Friday, September 28, 2007

Marketers are Out of Control

We’ve all heard the phrase “consumers are in control” many times. It has become part of the theme music for Web 2.0. How often do we stop to think about what it really means?

One thing is clear. Consumers can say pretty much anything they want to say pretty much anywhere on the web. They can post videos. They can make content viral. If it’s favorable to our brand, that’s great! What if it’s not?

Marketers are used to controlling their communications with consumers. Marketing guru Don Schultz call this “linear media.” In the video clip he also points out that media doesn’t work that way anymore. Marketers are still trying to control communications that are no longer under their control.

What is the response? Head-in-the sand is one option. A headline today on eMarketer says “Marketers Hooked on Old Media” (September 28, 2007). Quoting a study by Gundersen Partners, they say that 60% of marketers put at least half their marketing budgets into traditional media and 45% allocate only 10% of their budget to new media.

But the situation is not all bleak for new media. More than half of respondents in this study plan to put 10 to 30% of their budgets into new media, with 80% planning to achieve their goal within two years. I wonder how much the media will have changed by that time. Clearly a static plan will not accomplish meaningful goals.

One more point from this report. When asked why they were not moving faster, 40% said they had insufficient knowledge and 1/3 said they did not have enough time to evaluate new channels.

While I don’t doubt the surface truth of those two statements, is fear of the unknown lurking below the rational responses? Are the majority of marketers afraid to take the plunge into social media?

Or perhaps the reason for the long lead time is to allow for experimentation to see what works before committing substantial funds. Is your company experimenting? If not, I’d suggest that train has already left the station and you need to hurry to catch up to it.

Heinz has a tradition of contests that generate ideas from everything from ketchup bottles to labels. It probably should be no surprise that they recently ran a contest for consumer-created ads. The contest generated thousands of entries by the deadline on August 6, so many that they have announced a second round of winners, coming in October. If you missed the winning ad on the Emmy Awards in mid-September, you can view it and all the semifinalists on the Top This TV microsite. You might also want to read the contest rules; Heinz created an environment that protected them against intellectual property issues and, working with YouTube, protection against objectionable content.

Marketers cannot control what consumers say about their brand. But they can provide a forum for constructive discussion and support activities that give insight into consumers feelings and lifestyles.

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