If I had a dollar every time a client asked about media mix or tried to define which channel accomplishes a particular marketing task or objective, I’d be as rich as Mark Zuckerberg.
In spite of an explosion of channels, media and marketing strategies, there are no rules of thumb and there is no consensus on what does what. This gets confusing quickly when you consider the continuously evolving array of digital, social and mobile options. As a result, marketers chase this illusive beast in search of a framework for allocating time, effort and money and for measuring key performance indicators (KPIs).
In theory, most channels can accomplish a variety of tasks from creating brand awareness, to generating leads, sales or buzz or reinforcing brand loyalty and advocacy. The tricky part is crafting and parsing the key message and then delivering it through multiple channels at the right time to the right people in the right way at the right price.
Media mix modeling tends to focus on media efficiencies and getting the best prices. They are generally used as a planning and negotiation tools. I haven’t seen a model that can accurately predict consumer activity or that can produce a behavioral (or sales) forecast that can be measured. The challenge is to build a model that considers business goals and consumer behavior and then ranks or weights the relative impact of messages and media versus the relative investments during a fixed campaign time frame.
In the old days, TV was the universal reach tool. Print extended reach, added frequency and vertically reinforced the message. Radio was the mobile reminder medium with a local personalized appeal that reached hard-to-find audiences, like teenagers. Out-of- Home was the LBS of its time. Direct mail got you one-to-one targeting and FSIs delivered coupons. Life was simple and satisfying.
Now that’s all gone. Writing in The New York Times, David Carr says we live in “an age of individualized media cocoons … each of us is building our own little campfire on our phone, tablet and big screen at a time and place of our own choosing. “
Consumer media use, which used to be predictable by demographics, has gone ka-fluey! Finding and aggregating a sizable audience at a decent price at the right point in the customer journey now takes much more time and effort than ever before. Orchestrating messages and media to achieve widespread penetration and persuasion is still much more of an art than a science. The alchemy changes product by product and target audience by target audience. No wonder agencies, media firms and marketers are trying to isolate and package discrete audiences so that they can replicate or adjust the formula to achieve cost efficiencies and profit margins.
Marketers are faced with the need to orchestrate campaigns where attitudes, behaviors and devices are dependent variables. Reach frequency and impact/activation are still the critical objectives. But like Mozart, marketers have to construct the symphony from the ground up. Most use search as a baseline and call on TV, web or print to express the melodic line. Then message variations and alternative channels (apps, online display, mobile and social media) have to be creatively integrated in time.
And while I don’t have a simple one-size-fits-all solution, here’s what I’m learning along the way.
TV/Cable/Video. These media are becoming almost indistinguishable from one another since consumers use them all and use them idiosyncratically. TV still can reach millions, especially live broadcast events like the Super Bowl, but finding the right mix of programming and time slots to resonate with a tight psycho-demographic and to leverage the multi-channel viewing/commenting/tweeting phenomenon is still a big challenge.
Longer form video resonates with a range of audiences who view them at random times on a broad array of devices. This is where the potential for virility and massive earned media exists, if you can hit the right sensibility with the right meme at the right time. Organizing a “road block” to slam home a message or introduce a product or service is a very difficult task. TV and video messages are effective at driving web, #hashtag and 800 number traffic if the CTAs are prominent and the timing and frequency are right.
Online Display. Banners are the default medium touted by publishers and widely ignored by consumers. Brands load up on these to fill TRP goals and to “go digital” without regard for their lack of impact and attention. Rich media, page takeovers and inventive combinations of units do a little better in gaining attention, but no sober marketer will bet a campaign on these media units.
SEM/SEO. These are twin channels that need to be synchronized for maximum impact. Search is a “do or die” proposition since 91% of all consumers searching never look beyond the first search results page. If you don’t rank on the first page, you are invisible.
SEO and SEM should be the baseline of every campaign. Keyword strategy should inform copywriting for websites, TV and radio spots, banners, social and mobile ads and postings. But the ability to keep up with -- and psyche out -- Google’s ever-changing algorithms is very limited, even using sophisticated automated tools. Therefore smart paid search needs to augment vigilant natural search to be sure brands rank high and are found using the terms and sensibilities of their most likely customers and prospects.
Social Media. Like print, social media is split into editorial (postings, tweets and content) and ads (in Timelines, on the right rail, using Twitter Cards and an evolving array of units). Understand the distinction and plan a tactical approach that links the postings to the ads. Facebook, and the others, purposely limit the reach of editorial content to sell ads. Brands are locked into their game and their system. This is a test-and-learn environment where the bigger spenders can push the social networks to try new combinations of creative messages and units.
Print. Print is both print and the online properties of publishers, which frequently include websites, mini-sites, content distribution, search and email newsletters. Print is still a powerful medium, especially when used against vertical demographic or subject matter targets. Publishers have become savvy at packaging and merchandising properties and larger firms like Hearst, Time or Meredith can assemble multi-property deals that accumulate large audiences and deliver frequency and impact. The trick is to structure these deals to achieve brand business and communications goals rather than just the lowest cost per thousand.
Email. Email is consumers’ preferred medium for brand interactions. Virtually everybody uses it and many brands have a house subscription list. There is a robust market for 3rd party lists, which range widely in quality and in CAN-SPAM compliance. There is considerable research on which email templates and landing pages work best and similar data on what, when and how to send email for maximum impact. Keep in mind that more than half of all email is opened on mobile devices, so readability and the ability to take action with 1-click is crucial.
Generally email communicates deals and offers or solicits leads and opt-ins. Email transmitted under an umbrella of or at the same time as other ads generally gets higher open and click rates. Multi-media synergy lifts email performance.
Websites. Consumers expect every brand to have a website. A decent website is marketing table stakes. There are two schools of thought on websites. One school, especially eCommerce players, argues that a website should be an encyclopedic compilation of everything a brand is and does. The other school takes a more surgical and UX-driven approach arguing that a site should drive consumers to a specific desired action and that design and content should be organized strictly to achieve that objective.
There are many sites that achieve both objectives. Often second school thinking will prompt marketers to create a campaign mini-or micro-site to focus exclusively on a campaign, product or service during a set time frame.
Apps. Every brand wants an app even though there are millions of branded apps that die of loneliness. Apps must either provide significant utility or entertainment to fly. What’s more they require a substantial marketing effort and investment in order to gain traction and generate a critical mass of downloads and usage. Brands that reach critical mass create a virtual private network (VPN) in the pockets of brand loyalists that can be exploited to stimulate repeat purchases and brand advocacy.
Popular widely used apps, especially games, offer an advertising platform that can be both immediate and intrusive. The promise of triggered messages or offers in-apps exists. There’s lots of talk about offers triggered by GPS or purchase history. But nobody has realized this potential at scale yet.
Other Media. Out-of-home, direct mail, text/SMS messaging, word-of-mouth marketing and PR, all contribute to a well-conceived integrated campaign, Each has strengths which can be vectored into a media or creative flow and timed to create added weight, frequency and impact or to flesh out a story, add an engaging creative dimension or attract a niche audience.
Figuring out what does what is not easy. There is no set formula or repeatable recipe.
Everything starts with business objectives. Second are media and marketing efficiencies. But like great composers, brands that focus on the desired outcome, dig a little deeper and carefully use engagement planning can find a mix of messages and channels that reach and resonate with audiences and drive business results.