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The truly transformational part of marketing in a digital age is that brands can now become Media, attracting their own audiences. The transformation follows what I call the A.T.O.M. model…Audience, Technology, Operating practice, Metrics.

Yet so few brands seem to be fully acting on this model.

The new marketing ATOM is shaped from the always on lifestyle we are addicted to.  Any slow point in our lives while watching TV, sitting on the toilet, or waiting in line immediately gets filled by reaching for the nearest screen. From research I conducted with Civic Science we found that half of us multi-task while watching TV but 80% is unrelated to the show itself. A series of studies I worked on for AOL adds to learning about the new always on lifestyle.  Over 2/3rds of mobile isn’t mobile…and we often go to a shopping site not to shop but to alleviate boredom.  Nearly all of us engage in shopping behaviors daily or weekly without shopping purpose…it’s a form of entertainment; therefore, retailers like Amazon,, have become media companies as well as retailers. When we go to we immediately see they get it…that values beyond functional purpose matter… …they are a lifestyle portal offering entertainment, information, and a sense of belonging.

I believe that our digital, always on lifestyles offer the second golden age of brand-building.  …creating ways to convert always on behaviors into brand equity beyond what traditional media can contribute.

Here’s how to unleash the power of the marketing ATOM.

Audience. Brands can now build their own audiences where millions or even tens of millions visit the website regularly, register to transact, for newsletters, for offers and therefore voluntarily engage in a one-to-one relationship. Audiences can be built via website visitation, frequent shopper IDs, and liking or following in social media.  A brand builds a large audience if it finds values it can stand for beyond functional purpose and expresses them via consistent and valuable content.  Yes, audience building is a content game for media publishers and for brands who become publishers.

A brand audience gives you an amazing runway to the most important consumer group there is…those who like your brand but who could be buying your brand a higher percent of the time. Starbucks is the best example I know of for illustrating marketing based on brand audiences.

“The brand [Starbucks] has more than 35 million fans on Facebook, well over 4 million followers on Twitter, 6.5 million members of its Starbucks Rewards program, and nearly 17 million mobile app downloads…The point is that Starbucks can reach tens of millions of people any time it wants to.”

Ad Age, 2013

Technology. Understand that when you commit to building a brand audience, you are committing to fully leveraging first party data for marketing advantage and therefore to the technologies of big data, personalization, and programmatic ad buying. Beyond the communications runway, consumers are also granting you access to amazingly powerful data about what is relevant to them, what lifestage they are in, what they might be shopping for, what interests they have, and more. You can now segment your audience at scale…using clickstream and transactional data to go beyond attitudinal segmentation.

Operating practice. Using the ATOM model, the way marketing goes about its job must fundamentally change. Brands must offer valid reasons to encourage registration and log-in so it can link consumers across screens, match to their social media profiles, send e-mails, and connect to behavioral targeting ad products throughout the web. All brand communications must be thought of as content. And all content must be highly strategic, reinforcing the values that brands share with their audience, creating search engine optimization to make your brand “finadable”.  If your content strategy is effective, it will lead to people spending much more time with your brand story and even sharing its content with friends.

Metrics. Digital marketing at its best is a game of measurement, experimentation and predictive analytics.  And yet, marketing research remains locked in a survey-based brand tracker mentality.  Most do not integrate telltale digital and social signals of brand success against the ATOM model.  We track awareness but not audience, equity but not digital behaviors, attribute ratings but do not profile user characteristics that lead to higher click-through and view-throughs. Our research reporting cycles remain slow as the world speeds up around us. Old tracker approaches continue to reinforce the old rules and practices of marketing and undervalue the contribution of building brand audiences; I believe this is a main cause for big brands having such a spotty track record at building audiences.  Research is not lighting the path to show their importance.

One final note about brand audiences is that your brand presence will be distributed throughout the web but you still need to choose your center of gravity.  Three years ago Marketers were being told to abandon websites for Facebook pages which I counseled against. Today we see that Facebook has all but killed organic impressions. If you work the ATOM model, you will understand that the power is in the communications runway that YOU control, the first party data YOU own, and research that follows a contemporary view to provide useful brand-building guidance.

Note: The use of the acronym “ATOM” is unrelated to any marketing, research, or agencies use of this word.

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2 Responses to “Harnessing the new marketing ATOM”

  1. […] my last post about the marketing ATOM, I demonstrated how building brand audiences is the key to success in a digital age. People become […]

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