The Characteristics of Media

Remember the last time you got a letter? I don’t mean a mail-merged “personalized” letter from a company trying to get your money, but a handwritten letter from someone who knows you. If you’re like most people, it’s probably been awhile, but I’m sure you recall it clearly: the feel of the envelope, the anticipation of opening it, the handwriting, and the connectedness from holding a physical object in your hand that was created by another human being.

Though we all probably communicate far more in writing than ever before thanks to e-mail, there’s something to be said about a physical letter’s impact. E-mail doesn’t come close. E-mail is often about communicating a specific piece of information. Even with a lot of emotion behind it, reading it on a screen makes it feel cold compared to a physical letter. E-mail is more immediate and ephemeral, too. It’s about the moment.

Thinking about a handwritten letter compared to e-mail is a useful exercise if you want to think about integrated marketing campaigns and using media to connect to customers. While both communication forms can convey the same information, each has a very different effect. Even if the words are the same, the overall communication isn’t because of its impact on the person receiving the missive. They may use the same words, but they don’t communicate the same message.

Too Many Media Choices

Marketers have more media to chose from than ever. Deciding which to use in a campaign usually comes down to media kit numbers: demographics, buying behavior, interests, and the like. This works fairly well, though the media choices we make are most often guided by budgets and available expertise. Making a choice to advertise in print, online, on television, or on radio often means looking at hard numbers and targeting communications where we’re most likely to find our audiences.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach. It’s worked pretty well for most of us — but it doesn’t go far enough. With the near-ubiquity of broadband Web access, the question of whether a company should advertise online is pretty much a dead issue. Unless you’re trying to reach one of those increasingly rare people who don’t use the Web, you can pretty much count on your audience being online.

But why should you advertise online? If we can assume the people we’re trying to reach are online, it seems like a no-brainer. Online is measurable, it’s interactive, and it’s highly targeted. It’s an engaging medium that allows us to do stuff we’ve never been able to do before, and the bean-counters like it because it’s possible to quickly calculate return on investment. In the past, half our advertising worked but we couldn’t put our fingers on which half. Today, we can figure it out pretty much immediately.

How do you choose where to advertise? How do you figure out the right media mix for an integrated campaign? How do you know what will work?

Answering these questions means looking at the media landscape in a new way, going beyond demographics to looking at how people respond to different media based on the media’s characteristics. It doesn’t mean just pulling out media kits or using any of the many behavioral or contextual targeting methods. Rather, it means thinking hard about media’s characteristics.

The Emotional Choice

Let’s go back to the letter/e-mail example. If you wanted to pledge undying love to someone, which medium would you choose? Overwhelmingly, people would choose the handwritten letter. E-mail just wouldn’t cut it.

Why? A handwritten letter (and print in general) is physical. It is sensual and implies a connection that words on a screen just can’t convey. A handwritten letter is more personal because the person who wrote it crafted it. He put pen to paper and wrote each letter and word. Writing a letter by hand is a personal, creative act that produces a real connection between the writer and the reader that e-mail can’t touch.

If you’re putting together an optimal media mix for an integrated campaign, this lesson is important. Print can do things the Web can’t. A printed piece is a sensual object that creates a more personal, emotional connection than what we can do on the screen. But it’s got limitations, too. You can’t search it, can’t interact with it, can’t click through it, and can’t follow any links to other publications like you can on the Web. And unless you’ve got an unlimited budget, you probably can’t fit all the information about your company in there, either.

The Rational Choice

The Web, on the other hand, is a colder medium. Because a site (or Web-based ad) isn’t actually there, except in the virtual sense, it doesn’t have the same emotional impact a printed piece, a film, or another, more immersive medium can. This is an oversimplification, of course, but ask yourself: when’s the last time a Web site made you cry? What about a film? A book?

If more physical media like print provide emotional impact, the Web appeals to the more rational side of the buying process. Interactivity, the depth of information, the abilities to search and link and compare — those are where the Web has the most impact. A TV spot or print ad for a new car may get your blood pumping, but when you research which car to buy, the Web’s where the information you need to seal the deal.

Three Factors of an Integrated Campaign

Making decisions about which medium or media mix to use requires looking at more than where your audience is. Because, for the most part, they’re everywhere. What we need to pay attention to is why they’ve made the decision to interact with one medium over another.

People go online for different reasons than they watch TV. They read magazines for different reasons than they turn on the radio. The mistake many advertisers make is assuming an ad can be divorced from the medium where it’s seen. An ad in a magazine is not the same as an ad on the Web because the medium’s very characteristics change the ad’s impact. Even if the words and design are the same, something on the Web isn’t the same as in print. A commercial viewed as a pre-roll before an online video clip isn’t the same as a TV commercial, because viewers are watching the clip online for a different reason than they’re watching it on TV. Context matters.

When building integrated marketing campaigns, consider three factors: who you’re trying to reach; where they are physically when they see the message; and what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to affect them on an emotional level, you must use a medium that affects them emotionally, like print or television. If you’re trying to get them to take an action, an interactive medium such as the Web makes the most sense. If you’re trying to get them to take an action based on a physical situation (e.g., commuting or shopping), mobile or outdoor media would provide greater impact.

The media landscape’s gotten pretty complicated. Choosing where to advertise has never been more difficult. Making the right decision means moving beyond the numbers and looking at what you’re trying to say and understanding what the right medium is to communicate that message.

Join us for ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 19 in New York City.

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