Mark on Marketing in 2010

As we bravely search for best practices leaving behind a decade where everything seems to have changed out from under us, I believe that the new opportunities far outweigh the challenges. Uncertainty creates anxiety and strategies grounded in hope are only fun during growth bubbles. What's needed for today's economy are strategies grounded in certainty that blend age old marketing objectives with new technologies and, most important, that align with new consumer behaviors.

Back around 1880, John Wanamaker said: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." The wonderful thing about marketing today is that digital empowerment cuts both ways, the consumer can easily tune out irrelevant messages but the marketer is empowered to improve relevance in ways that John Wanamaker would have embraced in a heart beat.

The right message to the right person at the right time. The fundamentals of smart marketing and great advertising hold true over the long haul. But, consumer behavior has changed.

Media fragmentation has given way to infinite choice, on-demand consumer behavior. T
he consumer is an active, not passive, part of the marketing communications strategy. The analog consumer was overwhelmed by too much choice at the start of the last decade but the digital consumer today feels empowered because choices are filtered and shared by the community, sorted by powerful navigation tools  and personalized to improve relevance.

The legacy media channels deliver one content choice to millions of consumers. The born digital media networks deliver millions of content choices to one consumer. The legacy media producers had the power to define compelling content for the consumer, the born digital networks empower everybody to produce and publish. Today the very best video coming out of hollywood competes with an email message from a friend on an equal playing field. This digital behavior means we can now glean the consumer's intentions based on their choices without ever invading their privacy. That is the foundation by which we can transform marketing to leverage, instead of resist change.

The consumer leaves digital bread crumbs on their DVR, on their computer, their PDA and their cell phone - they are leaving us a path to their needs and intentions, they want us to follow that path. Our consumer wants us to be RELEVANT. If we ignore that path, they ignore us. But, when we are relevant our message resonates and it's easy to invite our consumer to engage with us. Engagement is much more than making an emotional connection, it is behavioral - it is giving your consumer the opportunity to do something that they want to do and thereby building a useful relationship.

Engagement does not have to be earth-shattering stuff, it's inviting the consumer to watch our movie trailer, to configure their new car, to locate and visit our store, to review versions of our products, to take advantage of our special offers, to calculate the cost of an insurance policy and, of course, it is an invitation to buy when we sell direct. This is about turning the scary notion of the digitally empowered consumer into an opportunity to reach them on their terms and create extraordinary business efficiency when we do.

Then, it is about going a step further. Word-of-mouth has always been one of the end benefits of good marketing. Today, integrating social networking into the marketing strategy at the earliest stages of campaign development is the critical opportunity to gain competitive advantages and new forms of marketing efficiency.

Mobile is hot right now. It is a great example of marketers looking to catch-up to new consumer behavior. But, mobile is very mature from the consumer's point-of-view and it is a lot like the telephone. This is no place to be interupting or disrupting the consumer experience. Marketers need to master relationship marketing, permission based tactics and invitations to engage in order to get real value out of mobile media opportunities. The challenges of the technology are almost irrelevant - the technology and the tactics are easy to master once we know how to make sure our marketing strategy is welcome and relevant. When we get really good at engaging digitally empowered consumers, our insights will translate to mobile, but if we cling to disruptive strategies from our analog past, mobile is never going to be effective. 

New success metrics must go hand-in-hand with new strategies. Too often we find ourselves counting ad impressions in analog media and counting clicks in digital media when a whole new spectrum of behavioral data is needed. We have access to an overwhelming amount of new data that needs to be better organized to help with insights. We need to complement what we learn from surveying the consumer with hard behavioral data. The data we need is there for the taking, but converting data into a resource for continuous improvement takes new skills and resources. "Engagement" is not a new buzz word, it is a core strategic concept - a critical success metric for the digital world that can be measured and applied to our business.

Marketers, agencies and media companies need and want to catch-up. Chasing after today's consumer is hard work. It can feel overwhelming but the wonderful thing is that we are coming full circle. Getting the right message (engagement) to the right person at the right time (behavioral targeting) with new and better tools that improve efficiency and insights is the objective. The digital opportunity is a game-changing strategy. Transformations are opportunities to advance our business objectives dramatically instead of iteratively. What a great time to be in the marketing business.

MCLAUGHLIN STRATEGY will help you play catch-up with your consumer and play leap-frog with your competitors.

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