Bulletin, December/January 2006
The Flip Side of Fear: Marketing to the Empowered Consumer
by Tim Armstrong
Armstrong is vice president of advertising sales at Google Inc.
"All advertising should…connect an
individual person's needs to a business that can offer that individual
value." David Ogilvy's words from 50 years ago ring truer than ever
today. The advertising and marketing industry is undergoing tremendous change - part of a transformation of the media world as fundamental as society's
evolution from feudalism to democracy.
the center of this change, then as now, stands the individual. In the
half-century since Ogilvy's day, publishing and advertising have become an
industry defined by specialization – branding, direct response, affiliate
marketing and other narrow disciplines, but advertising itself has remained a
non-measurable activity aimed at the pre-empowered consumer. Just a few years
ago we lived on the media industry's clock, our information consumption
dictated by TV schedules, magazine pub dates and newspaper deadlines. Warner
Brothers told us what records to buy, Walter Cronkite gave us the news we
needed, and GE sold us the refrigerator we wanted.
Now, with each passing month,
consumers enjoy more control over what media we receive and when and where we
receive it. We can also leverage the opinions of millions of other consumers
into more informed media and commerce decisions. Music fans build and share
their own CD tastes via iTunes downloads; news junkies create their own news
experience from customized sources, regions and sections; homeowners surf
through endless pages' worth of consumer reviews on CNET and BizRate before
deciding on a fridge.
Verizon's 3G cell phone. Last year, if I wanted highlights of the latest Red
Sox game, I'd have to sit through an hour of ESPN SportsCenter in order to see
the two minutes that mattered to me. Now I can get my SportsCenter Red Sox clips
on my 3G phone - and watch them whenever and wherever I want.
consider the blogging revolution. Free blog software and RSS feeds let us create
our own content and sift through millions of sites to create our own media
portals. It isn't Yahoo! or AOL or Google deciding what's important; it's
us. We're all becoming media companies of one.
does this mean to marketers? The fearful conventional wisdom says the
advertising world cannot help but shrink in the era of the empowered consumer.
But what's the flip side of this fear? When advertising took place on media
companies' schedules, a marketer's job was to deliver one-way messages
designed to build strong brands. Coke showed us emotional commercials, and if we
wanted more data about its products than an image of people singing on a hill,
we were out of luck.
to sell to empowered consumers means moving from "the brand is the product"
to "the product is the brand." In a TiVo universe whose inhabitants can turn
off unwanted messages at any moment, marketers must understand and communicate
product benefits and attributes in a way that earns potential customers’ trust
and meets their needs. This means marketers should answer three questions:
Why would somebody buy this product?
How do I honestly translate those benefits?
How do I reach the consumers who need to know?
third step is the hardest, the most interesting and the most rewarding. How,
where and when do marketers reach the empowered consumer? While he's doing
product research? Cruising discussion forums? Reading feedback from other users?
Walking down the street getting live local info on where to eat or shop from
recommendations of people who share her tastes? Most importantly, what data does
that consumer send back about his or her experience?
don't have all the answers, but I'm pretty sure these are the right
questions. Finding ways to honestly connect marketing messages with interactive
media creates openings for the sort of two-way, real-time relationships that
marketers dream of, but a lot of these messages won't look much like
20th-century marketing. Media pundits still claim that Internet ads won't work
until you can make someone laugh or cry. They're at least half wrong. Laughing
and crying are fine - the Digital Age hasn't repealed all human emotional
triggers - but in an info-rich empowered consumer world, creativity will
require not just an emotional message, but a useful and informative one.
best news, though, is that in this new world, profitability can take center
stage. "I know half of my advertising is wasted," John Wanamaker famously
said; "I just don't know which half." That sentiment will finally be
obsolete in a digital media world where return on investment (ROI) is
transparent and advertising is a profit center that’s "always on." Knowing
their margins on each consumer they reach will let advertisers break through the
ceiling of the non-empowered world. Today's marketing industry spends $250
billion a year. How much will it spend once advertisers are sure that neither
half is wasted, that they can do twice as much marketing that's twice as
effective? The answer starts with the empowered consumer, includes search
advertising and ends with an industry that’s growing larger, not smaller. The
flip side of fear is opportunity.
An example of this changed
environment brought about by the Internet is the Google AdWords program, which
uses keywords to target precisely ad delivery to Web users seeking information
about a particular product or service. Like other programs described in this
special section, AdWords is based on cost-per-click (CPC) pricing, so
advertisers only pay when an ad is clicked on. Advertisers can take advantage of
an extremely broad distribution network and choose the level of support and
spending appropriate for their business. Such tools can empower consumers and
allow advertising dollars to be spent more effectively.
For Further Information
Email: Mike Nelsen at email@example.com
Articles in this Issue
The Flip Side of Fear: Marketing to the Empowered Consumer