In the digital world, speed kills. Not the brands behind the wheel, but the ones on the side of the road debating whether to jump in.
I was reminded of this recently while speaking with a brand marketer for one of the world’s top financial services companies. Her company has been slow to embrace digital, only her hesitation had nothing to do with the technology that powered digital advertising and everything to do with the fundamentals of brand marketing. Can digital tell a story? Can it connect the right content with the right audience? And most consequentially, can it be measured?
All good questions, though perhaps not the ones I typically hear from brand marketers. But my gut tells me these are precisely the questions all digital advertising bystanders want answered. They deserve close attention.
The Most Interesting Ad in the World
So what makes a successful brand campaign? In a word: stories. Viewers are presented with protagonists with whom they can identify, and journey with them as they work through a conflict to achieve resolution. On TV, this needs to happen in 15, 30, or 60 seconds. But on the web, you’re restricted only by the enthusiasm of your fans. Consider the wildly popular Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” ads. While brief on TV, an impressive eight-minute web-based version geared toward the brand’s super fans has gone viral.
What drives brands like Dos Equis to seek out digital distribution outlets? It’s simple: customers. If brands need to take customers on a journey, then they must pick them up where they are, not where they want them to be.
Your New Sunday Night
Which brings up the next question: can digital match the right content to the right people? Once upon a time, a marketer could own the audience by simply securing an exclusive sponsorship for a Sunday night TV show. But that was back in the Mad Men-era when everybody watched Sunday night TV. Today we have neither the category (the show that everyone watches) nor the slot (the time that everyone tunes in). Instead, we have diversity of content across myriad channels, to be consumed at the viewers’ choosing. This long-tail trend didn’t begin with digital – cable TV began fragmenting audiences into discrete bits back in the ’80s. But only digital can make the long-tail manageable for savvy marketers looking to connect with the right consumers, wherever they are and at whatever time makes sense. Here’s an example of why this is so important: according to a recent study, New York City consumers tend to seek financial services information on Tuesday nights. In other words, Tuesday night is the new “Sunday night” for people like the brand marketer I mentioned at the top of this story. And only digital, with its broad range of semantic, contextual, and real-time technologies, is capable of discovering when and where your target audience tunes in and transform those opportunities into your own “Sunday night.”
Just the Facts
OK, but is digital measurable? Admittedly, there was a time when it was difficult to measure story content across multiple formats and channels. But technology advancements have changed all that. Today, brand marketers can have full visibility into what’s happening, even though the landscape they’re peering into grows vastly more complex every day.
In fact, brand advertisers can now optimize their media buys in real time based on real evidence of how consumers are responding to their ads – measurement and execution are fully entwined. It may sound over the top, but it’s the digital equivalent of the Age of Enlightenment, where science, rather than faith, is leading the approach.
So yes, digital is clearly measurable. But more than that, it enables brands to reposition themselves for a more secure future. Think Netflix dismantling its DVD-based business to become a digital powerhouse. Or Barnes & Noble aggressively pursuing the Nook, so much that a suitor claims to want to buy the company because of the Nook. For brand marketers, going digital is less dramatic – they’re not betting the company on the medium, after all. But digital does represent the most direct route to your audience, and there is a real risk in not moving fast enough.
If you’re a brand manager, you know all too well that consumers lack mindshare for more than one brand in a category. The first to capture it wins. The second…well, they may not get there in time. Just ask Borders.
This column was originally published on June 27, 2011 on ClickZ.