If Not TV, Then What? Part 1

You need to give the right opinion at the right moment about your brand. In the future, that will happen less on TV. –quote from a food manufacturer in a Forrester Research report

This quote captures a current truth in marketing and advertising. People repeat it — or ideas just like it — yet few act as if they believe it. No one denies it’s essential to reach consumers with the right information at the right time for a marketing message to be considered or even heard. Nor does anyone deny consumers use a widening range of channels to select information, depending on the type of information and how they plan to use it. A quick spin of the dial in a hotel room — away from your trusty DVR and a station lineup you know by heart — can give even the most faithful old-line ad man or woman pause.

In comparison, while producing a podcast series for the upcoming Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) conference in Orlando, I was really impressed by the degree to which word of mouth is poised as a channel that will be used a lot more by savvy marketers. This week, I’ll talk about the drivers, insights, and impact of the shift happening now. Next time, I’ll go into more detail about word-of-mouth and how it fits into powerful marketing campaigns as a component of the emerging social-media channels.

Let’s examine key trend drivers forcing the media consumption shift, and how people use the information available during the consideration cycle to learn about and purchase new products and services.

What’s Happening Now

Together, the Internet and digital media as a global platform have democratized information. Consumers have access to a wide range of viewpoints along with a forum for directly expressing their perception of a brand based on actual experience. If consumers take the time to do this for sharing that experience with others, TV advertising decreases in importance as a source of trusted information. We’ve seen this borne out in numerous quantitative studies.

Though DVRs, VOD (define), and podcasting as a group are still in a small (but influential) minority of households, they place consumers in the driver’s seat in terms of deciding what to watch and when, rather than what to skip and why. These developments reduce the degree to which any form of interruptive advertising can pierce the protective shield consumers place between awareness and consideration. To paraphrase a recurring theme in conversations with word-of-mouth leaders last week: creating awareness without building a presence in the consideration cycle means you create awareness for your competitors. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem to be the best use of my marketing dollars.

Media fragmentation and the resultant background noise level are increasingly driven by the new content providers — consumers themselves — as they recognize the Internet as a platform not only from which to share experiences, but also to see their stories discussed and passed along to others. In addition to the increased breadth of programming for TV and radio (a.k.a., the classic fragmentation issue), consumers’ multitasking habits and newfound penchant for online publishing have contributed to the rapid growth and acceptance of consumer-generated media (CGM), a sort of word of mouth on steroids. It increasingly factors into the selection and buying process through the consideration cycle.

What This Means

If not TV, then what? TV doubtless has reach, but if its role as an awareness tool is relegated to a category-builder rather than a brand-builder, that reach isn’t as valuable as it once was.

This essentially makes the case for elevating brand advertising to the high art evident in the work of leading agencies. There’s a clear need for an advertising and marketing channel that ensures trusted, brand-specific information gains presence in consumers’ conversations as they decide which plasma TV, which car, and which laundry detergent to buy. In part two, I’ll make the case that word of mouth is that channel. For now, though, where does this leave TV?

TV is still an important appliance in the typical household. Though it’s true more than a few have been converted to aquariums, it’s also true some experiences are simply better on a big, bright, beautiful screen. More likely is a shift in TV’s role away from information and toward entertainment (as we’ve already seen for news) as alternate distributors of trusted information step into the role. To reach consumers with information intended to persuade, we must shift at least partly (though not wholly) away from TV and toward social media channels, including word of mouth and CGM. Ignoring TV is just as much a mistake as ignoring effective, structured word of mouth.

This brings us back to TV. Given the confluence of technology and consumer sophistication, there’s an unprecedented opportunity for advertisers to develop original content aimed at very specific markets. This may take the form of entertainment designed to showcase the use of products or services, educational content targeting tens of users rather than tens of million, or the active support of vocal user communities that credibly spread the word about the products, services, and brands they’ve adopted as their own. Most important, to be truly effective these messages will be delivered in a non-interruptive way. RSS (define) provides a pretty clear beacon as to what’s ahead as consumers begin to grasp to the significance of the difference between an interruption, the middle ground of opting in, and the goal of true subscription.

The marketing platform for all of this? It’s the combination of three existing formats: handheld devices such as iPods and mobile phones; the broadband PC; and, yes, TV. Just not TV as it’s used now.

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