The last two decades of digital media innovation have created fundamental shifts in our culture. We have been conditioned to expect immediate access to information and constant connectivity between our devices and ourselves—we clamor for the next app, device, OS, social/messaging service. The rapid adoption of tablets and devices, near-ubiquitous Internet access, the quantifiable self and wearable technology are all buzz-worthy topics reported on in major (and minor) news outlets regularly. Everything has accelerated; especially the way people create, communicate and exchange content.
Technology and digital media have become so engrained in our lives, that we’ve entered a post-digital age, one in which we rely on technology simply to exist. At times, the constant flow of “newness” in the market seems overwhelming, but when it comes to digital, we are comfortable with its rapid state of change, with trying new offerings, moving on to the next best thing after hearing about it from a friend (on Facebook), or reading about it on a blog or watching Matt Lauer describe it—in astonished amazement—on the Today show.
These fundamental behavioral and societal changes should elicit an essential shift in how we approach marketing and advertising, but they haven’t. Why not? Because, while as consumers we are comfortable with the rapid change that is the hallmark of a post-digital world, as marketers we are timid, unsure and, at times, unwilling to try the same technology that excites us so much outside of the office. We want to know who’s done it before. We rush out to get the new iPhone, but don’t know how to use it for marketing. So how can we think differently about communications to take advantage of the opportunities before us?
A New Approach to Digital Communications
As an industry we’ve written and talked about “digital” for almost two decades, and aside from creating specialized agencies (mobile agency, social agency, digital agency), we haven’t really changed the way we think about people engaging with communications holistically, across channels versus one at a time. To use an old cliché, we are still a bunch of hammers, and everything looks like a nail. So the question remains: How can the marketing and advertising industry change the way we do business in the face of all of these monumental changes?
The answer is to spend more time defining moments, and to fully consider the nature of communication in a particular moment before we plan what a communication should say and look like. Connectivity means that marketers have never had the opportunity to be closer to the consumer, who is almost always accessible (via a personal device). As consumers, where we are and who we are with when we engage with a piece of communication dictates how we interpret and act on that content. In other words, while it may be true that the medium is the message, in our always-connected world a moment has just as much, if not more impact, as the message itself—more and more, “the moment is the medium.”
So what do we mean by the nature of communication? Simply, it’s the way we interact with media and each other—how we send, receive and interpret content. Today, content exchanges happen quicker and more frequently than any other time in history. We check our mobile phones every six and a half minutes and up to 150 times a day. We communicate in quick, sometimes disjointed bursts—140 characters or less, 90-second phone calls (half as long as they were five years ago), asynchronous texts and instant messages.
The result? We have more interactions in a 24-hour period than ever before. I call them interactions and not “media exposures” because every exposure to content can now be followed up with a near-immediate action—a mobile search, a retweet, a Facebook message, a QR code scan.
But what’s really game-changing is that these interactions can happen anywhere and anytime now that ubiquitous connectivity (via smartphones, Wi-Fi and cellular networks) is becoming a reality. Media has transformed from a mostly spatial experience to a more temporal experience—one that emphasizes context over content. Think of a temporal experience as a moment in time, defined by where we are, who we are with, how we are feeling, how we might react, and through which medium or device. A moment influences receptivity to messaging and any actions that follow, whether immediate or delayed.
Marketing Built Around Moments
We need to design communications for defined moments along the customer journey, watch and listen for new moments, and get better at predicting when particular moments will occur. There are too many gaps in our current understanding of a customer journey—it still looks too much like a funnel. Luckily the seemingly infinite data stream supplied by digital computing will help us fill in the gaps, create understanding and deliver value in our communications by helping people make decisions “in the moment.”
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that moments usually incorporate access to multiple media types (TV/video, websites, radio, static graphics, etc.), across multiple devices (television, tablet, mobile phone, etc.). It’s about how these media are consumed together in particular moments—on the couch, in the mall, at a restaurant—that influence how we receive and interpret messages and experiences. If I view video on my phone with some friends, they immediately have an influence on how I perceive and act on the content. If I viewed that same content alone on my couch while watching television, I might have a different perception, and take a different action.
When we consider media strategy, the “right message/right place/right time” equation needs to be re-imagined. We need to think about these three guiding principles in the context of discreet moments in order to more effectively communicate with our audiences. In a context-driven, temporal environment, instead of being at the right place at the right time, we need to be in the moment to drive engagement and impact behavior.