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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Marketing Effectively During An Information Revolution

Music originally uploaded by PhilipZeplin.
We are in the midst of an information revolution -- scary yet exciting; confusing yet empowering. It affects assumptions and highlights that the old ways of doing things aren't working as well as they used to. How then to communicate effectively with customers?

According to Clay Shirky, in Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable -- a must read from beginning to end -- "We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The Internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen."

Massive change surrounds us!

Digital has made expensive infrastructure mostly obsolete. After all, if you can record yourself using Audacity for a podcast that you distribute via Feedburner, or create an engaging FlipCam video that you then post to YouTube, not to mention publish yourself via one of several blogging platforms, how do the traditional institutions that used to do all of those things add value to consumers and society?

Certainly not by blindly sticking to how things have always been done. And, yet, many organizations still operate in that mode, ignoring that consumers are already many steps ahead of us. They refuse to experiment and try new approaches for connecting with those customers.

Our current digital revolution closely parallels that created by the invention of the printing press: intensely chaotic, supremely experimental and brilliantly creative. Just think, the concept of a Kindle - a hand-held reading device - wouldn't have been possible if "Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer and publisher, [hadn't] invented the smaller octavo volume along with italic type. What seemed like a minor change — take a book and shrink it — was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word. As books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, they expanded the market for all publishers, heightening the value of literacy still further." Wow!

The sharing of information, then, is powerful and empowering. We are seeing it happen before our very eyes with social networking and social marketing: we want to share and engage over shared content.

The more sharing, the greater the visibility for the content, benefiting the content source -- something that came up during "New Media, New Challenges: Women in the Forefront of Music, Publishing, and Television," a panel discussion that took place this past February at Columbia Business School's 16th annual CWIB [Columbia Women in Business] Conference. In that session, we learned that The New York Times noticed, when it opened up its archives, that SEO and ad sales increased.

Other points that came up during the discussion:

+ Media used to be about distribution. Now it's about consumer navigation and consumer experience. It's all about ease of access. It's not just about the content, but rather about giving consumers what they want when they want it and making sure it is easily accessible.

+ Information platforms are becoming irrelevant because consumers are changing how they obtain information. It's no longer just the TV, but also via a PC, or a mobile device. They don't really notice or care that one source of information is distinct from the other [e.g., how many of us watched the Presidential Inauguration via a PC vs. from a TV? Apart from the different level of interactivity, what other differences were you aware of?]. How does a company reflect or represent the brand across platforms? It's not a matter of just adapting or duplicating content.

+ It's critical to adopt a customer centric position.

+ In the digital era, if you don't capture consumer behavior, you can't stay ahead. The consumer is saying what companies should do with their assets. There's too much concern with piracy. The new consumer behavior focuses on how to use and access content; because the content wasn't available for purchase, consumers came up with 'workarounds.'

+ iTunes represents a monopoly on music. It shouldn't be that way; there should be more options.

+ We are witnessing a shift in culture and consumer behavior because of technology, which should correct itself. Mobile has jump-started some countries enabling them to leap-frog infrastructure and bureaucracy issues and create new business models, e.g., selling a phone based on the content [special ring tones] it includes. Rather than paying for access, a user pays royalties.

+ Don't lose sight of the basic reasons that people visit your website. If it is for specific content, make sure that content is accessible without bells and whistles.

Shirky says that society doesn't need newspapers. Rather, it needs journalism. That shift in mindset opens up possibilities to new ways of gathering and sharing information, not just for society for also for businesses. Now is the time to experiment with how best to disseminate information and provide consumers with relevant, authentic, transparent and trustworthy information.

One solution: Can Transparency Be A Business Model? A proposal for a place to talk to your critics and tell the world how your products are made by Esther Dyson [AdAge 3/30/09, registration required]. A related blogpost on the article is Transparency and Trust from the Enterprise Resilience Management Blog. It's bold and different; at the same time, it builds on how consumers are increasingly making purchase decisions, through peer reviews and word-of-mouth endorsements rather than through corporate branded messages. Imagine taking charge of all of information about yourself - could be quite effective in communicating to consumers the information they need to make decisions.

What do you think?

Added 10/7/09:
McLuhan, Socrates and Edith Wharton On Social Media by Joel Postman

The CWIB panel discussion was moderated by Ginny Yang, CBS '10, MBA Candidate and included:

Deanna Brown, President SN Digital, Scripps Network
Lisa Ellis, Founding Operating Partner, Fireman Capital Partners and former EVP, Sony Music Label Group
Lisa Gerson, Director, Marketing Partnerships, The New York Times
Tina Imm, SVP/General Manager, VH1 Digital, MTV Networks
Jennifer Ogden-Reese, VP, Consumer Marketing, Time, Inc.

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