What Happened to Community Online?
Back in those same days, the Internet, and interactive marketing, were all about communities. The most talked-about online programs were affiliate programs (Amazon.com), viral programs (The Blair Witch Project), or other campaigns that focused on identifying specific segments of an audience rather than the masses. I fondly recall those days and the effectiveness of the campaigns that were being developed, and I miss them.
Many of the campaigns we see today are not taking advantage of the true nature of the web. The web is all about bringing together groups of like-minded individuals and allowing them to share information and interact. The web is self-publishing gone wild, where anyone can say anything to anyone at anytime. The campaigns today seem to ignore these capabilities of the web in favor of tonnage and mass reach (funny since back in the old days no one thought the web would become a mass medium).
Pay for performance and tonnage strategies are all over the web, and they rightfully have their place in the media buying methodology, but they are not the best example of how the Internet can be utilized. A marketer that identifies key affinity groups for their products and develops campaigns specifically targeted at speaking to those groups is truly utilizing the web the way it should be. Think about some of the best campaigns you have seen. The one thing that makes them most effective is that they convey a message directly to you. Many of you reading this piece are marketing people -- how many of you have seen the Monster.com “commercial” about “I want to be in advertising when I grow up?” How many times has that been forwarded to your inbox? Given that example is not truly a traditional ad as much as it is a form of entertainment for those of us in advertising, but at the end of the day it was a targeted example of how the web can be used to reach a specific affinity group in a creative manner.
Affiliate marketing was, and is still, one of the best examples of how to utilize the web to speak to specific affinity groups. Affiliate marketing seems to have lost a little of its romance in the last year or two, but it still remains the most effective element of the advertising mix. The best affiliate campaigns identify different affinity groups with groups or segments of the product line and target them with tailored messaging aimed at that audience. Amazon.com was originally one of the best at this by allowing different types of affiliates to feature different titles in their creative, tailoring their needs to those of their affiliates. CDNow was also a great example of this, but many marketers these days simply view affiliate programs as CPA programs with set-up fees. An affiliate program works best when the affiliates themselves are treated as part of a community. Through communicating with your affiliate partners and learning more about them and their audiences, advertisers are able to tailor the messages to their needs and extract more value out of their programs.
Viral campaigns are also a fantastic example of utilizing the community aspects of the web. These units are developed for the purpose of reaching a specific target, and if they are effective than they are shared by many people, many of whom they feel would also enjoy the experience. These communities of people speak to one another, incorporating traditional word-of-mouth advertising into the mix, thereby raising the effectiveness of their campaigns and increasing the ROI shelf-life of this type of a campaign (once again I would refer you the Monster.com ad).
Tonnage strategies are not going to go away. There will always be remnant inventory, especially if we do not severely limit the amount of ad space available. And in some cases, tonnage is useful for direct response advertisers. My point is simply to stress, once again, that tonnage is not a substitution for strategy. 9 out of 10 times, a campaign targeted at a specific audience, with a tailored message and a strong rationale will be more effective than a spaghetti strategy of throw it out there and see what sticks.
Maybe advertisers in the coming year of 2003 will begin to marry traditional metrics with online affinity segmentation to develop truly effective campaigns that will highlight the best capabilities of the web while achieving the pre-determined metrics for success. The community of online marketers would also benefit from the continued discussions amongst themselves about these very same topics… the dissemination of information is still crucial to the continued growth of the medium.