Saturday, September 22, 2012

The thirsty man

"And we did it all with zero paid media dollars!" was the ending of every second case study video in every digital award show I saw a while back. The notion that by coming up with something that could grab the attention of an audience for a fleeting second, without actually having to pay for it, had captivated the digital marketing community. It seemed like you were getting something for nothing. Which is great.

But unfortunately not true.

Most likely you were getting barely anything for a hell of a lot of effort. Spikes of interest based on an online stunt is a tactic that in my book should be used very rarely*. But for ongoing business-as-usual -situations, it is a gross misuse of what the web can do.

Advertising works because of repetition. You hear the same thing over and over and over again and it will alter your behavior. You will buy that brand of juice more likely than the other one if you see it often enough. You will consider Mexico as a travel destination, if someone suggests it enough times. But online gimmicks are one-offs. They most likely will not significantly change consumer behavior. "If 10000 people like this, we will shoot a cat into space" will probably get you the attention you want. For a second. But there is no continuity to it and therefore it does not do what advertising does, as the magic ingredient of repetition is missing.

But the good news is: we can do something better than just gimmicks and advertising.

The web is not only an advertising channel. It is an extension of what the brand has to offer. All products are digital products. Just think about what "a product" really is. A product is one collection of attributes that fulfills a need you have or solves a problem in your life.

It's a glass of water to a thirsty man.

It's exactly what he needs, just when he needs it.

Our job as marketers is to find that thirsty man and satiate him. When he's looking to buy jeans, what sort of thoughts and problems does he have? What can your brand do online to help him? This is the process of inventing the digital dimension for your product. What ever you do online becomes part of the product offering. His problem (or thirst to run with the metaphor) might be, for example, that he hates that all jeans are similar and generic. So your glass of water could be a service where he can customize the jeans to his liking. Or maybe he's thirsty later in the product life-cycle and he needs to have better information in keeping he's jeans looking great even after a wash. So perhaps you build digital jeans washing guide that give him what he needs to know.

You get the point.

And in case you didn't, I'll say it again: the digital attributes of a product are just as real as the physical ones. They are just easier to make and distribute, as a bunch of bits, or electrons, are less a hassle to move around, than a pile of atoms. I find this very exciting. Most "real-world" brands have not yet figured out how to serve the thirsty man online. And the ones that do, will be very successful. We will see many revolutions where big brands die as dinosaurs that couldn't adapt and small ones innovate themselves into relevance.

So I think that in the near future more and more case-studies will end with "...and it was all due to how we fundamentally changed what the brand has to offer", instead of how many "likes" you got with that online pie eating contest. Not because I hate pie. (I don't.) But because making a better offering is, by all means, better marketing.

(* And yes, I do think that stunts can be useful - sometimes.  They are probably most useful when trying to focus attention on a certain point in time - like a premier of a movie or a charity event, where there is a very specific reason you would need a spike of interest for that particular moment. )

1 comment:

  1. I agree with all of this, especially the idea that "digital" and "social" need to be considered an extension of the product itself.

    But there is still a need to promote things of course, and to make sure you are in the consideration set when someone gets thirsty. The question remains whether digital marketing can promote things very effectively at all, or if this is best to left to other communciation methods.