The False Divide Between Digital vs. Traditional Media

Participation in, or intimacy with, an engagement idea is not an end in itself. Through the creative platform, we must encourage a person to do something that leads to sales -- learn more, buy more, use more or tell (advocate) more. The success of creative is measured by its effectiveness in changing behavior through this shopper journey.

This post argues two basic points. First, and contrary to conventional "digital eco-system" thinking, both traditional and new media are useful at each stage. And, second, the decision making process -- and media needed to stimulate behavior change -- depends on category type.

Traditional vs. New: The False Divide

Old and new media not only will coexist but also will holistically complement each other. Television and online video can generate brand awareness; Twitter feeds and print ads both facilitate product differentiation. Offline "road shows" -- that is, traveling exhibitions -- and online apps, games and other creative engagement platforms can deepen brand experience. Both product review websites and Consumer Reports enable shoppers to compare and contrast competitors' offerings. Laminated VIP cards, snail mail loyalty clubs, or online customer relationship management programs can reinforce repeat purchases.

The range of actions communications can elicit varies depending on the strategic challenges a brand faces. Creative can stimulate trial of a product, encourage switching from one brand to another, increase frequency of consumption, trigger a search for more information, lift repeat purchase rates and reward loyalty, induce cross-category purchase between, say, shampoo and conditioners or tea and biscuits, inspire recommendations among friends, solicit participation in promotional activity, or incentivize upgrades to higher price tiers.

Steven King's "Buying System" and Behavioral Change

During the 1970s Stephen King, the legendary J. Walter Thompson strategic planner, articulated a model of how consumers make purchasing decisions, one that remains powerful today. He dubbed it the "consumer buying cycle," a framework of six phases, each with relevant "touchpoint," that constitute a consumer's journey: trigger, consideration, comparison, preference, purchase, and experience. As consumers move through these phases, their motivations vary; so should the ways marketers communicate.

I prefer to label King's "buying cycle" an "engagement system." The change in nomenclature might seem cosmetic, but it's an important reminder that every point of the journey presents an opportunity to connect with -- or engage -- consumers. This is done through creative expressions of the brand idea that invite participation. The digital revolution has, of course, increased exponentially opportunities for engagement.

True, mass and traditional ("lean back") media tend to dominate phases in which marketers seek to forge perceptions in a broad population of consumers. Broadcast television -- with its sound, color, movement and ability to break through clutter -- is an indispensable tool in new markets where consumers are disoriented from an explosion of category offerings. Even in the United States, the 30-second television commercial will continue to rule despite the proliferation of smartphones and other digital devices. In 2014, manufacturers did not spend $71 billion on broadcast advertising in the United States for sentimental reasons. Print, both magazines and newspapers, also remains indispensable for providing consumers with details that support a brand's main message. But new technology, with QR codes being the most obvious example -- analog media can also trigger behavioral change.

And as consumers move toward purchase, direct and digital ("lean in") media will be relatively dominant. These media provide more opportunity for engagement--that is, direct interaction with a brand idea and its creative expression. Marketers have more opportunity to trigger behavioral change and increase the probability the consumer will buy a product. Advertising can encourage a limitless range of actions -- from clicking through a banner ad and spending more time on a microsite to increasing consumers' frequency of washing their hair; the arsenal of tools marketers can deploy to encourage certain behavior is broad. But marketers also can use passive and analog media to trigger specific behavior during later phases -- for example, by using stunning "product beauty shots" and other point-of-sale material to stimulate trial usage.

It bears repeating: traditional and new media should complement one another. One example: Advertisers are investing in seeding commercials on the Internet in advance of the Super Bowl. According to the Guardian, many advertisers budget $4 to $6 million to promote their ads through YouTube and Twitter during the weeks before the event. To trigger deeper engagement, smart marketers also ensure that Google searches for their Super Bowl ads lead to a relevant page.

High vs. Low Involvement Categories: Different Horses for Different Courses

No two engagement systems are identical, and each consumer's journey is unique. However, some generalizations are valid. The journeys of consumers shopping in high-involvement categories are more complex than in low-involvement ones. High-involvement categories are more important to consumers because they play a more significant role in life, which means marketers can charge higher prices relative to cost of goods. No matter how many brands of detergent boast a powerful ability to remove stains, consumers who are parents will take less care in selecting laundry powder than they will a school for their children and will tap a broader range of media in making the school decision.

Products exist along a low- to high-involvement continuum. Low-involvement products can never become high-involvement ones -- a cookie will never be as important as a car -- but the goal of all marketing is to nudge the perceptions of a brand from a relatively lower to relatively higher point. This is done with effective positioning, imbuing functional attributes with emotional meaning. When "shining hair" evolves into "silky hair that turns heads," or "soft skin" is elevated to "soft skin he loves to touch," the wording strengthens the relationship between consumer and brand. Then manufacturers have the luxury of raising prices and therefore profit margins.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of high-involvement products: ego and identity, life advancement, and life-or-death items. These groupings are not mutually exclusive. Expensive cars both project status and open doors, particularly in emerging markets, where online car clubs are popular. Premium whiskies suggest sophistication and lubricate business transactions.

In conclusion, at every point during the the shopper journey, regardless of "category involvement," traditional and new media do not exist in parallel universes.

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