Our marketing instincts are going to fall short. The rules of thumb the best of us mastered in an analog world have lost their completeness to understand, anticipate, and create growth in a digital world. We have become strangers in a strange land.
The land we come from is a push marketing land. It is a land where we place advertising mostly based on demographics, focus on reach and frequency and attempt to catch lightening in a bottle with great creative. In this analog world, consumers have little influence over what advertising they are exposed to. In this world, surveys are the main measurement approach for understanding if our marketing is working.
In digital, consumers can pull the advertising messages they are seeking by what they search for, what websites they visit, what content they choose to consume and share, and opinions they seek from friends in social networks. In 2011, these behaviors will occur increasingly on mobile devices that bring ad messages, friends influence, and the ability to pull advertising and price checking right at the location of potential purchase.
Digital life creates new types of behaviors that drive convergence of brand communications, shopping process, and (if you know what to look for) consumer insights by observing what information people choose to pull. An example: if I compare new cars at Edmunds.com, then Google or Bing Lincoln and navigate to the Lincoln website, then tweet a link, a marketer can be certain that I have chosen to move along the path to purchase towards a new car, and that a Lincoln is under consideration without needing to have me fill out a survey. Now, behavioral targeting gives Ford (and competitors) the ability to serve ad messages to me that are of utmost relevance. This is like the media principle of recency, but on steroids. The same stream of digital information that gives a marketer the ability to target the right ad to the right person at the right time can also be aggregated to track purchase intention. In digital life, search, conversation, sharing, and shopping behaviors can become powerful brand tracking measures and predictors; you can get really far at understanding consumer mindsets even before conducting a survey.
In a digital land, naturally occurring behavior becomes a rich source of insights for advertising creative, (what creative configuration leads to conversion), website design and content (where are people interacting and what are they sharing), and concept testing (what search terms lead to clicks). Furthermore, these insights occur close to real time so they can drive media efficiency.
In digital, media strategy becomes heavily analytics driven. It rebalances magic from being centered on creative to being equally rooted in creative and media placement and in fact, the two become inseparable.
One more thing about digital; mastering it will allow a marketer to win at what is mostly a zero-sum game. Category and sector ales growth is still mostly tepid so those who master digital will win at the expense of those who avoid it.
In Robert Heinlein’s science fiction masterpiece, “Stranger in a Strange Land”, the central character is human but grew up on Mars. When he returns to earth, he evolves throughout the book to grok (deeply and instinctively understand) earth society and culture. At the same time, while understanding life on earth he begins to change those around him by their exposure to his Martian values. As important as it is for us to grok digital life, we must also affect those who would have us discard traditional media; they must understand that traditional media still offers tremendous brand building value as part of the mix in this digital world.
Postscript: The Lincoln I blogged about a month ago I bought last week and love it! The path to purchase started with TV commercials then I moved into a lot of search and comparison shopping online, and then visited both BMW and Lincoln dealers. Without TV I wouldn’t have initiated, without digital (search, comparison, review sites. visits to owned media) I wouldn’t have confirmed my interest, and without the test drive I wouldn’t have known how it felt to be behind the wheel. Oh, btw, I started seeing a lot of display ads for cars, especially Lincoln, as I surfed around the web. Welcome to digital life and don’t be a stranger!