Tuning in to the Value Channel

[October 16, 2011]

What do people want?

A basic understanding of the social forces contributing to the answer is essential for every human interaction. Fortunately, we learn much of what we need to know through experience and the acculturation process that defines large swaths of our childhood.

Now, as the local news reminds us every day, that process is never 100% foolproof. Whether due to trauma, accidents of inheritance, or grossly inappropriate parenting, some people fail to grasp the bottom line need of every human being: to be respected, valued, loved and left unharmed.

Of course, the quest to understand human nature requires us to explore a dizzying array of additional factors, including age, location, ethnicity, income, etc. But if we limit the discussion to “what people want from digital marketing,” the list of factors to consider is more manageable. For my part, I value any brand that:

• Saves me time / money
• Improves my status / self-esteem
• Simplifies my life
• Solves a technical problem
• Solves a social / spiritual problem
• Teaches me a skill / imparts practical information
• Engages my imagination

Now, I’m willing to bet I’m within one or two bullet points of a universal list, especially if the bullets are interpreted in the broadest sense. It’s a margin of error that’s good enough for my purposes—as I search for a tool to measure marketing success. My premise is that successful marketers know how to deliver what people want. To do anything less is to show consumers the kind of disrespect that currently fans the flames of a global populist movement.

“I don’t think you do…”
By now, a majority of brands already aspire to add value online. It’s the actual delivery process that hangs them up. The most they can manage is a flimsy need-premise, a qualified benefit list (check the fine print) or a vague promise of future rewards.

In the pharmaceutical realm, the latter is a common ploy, a way for marketers to gather user data now and reward registration weeks or months later with press releases and white papers a consumer is unlikely either to value or fully understand.

When it comes to technical problems, as long as your patience “wears thick,” you can often find a Web site housing some of the information you crave—often where you’d least expect it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve found troubleshooting advice for a Microsoft product everywhere except on microsoft.com.

Microsoft’s online help menus remind me of small town highway signs: The only way they’re useful is if you already know the route. Help menus that don’t deliver meaningful help? Case in point. Like many other companies, Microsoft fails to realize that delivering meaningful customer service is a vital component of any marketing plan.

Web site, schmeb site—create a value channel.
While there are many other examples of value-nebulous marketing, they all point to the same conclusion. If your ROI on digital marketing is consistently disappointing, the problem most likely lies in your unwillingness or inability to deliver what people value. The solution? Reimagine your Web presence as a dynamic delivery system with a sustainable source of intellectual property.

In that scenario, a Web site, banner or Facebook app isn’t a thing in its own right, it’s a pipeline to deliver value. Not self-promotion, but value. Not cloned data anyone can access, but value. Not static “advice and tips,” but an ongoing editorial calendar of the latest advice delivered by acknowledged experts.

So instead of mass-producing another round of media buys, sweepstakes, discounts and cross-promotions, put your budget money toward developing a core of branded content that enlightens, educates, stimulates and helps people connect to ideas that can change their lives. Instead of racking up agency fees in a perfectionist panic of messaging revisions, rise above the details and focus on substance.

You have no idea how much more efficient it is to build a campaign around real value than it is to puff air into the legally qualified claims that usually pass for consumer benefits. A Web banner, I promise you, is much easier to make when it actually has something to say.

That’s because, instead of huffing and puffing to create demand, you’re openly supplying what people want. If this sounds simplistic, I invite you to try it. The challenge of reimagining your online communications as a value channel is worthy of your top minds—provided you haven’t already fired them for “reinventing the wheel.”


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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