Digital Media: To Compliment or Complement Traditional Media?

As we put the finishing touches on our 2005 plans, I’d like to share an ongoing debate we’re having with a few of our clients. It centers around the role of digital media in the overall communications mix: Should digital media mirror the traditional communications plan or complement it? Phrased another way, should we use interactive communications to breathe digital relevance into the overall plan, using the same targets, seasonality, and success measurements? Or should we use interactive media to fill the gaps where the traditional plan is weak (e.g., younger demos, at-work audiences, the infamous “missing men,” etc.)?

As with many theoretical debates, there is no right or wrong answer. I’ll reserve my opinion the end. First, let’s examine some of the more common complementary uses of the medium.

Reaching the At-Work Audience

The Internet is almost unique in its ability to reach the at-work consumer (its only real competition is radio, which typically plays a “background” or ambient role). According to JupiterResearch (a Jupitermedia Corp. division), by 2009, 10 million U.S. adults and 8 million youths will access the Internet exclusively from outside the home. Meanwhile, 65 million adults and 26 million youths will access the Internet both at home and at work or school.

The at-work audience presents a number of benefits and challenges to marketers. On the plus side, at-work consumers are far more likely to access the Internet via a broadband connection. Compared to the general population, which is about 50 percent broadband-enabled at home, the at-work audience is about 79 percent broadband-enabled, according to JupiterResearch.

On the flip side, people at work are typically more time constrained and efficiency-focused than at-home consumers. That usually translates into poorer click-through results and weaker outcomes from a direct response standpoint. It’s important to choose content and tactics that speak to a broadband, goal-oriented user if the at-work consumer is your target market.

The Missing Men

I cannot tell you how many times we’ve internally discussed the ability for the Internet to reach the young adult (especially male) target. Even if marketers aren’t looking to reach this segment in traditional efforts, we find ourselves speaking about connecting with this elusive population digitally.

According to JupiterResearch, other than college and grad students overall, a higher percentage of young men ages 18-24 are online than any other demographic. Although the Internet reaches these consumers, finding commonalities across this diverse population is still difficult. JupiterResearch reports though more young men than older engage in entertainment (e.g., games, movies, music) online, the same isn’t true for sports. Thirty-one percent regularly visit sports sites, fewer than men overall.

The Bottom Line

Though interactive/digital communications can play a complementary role to a traditional media effort, I don’t necessarily think it should. As we speak with marketers measuring success before and after brand health studies, we caution them not to insert variables into the interactive program that don’t exist in the traditional communications plan. This would introduce a new bias into a study.

If young adult males are a business target across all communications, use each delivery vehicle to deliver that audience. Don’t just use the Internet to create new segments for your business that aren’t addressed by other marketing and media efforts. That puts an unnecessary bias against your digital efforts and doesn’t capitalize on the power of integrated communications.

A Final Thanksgiving Day Note

As we sit down to our traditional turkey dinners tomorrow, we should give thanks for many things. Our health, happiness, and loving friends and families top the list. But we should also give thanks for being part of such a vibrant and growing community. I feel fortunate to have gotten into the interactive marketing space so early in the game and feel honored to have grown up with the industry. Only now are we realizing a goal we’ve been heading toward for nearly a decade.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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