One of the things that businesses need to accept in the new media landscape is that things have changed significantly. No surprises there, right? Everyone knows that media consumption habits have evolved, that the way in which brands reach people is adapting beyond traditional ‘broadcast and hope’ strategies. But what many are missing is that the most significant change may actually be in how we fundamentally view the world and our place within it. The perception of media, and the consumer’s place in the media cycle, is different to how we have traditionally understood it. Yes, media consumption has changed, but it’s how it’s changed that’s crucial to maximising audience attention the new media environment.
“The world doesn’t revolve around you”
Everyone’s heard this before – an informative statement, normally fired off at the more self-obsessed among us, a reminder that things don’t just happen because you might want them to be that way. But it’s actually not true, at least in a contextual sense. Your world does revolve around you. Because the perspective from which you view it is the only one you’re ever going to have – how you view things, how you take in various inputs, how you respond to situations presented to you in your day-to-day life, that viewpoint is unique to you. You choose where you live, where you work, you choose what you read and eat. In reality, your world does, in fact, revolve around you. Now, things might happen in your world that are beyond your control – you can’t command every element and make your reality exactly as you’d like – but you choose how you respond to each situation. You’re in control of you.
In terms of media consumption and accessibility, the consumers of today are in more control of their inputs than any generation that has come before them. When we say the media landscape has changed, most notably, that change is being lead by the transferral of control – each individual has the power to create a world of their own, in a media input sense. And that control is increasing, every day.
So what does this mean from a marketing and communications perspective? We have to evolve beyond the traditional broadcast mindset. Throughout the history of advertising and brand reach, broadcasting has been a key goal – our marketing success metrics are driven by impressions, reach and audience statistics. Reaching the largest audience possible has always been a key driver of success, a mission still reflected in the emphasis placed on social media numbers, our instinctive competition for followers and ‘Like’s. Because that’s how we measure success – we all want to build the largest audience possible because that’s what will give us more reach; more reach equals more exposure; more exposure equals more sales. The logic makes sense, broadcasting to as many people as possible is key to building brand awareness, but the transference of control to the audience is altering the effectiveness of this approach. Awareness, of course, is always valuable, exposure to the widest audience increases the likelihood of possible interest, but we’re getting to a stage where we can move beyond base reach metrics alone. Focussing on a small, specific audience might generate significantly better results for significantly lower costs – the trick, of course, is in finding the right people. But with social media and social data, now you can.
Over time, and almost without even knowing it, consumers have built a complex array of personality profiles online. These profiles are like dating matches for brands – with all the information and data logged and stored. Brands can now create more focussed, more accurate, descriptions and persona models of their ideal customers. But not just their customers overall, the customers interested in very specific products and services, the language used by finite audience segments.
Google started this trend with search tracking and audience profiling, matching ads to users based on previous search behaviour. Those ads you see when you’re visiting a website, they’re matched to you based on your previous searches – you look up ‘men’s aftershave’ one day, you see an ad for the latest Calvin Klein cologne the next. It’s a logical targeting process, and one which is getting more refined each day as Google works to segment and correlate your likely interests based on how your searches match up with the other three billion searches conducted every day. One person searching for ‘tennis’ and ‘hot dogs’ in separate sessions may mean nothing in isolation, but what if Google’s data indicated that there’s an 85% correlation between people who search for these two things and people who’re considering buying a new four wheel drive? Seems like a stretch, right? But the thing to consider here is that Google aren’t making assumptions based on two correlating matches, they’re able to make informed decisions about what you’re likely to be interested in based on every search you do and have ever done, matched up with the data from every search done by every other person across their entire system. Calculate enough data points and definitive patterns start to emerge – there’ll come a time where, based on search data alone, Google will know what you’re going to search for, even before you do.
And this is only your search behaviour – where the real data gold lies is in social media.
So, you’ve filled in your Facebook profile. You’ve got a Twitter account that you don’t really use. You did a LinkedIn one when you were looking for a job. The growing majority of people, right now, have logged their personal details on at least a couple of social networks. The even bigger, growing majority, in the next generation coming through, have significant data logs of their entire existence saved and filed in the servers of the various social giants. Consider the Google example above, how Google can better target and focus ads and media content based on each person’s behaviour. Imagine how much more accurate that targeting is when you use a person’s social media presence as the reference data for these correlations. Facebook has 1.39 billion registered users, 1.39 billion individuals who’ve entered their data and logged interests via Likes and shares and discussions on the platform. It’s easy to see, in this context, how valuable that data is – if Google is in a position to predict your likely next search, Facebook will likely be able to predict your entire life.
And this is where it gets scary and creepy. The thought that Facebook is tracking your every move gets under the skin of most, but they are, and you and I know it, we just choose to ignore it. Because everyone else is doing it, everyone else is on Facebook; “you’re missing out if you’re not part of the conversation”. So, yeah, they might be tracking your every action and using that to help brands target you with future promotions and offers. But Facebook’s free. And everyone’s on it. And thus, we move on.
The result of all this is that each individual is getting an ever-more personalised media experience. More and more of our devices are connected to the internet, giving users further control, directly or indirectly, over what they see and when they see it. And at the other end, those actions mean more data for the platforms, tracking and logging every click and every second of where you’re focussing your attention. This then enables more tracking and more personalisation, based on how your behaviour correlates with other users, heightening the predictability of what you’ll be interested in next. The better that experience is for the user, the more they’ll keep coming back. Attention is the greatest commodity of the connected era, the company that holds it, wins.
This will only increase as wearables rise in popularity and flood the market, and as younger users grow into more lucrative demographic brackets. This experience – personalised and focussed on them – will be the only one they know. Brands that fail to meet them where they’re at, that fail to speak to them directly, will get shut out. The world revolves around them. Recognising this fact is key to success in the social media era. While reach and awareness have their value, and will continue to be relevant in brand association stakes, the great businesses will understand the ‘power of one’, of using the data available to create focussed, individual experiences.
The game is changing, the numbers and metrics that can be correlated to success are enabling more focus, more direct alignment with ROI and behavioural commonalities. You can ignore them, of course, you can stick with what you’ve always done, forget this social media fuss and get back to the things that have worked and always will. And you can do that till they don’t. But this new world of data is a new world of opportunity. As expectations increase, you really want to be on the boat, floating on top of that wave, rather than watching from beneath, trying to hold up against the crash.