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(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Evolution of Online Media

Author of Always On and Booz & Company Partner Christopher Vollmer on how the media environment is changing and what it means for advertisers and marketers.

As advertising and marketing migrate to platforms that are more measurable, targeted, and interactive than ever before, we’re seeing big changes in how marketers define their media mix. Booz & Company Partner Christopher Vollmer recounts the dramatic transformation of marketing and media in his recently published book (coauthored by Geoffrey Precourt), Always On: Advertising, Marketing, and Media in an Era of Consumer Control (McGraw-Hill, 2008). Distilling his research and work with clients, Vollmer offers his view of how the media environment will evolve and what those changes will require of advertisers and marketers. He presented his ideas in a strategy+business Webinar in May. Time did not permit Vollmer to address all of the participants’ questions; here he answers some of them.

S+B: How will the behavior of consumers change with increased innovation on the Internet?
We’re already seeing an indication of these changes. Think about how people are spending their time nowadays. In just the last few years, there’s been explosive growth in the amount of time consumers spend online. As people become more accustomed to dealing with media that’s on demand and better aimed at their interests and behaviors, they’re going to find that they want to spend more time in targeted media environments — whether in traditional channels, such as magazines and cable television, or new media, such as Weblogs or social networking sites.

Consumers also want to spend more time in environments in which they can control how they consume the media. We’re going to see a continued migration to entertainment or information platforms, from video games to video on demand to online media, where consumers choose how they interact with programming and content.

S+B: Doesn’t that also make it more difficult to reach consumers?
It’s certainly a different environment than the one we’re leaving behind, where broadcast media could ensure that marketers and advertisers reached large numbers of consumers each week. But it doesn’t mean that they can’t still connect with consumers and, in some ways, connect with them better. The difference today is that marketers and advertisers have to be much closer to consumers and understand how they use media. They have to understand how the brand is relevant to consumers in those media environments and then find the best channels for the brand and the message so that they can drive engagement, not just awareness. And marketers and advertisers need to understand engagement as meaningful time spent with the brand and its messaging in a way that’s more measurable and, ideally, more interactive with the consumer. Those are behaviors that broadcast media, even if they can deliver reach, typically can’t leverage.

S+B: Your use of the word control in describing how consumers are going to want to manage their media experience raises the question of whether consumers are simply going to feel so empowered that they will be irritated by the intrusion of advertising or marketing, in whatever form. How should media companies deal with that perhaps unintended consequence of the digital age?
I think that there are going to be some environments in which the consumer is going to be able to tune out advertising entirely. And, in fact, we have those today, typically in subscription media like HBO, where you can pay for a proposition that is free of advertising. But that’s a business model that’s based on the consumer’s commitment to a subscription.

What we’ve seen so far in digital media is that most consumers aren’t willing to make that full commitment, to provide enough revenue through subscriptions to entirely fund the creation of content. They’re willing to consume content and programming that are ad-supported; we’ve seen research suggesting that consumers are willing to entertain advertising in their media environments. The catch is that they must deem it relevant; for instance, if it allows consumers to opt in based on their interests, and if it is appropriate to the media platform, rather than, say, a huge video clip that overwhelms the consumer’s mobile phone. Advertising today has to either be part of the consumer’s entertainment experience or sit alongside it in a way that’s meaningful to the consumer.

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  1. Christopher Vollmer, “New Metrics for Media,” s+b, Spring 2008: Explains how new metrics will shift advertising’s focus from how many people saw an ad to how many people acted on it.
  2. Christopher Vollmer, John Frelinghuysen, and Randall Rothenberg, “The Future of Advertising Is Now,” s+b, Summer 2006: Describes how the methods by which consumers perceive, retain, and engage with brands and brand messages have changed irrevocably.
  3. Christopher Vollmer and Edward Landry, “HD Marketing 2010: Sharpening the Conversation,” Booz & Company white paper, October 2007: Conducted in conjunction with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Association of National Advertisers, and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, this study surveyed more than 250 marketers to determine the key trends that will affect the marketing-media ecosystem in the coming years. Subsequent studies will reach out to media companies and advertising agencies.
  4. Christopher Vollmer with Geoffrey Precourt, Always On: Advertising, Marketing, and Media in an Era of Consumer Control  (McGraw-Hill, 2008): An in-depth discussion of marketing in an age of media fragmentation, splintered audiences, constant experimentation, new engagement metrics, and continual innovation.
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