Consumer Control and Audience Fragmentation

Here’s what everyone knows: traditional media and advertising businesses are under attack; the macro-economic environment is bad; digital marketing 1.0 (search / banner ads) is increasingly ineffective; accountability and measurability have always been important but are now increasingly critical in buying decisions. This is a classic combination of challenge and opportunity.

The core challenge to all media and advertisers is this:  globally, consumer control over individual media experiences is at an all-time high: more than ever before, we can easily control what we watch and read, where and when we engage, and who we share our experiences with and learn from.  From the latest hot websites and blogs to devices like the iPhone and Xbox360 to new networks such as AT&T’s U-Verse IPTV Service, and from passion communities like Epicurious.com to Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, our wealth of choice has created a poverty of attention to any single bit of content, device, web site or community. In short, there is a poverty of attention to any single MEDIUM.

Engaging Consumers has never been more difficult.

When consumers exercise their control, they choose to engage only with programming or communities that they care about…and then, only on their terms.  These choices cause consumer groups to fragment across the abundant devices, web sites, screens, and business models of today’s media landscape.  Engaging audiences that were once built-in to “prime time” television or able to be targeted on specific web sites are increasingly a thing of the past.

Such audience fragmentation plagues the brands and their agencies that are desperate for consumer time and attention. Worse still, consumer choice and control will only increase from this point in time and that, in turn, will accelerate consumer fragmentation and disengagement.  And the businesses dependent on consumer attention – particularly consumer brands – will need a new set of tools to target, reach and engage their audiences. They must align themselves where and how their consumers opt to spend time and the topics and people they are passionate about. Brands and content must allow themselves to be discovered or re-discovered on consumer’s terms; this is not easy nor is it static.

The ability to effectively and efficiently target, reach, engage and influence large numbers of specific consumer audiences has never been easy. Until now, advertisers have been able to depend on smart combinations of mass media, often in the form of television advertising, targeted print, direct response, and digital media 1.0 techniques.

Engaging today’s consumer requires a new approach, using a variety of tools and techniques, to coherently reach, engage and influence a targeted digital audience. In future posts, I hope to discuss the tools and techniques that exist today and are constantly and rapidly being refined. There is both great challenge and great opportunity.