Traditional Media’s New Role In A Digital World

You can look at the last cover of a news magazine like Newsweek and wax nostalgic about the good old days if you like. I prefer to think of the positive of what a final cover represents in choosing to use but only a simple hashtag of #lastprintissue.

Newsweek's last issue in print

Newsweek’s last issue in print

It’s not a period of finality on a brand. It’s an acknowledgement that the brand will be conversed about in other ways. Digital ways. And that it can continue to have relevance – maybe even more than it has recently. It will be read on a laptop, on a tablet, on a smartphone. It will be shared faster rather than lie exclusively on the coffee table of a physician’s office.

Yes, of course we can see this giant shift to digital all around us – we’ve seen it for years.

And yet, some operate as if digital isn’t the new norm of communicating across most demographics. As if every fourth person on this planet isn’t using a social media network. Is it any wonder why those are the same people who go kicking and screaming into obscurity?

But you won’t count me as one of those who say the ways we’ve known are dead. Instead, I see them as shifting into a new skin that may feel funny and different at first, but is necessary for the long haul.

To survive, traditional media should embrace its new role as not necessarily the end-all, be-all of the conversation with the buyer but instead the media that drives the buyer online to learn more, build a long-term relationship and encourage greater sharing across the web.

TV can do this. Print can do this. Radio can do this. Direct can do this. And in certain instances, they have. Beautifully.

It’s too bad that it just isn’t sold this way enough by certain reps of this form of media. They choose to sell their channel as an alternative to digital media instead of selling the concept of how the entire lifecycle can potentially begin with them and integrate into the digital world. Many choose to ignore the reality that their customer has to diversify their marketing mix and that, yes, that should likely include digital. Those that do operate as if we live in a print or digital world of absolutes when we don’t. We watch TV and use iPads. We read magazines and use smartphones.

Our lives are integrated. Brands must be too.

Imagine if someone could show you not just the typical demographics of their publication/station but actually showed an ability to drive traffic to a website. Then you’ve got something. If that commercial drives people to explore your Facebook page in greater detail where you are running a contest, then you’ve got something.

Drive them to a Facebook page. Add a hashtag. Continue the story that was begun in a traditional media setting on a YouTube channel. Could the conversation that begins in print then advertise an upcoming chat on Twitter at a select day and time?

Yes, I realize some of the responsibility here lies not only with who sells the media but also who creates it.

Guilty as charged. I’ve created ads in the past that pretty much had the logo as the call to action.

But it becomes an increasingly expensive proposition when all we ask people to do is notice our logo and little else (I’m getting much better about changing this mindset in myself).

Or when we ask prospects to spend thousands on one ad – if I’m going to do the equivalent of going to Vegas and letting it all ride on one hand, can you give more information on my odds first so I can feel really, really smart about what I’m about to drop on the table?

I once had a client who was in this situation, didn’t have a ton of money in the ad budget and was being solicited for business by a radio station asking him to advertise during a rush hour time slot. After explaining the client’s goals for the brand and the audience we were targeting, I was looking for some extra justification on why we should drop thousands on a small window of time.

“Everybody listens to him. He’s a former Dolphin and we’re in Miami so there you go.”

Um…no. There I don’t go.

She couldn’t explain how that ad would work for my client in any kind of customizable way (when did this become too much to ask?). She could only talk about listenership in broad terms that couldn’t help my client make a decision he’d feel good about. Asking her about online conversions? Ha. I’ve seen deer in headlights with more clarity.

And yet, we know the opportunity for conversion to online after engaging with traditional media first is there for those who craft messages and sell advertising around it accordingly.

Consider the findings of a report by Deloitte earlier this year called “State of the Media Democracy” in which 2,276 respondents in the UK between 14-75 years old were surveyed.

64% of respondents visited a website after seeing an advertisement on TV.
61% visited a website after seeing a magazine ad.
59% visited a website after reading a newspaper ad.

Here’s the shocker – guess how many respondents visited a website from a mobile app ad.

A whopping 12%.

Traditional media as online media driver has great power and potential. To declare it universally dead by any stretch of the imagination is just wrong. To pretend it works in exactly the same way in today’s world as it always did is just as wrong.

For all of our conversations about brand integration over the years, we can still integrate online and offline so much more. This is good for all media. Electronic and otherwise.

I know you’re attractive media, but I’m just not that into you.

I’ve noticed that generally, the cycle of love for new forms of media often goes like this:

1. New media tool arrives.

2. A few reports suddenly trickle in about the potential of the media tool.

3. Everyone jumps on the bandwagon of those reports, proclaiming it as the best thing since sliced bread.

4. Everyone clamors to be seen as experts and evangelists to their clients about the new media tool (whether or not they actually understand it in reality is debatable).

5. A few reports suddenly trickle in about the negatives of the media tool.

6. Blogs and articles hop on the bandwagon of those reports, saying that maybe the new media tool isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

7. Everyone clamors to become one of the first “I told you so” gurus in order to save face.

8. Everyone is on to looking for the next big thing.

This isn’t a post about whether or not a certain channel does or doesn’t work. It’s that there’s an evaluation of media in general happening that doesn’t work. And in a race to be the coolest/hottest/hippest, some forget that maybe our clients want us to evaluate what’s right for them – new or not new.

The fact is, too many communicators and marketers often set this wild up-and-down “what’s hot, what’s not” roller coaster in motion…when we really don’t have to. How? Pure and simple, as an industry we’re way too overzealous in our attraction to new things without first exploring them, understanding them, seeing how they fit into our client’s overall brand strategy, etc.

When it comes to evaluating The Next Big Thing, as an industry we fall in love too fast, too much and, when things start to sour just a tad, we can’t get out of the relationship fast enough.

The more we rush to proclaim one form of media as a game-changer and then rush back in the other direction to denounce that media, the more we look like wishy-washy practitioners. And that’s not good.

Look, some media choices have good long-term prospects. Some ultimately don’t. Along the way, there are absolutely ZERO forms of media that work for everybody. As we explore these choices, we should never apologize for attempting to understand the new things and how they relate to a client’s brand, whether it was user-generated content yesterday, Twittering today, 3-D digital imagery that allows for hologram interaction (also known as “augmented reality”) tomorrow and whatever else is invented in the near future.

What we should apologize for is blaming the useful tools themselves when the reality is that perhaps – just perhaps – some of us didn’t understand those tools that well to begin with, yet recommended them anyway to clients when we shouldn’t have. Truth be told, having more media tools in the toolbox is a wonderful opportunity for people who understand them and an awful thing for people who don’t understand how they fit into the overall picture (i.e. firms that make the recommendation that social media tools should always be at the center of a media strategy and nothing else matters). Media choices don’t kill brands. People that don’t know how to plan and select the right media choices kill brands (and if their creative sucks, that doesn’t help either).

How can we get off the roller coaster? I can think of a few steps:

1.    Stop acting like a ravenous dog when something new comes out.

It’s new. Remain calm. Study it. Get to know it. Does it fit into the behavioral mechanism of your client’s audience? It’s possible that – gasp – maybe it doesn’t fit after all. If so, the brand’s world will march on.

2.    That new thing is not for everybody.

Again, your client’s audience may fall into this category. And if so….

3.    Just because the new media tool doesn’t apply in certain cases, don’t rush to condemn it as a failure in an effort to make yourself look like a genius.

Please. Everything has its pros and cons. Maybe it’s not a failure but instead a case of where some misinformed people understand the tool better and realize it doesn’t fit into their overall media mix. And that’s really OK. A blanket statement about that medium can be dangerous, such as…

4.    Stop saying “(INSERT MEDIUM HERE) is dead.”

Traditional media’s role is changing but it’s not dead. Knock it off. We’re creators, not killers. I myself was guilty of saying a medium was dead not long ago in a blog post. My mistake because really all that medium did was re-surface in another life form. What’s “dead” to some prospective target audiences may be very much alive for other ones.

5.    With diversification of media, some choices will always work a little better than others.  

What clients don’t like to hear is that the only way something works is to try it, considering that exploration is on their dime. But even so, there’s a smart way of exploring results, as in testing selectively and monitoring results. If results are positive, expand the effort. If results are negative, adjust accordingly.

What we’re all searching for, clients and agencies alike, is a better way of connecting with a certain group of human beings. And since they’re human, they’re sophisticated. And since they’re sophisticated and often have a range of changing tastes, we have to remember that exploring new ways to find these connections isn’t brave but a necessity to being relevant in their world. The key is if we can enjoy the new tools responsibly like we would, say, a fine craft beer, wine or liquor and not be so drunk in our love for that particular new media right from the get-go, maybe we won’t end up potentially hurting ourselves and our clients later on.

Still, that new hologram thing is pretty cool. Just kidding.