Trendsetter, Part 1: 4 Ways To Access Digital Opportunity

The economic pain of a protracted recession will shape everything about 2009. It will slow, but not derail, the continuing transformation of media, telecommunications, entertainment and advertising. But it will not retard the development of important new business models or consumers' vicarious use of--and demand for--connected mobile technology. That is good news indeed.

This means the underlying forces that will lead these industries out of these precarious times will be hard at work over the next 12 months when too many businesses are pulling back on innovation to forge their digital trails.

The reality: traditional business models simply will no longer fly--from newspapers and TV broadcasters to pioneering Internet portals like Yahoo and AOL. Any company that has crafted a 2009 budget knows that core revenues--most often linked to advertising and commerce-- are no longer predictable, due to the distressing recession and disruptive technology forces. Emerging from the other side of the recession in 12 to 18 months, such permanent changes will be even more profound. 



The question is how to achieve this end and identify what trends to embrace. In the coming days, "On Media" will provide a road map for finding the opportunity in a challenging environment.

Advertising is a means to an end, not an exact science

Even as the 30-second TV spot continues to be the mainstay of video--on TV and online--it is a changing artifice. Consumers do not view TV commercials as they once did; increasingly, they do not view them at all. The message form must change to be effective: be brilliant, be brief and connect with target consumers. Creative options were never more plentiful or inexpensive than they are now for existing and newly created brands. What was once considered experimental is becoming the new modus operandi. It is time to learn as you go by embracing the tenets of digital media (social networking, consumer relevance, commerce-based interaction) that will make marketing efforts more valuable and unit pricing higher. Leverage what you know and what you have. One solution: Earmark 10% of reduced 2009 media budgets to spend on creativity. Work with kindred spirits--other companies, media and agencies that are eager to advance their fortunes.

Content is everything, but it must be the right content

Bits and blurbs of information are fine for all of 10 seconds online. Providing strategic analysis that connects the dots and actionable intelligence is as valuable as it is scarce. Data-based or entertainment content that is distinctive, creative, thoughtful and of a generally higher caliber will provide consumers and businesses with value. If it strikes a familiar chord and provides insight as well as some pleasure, it will gain viral traction. There is a reason that user-generated content is so popular; it is original and relevant. One solution: Take one week to monitor the sentiments and interests of target consumers online. Also, make note of the marketplace voids where products and services are needed. Solicit the help of architects, creators and digital technicians who can build and execute on a concept. Then give it a whirl. NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker only got it half right. It requires digital pennies to launch what could develop into a lucrative venture.

Social networking and communities are powerful

The masses that supported analog media for decades are devoted converts to the digital connectivity. It provides them with a creative outlet, commiseration and a multifaceted form of communication. Reaching out and shouting out are new marketing tools, as potent as recommendations from friends. Understanding and mining the language and actions of social media users is the only way out of the economic malaise and into the next phase of digital discovery. The Obama campaign realized unprecedented from-scratch success because it was able to utilize connectivity with the masses, one person at a time. One solution: Add a social media component to existing Web sites, streaming video, online blogs and other platforms that will provide a deeper ongoing exchange with target users. It's all about finding ways to establish and promote value proposition. Track and analyze findings; keep on improvising and creating as you go. It is the new R&D.

The secret to online video, mobile devices: Use it!

Online connectivity has made the masses more verbal and literate in nontraditional and unintended ways. But we remain a universe of powerful images. The best thing about streaming video is that it can now be tapped for all kinds of purposes. It is as uncomplicated as uploading a video files from a BlackBerry or camera. But video alone will not create value. Consumers must congregate and engage around it. It must be integrated into the online social fabric and ever so subtly interface with a commercial purpose. The novel appeal of cheap, stupid quick video will only go so far. Shared and relevant online video and downloads are the new syndication. One solution: Discover the power to influence connected consumers with purposeful video that becomes part of their digital conversation. It can run the gamut from cross-border cultural exchange and favorite commercials or film clips to instruction, discussion video.

This is the first in a series of trend columns. Thursday's column is titled: Trends that will drive value in 2009.





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