Getting the Most Out of New Media Channels

Contextual Marketing targets to consumer needs.
New media channels have offered their share of consumer disappointments. Consumers have watched the dotcoms turn into dot duds; they have received increasingly amounts of unwanted spam in their e-mail inboxes and on their mobile phones; and they have seen loads of uninspired websites and other electronic material that make them wonder what all the digital fuss is about.

Amidst all of this bad news though, let\'s not forget a couple of simple yet critical facts about new media. First, more people continue to get on the Web and purchase mobile phones this year than they did last year. And they are likely to do so for many years to come. New media are not going to shrivel up and go away. Second, new media channels have become a standard and pervasive part of our lives. They are changing the way a lot of people get information, research issues, maintain their finances, shop, or simply entertain themselves. So, the most relevant question for businesses to ask is not whether to use new channels but rather how to get the most out of new media.

The answer is not likely to come in a neat, easy formula ----- the easy answers went out with the Internet bubble. Instead, it will take persistence and a well-considered strategy for companies to make a success of it through new media channels. However, there are some critical points that should serve as guideposts for those seeking to maximize new media. The following are some key tenets for the future.

Integrating Communication Channels

The first point starts with the fact that new media channels are simply that ----- channels. During the early hype of the Internet, many pundits told the world why the Internet is “completely different”. What has become clear over the past few years, however, is that while the Internet no doubt has unique benefits, it works best when integrated with other channels. The same is true with other forms of new media. Therefore, new media should be seen as providing new marketing and communications channels that should work in sync with offline channels. They should complement other marketing activities, not supplant them.

This is critical since the pressure is on advertisers to break through the intense clutter of commercial messages. Increasingly, companies are eager to consider “pervasive” options that can reach consumers wherever they go, especially places away from traditional venues for advertising, where the competition for consumers\' attention is less intense. The goal of companies is ultimately to go beyond delivering a message: their aim is to sell. So, increasingly, they will utilize a number of standard marketing techniques, such as incentives and coupons, through new media to push for a sale. Marketers today must therefore start with a holistic plan that integrates new media into their marketing efforts.

Beyond Push Messaging

Digital consumers often aren\'t interested in being targeted with information that they haven\'t requested. They are also less willing to take part in a one-way relationship in which they have no choice. Instead, they demand to opt-in for information ----- to agree beforehand what types of information they are willing to give or receive through a website or on their mobile; they must be a willing participant. This has a profound impact on the way in which people “advertise” to consumers through new media. Effectively now, advertisers must view their efforts not in the form of push messaging but rather as a service that benefits consumers.

Using opt-in choices, messaging on the Internet via e-mail and on hand phones as short messages (SMS) is rapidly becoming an important technique in the customer relationship management process. In more cases, these messages enable companies to provide consumers with specific data that is time or place dependent and which they choose. It\'s these\"moments of truth\" ----- moments when the need for a product or service is most immediate ----- that the greatest interest in a product occurs. And the phone is a logical delivery mechanism to ensure that the immediacy of a message. In the future, particularly as global positioning technology becomes more of a standard, this will enable more location-specific messaging and services. Imagine, for example, that you\'re walking down the street and an SMS from your pharmacist reminds you that your prescription is about to run out. This type of service builds the relationship by helping the consumer, not just selling to them.

The follow-on of this point is that all types of companies will need to learn how to deliver digital content that consumers truly want. And in a lot of cases, what consumers want is not product facts or company history ----- it\'s useful information about how a product or service fits into their lives. In essence, consumers are looking to understand and know more about the context for the use of products ----- not only how it performs functionally, but also how it can improve the quality of their life as a result.

Therefore, diverse products and services must be able to deliver consumer education. In many cases, this “contextual marketing” is pushing products into new areas of interaction with consumers. Gasoline brands, for example, can make themselves relevant to the motorist in a myriad of new ways, by helping them plan trips with on-line maps, keeping their car maintenance logs, and advising them on driving in different weather conditions. Consumers do desire this type of information, when they want it.

Data is the Building Block for Customer Relationship Management Data, and the knowledge that can be derived from it, is what enables marketers to actually build customer relationships. And data is available in unprecedented quantities today. While consumers on the Web can access more information about products and services than ever before, the inverse is also true; companies can access and retain volumes of customer data through tracking and monitoring tools. This presents both opportunities and challenges.

The challenge is to structure new media ----- be it a website, a PDA game or a mobile SMS marketing campargn ----- in a way to gather the most valuable information. Unsuspecting companies can quickly find themselves buried in a mound of data, unless they prioritize. A key opportunity though, for those who are prepared, is to genuinely learn what consumers want by analyzing what they actually do through new media. The invisible trail of electronic crumbs that consumers leave as they use electronic media holds the key to their preferences and their interests. There is also ample opportunity to determine what consumers want by asking them directly. This doesn\'t mean hitting them over the head for information, as many on-line registration forms currently do. The key is to ask for information at different points in the relationship-building process and find ways to reward consumers for sharing that information.

Measuring Returns

The future of one-to-one marketing is increasingly focussing on addressable media: PCs, network appliances, PDAs, cell phones, pagers, and in-car systems. All of these share the common characteristic of having a return address. This enables marketers to measure, analyze, and optimize communications, based upon specific response data from specific consumers. This is an exciting prospect for companies as they increasingly demand a measurable return on all their communications investments.

To appreciate the importance of this, consider how most brands have traditionally been built. Companies usually focus their offline marketing efforts on generating brand exposure through frequency. The idea is basically to define a message, then expose it repeatedly to consumers through traditional media, such as TV. Direct interaction with the brand finally happens when consumers take the product from the supermarket shelves.

There are limits though to what this route can achieve for building a consumer bond. Brand recognition is not the end goal for brands ----- loyalty is. The vital measurement is not simply which brands you see ----- it\'s which ones you choose to use. New media add vital, new dimensions to brand building by enabling measurable interaction between a brand and its consumers. The key is to prompt consumers to do more than point and click. The interaction should produce something useful or instructive for the user. It should also cause people to really think about the brand in relation to their needs.

Will all marketers heed the call for new, better approaches to new media? Probably not. After all, new thinking requires flexibility, and some companies find it hard to change. Plenty of companies would rather turn back time to when traditional media was all that was needed to convince consumers about their products. But no marketer can stop the march of progress. So companies must be ready to embrace new media with a winning plan if they hope to come out on top.
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