we’re fooling ourselves when we think a new technology’s entertainment value will work for everyone. In fact, it does a better job of alienating everyone. Consider how mobile phones and devices haven’t yet caught the advertising bug.

What online advertising must learn is something we all learn as we age. You have to be meaningful, and you have to connect people to a common experience that allows them the space to appreciate what you have to offer.

Should all online advertising be behaviorally targeted and virtually intuitive? That would be nice. But in a time-pressed world, we have to fight against the fragmentation caused by a lack of common ground to communicate on. Brands have to put more skin in the game for their online efforts, more discounts, more freebies, more content… maybe all that or something else. They have to help connect people, not distract them from a common thought, feeling, or value. Otherwise, they’re the problem with online advertising, not the solution.

Meet Dorian at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, August 7-10, 2006, at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

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