Coloring Outside the Lines

[March 16. 2010] 

Talk about building a branded Web presence and the conversation inevitably turns to drivers and distribution strategy. Typically, the talk goes to syndicating content out to the sites consumers frequent, curating the “best of the Web,” or continuing the quest for the Holy Grail—a banner someone will actually click.

Standing back from the process, I can’t help wondering if the effort to drag people to Web sites, or invade their social space with apps and ads is actually misplaced. If it’s really that difficult to engage our targets, the issues may run deeper than any slate of tactics can solve.

Maybe the problem isn’t with how people behave in digital space, but with the siloed, competitive way our media and advertising outlets coexist. If so, it’s time for a new type of media integration, something more coherent than posting up episode clips from a TV show and calling it digital marketing.

Rather, we must break down the barriers between all media and re-imagine them, in keeping with the current reality: Consumer time and attention is now “totally owned” by digital attractions.

One intent for one audience.
Ironically, it’s precisely here that offline media have an opportunity for renewed influence. That’s because, for all its hypnotic power, digital space is still a miserly master—which makes accessing its most valuable content a real challenge. Search engines are a highly inefficient tool for information retrieval. While the volume of results is often staggeringly high, their relevance and usefulness is often distressingly low.

To provide better access, imagine an offline magazine reconfigured to act as a filter. Each article would point readers to appropriate, branded online resources. At the moment, this only happens in a scattershot way, whenever a columnist just happens to mention a URL.

The difference here is that the articles would now be written from the outset as introductions to a wider, digital discussion. Instead of competing, print and digital content could act with one intent for one audience. An offline magazine could curate digital space as a whole, through the filter of its readers’ interests.

Adding more dimension than “3D” alone.
Along the same lines, a film, for example, would no longer be a theatrical experience that also sports a temporary Web site, featuring pseudo-documentary material or a (wishful-thinking) viral campaign. It would exist as a series of interlocking experiences: Some theatrical, some print, some digital.

Instead of thinking in terms of “licensing intellectual property for multiple media,” the entire project would be conceived as one seamless entity. To see the whole picture, viewers would engage the film on several levels. To access the digital experience, ticket holders might input a single-use access code they’d receive at point of purchase. Meanwhile, brand sponsorship of such sites by consumer brands would have a huge role to play.

Selling experiences to market satisfaction.
Regarding traditional advertising, the path to a truly integrated approach is still waiting for a machete sharp enough to carve it out. Many major brands simply “have a Web site,” often an e-commerce shell decorated with themes from their General Advertising campaign.

Driven online from re-imagined offline sources, fans of the Mazda Miata could be tempted to spend quality time interacting with the brand—not just collect another Facebook fan badge for its own sake.

Of course, brands would still have to reward users by continuing the momentum. They’d have to build on the exhilarating “Zoom-Zoom-Zoom” they’d created offline, by delivering intriguing details in an engaging package so consumers keep coming back for more. It’s every brand manager’s dream—and the kind of effect you can only achieve when you jettison traditional categories and color outside the lines.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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