The big picture in comms and how we don’t see it

It’s the beginning of a new year and people are concerned with trends and predictions, feverishly searching for the next big thing. What will go viral this year? What are a handful of consumers doing now that more consumers — a critical mass — will be doing in a few months and how can we be ahead of the curve?

Why do we search for these things I wonder? In business, it’s because “first come, first rule”. If you start something and it works, then you will get the lion’s share (in theory). In marketing, it’s because positioning theorists have told us those who get in first “own” a box in people’s minds and they don’t have to try as hard.

In digital comms, it seems to be about money.

As simple as that.

We just do not want to pay for our comms to get to our consumers anymore, so we look for the next big platform, so we can milk it before it gets mainstream, realises it needs to make money to survive and introduces an advertising model. Upon which, we are back to where we always were: having to pay for commercial messages to be seen.

Here’s the two things that I think are wrong with this:

  1. Emergent platforms muster limited reach. You talk to “tribes”, early-adopters, fickle and opinionated, exactly the type of people who do not trust advertising. And at any rate, there’s just not enough of them at the beginning. So, maybe riding the trend will give you some semblance of innovation, but it will not achieve your marketing goals.
  2. Why are we so reluctant to pay for our consumers to see our ads? For years this convention has stood. Consumers do not want ads, we have to pay for them to be shown. We have simpler choices: make self-serving, annoying ads or entertaining, useful ones; interrupt more or interrupt less. But then we all fell prey to the Big Delusion: contentearnedviral, thinking that we could forever make ads that we would not have to pay for and have them placed in spaces we would not have to “rent out”.

Here’s the big picture we always have to keep in mind: selling is hard work when choice is unlimited (with global markets and e-commerce choice IS unlimited) so trying to replace thorough marketing planning and strategy with trend-riding and wishful thinking will not work. In any foreseeable world, to get people to give you part of their limited supply of attention will remain a difficult task, made up of complex solutions, matrixes and strategies. Some small bits will be solved with trend spotting and earnedcontentviral. The big problems will not.

You have to work hard.

Take solace in the realisation that no long-standing business or brand was ever built on Black Swans alone.

Digital Strategist. The Internet will save the world (pending verification). Views expressed here are my own/should not be construed as coming from my employer.

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