Targeting: Who Controls Your Brand?

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, June 22, 2006

Are you a traditionalist? Do you target from a broadcast viewpoint? If you are wondering what "broadcast viewpoint" means, then you are a traditionalist. Broadcast viewpoint is the perspective that the function of media is to communicate a message enough times to shift someone's intentions and/or drive a sale. The traditionalist analyzes brands from a product perspective to determine which consumers are interested in specific attributes.

After determining who the potential purchasers are and their product relationships, media strategists don broadcast eyeglasses to specify who they want to target in order to shift intentions and close the sale. The communication objective is to reach and persuade people. So we calibrate the message, the engagement of the exposure, and the number of exposures required to persuade, and then execute by broadcasting relevant and timely messages.

While this is a logical line of thinking, it makes an increasingly flawed assumption: that marketers control the messaging and imagery around their brands.

Nearly 100 million American adults use the Internet every day, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, while 77 percent use e-mail and 63 percent use search each day. In previous columns, I've reported that 81 percent of Americans ask friends for advice before making big decisions, and I've discussed social networks. What does all this mean to marketers?

Type "Iams" into Google and see what happens. The Iams text ad, enticing you to click for information on the "Smart Puppy Formula," appears on top in the premium paid position. Along the side, you see rivals enticing consumers with their reasons to click.

When you scan the non-paid search results, the Iams Web site appears in the premium position. Iams clearly knows how to optimize its own site so it performs well. But in the No. 2 position is "Iams Cruelty," and No. 3 is "Iams and animal testing." In the fourth and final first-page position is "  free sample of Iam Savory Sauce."

Out of the four real search results, 50 percent were messages from marketers, and the remaining 50 percent were from special interest groups. While neither is representative of what is actually being said about Iams, it's clear that Iams doesn't control the messaging or imagery on or around its brand.

Broadcasting is hindered in two dimensions. First, broadcasting involves static messages that cannot survive a dialogue, especially when competing with counter claims that are "off message."

The second challenge is that broadcasting talks to large groups of individuals. But grouping individuals by product preferences, geo-demographics, or even shared attitudes doesn't find them in communities. Talking to them as individuals may sway them in the moment, but long-term sales impact is unlikely unless there is also buy-in from the community.

Outsiders can introduce ideas about brands, but they cannot dictate how they are perceived. Ideas are ratified by the community. Influencers have to demonstrate expertise, offer sticky messages, and have good connections within the community to spread the word. Of course, great ideas resonate and can capture the imagination of communities.

As I've previously argued, individuals have taken control of their media consumption. They choose, search, synthesize, and interact with media. They also create, edit, alter, cut, paste, and mash their media. Last year, according to Pew, 57 percent of all teenagers created and published their own media. While these facts spell disruption, the real revolution is in sharing and communities that form social networks.

Marketing with a broadcast viewpoint is increasingly prone to failure because the message is no longer static and the target is no longer just a group of people. Brand managers must understand the communities that touch their products. They need to discern which communities manage the messaging and imagery around their brands.

Finally, they need to target communities and engage them in a dialogue. Broadcasting messages in tandem with such dialogue certainly helps, but community dialogues should be the core communications strategy.

Mark Green is senior vice president, media services, ACNielsen Analytic Consulting, and the founding partner of the Media Learning Institute. (

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