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Posts Tagged ‘Online Advertising

Reliability, trust and social media…

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Trust and reliability are not the same thing.  This thought occurred to me in a meeting at which consumer behavior on a media site was discussed.  Trust requires reliability, but it is more enduring, elastic, and subjective than reliability.  Brands are trusted.  Products are reliable.

If you don’t think there is a difference, consider two identical products that are equally reliable:  generic and name versions of the same drug.  There is simply no rational reason for someone to pay more for a drug of equal reliance.  Yet the brand affinity lingers somewhere in the value chain of patent-holder to doctor to patient.  Some patients will swear that they can tell a difference between equally efficacious versions of the same medication.

Brands are built to drive higher prices, and thus higher gross margins, even where noticeable differences are illusory in terms of reliability.  Brand builders must build associations for a product that extend beyond the utilitarian elements of problem/solution.  Traditional advertising builds brands, TV being the most obvious and historically important platform for building the brand image.

As marketers began to build behavioral databases of consumers in the ’80s and ’90s, they were able to identify more granular profiles that could be aligned with companies’ impressions of product brand imprints.  This was the purpose of all of those annoying check boxes about age and income and habits on warranty cards.  Granular understanding of consumer habits led to analytic systems that were able to target consumers directly with mailings or telemarketing.

Then came the Internet, direct mail opt out, do not call registry, and analytic parity among direct-mail marketing businesses.  Consumers retreated behind their doors, moved to cell phones, and began consuming media in ways outside traditional channels and methods.  Brand build and reinforcement is increasingly difficult.  Consumer activation through direct mail and telemarketing is fading fast.  And despite the concerns of privacy advocates, Web targeting efforts remain primitive compared to the glory days of direct mail.

Consumers of all ages are more selective, secretive, and elusive.  Media interaction – social and traditional – is a fragmented, continuous experience.  And social media, broadly cast, is becoming the lead channel.  It is a channel that we tune into, including email, social media, twitter, and SMS all day long.  It spans business and personal lives, work and family, parents and children.  This channel is evolving into the most trusted media channel of all, displacing the traditional channels that conveyed brand messages.  Brand companies are attenuated to social media for that reason.

Unfortunately for brand advocates, consumers are being conditioned to reliability first, trust second.  This evolution of the consumer is very difficult to imprint with brand associations that are enduring.  Enduring brand association creates brand loyalty, which is arguably the repeat purchase of high-priced alternatives for other than functional reasons.  The influential elements of social media carry a different currency of trust than a brand.

In fact, consumers of social media referrals value objectivity and innovation first.  Any hint of payola or favoritism undermines consumer trust.  Rather, they want a referral to a reliable product/experience, regardless of brand.  As such, reliability is the currency of trust that the product/movie/experience reviewer deals in.  Brand affinity may undermine the trust between a consumer and a social media source.  How that drives the future of brand marketing is unwinding before our eyes.


Written by Mike Venerable

October 28, 2009 at 10:00 am

Extra Extra…charges for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette proclaimed itself cool yesterday by launching PG+, not a new movie rating but a paid online supplemental content service for those who can’t get enough of their columnists.  A similar concept is rumored to be in the works at the NY Times.  My bold prediction: much hype at launch, little fanfare in a few months when they shut it down.

The Post-Gazette’s own article on the concept is self-congratulatory and far from objective, with no one quoted who thought this might be just another cry for attention from the free-falling world of print journalism.  The service, priced at 3.99/month, or $36/year if you pay up front, includes:

“…a new stream of exclusive blogs, videos, live chats and behind-the-scenes looks at the news of the day.”

The announcement makes their own “free” content sound pedestrian, while making the “paid” content seem uninteresting.  Oh, and they include social networking software!  I’m sure all the Gen X, Y, and Z’ers will be dumping Facebook and jumping right in for some “live chats”. 

If a newspaper has some good content, I’ve got a suggestion:  put it on your free Web site.

I just don’t see how any local print franchise can hope to pull off what the strongest brands in print journalism have failed to do:  generate decent revenue from paid content.  The NY Times failed, the Wall Street Journal barely makes money online, and no one else is even in the game.  People will not pay for online local print content at a volume and price that makes it remotely worth the embarrassment. 

Rather, local print needs to lose the pretense and focus on creating compelling content that is ad supported.  There are simply too many paths to content, too many alternatives for news, for a paid subscriber model to work anymore.

To that point, our local paper implemented an impenetrable new Web site last year that was driven by its parent, Gannett.  When the change was implemented, my wife speculated the new interface was  designed to preserve the local delivery business.  If they could make the online experience bad enough, maybe we would keep print delivery.

Today, for the first time in my life, no newspaper lands in my driveway each morning.  I can access everything I need, more than I ever imagined I could need actually, online.  I still like to grab the WSJ now and then and page through it over coffee.  Now that the local paper no longer comes to the house, I can’t remember the last time I read it in print.  That’s a shame, because I loved reading the newspaper, the tactile experience, until very recently. 

Since my habits are heading away from paying, I can’t see how PG+ could ever make a dent in the revenue problems facing local print organizations.  Sad but true.

Written by Mike Venerable

September 3, 2009 at 9:00 am