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Digitally-inspired brands

The IAB’s Mixx conference in New York was extremely well organized and featured a diverse roster of speakers, including Chrysler CMO Deborah Meyer, eBay CMO Michael Linton, CBS President Les Moonves, TV host Charlie Rose, BBDO chief Andrew Robertson, digital media author Clay Shirsky and Heroes executive producer and creator Tim Kring. Although the event didn't break new ground, it did illuminate several themes that brand marketing professionals would be wise to embrace. Here’s my take-away: Stop the debate over brand vs. interactive. Interactive marketing is, in fact, our most powerful brand building strategy. More and more marketers intuitively understand this. The question then is why we’re not yet using this medium to its full potential. One reason is that too many people in advertising define "brand" through the narrow lens of a product’s TV or print campaign. Consumers build brand impressions through a complex mix of first-hand experiences, peer opinions and, yes, intangible and emotional imagery. Ignoring true consumer behavior is not a recipe for success. Inspired, planned and crafted properly, interactive advertising has the power to tap into each of these brand-building elements. It can inspire deep engagement, allowing customers to interact with and customize their own version of the brand. (Witness Nike+.) It can expose customers to the opinions of like-minded peers. (Witness Apple’s community ratings.) It can immerse customers in highly emotional and engaging brand narratives. (Witness HBO’s Voyeurs campaign.) So why are these examples the exception rather than the rule? First, in listening to the conversation at Mixx, we continue to cling to an outdated vocabulary that Don Draper might be able to recognize:
  • “Traditional” vs. “non-traditional.” (TV will become a digital medium next year. Traditional?)
  • “New media.” (If you want to make a 24 year-old laugh, refer to the web as new media.)
  • “Brand advertising” vs. “interactive.” (See paragraph five above.)
  • “Above the line” vs. “below the line.” (I never really knew what this meant to begin with. I doubt consumers do either.)
  • “Media” vs. “Creative.” (Need I elaborate?)
  • “Off-line” vs “On-line.” (Is a billboard with an SMS call to action really off-line?)
Second, we use misguided metrics to gauge interactive advertising, placing too much emphasis on the “last ad” metric (i.e., the last click the customer made before buying) as the best measure of effectiveness. This metric ignores the influence of other media and messages that drive us to that last click. New research from Microsoft’s Atlas Institute suggests that the “last ad” standard ignores the impact of of other touchpoints, presumably product experiences, sampling, advertising, social networks, by revealing that 71% of sponsored search clicks are navigational in nature – i.e., the consumer typed in the precise brand or product for which they were looking. Third, we have too many specialists and not enough hybrids. Don’t get me wrong, we need people who are subject matter experts, if not zealots, on TV, interactive, mobile, PR, et al. Without access to their expertise we are merely posers. But we need more hybrids, people who are passionate about ideas regardless of platform. These are the professionals that will crack the code because they most closely resemble how consumers think and behave. All of us, specialists and hybrids alike, need to view interactive as a human experience and not a channel. We need to think more like event marketers, retail environment architects and product designers. The people working in these disciplines understand that well-crafted experiences convey a compelling and lasting brand idea.