WII-FM: The No-Cost Media

Recent research portrays increasingly fragmented audiences. There are ad skipping and problems measuring return on investment (ROI). Advertisers are challenged to find a way to reach target customers. Think this sounds like the usual noise about online advertising? It’s not!

These studies focus on the mass media to which top marketers allocate most of their budgets. Accenture research estimates ad skipping and on-demand viewing could cost the TV industry $27 billion over the next five years. Yankelovich finds 60 percent of consumers actively avoid advertising messages, up 6 percentage points from last year, and 56 percent said they shunned products that made them feel flooded with marketing. This translates to a need for both marketers and media companies to rethink how they connect with consumers.

Let me tell you a secret. There’s a media channel to which all consumers pay attention. With extensive reach, its content is uniquely tailored based on individual needs. Despite these ideal attributes, the medium doesn’t appear on any marketing plan. It’s WII-FM, or what’s in it for me? To place your product here, you must engage customers. This means relinquishing control and having a conversation with your customer. Because, in today’s fragmented world, each consumer is truly an audience of one.

With increased broadband penetration, the Web technologically empowers consumers. They use RSS (define), search engines, blogs, online communities, and personal communications to tailor information and entertainment to meet their needs and tastes. WII-FM determines how they reach out to trusted sources and spread the word about things of interest to them. This information is often a form of derivative media. It doesn’t necessarily reside on the original platform and may be monetized by other parties. As a result, marketers must consider how to engage prospects, and publishers must understand how to participate in and encourage this dialogue.

Examples of how consumers choose the media messages and engagement playing on WII-FM include:

  • RSS feeds. Placing your content on RSS feeds drives new readers. In March 2005, NYTimes.com’s RSS feeds generated 5.9 million page views, a 342 percent increase year-over-year and a 39 percent increase from February, showing readers click through when news interests them.

  • Television ads online. Super Bowl ads Fox wouldn’t air: the second Go Daddy spot and Budweiser’s Wardrobe Malfunction are among the most publicized examples. At no media cost, these ads appeared on several online sites where motivated viewers searched for and viewed them. Visits caused sizeable spikes in traffic to Go Daddy’s CEO’s site and to Budweiser around the Super Bowl and built hype, according to Hitwise.

    Though this online audience was smaller and more fragmented (as the spots appeared on several sites) than TV, the out-of-pocket media cost was zero. Viewers watched the ads without leaving their screens to visit the kitchen or bathroom. The marketers could have gone further to develop a relationship through use of voting, online research panels, or contests.

  • Reality show tie-ins. Viewers actively engage in popular reality shows and move interactions online. This provides a way for advertisers and media companies to overcome ad skipping to extend their reach. According to Hitwise, product placements combined with a call to action on “The Apprentice” drove traffic to the brands’ sites either directly or through Yahoo’s Apprentice Web site.

    For “The Real Gilligan’s Island,” TBS created an enhanced TV experience using a sponsored multiplayer trivia game and sweepstakes with a chat component. According to producer Seth Miller, activity spiked around the shows, revealing viewers concurrently consumed both media, as chat action stopped at strategic points during the broadcast.

  • Offline content posted online. Though online media may not yet have mass media’s reach, it can incrementally increase other media’s reach. Sometimes, offline media have greater reach online, such as the top emailed stories on NYTimes.com. Jon Stewart’s exchange on “Crossfire” was viewed over 3 million times on IFILM by users who sought it out and who were exposed to ads before seeing it.

Media companies must consider how to extend their content’s reach to non-endemic users. Comedy Central should test ways to engage its devoted “Daily Show” audience online in a two-way dialogue, thus creating another advertising and viral opportunity that would add to customer involvement and the show’s popularity.

How to Implement Consumer Engagement

Consumer engagement ultimately involves a 360-degree view of your customer and the ability to interact with him. Consider how you ultimately want to connect with your customer. Although you want him to purchase your product, that might not be the next step. You may need to educate your consumer and allow him to experience your brand himself.

Even if the only investment you make in online is a Web site, landing page, or dedicated section of a publisher’s site, you need a place online to engage customers. The site should enable prospects to interact with your company or product beyond self-serving product information. To ensure potential users can find it, optimize it for search engines and consider paid search to support it. A site can take different forms:

  • Information

  • Coupons
  • Contests
  • Newsletters with helpful hints
  • Television ads posted online
  • Blogs
  • Customer feedback

How to Analyze the Campaign

  • Measure high value tasks. Go beyond visitors and click-throughs. Kraft measures downloaded recipes. Consider what the next step in the purchase process is for your product and how to engage prospects to start a marketing dialogue.

  • Monitor online buzz. Use a company specializing in buzz metrics or, less formally, ask customers for feedback. Share this information with senior management.
  • Check how your firm is treated in blogs. Microsoft has used blogs to change its public image. Monitor Technorati for mentions. Once your brand is public, you may not have control over it. If you find negative feedback, you may need PR damage control support.
  • Check how your company, brand, products, and ads rank on search engines. Consider how users may look for your ad or product online. The actress in Go Daddy’s ads had significant spikes to her site, according to Bill Tancer, Hitwise research VP.

To be featured on WII-FM, you must truly connect with consumers in a way they find relevant. Time and bandwidth are precious commodities. Entertain or help prospects gather the information they need to make informed decisions and facilitate the purchase process. Create the means to help them engage with your product so you’re a positive part of the conversation. Caring about customers and taking a long-term view will help. If you focus only on the next sale, you may get it. But the next time your competitor offers a better deal, your customer may buy from them.

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