Logging In: Another Type of Climate Change

Consumers run the marketing show

In case you haven't noticed, the economic climate has been getting a good deal chillier lately. Inevitably, this is making for a much more cautious marketing community, with brands contemplating an uncertain future and beginning to plan on reducing advertising and marketing costs. If you are in traditional media, this does not bode well, but conventional wisdom holds that if you are in digital media, you will be somewhat recession-resistant. Of course, some traditional channels will do okay and some digital channels will have problems. But we are already seeing a general belt-tightening accelerate the shift of budgets from traditional media to digital. The recent GM decision to move half its marketing dollars to digital and direct is just the beginning.

Driving this momentum is a variety of factors, not the least of which is that digital channels offer the accountability that brands want when every penny counts. More important, but more subtle, is the tilt toward consumer control that the Web has ushered in. This sea change has pushed the marketing community into a profound rethinking of the whole idea of advertising. Now, with the consumer in charge, brands need to wake up to some new digital realities.

The digital war has begun. With many of a brand's consumer touchpoints already on the Web and soon to be on mobile, the battle will be won or lost in the digital realm. That doesn't mean that traditional channels go away, it just means that they play a supporting role. 

Instead of selling, make it easier to buy. Nobody likes ads, but until the digital age we were forced to deal with them. Now consumers want information, knowledge and help making decisions, not ads. So stop making ads and start creating value. 

Consumers want substance. Just like ads, the days of frivolous microsites produced to support ad campaigns are going away. Consumers have been there and done that. They want brands that give them real substance in the form of relevant content or useful functionality. You still need to wrap it in engaging sizzle, but entertainment alone is not enough. 

Don't presume attention. Time is the consumer's most valuable resource. So if you want it, you have to earn it. Consumer attention is very hard to attract and fleeting, and you earn it by delivering relevance. Even though the depth and breadth of a Web experience, unlike traditional channels, is unlimited, you must engage the consumer in short increments, with each step getting more personally valuable to them.

Make the dialogue real. As we have all heard, brands can't just talk at consumers. They must have an ongoing conversation. But how do you do that? Take another look at the power of e-CRM communications. It's a lot cheaper to continue a conversation than to start one, so make sure your customers and prospects have a compelling reason to stay in touch with you. 

You can't hide. Transparency is the order of the day. If you don't reveal all, someone else will, and you might not like how they do it. Where time and distance used to allow brands to manipulate and hide information, the digital age has eliminated those barriers. So use the digital channel to become the knowledge source for your constituency of interest. If you deliver real content value that is relevant to your target audience, they will find you. There are only one or two true thought leaders in every arena, and it takes real consumer trust to get there.

Tony Quin is CEO of IQ Interactive. (

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