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Old Dogs, New Digital Tricks

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Wainwright Yu“The new digital technologies are, indeed, bringing about fundamental shifts in patterns of communication and human relationships,” said the Pope. “These changes are particularly evident among those young people who have grown up with...” Wait a minute! Said who?

In Heaven, On Earth, and Online
Did you know that you can find Pope Benedict on Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube? He’s got 47,723 Facebook fans, 2,810 friends on MySpace, and 16,631 subscribers and 1,164,933 page views on his YouTube channel. (Mind you, this counts only his genuine, non- fan-created accounts.)

The Pope is all over the Web and he’s on top of the Vatican’s digital media strategy too! He sums this up quite nicely in his message for the 43rd World Day of Communications: “Just as, [during the early life of the Church], a fruitful evangelization required that careful attention be given to understanding the culture and customs of those pagan peoples so that the truth of the gospel would touch their hearts and minds, so also today, the proclamation of Christ in the world of new technologies requires a profound knowledge of this world if the technologies are to serve our mission adequately.”

There’s one dog who’s all paws on the tricks of the new digital world.

Marketing Confidence Gap
Unfortunately (for Google, Cisco, or whoever else is trying to sell you digital media space or services), not everyone’s as up on the whole digital media thing. The pickup on digital advertising spending has been so underwhelming that it was given a name, the Marketing Confidence Gap, which is the difference between the proportions of time consumers spend using a particular platform and advertising spend allocated to the same.

We’ve all heard the digital salesman’s spiel. What’s taken several decades for TV to muster in global users has taken Facebook less than half a decade. The number of bloggers in China alone is so huge that it outstrips the population of countries such as Malaysia by a factor of two. And let’s not even get started on the mobile phone statistics for the Philippines. We all know they’re pretty darn impressive.

Despite it all, digital advertising spend has remained marginal. ZenithOptimedia predicted worldwide web spending will total only 9% in 2008, significantly behind traditional media such as TV at 38% and newspapers (yes, newspapers!) at 27%. And the figures for Asia are worse.

So, what’s the deal? Why aren’t advertisers jumping on the digital bandwagon?

New Ways to Get Same Things Done
It’s tough teaching old dogs new tricks. In fact, it’s so tough that it’s widely known to be impossible. However, there’s a nifty way around that roadblock: Throw those new tricks out the window and just teach those dogs new ways of performing the old ones.

You see, there’s a reason why the Pope’s a fan of the Web; viral marketing and social networking, in particular. These tools fit perfectly into his modus operandi. The Roman Catholic Church, at least since Vatican II, has been a big user of marketing methods such as word of mouth (they call it dialog) and customer relationship management (they call it community building). Viral marketing is none other than a juiced up, super-powered, high-definition version of traditional word of mouth, while social networking is simply Web 2.0’s answer to post-mass merienda.

Product marketers, on the other hand, are faced with a different challenge. Unlike the Pope, marketers have to keep sales messages fresh by launching, every so often, a new campaign backed up by a fancy ad featuring some famous celebrity voicing the brand’s latest hard- hitting claim to superiority. Unlike the Gospel, which is constant and simple, sales messages are often quick to change and complex. To fulfill (commonly short-term) sales objectives, marketers have to build sales message awareness fast, “force” trial, stimulate purchase and, thereafter, hope for repurchase.

Advertising is all about the push: the strength of the push, the speed of the push, the reach of the push. The Web 2.0 tools that are most often talked about have got little to do with these. There’s the rub.

For online advertising spend to increase (and the marketing confidence gap to decrease), Web peddlers will have to start selling the right things to the right people. To marketers, what is relevant is what gets the sales message across effectively and efficiently. Catchy banner ads that lead to company or brand microsites and high, cut-through electronic direct mail are good places to start—not blogs, social networks, or viral marketing campaigns, which are slow and prone to Chinese whispers.

Until the web guys get this, and start selling us stuff we can actually use, the Pope will, perhaps, be more hooked up to the Web than we ever will in the near future.

This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of China Business–Philippines.

Print ed: 07/09


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