Stacking ‘Em Up

“Industry experts” say we receive 3,000 messages a day. Hah! Let’s take a little peek into my media world.

Truth be known, I shouldn’t be called a media director. I’m really more like a media stacker. The six to nine hours of TV I watch every day are obsessively organized in racks of videotape, piles of DVDs and in chronological order on my (two!) DVR lists.

I have 10 different-themed stacks of magazines in my house to direct me through consuming 50 or more titles a week: work reading, newsweeklies, New Yorkers, wine books, January, February and March fast reads, the entire last year of long reads (ergo the name of the stack) and my beloved trashy magazines.

I have stacks of books-on-tape in my car, and most recently my Netflix DVDs to play on a portable, to make the two-hour commute somewhat bearable. I see reams and reams of outdoor boards during said commute, which, by the way, is only 19 miles. By the time I get to the office I have 50 e-mails stacked up, made up of newspaper RSS feeds, industry e-mails and breaking news. Another 100 show up throughout the day.

Depending on the day, research needs and shopping behavior, I pile on a laundry list of Web sites. I’m also a member of the Durmstrang House in’s Harry Potter Triwizard challenge. Have I mentioned I’ve read all six books twice?

And just to be hip for a 44-year-old, the wonderful folks at All My Children send me a daily text message update on my cell phone. We’ve outlawed IMing in the department, so I can’t cross that management line.

So, what was missing from that scenario? What was the overriding theme? At what point was advertising even welcome, much less effective?

First, two of the oldest media forms outside of cave drawings: newspaper and radio. I actually do read a newspaper every morning, but only because a) it’s a local paper, so I often read about people I actually know; b) its editor is my cousin Larry; and c) my 80-pound dog cuddles in my lap, which is a totally sweet way to start the day.

And I read USA Today after work, but in about 10 minutes because most of the news I already know by then.

Newspaper circulation in some of the top markets has declined by as much as 6.5 percent every six months. But their overall footprint has increased due to their online versions by as much as 35 percent. Those are temporal numbers. The Gen Y and Millennial avoidance numbers will be shocking in perpetuity.

Radio sucks. Before 1996, ownership was limited to four per market and 40 nationwide. Now, the top 20 radio groups own 20 percent of stations and rake in half of the industry’s $20 billion. The remaining 10,000 stations split the other half of revenue. Corporate consolidation and limited/repetitive playlists were contrary to CD-burning/iPod worldwide music trends. There are still 200 million weekly listeners, but listening time has dropped to under 20 hours per week.

Ratings are down 14 percent over the last 10 years, 6 percent in the past five. Listening by adults 18-24 has fallen 22 percent since 1999.

There are 870 million music files offered illegally online, costing $2 billion-plus in lost revenue. The 500 million songs sold on iTunes at 99 cents a shot is essentially a rounding error in the music business.

Here’s a “stacked” idea: Not all media should be “media.” When you start to think about consumers in this holistic, multiple-touchpoint way, you are less enamored with the traditional reach and frequency models and more with the unique ability of individual media to achieve your goals.

For example, the unique trait of magazines is that ad pages are viewed as content, not as a crass, commercialized interruption. Ads are welcomed, appreciated and, most importantly, they engage the consumer. Readers cite advertising, specifically in certain categories, as the reason they pick up a publication.

One could say the same about out-of-home. The sole purpose of the medium and its physical “placeholder” is entirely the advertised message. Therefore, it is a true “pure-play” medium in that the thing that entices awareness is organically the advertised message.

So, how do we decide which media should be “media?” This sense of organic seems to be one clear distinction. A banner slapped on a Web site fails to engage the consumer, regardless of how appropriately it has been behaviorally targeted. Keyword search, on the other hand, is organic to the process, aiding the consumer in their quest for information, perhaps even leading to a sale. Yippee! But it’s not organic alone. Let’s go back to theme of my media-freakish day. It’s a combination of the four C’s that will increasingly dictate the rule of the media land, how things “stack up,” if you will: control, convenience, customization and community.

We know that control, convenience, customization and community in combination are what drive more rapid consumer acceptance. Think iPod.

Consumers have control over their musical destiny and are no longer tethered to the radio. They can take this newfound freedom anywhere. They customize their own playlist, creating a personal musical “badge” or identity. And they are part of a larger iTunes/iPod community. That is why it took only two years for a quarter of teens to own an iPod. It took 13 years for a quarter of U.S. adults to own a cell phone.

Therefore, we think the key to success in the future will be to capitalize on what drives consumers to invite marketing into their lives. What drives marketing in the future will leverage this 4-C construct and create consumer “pull” for our marketing messages versus “push” of our ideals and advertising snippets onto a nonreceptive victim. Unfortunately, this is especially challenging for low-interest, commodity products and services.

The ability to glimpse into our media future also requires abandoning how we categorize communication vehicles. We can no longer view the advertising world as media types, because “media” as we know it are essentially delivery systems, like television, radio, out-of-home and the like. We must readjust our focus on content regardless of how it is delivered, as most forms of future marketing and communication will cross delivery platforms. We no longer stack media in “silos” (print, TV, etc.) on the left side of the flowchart, but as sight, sound and motion.

We also must rededicate our attention to consumers, not just as a large, amorphous purchasing group, but as individual media consumers. What aligns our customer base might have little to do with demographics and everything to do with the audience’s particular life stages. A “target audience” could be a traditional demographic, a mindset, a peer-to-peer network of strangers. The old definitions no longer apply.

The implications to our current economic models are vast. Targeting by subsegments and affinity groups requires multiple and specific creative executions. Measurement of most new media is unavailable, unbelievable or inconsistent. Most new-media concepts will require a leap of faith and the foreknowledge and expectation of multiple failures for every success.

Be it traditional or new media, the process is the same: weigh whether the concept is organic to the consumer’s experience with the medium so that your brand will be invited into the consumer’s life, and give it a once-over with the four C’s to see if it has legs. If the least you can do is change that left side of your flowchart, it’ll change your way of thinking. And you too can be stacked.