The only sure thing about media today is that it is in constant, almost daily change. Clients struggle to figure out the best ways to monetize their advertising budgets. Chief Marketing Officers are lucky if their tenures exceed two and a half years. Traditional media companies such as CBS, ABC, Conde Nast, Hearst, etc. get the lion's share of their revenues and profits from their traditional sources, i.e. TV spots and pages, knowing full well that these profit centers are steadily declining. Ad agencies are struggling to restructure and reposition themselves to better serve clients' changing needs and cope with programmed buying programs.
If one looks up the current definition of digital media it states that one key element is the disruption it is causing with traditional media, entertainment, politics, etc. -- in short, everything and anything that relates to a consumer's life or special interests. What complicates everything even more so is that digital media itself is in a constant flux of daily change. All this disruption and these constant changes causes massive uncertainty for clients as they try to figure out how best to sell products and services.
What further complicates things is the over-abundance of platforms and that reality that fewer and fewer consumers -- especially those 18-34 -- are watching traditional TV programs or subscribing to magazines. Couple all this with younger people working longer hours and having less time to consume media and the challenge increases further. Do shorter messages work best? Is social media better than native advertising? What's the best balance between all existing media to create the most effective campaign?
There are no answers to those questions. That's the tough part -- except if one understands that change has become a constant and that one needs to stay in touch with one's customers and potential customers on a regular basis. A media company can provide far better insights than Nielsen or Mediamark Research. What's needed is a much larger investment by media companies in consumer research; for example, weekly or at the very least monthly tracking polls that not only show audience shifts but illustrate how consumer media interests are changing. Plus, what new media options and content are consumers most interested in? This can be easily found out with a few cleverly crafted open-ended questions.
A media company that can provide valuable insights becomes a true marketing partner. Given what's at stake, the costs to increase ongoing and smart consumer research becomes a needed tool for any media company to survive the next decade. A CBS, ABC, Conde Nast or Hearst can monitor much larger sample sizes than Nielsen or Mediamark on a weekly or monthly basis. Larger sample sizes mean lower margins of error. In addition, major media companies could in partnership with either the MIT Media Lab or the Wharton Applied Research Center establish ways for advertisers to test different creative across various platforms to come up with potentially the best and most effective media mix.
Part of the problem is that media companies tend to mainly compete with other media companies and rarely provide usable and reliable consumer insights. A larger commitment to consumer research across all platforms by media companies will help them not only become more valuable to clients, but to better allocate their own resources.
Image at top courtesy of Corbis. The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated bloggers.
Steve Blacker has been a corporate executive at Time Inc. (Marketing Director PEOPLE, Ad Manager Money, Director Sales & Special Projects, Magazine Development), Conde Nast, SVP Market Research, Hearst, Director Consumer Insights, Playboy Enterprises, Director of Database Marketing, Hachette, Executive Director of Consumer Insights, Publisher of: Village Voice, Next Magazine, Business Month, Inc. Magazine, VP Advertising Nw York Post.
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