Brand Experience Replaces Broadcasting: Online Communities And User Engagement Are The Access Keys
I am having a bit of a ramble around the demise of mass media, why it happened in the first place and how our digital world is impacting on what we consume and how.
Photo credit: Hans Doddema
So I came across an interesting book by Lizabeth Cohen - Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, Dept. History Harvard University. Entitled A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.
"What I discovered was a shared understanding among many Americans, beginning right after World War II and lasting into the mid-1970s, that the best strategy for reconstructing the nation's economy and reaffirming its democratic values lay with promoting the expansion of mass consumption.
Policy makers, business and labor leaders, along with many ordinary Americans put mass consumption at the center of their plans for a prosperous postwar nation.
Not only would a dynamic demand-driven economy provide the best route to recovery and affluence, but it would also, they hoped, nurture the long-sought ideal of a more egalitarian and democratic nation.
Citizens, living better than ever before, would be on an equal footing with their similarly prospering neighbors. So being a good citizen and a good consumer became intertwined."
Sometimes it's easy to forget our recent past and the drivers for significant social and economic policy decisions which in turn become imbedded and forgotten.
However the structural nature of consumption has changed as content has decoupled from its format - to become super-distributed, whilst the migration from our agricultural clock and industrial mindset to a 24/7 digital world means that we have to stop and think afresh about what we make, why we make it and who is going to use it.
Photo credit: Alex Bramwell
I believe it is nothing short of stopping and rethinking what is value, how we create it and how we monetise it. Alan Mitchell says:
"The information age won't reach its full potential just because of a few inventions like the internet. It needs to create a new and different system capable of unleashing the win-win potential inherent in plummeting transaction costs, ever richer content and new flows of information. And to do so it needs its own web of institutions, practices and concepts: joint-info-stock companies or consumer agents, relationships and communities, consumers as information investors and co-producers seeking value "in my life" - and buyer centric marketing."
Within this context, conventional notions about marketing and mass media is like the silent movies of the 21st century.
Doc Searls passionately argues that "'Consumer' is an industrial-age word, a broadcast-age word. It implies that we are all tied to our chairs, head back, eating 'content' and crapping cash."
Simon London writing for the Financial Times(Monday 27th June 2005) wrote:
"In business as in art, we live in a postmodern era. Old certainties are being demolished and relationships redefined. Everything you thought about business has been upended. The relationship between companies and customers is no exception. The old notion that producers produce and consumers consume is regarded passé by management theorists."
Merrill Brown says:
" The future course of news is being altered by technology-savvy young people no longer wedded to traditional news outlets or even accessing news in traditional ways."
And then we have to ask ourselves what is content and who owns it? Who has control of distribution?
Today iPods are being used to download lectures in the US.
Kathryn Bowser at Drexel University prefers to listen to her organic chemistry class whilst riding a bike in the gym according to today's FT (9 February 2006).
Religion is clearly not going to be left on the shelf. Missed Church? No Worries, Download It to Your iPod explores how religion has taken to the new technology.
Kyle Lewis, 25, missed going to church one Sunday last month. But he did not miss the sermon. Mr. Lewis, who regularly attends services of the National Community Church in Alexandria, Va., listened to the sermon while he was at the gym, through a recording he had downloaded to his iPod. Instead of listening to the rock music his gym usually plays, he heard his pastor's voice.
Having an iPod is a guaranteed way to get the sermon if you're going to be out of town, Mr. Lewis said, adding that he listens to the pastor's podcast at least once more during the week, usually while driving to work, even during weeks he makes it to services.
Podcasting or godcasting as the Rev. Mark Batterson calls it believes has brought new parishoners to his church via theaterchurch.com. He says: "I can't possibly have a conversation with everyone each Sunday. But this builds toward a digital discipleship, we're orthodox in belief but unorthodox in practice."
The Reverend Tim based in El Sobrante, Calif., makes two 15-minute podcasts a week about family and work issues. He said an average of 6,000 people downloaded the program from the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa. Again a small audience in terms of mass media, but then how big do you want your congregation to be?
Reportedly one of the most popular Christian podcasts, Catholic Insider already exceeds 10,000 listeners for each program. and I recommend that you go and check out the site as its cool in the extreme.
And the quote of the piece by Father Vonhögen:
"Podcasting for us has been a resurrection of radio, it's the connection to a new generation."
"Like many of you, I'm a digital immigrant.I wasn't weaned on the web, nor coddled on a computer. Instead, I grew up in a highly centralized world where news and information were tightly controlled by a few proprietors, who deemed to tell us what we could and should know. My two young daughters, on the other hand, will be digital natives....
Rupert Murdoch - Photo credit:TV Squad
The peculiar challenge then, is for us digital immigrants - many of whom are in positions to determine how news is assembled and disseminated -- to apply a digital mindset to a set of challenges that we unfortunately have limited to no first-hand experience dealing with.
We need to realize that the next generation of people accessing news and information, whether from newspapers or any other source, have a different set of expectations about the kind of news they will get, including when and how they will get it, where they will get it from, and who they will get it from.
What is happening right before us is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don't want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don't want to rely on a God-like figure from above to tell them what's important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don't want news presented as gospel. Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for them. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it. They want to question,to probe, to offer a different angle. In the face of this revolution, however, we've been slow to react.
We've sat by and watched while our newspapers have gradually lost circulation.
Where four out of every five Americans in 1964 read a paper every day, today, only half do. Among just younger readers, the numbers are even worse."
Because he realized that a media mogul of the 21st century would not be successful living on a diet of controlled content and distribution. But something altogether very different.
I quote Rupert Murdoch at length because it is key for companies and marketers to understand that what we are looking at is a full paradigm shift. It is more than just altering consumption habits.
According to Nielsen NetRatings - PDF almost 1.8bn web pages are viewed each month in member community sites, which represents more than 57m pages every day. Online communities have been around since the early days of the internet, but their stock has never been higher as multimillion-dollar deals are struck to snap up such businesses.
Nielsen//NetRatings says that member community sites now attract over half of the UK internet population every month. In the UK, Friends Reunited is the most popular member community with more than 1.8m visitors each month.
It is numbers like this that helped convinced ITV to pay £120m for Friends Reunited and an additional £55m, if performance targets are hit by 2009. Likewise, News Corporation paid $580m for US community website MySpace.com.
MySpace, while a bigger community brand in the US, is ranked fourth in Nielsen//NetRatings after Google's blog service Blogger and college community site Bebo. The popularity of social networking and community sites in the UK are growing day by day, particularly among the young.
While most of the talk about the future of the web revolves around which of the giant media companies will win the battle to enable people to watch TV through the internet, a revolution of more immediate substance is already under way.
The future of online to the young is about what the internet is best at -- communicating and interacting -- not watching TV.
The Guardian in an article Young blog their way to a publishing revolution, says:
"Millions of young people who have grown up with the internet and mobile phones are no longer content with the one-way traffic of traditional media and are publishing and aggregating their own content, according to the exclusive survey of those aged between 14 and 21.
A generation has grown up using the internet as its primary means of communication, thanks to an early grasp of online communities and messaging services as well as simple technology allowing web users to launch a personal weblog, or blog, without any specialist technical knowledge.
On average, people between 14 and 21 spend almost eight hours a week online, but it is far from a solitary activity.
There are signs of a significant generation gap, and rather than using the internet as their parents do - as an information source, to shop or to read newspapers online - most young people are using it to communicate with one another."
Want another tangible example - well we can look at OhMyNews in Korea. The third largest newspaper. It is a digital newspaper - but that is not the interesting bit.
The paradigm shift is that it has 26,000 citizen reporters that contribute to the newspaper. Get your story published and you receive $20 USD and your name in print.
Founder and Editor Oh Yeon-ho said in an interview with Wired Magazine:
"With OhMyNews, we wanted to say goodbye to 20th-century journalism where people only saw things through the eyes of the mainstream, conservative media. Our main concept is every citizen can be a reporter. We put everything out there and people judge the truth for themselves."
The article goes on further to say that the Guardian has described it as the world's most domestically powerful news site and a South Korean diplomat was quoted as saying that the no policy maker can now ignore OhMyNews. Rupes would have been well aware of these developments as he gave his speech.
Or when Napster was shut down 57 million people were using the people-powered music swapping site. That is almost the entire population of England.
Are all these people criminals?
Or does this saying something fundamental about the relationship between big business and its customers?
But it doesn't stop there, Tomi Ahonen my co-author whilst in Korea came across CyWorld. CyWorld is like marrying Habbo Hotel with mobile blogging. And a sure-fire hit. With already 15 Million users, CyWorld has become the must-have service for the 20 year olds in Korea. And to put it in context, there are more bloggers on CyWorld in Korea than all other bloggersin the rest of the world today...
What is it?
Well, first of all its your mini home page (called minihomepi) where you have much like the rooms in Habbo Hotel, your miniroom and, of course, your digital persona in the form of an avatar, as your minime. The miniroom can be decorated like your home or office, or it could be aspirational of what you'd like your real life to be. You can invite friends to visit your miniroom, where you can exhibit your pictures, blogs, etc.
Much like the use of premium SMS to pay for content and services in Habbo Hotel, in CyWorld you buy "acorns" and these form the trading currency in CyWorld. And it gets interesting when we add the blogging part.
CyWorld is provided by the internet arm of SK and there is direct mobile blogging opportunity from the mobile arm of SK. The traffic in pictures and blogging posts is enormous, with picture posting and viewing of picture galleries considered now the most addictive part of CyWorld.
Mobile blogging (mostly for CyWorld) is the second biggest value-add service in Korea today, ahead of music, behind only gaming revenues, averaging 3.40 USD per user.
But its not only pictures.
Koreans want to have music in the background, and Universal Music in Korea already sells 100,000 full-track songs per month just as background music in CyWorld. And while it is a youthful service attracting those between ages 15 - 25, there are plenty of older users already, such as several politicians who have set up CyWorld pages to interact with their voters. And now, in 2005, we see CyWorld taking on the real world. They already expanded into China with another 700,000 users there already.
These examples represent the first public wave of a media revolution that is continuing today unabated. And as the Economist said on 2 April 2005:
"Many ﬁrms do not yet seem aware of the revolutionary implications of newly empowered consumers. Only those ﬁrms ready and able to serve these new customers will survive."
What does all this technology do?
It enables us to go to market, and to totally rethink how we might engage our audiences. This is why you need to set your controls for the heart of the 4C's:
Connectivity provides companies for the very first time the opportunity to generate two-way flows of information, feedback and engagement.
Connectivity, enables via the internet and the mobile phone to identify who are prolific connectors and social networks that could be key distribution points to viral contagion and sharing word of mouth messages. But connectivity alone is not enough, there must be good content (Culture) and a population of interest (Community). If this can be combined with a genuine business enterprise (Commerce), one is looking at a powerful business and marketing model.
The revolution of engagement is built upon the power of the meritocracy of ideas, and the strategic combinations of different media to propel that idea into the world. But more fundamentally than that, it is about connecting large or small communities with engaging content to a commercial or social agenda.
Rather than boiling everything down to a unique selling proposition, engagement marketing is able to create bigger ideas that emotionally engage its audience. Rather than focus on the single proposition that would result in a manufactured communication strategy, engagement marketing is built upon the fundamental notion of shared and co-created experience, something which 'interruptive' communications cannot do.
If as a brand you are not also a provider of a valuable experience - go home - hang up your boots and retire. In this new world the key to commercial success is to make your customers successful - understand your customers needs - involve them - engage them - develop strategies that by holding their attention willingly, you can also have a commercial relationship
As a practicioner of cross-platform engagement strategies - I see more and more and more requests for 'big ideas' - cross platform strategies. Terms used are of engagement, creative content strategies, which we have advised on a few. Customers you see, embrace the world holistically - funnily enough where-as we marketers like to chop chop chop, everything down into little tiny pieces.
IF ONE THINKS THAT AT THE POINT OF PURCHASE YOU HAVE JUST MADE THE FIRST STEP - WHERE DOES THAT TAKE YOU?
Remove the notion that marketing is 'adversarial' and you start to get into a really interesting place - that can be tailored and enhanced by new digital technologies - one in which you can create and co-create value in so many ways.
Customer base is replaced with customer community - all brand interaction should deliver an experience that actively links customers, media and brand in relevant and meaningful ways.
Brand experience replaces broadcasting in its broadest sense.
"Fragmentation, the bane of network TV and mass marketers everywhere, will become the Holy Grail, the opportunity to reach -- and have a conversation with -- small clusters of consumers who are consuming not what is force-fed them, but exactly what they want.
Producers and broadcasters capitalized with billions of dollars will be on approximately equal footing with podcasters and video bloggers capitalized with $399.99 12-months same-as-cash from Best Buy.
And just as DailyKos, Instapundit, Wonkette and Wil Wheaton have coalesced large followings in the cacophony of the blogosphere, some of the citizen-video programmers will find not just a voice but an audience."
About the author:
Alan Moore is the CEO of SMLXL a next-generation creative marketing company, focused on enabling businesses and brands to engage with their audiences and succeed in the 21st Century.
Alan Moore is also the author of Communities Dominate Branding, a new book co-authored with Tomi T. Ahonen. "Communities Dominate Branding: Business and marketing challenges for the 21st century" is a book about how the new phenomenon of digitally connected communities is emerging as a force to counterbalance the power of the big brands and advertising.Alan Moore -
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