The annual AAAA Media Conference and Tradeshow was held last month in New Orleans. While the expected topics of data ownership, privacy concerns and unbundling of media services certainly received mention, a majority of the conference was focused on the consumer. The title of this year’s show,
“The Consumer is…Watching…Listening…Clicking…Connecting,” alluded that this would be the case, and the 4As certainly delivered, even going so far as to have panels comprised of actual consumers rather than media professionals across various disciplines.

The current economic flux was gracefully interwoven into opening remarks. Nancy Hill, President-CEO, 4As, stated powerfully within the first few minutes of the general session that “change happens, change is inevitable, and, to me, change is exactly what we need to move forward.” This sentiment carried throughout the show as industry experts spoke about what’s occurring in the media world, how these changes are empowering consumers more and more, and what marketers must do to not only accept these changes, but to embrace them and turn them into opportunities.

The Age of the Consumer
Speakers at the conference centered much of the discussion on the power consumers hold in today’s media world. Simply put, consumers want three things: choice, convenience and control. They are increasingly receiving them, having the ability to use media when, where and how they want, with or without advertising interruption. The plethora of technology options – DVRs, online programming, mobile applications, video-on-demand, podcasts, gaming – has empowered consumers. They are no longer passive individuals to whom we can market our products. They are active participants, expressing their opinions not only to each other, but to brands. Consumers are moderating conversations and controlling the terms of their interaction.

We must embrace the transformative power of technology and the active role of consumers so that we can meet their expectations. As Marc Goldstein, CEO, North America, GroupM; Chair, 4As Media Policy Committee, stated, “The consumer is EXPECTING something, and I believe they are expecting something from us.” He goes on to explain what exactly that is:

  1. “They’re expecting us to be more innovative, creative and imaginative than we’ve ever been before in our careers.”
  2. “They want us to give them things they’ve never seen before, and to inform them of the things they need to know in ways they’ve never experienced before.”
  3. “They’re expecting us to respect the way they receive and process information while still informing and entertaining them.”

These are tall orders. How are media companies beginning to address these expectations?

Marketers’ Call to Arms
The rallying cry offered by Goldstein went something like this: “We have to stop looking at what we can’t do and start thinking very seriously about what we CAN do. We have to not only look for opportunity but we have to create opportunity.” In other words, get ready, because it’s time to step outside of our comfort zone. This is especially true as the constructs of days past – those of traditional versus digital – no longer apply. The line between the two has become so blurred that it’s practically erased. We have to navigate this blur, and we need to do so quickly so that we can keep up with the consumer and meet – no, exceed – their expectations.

Ms. Hill cited the Barrack Obama campaign as the epitome of navigating the blur. Obama’s campaign did so with a potent mix of old and new media. Likely as marketers, we associate Obama’s campaign with the way our President was able to bolt together a generation through social networking applications to create a powerful force. We probably don’t think of the fact that Obama spent more money on “traditional” media – TV, radio, print – than any other presidential candidate. The net effect speaks for itself. The campaign’s impact on the nation demonstrates the importance of tapping into every media channel available without distinction.

Several opportunities come along with converging disciplines. The one that is key is “addressability,” which opens the door for things like frequency capping (limiting the number of exposures), segmentation (serving different messages to different audiences) and serialization (building the brand story at a customized pace). In the not too distant future, every form of communication will have addressability. We have it now on the web, and we will have it across all media forms in due time.

Inherent Challenges to Overcome
All things worth having take time and effort. The same is true with the convergence of disciplines and the prospect of addressability. The largest hurdle to overcome is that of measurement. If we consider the web as the only media form having true addressability, it puts into perspective just how much needs to happen before we get to where we’re headed.

The web has flourished since its inception making tremendous advancements in terms of offerings for marketers, as well as measurements. However, there is a fine line between being the most measurable medium and being the medium with the most measures. To date, experts have had trouble defining the real value of online media since the proper metrics haven’t been developed to measure it. There is too much confusion surrounding the bounty of online metrics and nobody has put it all together in such a way that produces scalable, actionable insights for planning and evaluating online ad buys. Too much attention has been focused in the wrong areas – those which bear the most abundant and easiest to harvest fruit. Take online search as an example. Search has a multitude of measures that can indicate whether a campaign is effective, delivering a good ROI. Many marketers, however, fall into the trap of viewing the last click as the most important thing. The reality is, a lot happens before that click…some of which can be measured with metrics currently in place, some of which can’t.

To summarize the challenge, online is the only addressable media form we have presently. We have many measurements in place to evaluate it. We’ve had a lot of time to determine the best practices for doing so, but we haven’t got it quite right just yet. If this is any indication of what lies ahead, we need to gain momentum quickly and find the right formula for planning, buying and evaluating converging disciplines.

MayoSeitz Media Perspective
As is the case every year, the AAAA Media Conference has a way of making the industry take a step back, shifting focus away from the minutia of everyday job functions. It allows us to observe what’s going on in the media world, consider how these things impact what we do every day, and think about where we’re headed as an industry.

Obviously, there’s a lot going on in the media world. The one thing that will benefit us all is to remember that, ultimately, it comes down to the consumer. That is where we must focus, just as the 4As did for its annual conference. We need to understand the motivations that are driving consumer action, tailor our approach in order to activate and influence conversations occurring about our products, and never get too comfortable, because as soon as we’re getting the hang of it, the consumer’s probably moved on to the next thing.

We must face the challenges head-on and navigate the blur to such an extent that we’re able to meet the expectations of the consumer, bringing new levels of creativity and innovation to all that we do. From a distance, it may not even look like advertising anymore…and that’s the beauty of it!