Chasing Digital Fluff – Who Cares about What’s Hot?

Marketers are falling over themselves in their rush to the digital landscape. Social media is SO hot! But not as hot as behavioral targeting. And if you think that’s hot, wait till you see what you can do with mobile!

The Digital Dogpile

blow-dandelionMarketers desperately scramble over each other, grasping for a tenuous handhold on some emerging tactic that gives them, however briefly, a fraction of an inch advantage over the competition. New digital marketing directors prove their worth through their savvy of online technology. They cut their teeth on Facebook advertising and put Powerpoints (or, because they’re uber-cool – Keynote presentations) together on the immense potential of the social graph.

Churn is the norm in digital marketing. And marketers are the worst, whipping the industry into a froth because they get all breathless about the latest thing. My inbox gets a hundred emails every single day talking about how freaking cool everything is and how we’re stumbling to figure out the importance of everything. If you’re not an early adopter…scratch that…if you’re not a bleeding edge pioneer, you’re a hopeless loser. The pace of marketing testing and adoptions just keeps spinning faster and faster.

Step Away from the iPhone

Stop! Take a breath. Relax for a few minutes. Get outside and breath some honest to God fresh air. And don’t take your iPhone with you. Because here’s the scoop Kemosabe, all the technology in the world is useless until your audience figures out how to use it. And here’s the nasty little secret. Humans love bright shiny objects but we’re pretty slow when it comes to figuring out how to jam it into our already busy lives. Until that happens, your nifty online strategies will never be anymore than a pointless treadmill jammed on overdrive. You can run as fast as you want, but you’ll never get anywhere.

I do financial analyst calls every quarter and the last question on the call is always the same: anything else we should be looking at? Apparently, technologiosis (or technitis, or technophilia, take your pick) is contagious. My answer is usually the same..wait till people figure out how to use it.

Think about the buzz that’s been devoted to social networks and, more recently, real time search, in the last 2 years. That’s 2 years of foaming-at-the-mouth marketing buzz about how this channel is:

A) the savior of marketing
B) most effective connection with consumers
C) coolest technology without an identifiable purpose
D) biggest waste of time on God’s green earth
E) all of the above

The Geekiest Guy on my Block

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have a clue how to use social media in a meaningful way in my life. I have a Facebook page, I tweet, I have a Linked In profile, a Trip-It network, just to name a few, making me the geekiest guy I know. Maybe not at an online marketing show, but if you ever visit Kelowna, take a walk with me down my block and I’ll prove my techno-geek status is several Trekkie parsecs ahead of anyone else. I suspect the same is true for you. And you know what? I have no frigging idea why Facebook is important or why I should log into my profile today. It’s cool, but it’s not useful in an every day kind of way. And if I, who spend over 10 hours a day online and have a network of friends and colleagues that span the globe, can’t jam Facebook into my life in a useful way, how is the average techno-pleb going to?

As far as I can see, most of things marketers salivate over fall into the same category..digital candy that tweaks our dopamine supplying pleasure centre but serves no real, sustainable purpose in our lives. This puts it in the same category as 95% of my iPhone apps, 99% of the computer games on my laptop and the Wii my nephew got last Christmas – an obsession for approximately 27 hours, an occasional pastime for another 36 hours, then something we ignore for the rest of our lives.

The one difference, at least in my experience, seems to be teenagers. Most of things that seem to be passing fancies to us do seem to become useful in the lives of the average 15 – 23 year old. But, as I said in a previous post, when you look at what the live of a high school or university student looks like and what they want to do, a Facebook suddenly makes sense. For me, not so much.

An Eyeball is an Eyeball, Right?

So, even given this notorious degree of fickleness, why should marketer’s care? Eyeballs are still eyeballs, right? Even if the eyeballs we’re capturing this week will be completely different than the eyeballs we capture next week. This approach only works if you consider your market a faceless blob of unleashed consumer potential. If you actually want to get relevant messages to real people with real needs, the logic starts to break down immediately.

Effective marketing depends on reliable targeting. And reliable targeting depends on established patterns. And established patterns depend on sustained behaviors. And sustained behaviors depend on things we find useful. Otherwise, we’re marketing via fad, condemning ourselves to spending our professional lives and our client’s ad dollars chasing fluff in a hurricane. Our audience will always be “just passing through” on the way to the next thing.

I Miss Frank Cannon, PI

movies_070708_cannonMarkets have to stabilize in order for us to understand the individuals that make up that market. Also, brand relationships need a stable environment, allowing them to germinate and flourish.

When I was a kid, Kraft always sponsored Cannon. When you tuned in to see William Conrad somehow roll his fat old carcass out of his Lincoln Continental and pick off a sniper 3 miles away on a mountain top with his trusty .38 revolver, you could depend on Kraft telling you how to cook Mac & Cheese in every commercial break. Much as the entertainment value may have sucked (beggars with 2 channels in the Canadian prairies can’t be choosers) you knew Kraft would be there and Kraft knew who they were talking to. The audience had stabilized.

Until things pass through the temporary obsession phase to something that adds real value to our lives, we can’t consider advertising on these channels as anything more than an experiment. The trick in picking the right digital channels is not to look at the eyeballs they’re attracting today, but in how these things might be used in real, practical ways. That will give you an idea of how real people might be using these things next week or next month, when the technoratti have moved on to the latest bright shiny object.

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