Commentary

The Audience In The Media Ecosystem

"Mayo doesn't have friends, he only has customers." -- Lou Gosset Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman

Target has a personality all its own. And, for a multitude of reasons, Target attracts guests just as unique as its stores. --From Target.com's press room

There are many parts in every ecosystem. A natural ecosystem has six main components: soil, atmosphere, heat and light from the sun, water and living organisms.

In a media ecosystem, we have content creators, publishers/media owners, networks, agencies, advertisers and of course the audience. If the ecosystem is healthy, the audience eventually gets transformed into happy customers. This last sentence warrants repeating. If a media ecosystem is healthy, audiences eventually are transformed into customers.

With the exception of holistic thinkers like Bob Garfield and my friend Jeff Einstein, much of what we read comes from "experts" who specialize in only one aspect of the ecosystem. This results in advice that is overly compartmentalized and which generally misses the mark.

The biggest error of omission is the absence of any real attention to the audience. Let's start with an explanation of what I mean: A good working definition of "audience" is a group of listeners or spectators. Not surprisingly, the root comes from Latin and it means a "state of hearing".

Many in the media ecosystem confuse customers with audiences. The dictionary definition of "customer" is a person who purchases goods or services from another; a buyer if you will.

Do you see the difference between "customer" and "audience" when you read them back-to-back? Is there a difference between a "friend" and a "customer"? Mayo of Officer and a Gentleman initially could not understand this.

The reason Target changed their language from "customers" to "guests" is because they wanted to compel their employees to treat those who came through their doors accordingly. Target knew that happy guests would eventually lead to happy customers if and when proper respect was paid.

But most Internet advertisers and marketers don't understand, let alone appreciate, this distinction. Advertisers stalk audiences with ever more novel, invasive and impersonal marketing technologies. Marketers bombard the audience with meaningless ad messages because there is no respect for the process that converts prospects into customers.

Publishers have become willing accomplices in this folly by adopting the latest technologies that promise far more than they can ever deliver. As a result, publishers have lost their way in their quest for a bigger piece of the advertising pie.

Agencies used to be at the forefront of audience development. Now agencies are glorified bean counters unwittingly leading the charge in their own disintermediation. Disintermediation is a highfalutin word describing their virtual elimination as middlemen in the advertising food chain.

So if arguably the most important element in the media ecosystem is the audience, then who still has their eye on the prize? The simple answer is the audience is listening to each other. Audiences do what they have always done: watch and listen ("state of hearing"...remember?).

The rise of our interaction with social media is in direct proportion to the decline in respect we receive from the rest of the ecosystem. Advertisers are finding it difficult if not impossible to break through in this new environment because they lost respect for the thoughtful listeners among us long ago.

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1 comment about "The Audience In The Media Ecosystem".
  1. Teri Schindler from Davis Brand Capital , September 9, 2009 at 2:26 p.m.

    Thanks for the thoughtful piece.
    In many ways, it's about systems thinking...understanding the component parts and the way those parts interact in an organic way. Too many departmental walls and too much segmentation produce artificiality, blind spots and skewed results.
    Ultimately this will force some reorg on the part of advertisers and certainly agencies.

    www.unboundedition.com