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Attention, Advertisers - Your Canvas Is Shrinking

Digital advertising growth continues to defy the economy as social media, paid search, and video ads command an ever-greater share of marketing spend. This appears to be a logical shift to a more measurable marketing channel -- however, a deeper look shows these digital shifts fundamentally changing the way companies manage branding and advertising. These shifts serve both as additional wake-up call to the traditional industry and a rallying cry for marketing opportunists everywhere.

Shift 1 – Brand building will never be the same again. Advertising has traditionally been the temple of fixed, static, perfected messages that are blasted out a one-way tube following the mantra “bigger is always better.” This has always been the art of covering your audience with consistent talking points and imagery until the needles move on the “awareness” and “consideration” charts. This activity is no longer relevant to how brands are built.

The marketing department of the future will spend less time managing the big ad than it does managing social media engagements and inbound conversations. Long gone is the back-office call center for customer questions and complaints. With everything publicly viewed on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channels, activist customers have the biggest stage to date, and brand metrics will move as a result of how well those engagements are managed. As real-time, two-way dialogues between advertisers and customers become the norm, the concept of static messages will simply evaporate.

Shift 2 – You can’t control the message (in ways you may not even realize). Yes, most advertisers now know that in two-way dialogues, they can’t control the message. Or more accurately, they can’t control the reaction and chain reaction customers have to their messages. However, customers are only part of the story; what about employees? Tradition states that only the marketing department does marketing, but with 140 characters to the world, isn’t every employee now engaged in “marketing”?

Talk about losing control. The phrase “brand police” is notorious for the simple reason that companies feel it necessary to monitor, edit and in many cases stop the messages their employees want to push out the door. Does this concept even hold up any more? In a blogging, tweeting, “liking” employee base, it is impossible to police -- better yet monitor -- everything leaving the corporate walls. Brand police will be replaced by corporate values, approval processes will be replaced by guiding principles, and the companies that emerge successful will freely enable all employees to engage in “marketing.”

Shift 3 – What exactly is digital media? The current state of digital media is a mess. Just when you’ve mastered the concept of “paid, owned and earned,” the ground shifts again. Facebook, the social media giant, now wants to be the king of paid. Google, the definitive paid channel, has gone social. In the middle is every publisher, portal, and video site trying new approaches to make a digital buck -- meaning that it’s impossible to compare apples to apples. This leaves advertisers not knowing what they get for a dollar invested. Enter digital attribution, a form of media mix modeling that helps marketers answer media investment questions holistically. This is high-end statistics at their best, using modeling techniques to optimize overall marketing investments. Sidebar for CMOs, start hiring more statisticians NOW.

Shift 4 – Your canvas is shrinking - FAST. The biggest shift of all? Big marketing has gone tiny, literally, via the smartphone. Over 2 million new smartphones are activated every single day, making this the fastest-growing media channel on the planet. What purpose will billboards, TV commercials, and print advertising have when all we ever do is stare at a two-inch screen in our pocket? Indeed, the canvas is shrinking to tiny proportions and our messages need to shrink with it. Design, content, copy, responsiveness, and perhaps the toughest bar of all -- relevance -- all have new hurdles to climb when the world goes micro. When the imagery shrinks to the point of almost being irrelevant, marketing will become even more obsessed with relevant mobile experiences, which will be a win for customers everywhere.

Taking into account these shifts feels like a bad movie moment where I ask marketers everywhere: “Scared yet? Because you will be!” These shifts are dramatic -- and while it’s true that branding and advertising will never be the same again, there is no group more creative than marketers to make the new era even more rewarding than the last one (the alterative, well, is not something we should be focusing on!).

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