Reports of TV’s Death Greatly Exaggerated, Part 3

To leverage digital TV’s emerging power, consider this strategy: give people more of what they want.

This strategy comes in response to video on demand (VOD) in all of its different flavors. Burgeoning interest in this channel indicates a significant (and much needed) shift in how marketers approach communicating with customers and prospects.

It’s all part of the ongoing evolution of the media ecosystem, which also requires marketers to focus more on interactivityand to crank up relevance, strategies addressed in part one and two of this series.

For decades, TV advertising’s been based on an implicit contract between content owners/distributors and consumers. We trade free (or discounted) access to content for attention to advertising. But the contract has been under a lot of pressure in recent years. The ever-increasing volume of advertising, often irrelevant, is starting to drive people nutty, and consumers are suddenly in control. In fact, some people are completely opting out of broadcast advertising, consuming their media on their own terms without regard for our implicit contract. Digital technology makes consumers like restricted free agents, and they’re filing for arbitration in droves.

On the media and marketing side of the equation, we’re desperately seeking ways to renegotiate the terms of our contract with the public. And the industry at large seems to be coming to something I realized a long way back: Fighting consumer control is futile. You must change your strategy.

Stop grabbing attention by buying up time and space. Instead, earn that attention by producing great content and providing the audience with relevant value. That’s the undercurrent fueling hype and growth both in online video and cable VOD.

Think about it. Nearly all of the most successful and respected advertising campaigns of the last two years don’t really look like advertising at all. People don’t like advertising. But relevant content that they actively seek out isn’t advertising, even if the message is mostly commercial; it’s just good content that they want to see.

That’s the power of VOD — providing consumers with relevant, engaging content they can view on their own schedules. They select what interests them and dive deeply into it. TV advertising is transformed from simply an exposure medium to an exposure, attention, and engagement medium. As marketers, VOD gives us the ability to really wrap our content around consumers, taking the time to tell a complete story and educate them on our unique benefits, stuff that’s not always possible in a :30 or even :60 linear TV spot.

Long format doesn’t have to mean high-budget production. Look at something like InterContinental’s “In the Know” video series. The series offers great content that’s extremely relevant to travelers and probably not that expensive to produce. Perhaps $10,000 or less per episode? It could easily be migrated to VOD, and therein lies another key to leveraging digital TV that may deserve its own discussion: you can maximize your impact by changing your video production strategy.

It’s time to move away from the big-budget spot toward universal digital asset creation (UDAC). If you plan upfront for the spot and assets for the Web, mobile, and VOD, you can create an integrated cross-platform suite. Your campaign can be built on these assets, which connects with your audience when and where they want to interact with your brand’s content. You can do it all without blowing your budget.

If you build it, will they come? Obviously, producing a few longer-format assets and throwing them up on VOD doesn’t guarantee success. You still need a great idea (rooted in consumer insight) that’s either extremely entertaining or incredibly valuable to draw people in.

Ultimately, VOD isn’t a winning media tactic on its own. Like many emerging media channels, it works best as part of a larger program. There are different components that can enhance and drive viewership to your content, starting with what most cable companies call a branded navigational unit (BNU). This is a spot that’s almost entirely dedicated to building awareness of your VOD content and showing consumers how to access it through a series of screenshots of the VOD menu system. You can also reserve the last 5 to10 seconds of your local :30 spot for a similar call to action.

More advanced cable platforms are clickable so consumers can press a button on their remote control to jump from your spot directly to your content. Note the combination here of interactivity, addressed in part one, with the “give ’em more” strategy. This jump from a short TV spot to longer-form content is often called telescoping. Most MSOs (define), for now, are housing VOD content in a standard menu system that’s MSO-branded throughout. Some are offering branded channels, which look a lot like campaign microsites (granted, a microsite circa 1999, but still). It’s a fully branded environment with a branded menu system to access your VOD content and any other functionality supported by the MSO.

No matter how you implement the content, remember: You’re going beyond advertising. You’re providing highly relevant content that can be of great value to the audience. Make it count.

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