Addressing 'Channel Promiscuity'

I studied sociology as an undergraduate and then again as a graduate student and I know: Sociologists are fascinated with promiscuity. I don't believe it is the voyeuristic aspect that draws them to this topic. It's the challenge. Sociologists can't get a straight answer if they just ask people about their sexual histories. Their subjects distort the truth to align with what is socially acceptable. And this means sociologists need to get really

This may explain why I latched onto the term "channel promiscuity" when Mike Bloxham, director of insights at the Center for Media Design, used it recently at MediaPost's Email Insider Summit.

It strikes me as an appropriate term to use when describing the current media landscape for two reasons:

1) It speaks the indiscriminate nature of media consumption. Media consumption is splintering. People can access content via television, on their phones, computers, tablets, or game consoles. They can communicate via phone, text, IM, social networks, email, or Skype. And while there is usually a good reason for using one channel over another (e.g., texting is quick, social networks allow you to update a lot of people at once), Millennials are fairly indiscriminate about which channels they use. Just because they use one channel now doesn't mean they won't use another in two minutes or even at the same time.



2) It explains why research can be so disparate. How much television do Millennials watch per week? I've seen numbers recently that range anywhere from 11 hours per week to 25 hours per week. Which number you believe is likely to be based on personal biases. If you work for an ad agency that makes commercials, you'll quote the bigger number. If you are a new media agency, you'll quote the smaller.

(Side note: The truth is probably closer to the larger number. The higher estimates are based on observational studies like the one shared by Mike Bloxham, while the lower estimates are based on self-reported data. Since people don't like to think of themselves as couch potatoes; they tend to under-report time spent watching television.)

Of course, there is an actual "truth" about media consumption out there. But I believe it is still a ways off before we have a really good grasp on what percentage of time and attention each channel gets of the proverbial pie. The only thing that seems completely indisputable is that Millennials' media pie is getting bigger and more complex.

Pew's recent Generations 2010 report illustrates this phenomenon. In it, it breaks online activities into three categories:

1) Those Millennials (ages 18-33) use more than older adults like social networks, instant messaging, online classifieds, listening to music, online games, reading blogs, and virtual worlds.

2) Those Gen X and older cohorts use more than Millennials, including visiting government and financial websites.

3) Those that are becoming uniformly popular across all age groups like email, search, getting news, buying products, and rating products.

The thing that stands out from this report is that Millennials are engaging in more and more online activities, while not much is falling off their plates. On the other hand, the challenge is that the report only tells us whether or not people do each activity. It doesn't tell us how much.

And that creates a real challenge for marketers. Where should we spend our time and resources? Should we dive headlong into emerging channels because they are experiencing growth? Or should we maintain our focus on established channels because they are proven?

These are common questions and there is plenty of research that will support either approach. But these questions keep the focus on channels, not strategies. And that is a problem itself.

An even bigger problem is that debates about which forms or media are thriving or dying continue. When TechCrunch posted an article last week about Yammer proclaiming the death of old media, I wanted to vomit. This is a Puritanical view of media based on a false assumption that for new media to grow, old media must die. No! The media pie is simply getting larger and media consumption is becoming increasingly fragmented. Channel promiscuity means that they both consume media (even one-way communication) and they create, mesh, and distribute media.

I believe the only manageable way to address this challenge is to take a step back. We need to focus on the basics. Good marketing is about substance and content, not channels.

There will be even more fragmentation and more channel promiscuity as technology evolves. All the research suggests this is happening. We know Millennials are more likely to watch television with laptop and cell phone in hand than are their parents but, like sociologists studying sexual promiscuity, it's directional.

And this means that attempting to figure out which channels we need to master (or which channels will win) simply isn't a sustainable approach any more.

2 comments about "Addressing 'Channel Promiscuity' ".
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  1. Merri Grace McLeroy from Integrated Marketing Strategies LLC, January 21, 2011 at 2:30 p.m.

    Amen! Morgan, you read my mind. Why must those involved in new media proport the death of traditional channels? Research doesn't support that argument. I agree with you. The media pie is getting larger and consumers of all ages are consuming more of it in nearly all channels. Plus, traditional print and broadcast media have embraced electronic and digital distribution as well. The marketing debate should be about strategy and messaging to engage the audience.

  2. Kathy Sharpe from Resonate Networks, January 21, 2011 at 3:04 p.m.

    If you think this is a GenY only issue you need to see a bit of the world.

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