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How To Win in the Search-Driven Media World

November 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Newsletter

Last week, I suggested that people’s information consumption habits have changed permanently as a result of tools like Google Alerts and RSS feeds. These technologies make it possible for people to subscribe to keywords rather than publications. While media brands will always matter, their importance will decline as people become more accustomed to selecting information by topic and new trusted brands emerge from the world of social media.

So what does this all mean to marketers? A lot. No longer is success a matter of placing messages in a few mass media outlets and hoping for the best. Marketers will need to segment their audiences and their media selections much more carefully in the future. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they also have the means to influence media more directly and even to become the media, if they so choose.

Segments

Let’s look at segmentation first. It’s no secret that the newspaper industry is in a terrible state. Circulation is declining between 6% and 10% annually and their audience is aging. A 2005 Carnegie Corp. survey estimated that the average age of a regular newspaper reader is now 55 and climbing. That figure is 61 for regular viewers of the TV evening news.

The trend is quite different in other media, however. Some print magazines are actually growing circulation. Runners World, for example, has added 200,000 subscribers in the last three years. In some emerging overseas markets, even newspapers are quite healthy. Also, while network television viewership is declining, some cable outlets are growing nicely.

This means you need to consider the audience you’re trying to reach and match it to the media you choose. Older customers can still be served effectively through mainstream media, while the under-30 age group requires a very different approach.

Segmentation also applies to interests. Technology enthusiasts have moved swiftly to the Web, a trend that has been dramatized by the collapse of many consumer electronics and corporate IT publications. However, traditional lifestyle media such as cooking, travel and fashion are holding up quite well. A big reason is that people interact differently with these products. Topics that are news- or transaction-driven migrate more quickly online than those that emphasize aesthetic appeal. The last time I checked, Brides magazine was still thick with ads.

You Are the Media

The more intriguing opportunity for marketers is to become the media. As I noted last week, search engines don’t have brand loyalty. The rise of super-bloggers like Michael Arrington and Robert Scoble demonstrate that trusted brands can grow quickly online. Regular readers may be tired of hearing me say this, but if you aren’t optimizing all of your business communications for search, you aren’t doing your job.

Google is now people’s first stop for information and insight on nearly every imaginable product. You can gain an unnatural advantage over even very large media brands by understanding which keywords bring people to your site and then optimizing around those terms. This is what I mean by “you are the media.”

But it isn’t just you. Other trusted brands are emerging online and those people can also be influenced to drive home your message. Using the right keywords in your communications to these new influencers can help drive your brand’s awareness through search. Sometimes you want to drive traffic to your own website, but at other times you may prefer the endorsement of a trusted third party. Again, the key factor is search optimization. Online media rely far more heavily on search visibility and external links than circulation lists. Use the same tools they use and you can piggyback on their success with astonishing speed.

Search Is the New Circulation

November 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Newsletter

From my weekly newsletter. Sign up in the subscription box to the right.

Recently, I had the chance to speak to two classes of junior and senior public relations majors at Boston-area colleges about changes in the media landscape. I find these sessions to be as enlightening to me as they are to the students because I learn a lot about their preferences and motivations.

With the accelerating collapse of the newspaper industry fresh in my mind, I was particularly interested to understand their news reading habits. “How many of you have read a daily newspaper either in print or online within the past day?” I asked. Nearly every one of the 45 hands in the two classes went up. “How many of you subscribe to a daily newspaper?” I followed up. Only one student raised her hand.

Welcome to Generation Y, the group of people born in the last 30 years who define the future of business and media. Every one of the students in these classes has grown up in a world where information is free and instantly available. The concept of paying for news is as foreign to them as the horse and buggy.

These students will enter the workforce over the next five years and they will shake our assumptions to the core. While they have some brand loyalty, their real affiliation is to information.

What do I mean by that? Well, if you’re like most communications professionals, you probably subscribe to several Google Alerts. This service e-mails you whenever the terms you specify – such as your name, your company name or a topic that interests you – turns up in Google’s search index. Google Alerts have no concept of brand. An article on an obscure website is as likely to top the list as one in The New York Times. When you use Google Alerts, your loyalty is to the topic, not the source.

If you are a TiVo user, you know that you can subscribe to programs based on actors or even subject matter. You don’t care which network carries the program; your loyalty is to the content.

These are just two examples of the ways in which attitudes toward media brands are changing. While trusted sources will always have a special value, we are constantly discovering new sources of trusted information and modifying our assumptions about the value of trust. For some information, we still want to consult the big media brands in order to get the real story, but for less important information we might be satisfied with any source as long as we get the basic facts.

The great equalizer in this equation is search. Computers have no brand loyalty and search engines are tuned to deliver the results that best match our queries, even if the source is unknown to us. Search is, in effect, the new circulation. In the pre-Internet days, we gave publishers permission to get a slice of our attention for a one-year period. This had great value to the publishers because they could be reasonably certain of a known audience for their products.

In the new world, there is no certainty beyond relevance to the terms that an unknown audience may or may not find interesting. This is pretty scary if you’re a publisher.

It’s scary for marketers, too. But it’s also liberating. Next week I’ll discuss some of the implications of the death of media brand loyalty on our assumptions about marketing and public relations.