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People and the Digital World

2009 March 27

I attended a digital marketing and social media conference recently, which addressed a wide variety of digital communications technologies, channels, methods, and creative. It was fun to see such excitement and energy around this medium. But something about the conversations and presentations was disturbing to me. It seemed to revolve around the digital media and technology itself, and not as much around the people using it.

The fact is that it’s the same people using the Internet to communicate, learn, and buy today that were shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, reading newspapers and magazines, watching television 10+ years ago. Granted, a new generation has grown up which is comfortable with digital media, but everyone is increasingly embracing the digital medium as a part of daily life, and it has no generational boundaries.  As an example, my own 94 year-old father, who is constantly using his computer (in fact he’s on his fourth or fifth one), communicates via email, is on Facebook, uses Picasa to share his digital photography, and frequently buys things online. Research  indicates this is probably more common than you may expect: “Older Americans Not Out of It”

So, when I attend a conference on marketing and social interaction that revolves around the technology, and speakers shout things like “death to print”, “newspapers deserve to die”, etc. I am not inspired. Not that I love newspapers, necessarily. I simply wonder if people involved in this medium are missing the point: People are people, regardless of where they find their information and buy and socialize. The methods may differ because of the medium, but are the behaviors really that much different?  Let’s admit it, “they” is “us” – you and me – if you are reading what I’ve posted here. Where did we get our information 10 years ago? We read, watch, learn, research, express opinions, talk to friends, get others recommendations, make a decision and buy, relay experiences to others throughout our lives. The biggest difference now is that we are able to communicate our opinions and experiences much faster and with far more people. So, when you really stop to think about it, the most basic behaviors are essentially unchanged.

Recent research bears this out. According to a new national study by Opinion Research Corporation, sponsored by Adfusion, and published in Media Post’s Research Brief titled “Internet Article-based Ads Grab more Clicks” (full report available on ARAnet), people are responding better to online advertising that “tells a story”. The study results suggest to me that people are transferring past behaviors with print into digital media. Pop-ups, banners, and other similar digital display media are seen more clearly as ads, given less immediate credibility and are often skipped over (much less clicked on) – but they do serve a valuable brand impression. Articles, or practically anything delivered in text including search results and sponsored links, appear more credible, garnering better response. Email credibility probably excludes spam, and the remaining email are generally from companies they are already interested in. These behaviors are really not much different than in the past. For example, when we get direct mail, most of us sort it over a wastebasket, tossing anything unwanted or irrelevant. Email is treated the same way, except we use spam filters and a delete key. It all comes down to the value and relevance of the content. Delivery is changing, and sources of information are changing, modes of communication and interaction are exploding. But people are the same. We simply have to understand how people’s basic behaviors have been transferred to the digital world.

A parting thought: Regardless of what medium you use, it is now more important than ever to listen to your customers, base all your marketing on clear objectives with quantitative and qualitative measures, and above all: deliver what you promise. Because it ultimately comes down to this: whatever you say, and however well you measure it, if what you say is not proven true in the person’s experience with you, your product or service, they will talk about it. And in today’s medium, far more people will hear. So if you want increased sales and loyalty, make sure you are delivering a the product and service than you are promising, admit your mistakes, and delight your customer at every opportunity. If you do that, your customers will speak well of you to others across the Internet, and that is the most effective marketing of all.

One Response
  1. artsurfsoul permalink
    June 1, 2009

    Interesting points. I particularly like your ‘parting thought’.

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