Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Tablet War Shines A Light On (Digital) Illiteracy

I usually dislike espousing demos because I believe the world’s quickly-evolving anthropology is making demographics, as we know it, useless.  But, sometimes you just can’t get away from certain truths about demographics. This is certainly on full display if you generally lump older consumer into the Digital Illiterate bucket.  As opposed to Digital Natives (those who have really only lived and known the digital world) or Digital Immigrants (those who grew up in an analog world and are embracing digital), Digital Illiterates are those who might test the digital waters with their toe or only go so far as the shallow end – and they just might prove to be a huge growth opportunity that is being overlooked.  Having just brought a relative Digital Illiterate to an Apple Store so she could buy her first Apple product (an iPad 2), an untapped opportunity was illuminated.

First off, let’s be clear that Digital Illiterates (or Ignorants) don’t necessarily have NO knowledge of computers or Digital – they are just using a small percentage of the available capabilities.  They may only use email, surf the web, or (in a growing case around the world among older users) interact with Facebook.   The basic discussion of technology and the “new” thing often makes their eyes glaze over, or they just turn and run. And yes, for the most part, they are part of that older demographic.

With that in mind, I took a neighbor and her sister (both Digital Illiterates by my definition above) to an Apple Store yesterday so that the sister could buy an iPad.  When we got to the store, there were seemingly as many employees as there were customers – the place was packed.  Their initial impulse was to turn and run.

But let’s jump back to why this friend wanted an iPad in the first place.  It was because I had told her how easy it was to understand and work with – and that if she was thinking about buying it, it was much cheaper to buy it here before she headed back to London.  I explained that she would probably never need a regular computer again and because the interface is so intuitive, she would be able to get the hang of it quickly.

In the store’s controlled mayhem my guests were shocked to see so many people – but were even more shocked to find out that those employees are well-educated about the product and willing to spend as much time as needed to help in the sale and/or initial setup of the product.  Our Manhattan Beach Apple Store Specialist, Richard, was  the perfect person to help my very confused and cautious friend.  He not only processed the transaction, but helped her set up her account (correctly tying it to the UK App Store) and gave a tutorial.

It was interesting that we had this experience at Apple Stores the same day that Apple laid off their retail chief, John Browett. Rumour has it that Browett ruffled feathers by trying to cut back on store staffing and removing the customer service component – leading CEO, Tim Cook to reverse some Browett moves.  Obviously, Apple understands the value of the knowledge amongst the staff and the value of providing that type of resource to Apple users who are lucky enough to be close to a store.

Though I had known that Apple provided this service, it never occurred to me that a potentially enormous sector of consumers has no idea. The computer industry still retains a reputation as being scary and cold to those who are not “experts”.  Apple seems to have cracked that.

But it also illuminated the fact that Apple doesn’t seem to be making their ability to ease consumer’s transition to the digital realm – through both OS and Store employees – known to consumers.  If there were marketing programs in place to go after those Digital Illiterates, can you imagine how much they could increase sales?

Apple could be the only ones who can pull this off.  Their store staff is primed to do it – whereas the Microsoft and Sony stores have neither the staffing nor the know-how to shepherd the transition. We don’t even have to discuss Best Buy and other big stores when it comes to this same issue. I just haven’t seen any marketing from Apple that clearly calls out their advantage – leaving yet another piece to insider knowledge.

They’ve got to find a way to convey that store excitement through forms of media to draw in a diverse crowd (read “less than hip,” “not technically savvy,” umm…not young).  Apple already knows what happens when they get people in the stores.  I honestly didn’t see a diverse age range in the store – nor have I ever seen that in an Apple store.  To fortify market share even more, that needs to change. With a product like the iPad, they have a key platform to drive that new user sampling – but I have yet to really see marketing to draw that audience. It could be interesting to see how traditional media could be used to draw certain demos into the store to transition them to the digital media realm. Either way, the effective costs of properly targetting audience segments have come down in price to a point where it doesn’t make sense to not have multiple campaigns running concurrently – especially if you are one of the biggest companies in history.

Could it be as simple as the brand wanting to convey youth as opposed to generating greater sales?  I really don’t have any insight into their research that might be leading them one way or the other.  I do know that there is a growing amount of players on the tablet front and the tablet has turned from being a toy gadget to being arguably the only necessary digital product to serve most of the consumers’ needs – especially the needs of the Digital Illiterates.

Regardless of what you think of iPads against all other tablets, that “ease of use” benefit needs to be more largely sold to Digital Illiterates – at least in a way that doesn’t make them run – and nobody other than Apple is as primed to win that war through their stores. They maybe just need to do a better job of getting that <insert demo here> crowd in the door. Because, for every Digital Illiterate, there’s an opportunity to convert them to a Digital Immigrant.

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Lacking Vision and Strategy, Everyone Witnessed the Hemmorhaging While Waiting For Others To Act

On the heels of Advertising Week and all of the feel-good excitement it generates, the feeling intensified that there’s too much mis-directed emphasis in digital media.  The reasons for this could be due to digital media’s “youth,” but I’m worried it’s based more on lack of vision or creativity. Far too often, the take-aways from large events or provider presentations are mired in technical/representational capabilities.  The buzz analysis emphasizes media’s reach via platforms, pushes, networks and the like. But reach and placement opportunity is only part of the equation – the thing that’s too often left out of the mix is how they could fit with a brand’s strategy.  No matter how cool the technology is or how many eyeballs are reached, if there’s not a clear plan for how the story connects with the eyeballs emotionally or what the end-user will do with this new-found information, all that advertisers are doing is filling pipeline just because it is there.

Image from Advertising Week 2012
(Courtesy of Hunt Mobile)

While we can focus on any part of the media environment to illustrate this, we can look at mobile. Yesterday I came across two pieces online to help convey the concern – CMO Council’s report on companies’ relationship with Mobile and David Gwozdz’ (CEO of Mojiva – a major global player in mobile advertising) recap of Advertising Week in the Huffington Post.

First off, I really like Mojiva and what they are able to do in the mobile space in many global markets via great targeting and interesting ad formats.  As such, I was interested in Gwozdz’ take on the conference.  Near the top of his recap, he astutely conveys the conference’s permeating message that “technology has to work collaboratively with creative,” but then numbers his top things heard/learned at the conference and all of them relate to mechanics.  They are definitely important, but what is missing are the opportunities to connect creatively and what needs to happen strategically to be able to count mobile as a success.  He does end on the note that what he listed (and the conference in general) was just a first step and I agree.

The concern is that judgements are being made by CMOs and other C-Level executives relating to mobile based on the possibilities, platforms and metrics, but those don’t always relate to any true strategies or even opportunities to genuinely connect in ways that are right for the medium. As with any new medium, it is a challenge to shift people to do things in ways they had not previously. The thing is, we should have learned from our growing pains with the advent of “New Media” years ago.  Everything was mentioned about the mechanics of reaching consumers but it was all in the jargon of other forms of media. Nobody was formulating campaigns to leverage the platform and its capabilities.  In mobile, there is a lot to be learned, but that learning curve will be longer as we try to just fill the hole with something that worked for other platforms.  Again, as we’ve learned with online advertising — not only do the same rules not apply, they keep evolving.

The one thing that can remain consistent regardless of platform is clear and cohesive strategy – which brings us to the report published by the CMO Council.

The survey of  250 companies’ chief marketer found that there is a general struggle with mobile.  Only 8% felt that they had advanced capabilities in the mobile channel.  The thing that struck me is — 26% of the respondents are currently building mobile apps and an extra 17% stated that they have a “good level” of competence in mobile marketing — yet only 16% currently have a mobile strategy in place. Of the 43% delving in mobile, only 16% bothered to devise a strategy first?

Once that caveat was established, it didn’t really matter that 43% of the respondents were unimpressed with their results in mobile or the fact that 69% are most interested in social media ads with 54% hot on paid media in mobile. It’s all irrelevant when there is no real strategy to base it on – it reverts back to the shiny object factor and executives’ chase after the hottest new thing.

This obviously doesn’t just relate to mobile media – it relates to every facet of the marketing puzzle. If companies skimp on the foundation of establishing a strategy and just pay for marketing based on what sounds cool or what is the shiny object du jour, there will certainly be a lot of money wasted.

For the sake of all media – publishers, technology firms, brands, planners and agencies need to step up and fully increase their chops in the strategy and storytelling departments.  It needs to be a collaborative process.  Planners can’t absolve themselves of all creative responsibility. Brands can’t leave it to agencies to fully develop product strategies. Technology firms and publishers can’t figure that clients will easily connect the dots between the ways the shiny object could connect correctly with the consumer. A clear and consistent strategy enables all the parties to up their game and create successful campaigns. That strong strategy also allows others to gain insight into the original vision.

For all players, if you’re not going to formulate a dynamic strategy that energizes the brand, enables those working on it and allows for format flexibility, all you’ll be left with is a bunch of data that doesn’t mean much and even more opportunity (costs/revenue) flowing out the door.

While it sort of makes sense for publishers and technologists to emphasize mechanics, the lack of marketing vision creates an obstacle that doesn’t need to be there. It places too much burden on the clients to figure out how the platform helps them. Conversely, marketers need to build the marketing and media strategy that provide the vision to immediately determine whether a technology or platform works or not.  If they don’t fit your strategy, there’s no easier way to move along until you find just the right platform for connecting with your consumers.

Until the emphasis on strategy and the vision it helps to convey becomes commonplace within companies of all kinds, resources will continue to be hemmorhaged with diminishing chances for ROI.

NBC News’ Confusing Destruction of Demographics

I’ve been quite bullish on the need to move away from straight demographics in marketing and media from some time.  And I haven’t been alone.  We see in research that a person’s age or sex isn’t always the best marker of what the consumer is interested in.  Even some products that historically might have been limited to a demo or sex are seeing a bit of change.  One example of that is where we are seeing more stay-at-home fathers who are responsible for buying the diapers – and they’re not into the same programming that a mother might be into.  I understand that the example is nowhere close to becoming a norm, but it illustrates the point. What concerns me more than the slow move to affinity marketing from demographic marketing is the opportunity for publishers to bring bogus solutions to market that only make the transition messier. The latest affront can be found in a MediaPost exclusive with NBC News Digital’s confusing move towards a “Persona” structure that seems even worse than straight demographics.

Before getting into the details of NBC’s move, its important to point out that the shift from affinity to demographic sales from a publisher prospective might not be such an easy thing.  Even if a publisher perfectly hits a demographic segment, we know that not everyone in that segment is interested in all things exactly the same.  As data and algorithms are refined, there will be ways to define the buckets and deliver to them more easily.  But, at this time, the easier way to target may well be through smart social media targeting. And traditional publishers shouldn’t be too far behind – unless they go in the wrong direction.

Which brings us to NBC News.  Their direction is confounding.  Instead of breaking down their affinity into what their users are specifically are interested in, they are effectively playing off of how much their users are interested in. Instead of Demographics, they want to move to Persona.  That’s great if they want to hit those who are more interested in more granular buckets like political, entertainment, sports, local and more.  But they are basing their four buckets on how much news they read.  From the description, they don’t glean much about the individuals based on these segments ranging from avid digital news readers to spotty or traditional news consumers:

  • “Always On:” Consumers who are constantly connected to news feeds across  multiple devices throughout their waking day.
  • “Reporters:” A slightly smaller segment of “digital natives” who grew up  consuming news via online and mobile media, and who have manifested the behaviors of news disseminators, taking pride in their ability to break  important news to their friends via their own social media postings.
  • “Skimmers:” Consumers who are not passionately connected to news.
  • “Veterans:” Consumers who primarily rely on traditional media as a trusted  source for news.

NBC News Digital will be focusing on the first two Personas, but as a media buyer, I really don’t have an idea about what any of those groups are interested in.  I understand that the “Reporters” might be most likely to share news information with friends, but does that mean that they care about what branding comes along with it? Do the CPMs I pay mean more when it reaches “Always On” readers more because there is the assumption that there are more impressions? Or is it worth less because those readers may be much more adept at tuning out the ads those who are not always checking online for the latest news?

Perhaps the solution for the latter issue is based on sponsorship opportunities.  But, such an engagement is even more challenging in the news environment due to the accepted separation of editorial and advertising.

I couldn’t find much more information about the program – other than MediaPost’s piece on it, so I don’t know what NBC is looking to do. Sadly, it looks like NBC may have garnered a headline, but ended up diminishing its proposition because there wasn’t enough within the article or supporting it.  With the input the group has from research teams and other organizations, I’m hopeful that there is more sense to this than can currently be seen. Otherwise, it is just another in a long line of curious announcements that miss the especially engaging aspects of digital media and flattens them almost to incomprehension.

At the speed in which we are moving forward and the challenges of selling in concepts and practices to clients and management in that same expedited time, we collectively need to be thinking more clearly about the products and measurements we introduce. Decision makers are too quick to pass judgement that it still causes many to shake their head when half-baked or confusing concepts are presented to the marketplace. The true shift from media planning for demographics to affinity needs to happen – and can happen – but we can’t be placing obstacles in our own path.