Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The myths of the media revolution

Marketers are bombarded these days with articles, blogs and books heralding the arrival of "non-traditional media" and the resulting demise of "traditional media." Authors of these claims could not be more wrong about all of this. I'll explain.

First, some definitions. Traditional media are typically defined as the stuff old people and other Luddites use: television, cable TV, radio, newspapers and magazines -- generally, anything that isn't primarily accessible on the Internet. Non-traditional media are the shiny, new Web-based and, to some extent, cell phone-based toys like Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, blogs, Twitter and texting.

The basic theory goes like this: The crusty, old traditional media are one-way communication devices that afford no opportunity for audience interaction, while the non-traditional media are two-way in nature, permitting audience participation. To bottom-line this, traditional media = BAD, non-traditional media = GOOD. This flimsy theorizing is based on some myths that are simply incorrect.

Myth #1: Traditional media are one-way communication forms. When I was in graduate school, I studied the impact of media (especially television) on audiences. What I discovered, and what many scholars before me had known all along, is that television viewing, radio listening and newspaper reading are not passive acts. Audiences are very engaged with these media and constantly negotiate their own realities throughout their media encounters. While it's true that audiences are the receivers of content delivered through these media, they are not simply one-way systems. Just ask the Nielsen Company.

Myth #2: Non-traditional media are two-way. Frequently, much of Internet use involves a reader or viewer consuming content much the same way he/she would consume content on television, radio or in newspapers. There is clearly opportunity to find deeper content and the ability to customize the experience, but to claim this constitutes true two-way communication is just as crazy as claiming non-traditional media are one-way communication systems.

Myth #3: Non-traditional media are replacing traditional media. It's just flat-out not true. Look at the numbers (often cited in this blog). Television viewing grows at record levels. So does radio listening. It's clear that newspaper and magazine publishing is transforming, but due less to the arrival of Facebook and YouTube and more to generational and political differences in how and what people read.

Here's the basic problem with the claims of the pundits. Much of non-traditional media is not on the same evolutionary path as traditional media. It's a huge oversimplification simply to argue that traditional media are being replaced by non-traditional media. The reality is that some non-traditional media, in fact, are being eclipsed by new media. But in many respects, non-traditional media are replacing other two-way systems (telephone, fax, two-way radio, even the U.S. Postal System). Twitter has more of its DNA in telephone communication than in TV or radio. E-mail is more related to the Pony Express Service than to Marconi.

I completely agree that there is a convergence of some media forms. I also agree that viewers and readers have far more choice today than they did 30 years ago. But I also agree that much of the erosion or change among traditional media is simply the result of audiences being distracted by the shiny, new things in their lives. Time, or better, the lack of it -- not the Internet or Twitter or the iPhone -- is the true enemy.

(P.S. While I'm on this rant, may I just say how pleased I am to see vinyl LPs making a come-back in record stores. Go figure that one out!)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Radio is dead." Yeah, right.

I continue to be amused by the fanatics who claim traditional media are dead. Consider this excerpt from an article by Bob McCurdy in a recent Marketing Daily:

And the facts are these:

  • In the U.S., 50% more people tune in to terrestrial radio each week than go to Google in a month.
  • 20% more people ages 12+ (239 million) tune in to radio each week than use the Internet in a month in the U.S. (195 million).
  • 180% more people use radio in a week than go to Facebook in a month.
  • 90% of people using digital audio alternatives tune in to terrestrial radio for about the same amount of time as those who don't use digital audio alternatives.
Check out the full article here.

Client behaviors that drive marketers nuts

Those of us who work in the marketing profession have plenty of experience working with clients, either internally or on the agency side, who need our services. Some are great to work with. Others, well, let's just say that Satan himself may have something to do with them.

There are plenty of client aggravations that we must deal with, but I've discovered they all have something in common. More on that in a moment.

Client aggravation #1: Planning? What's that?
Time and time again I continue to encounter clients who are not only bad at planning, they have a habitual culture of not planning. These are the folks who, when you try to introduce sound planning to their marketing process, react as if aliens just landed in their back yard. For them, planning isn't a business process that can bring efficiency and effectiveness. Instead, planning is viewed as unnecessary bureaucracy.

Applicable quote: “The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise and is not preceded by a period of anxiety." John Preston, Boston University

Client aggravation #2: Death by committee
I occasionally encounter clients who cannot as individuals make decisions about anything, let alone their marketing work. Sometimes this is because of the structure of their organization that prevents people from being empowered. Other times it's just a style thing -- some people just aren't decisive.

I have a client right at the moment who, after weeks of work to hammer out objectives, set goals, establish strategies and develop creative solutions, will "run this by her committee." You might as well just load everything up in a truck and haul it off to the landfill because that is surely where a committee will send it.

Marketing strategy IS NOT, I repeat, IS NOT a committee function. Boards and committees should set direction by establishing goals and objectives. Period. Leave the marketing work to the experts.

Applicable quote: "Turning a creative idea over to a committee is like sentencing it to be bitten to death by ducks." Tom McElligott, Fallon-McElligott

Client aggravation #3: I'm not sure what I want but I'll tell you when you get it right.
These are the clients who, despite your best efforts, just won't settle on a direction. You think you have them pinned down only to discover a few days later that the wind has changed direction and now they want something else.

My office has a particular client who is this way. Rather than establishing a clear direction at the beginning, our creative team is frequently asked to develop several possible solutions from which the client may pick and choose. This often leads to multiple rounds of this kind of resource-wasting behavior.

Applicable quote: "Alice: Which way should I go? Cat: That depends on where you're going. Alice: I don't know where I'm going! Cat: Then it doesn't matter which way you go!!" Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Client aggravation #4: Just give me the damned brochure!
We joke in my department all the time about clients who come to us saying, "I need a brochure." Our standard response is to take a few steps back and examine with the client the problem their brochure is supposed to solve. Once we and the client fully understand the problem, we frequently discover that there are better solutions than the one they came in requesting in the first place. Good marketers, after all, are good problem-solvers. As Patty Crane of Crane & Associates once said to me, if you understand the problem well enough, you'll find the solution embedded in it.

Some clients, though, simply choose to ignore the problem altogether. They are too enamored with their own self-diagnosis than to be bothered with reasoned facts.

Applicable quote: "The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters." Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

Client aggravation #5: I have examined my opinion and found it to be good.
Conversations with these types of folks usually go this way:
Client: Please change the font to Old English.
Marketer: Why?
Client: Because I like Old English.
Marketer: But the objectives call for strong readability. Old English is not very readable.
Client: But I like it.

For such clients, objectives and audience definitions simply don't matter. They will go for what THEY like, what THEY prefer and what THEY think is cool every time. These are clients who actually don't need help from marketers at all. They simply need people around them to carry out their every thought and whim.

Applicable quote: "Don't wrestle with a pig. You'll get dirty and the pig will enjoy it."

All of these aggravations are rooted in one, overarching problem: a deficiency of objective-based marketing. Granted, some of these aggravations are insurmountable because, let's face it, some clients are just plain neurotic. Others can often be avoided by keeping solid objectives front and center and pushing clients to evaluate work based on objectives.

What other client behaviors do you encounter?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Branding. Isn't that something you do to cattle?

When I make public presentations about branding, I often start by giving the following quiz developed by Rob Frankel in The Revenge of Brand X:

"Question: What is branding?
1. That thing they burn into cows.
2. A logo or a trademark.
3. A jingle or a slogan.
4. I don't really know, but I'll look like a complete idiot if I admit it."

Audiences normally get this wrong and are surprised to learn that #1 is the correct answer. It's that thing you do to cattle.

In a white paper for Stamats Communications, Inc., entitled Brand as Relevance, Robert Sevier explains: "Branding in the marketplace is similar to branding on a cattle ranch. The purpose of a branding program is to differentiate your cow from the other cattle on the range."

Seems pretty simple. But hey, if you've ever actually branded cattle, you know that's no cakewalk! Neither is branding an organization. Although the tools are different, the essential outcome is the same.

The secret to extraordinary crisis communication

Two nights ago my university experienced a situation that had the potential of a real crisis. After a late night party on campus, a fight broke out, then gunfire. Campus police also fired at suspects. Very fortunately no one was hurt. The day after the incident, administrators and the police were reluctant to talk about it. After all, we didn't have many facts. Still, questions persisted from the media and from the university community.

I recall an article I read last week about crisis communication management. It recounted the recent experience of Carnival Cruise Lines' disabled ship and how the company handled communication about the situation. It quoted Peter Sandman, a communication consultant, who gave a passing grade to the cruise lines' communication efforts in the situation:

"Of course, the net effect is still negative, but not as negative as it might have been....It's the nature of journalism that reporters are going to look for somebody to say it was awful and somebody else to say it wasn't that bad. Poor crisis communication is when the company is saying it wasn't that bad. Extraordinary crisis communication is when the company is the one saying it was awful."

That's a great lesson for those of us who oversee large communication operations in organizations. Extraordinary crisis communication is when the company is the one saying it was awful.

Several years ago, I worked for a company that experienced a crisis involving its new CEO. The media had the story, but the board and top management decided to hire a consultant in an attempt to control communication and to spin things. While the company made it through the crisis, its image was tarnished because it wasn't ready to be bold enough to be the one saying the situation was awful.

The lesson here is this: Even when all the facts aren't known, organizations still have a role to step forward in crisis situations, express what they do know, say it was an awful situation and thereby provide a little reassurance. In hindsight, I think my university might have handled this a bit differently.

Imagine how BP Oil might have fared if they would have taken this approach to the recent oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The power of poo

Just in case you're thinking you've got a really edgy marketing campaign idea, you'd better check out this article. This epitomizes the notion of "getting out of the box."