Friday, September 29, 2006

Critical Questions For Engagement Believers

Here are my immediate thoughts on the ARF/AAAA’s Consumer Engagement conference, as we near its end. First, the conference was awesome and included much thoughtful discussion! I really enjoyed soaking it all in, meeting smart people, as well as serving as one of three Engagement bloggers, providing live coverage. To stimulate further debate and contribute to progress, I offer the following observations and questions:

  • Media Entrapment. There’s been a lot of talk about engagement and turning on a mind within surrounding context. That’s great, but it seems the vast majority of discussion is about context within highly packaged, controlled contexts, such as 30-second spots and other traditional media. There’s nothing wrong with that, but isn’t consumer control turning those packaged contexts upside down? That’s why we’re having this darn conference in the first place! I understand the audience is comprised of a lot of media planners, buyers and researchers, but what about addressing the many other contexts beyond one-way media that impact context?
  • Uncontrolled Context. Considering point one above, what about uncontrolled contexts, like social networks, which panelist CNET hosts so many of. How should researchers and brand managers approach turning on minds when it’s not co-creation between a brand and a consumer, but co-creation among thousands of consumers and only one brand, a brand essentially at the mercy of the conversation within the crowd?
  • Unfavorable Context. Considering point one above, how does context change when conditions become unfavorable for a brand, i.e., what is the nature of context when you’re battling a TiVo? What is the nature of context when consumers are annoyed as hell by an advertiser's disruptive, interceptive or coercive presence?
  • Product As Context. Considering point one above, how about the role of product itself in creating context? Advertising used to serve as life-support for products that are mediocre, suck or simply don’t work, i.e., the gel that takes scratches out of eyeglasses (never worked). In a Google world – where search engines connect passionate information seekers with passionate information speakers – that life support dies. Conversely, good products often can sell themselves. Advertisers must consider the product more often when thinking about context and marketing communications that follow around. Maybe, sometimes, advertisers needs to forget about the media, and even the content of the message, and make recommendations more central to the product. Similarly, Greg Andersen of BBH suggested inverting the ratios: very much investment on the content, and very little on the media vehicles. Make content (or product) so good that consumers will want to help you market.
  • Customer Service Manifesting In Media. What about customer service? With consumers in control – and empowered to self-publish and spit back – customer service is increasingly manifesting in the most prolific kind of media: consumer-generated media. Positive or negative recommendations; or, positive or negative GRPs, or brand credits or debits. CGM then competes against the traditional, limited cadre of media that advertisers think they can control. But the world just works more holistically than that. Customer service, in essence, is becoming a media department. (Similarly, in a world where consumers participate, so does the legal department, which has been reluctant to embrace consumer participation and control over the brand.)
  • Embracing Consumer Control. Which leads to the most important question: What about control? I heard very little about advertisers ceasing control, until the Axe case study by BBH. The discussion much reflected denial of a need to give up control in an open-networked, digital media universe. This was suggested with one major online publisher at the conference, who emphasized the importance of keeping users within its walled gardens. As a consumer, I consider that an attempt to hold me hostage, not empower me. If this major online publisher was truly a friend to me, it would want to empower me – not monetize me by keeping me inside of its universe.

In addition, here are some specific areas where I think we could’ve invested more time:

  • Consumer Attention Data and Privacy. Media are going digital, and consumer metadata will become the lifeblood of advertising research, targeting and relationship management. The big issue with this today is that marketers are approaching this idea with the presumption that consumers don’t value their meta-data. I would agree, because it’s the incremental data that matter, and that’s hard for consumers to notice. But there will be increasing media flops where consumers do begin to realize the importance of their meta-data; that their attention belongs to them! Consider AOL’s recent release of consumer search-queries. The surface here has only begun to be scratched, and I guarantee you this will become a HUGE issue over the next one to three years. We should be talking about this now.
  • Humanizing This Whole Advertiser Business. What would happen if you asked a man on the street his point of view on engagement? He probably would answer you in context of his own cultural beliefs around the courting period prior to marriage, or his own experience. We should stop talking about media and consumers in such artificial, removed contexts and get some of them in here to give their feedback on how we marketing people are strategizing on how to manipulate and make more and more money off of them! Do advertisers really have meaningful relationships with consumers, or are we just deliberate around a nice idea, a reality we wish were true?

What do you think?


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